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Ned Kelly by Douglas Stewart Summary

by Litinbox

Ned Kelly by Douglas Stewart is a play partly in verse written in 1940s. Originally staged in 1956 by the Elizabethan Theatre Company, the drama is set in historical context revolving around Australian bushranger, Ned Kelly. The play was first produced as a radio play in the year 1942.

Ned Kelly (the real life gangster) has found a special place in the legends of Australian folklore. Today, the historical Ned Kelly is often seen as a hero-like figure by the children in Australia.

Kelly’s courage to disobey the authorities; his daring escapades and his intelligence in outsmarting the police, have made Kelly a hero among kids in Australia who admire bravery and adventure.

Ned Kelly Background

Ned Kelly and his team were infamous Australian outlaws and bushrangers of the 19th century.

It was led by the most famous, Edward Ned Kelly, this gang is most remembered for their confrontations with police or other authorities, and a number of bank heists.

The most infamous confrontation of the gang was at Glenrowan in 1880 where Kelly with his gang faced off the police in a gun battle while they were all clad in protective metal armour.

The notorious acts of the gang have become legendary and iconic in the folklore of Australia with Kelly himself often portrayed as a Robin Hood figure (a sort of a modern day hero) by some and a ruthless criminal by others.

This bushranger gang is the basis of Douglas Stewart’s play “Ned Kelly”, though his play may take liberties with historical accuracy, it gives the audience a measure of understanding of the legend and story of one of Australia’s most notorious outlaws.

Ned Kelly by Douglas Stewart Summary

At Jerilderie

“Ned Kelly” begins on a Monday morning in a bank at Jerilderie on 11th February in 1879. Two characters, named Living and Mackin, the clerks at the bank joking and mocking each other’s carelessness in their work. They also criticise the bank manager Tarleton for his laziness, referring to him as “an old cow.”

Joe Byrne, a member of the Kelly gang, gets disguised as a policeman and approaches the bank. He demands the clerks to hand over the money they have in hand.

Joe Byrne taunts them and calls Living an “Inkpot.” Ned Kelly follows Joe Byrne to the bank where he looks for Tarleton, the manager. But the clerks remain tight-lipped on Tarleton’s location.

Kelly offers to give Living a gift to his girlfriend and Joe Byrne offers Living a token, a clock for remembrance.

When Living is still unresponsive, Kelly even goes on to threaten him that if he does not tell him information regarding the location of Tarleton, he will kill him. And at this juncture Tarleton himself enters the bank.

Bank Robbery

Suddenly and without further ado, the key is taken forcibly by the Kelly gang and all the cash which they wanted was collected. The manager warns them that they will soon be caught by the police. Kelly assures that it is impossible for police to catch them because they have already captured a police officer by the name Richard.

Richard is constantly given a drug to be administered continuously so that he will remain unconscious and hence, cannot perform any duties. Cox administers him with the drugs at regular intervals.

Kelly even dares to the extent of telling to a newspaper editor that can write about their robberies. The first act concludes when the parson admits his discomfort about life in Australia, a country under constant threat.

At the Forest

Kelly and his gang seek shelter in a thick forest where they discuss their past robberies and crimes. Steveheart tells Joe Byrne that their friend Aaron has become a police informant. However, Joe Byrne dismisses this in the belief that Aaron has been his close friend from school days.

Ned Kelly’s lover Roo arrives and explains that Aaron is the one who informs the police on them. Joe Byrne becomes furious and publicly avows kill Aaron, regardless of the fact that he is always guarded by the police.

Ned Kelly announces his plan to stage an incident that will be remembered for years to come. Later, Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly, Ned Kelly’s brother, go to Aaron’s house and Aaron is mercilessly shot dead by Joe Byrne.

Workers taken Hostages

The Kelly gang takes workers at the Glenrowan railway station as hostages holding them at gunpoint and later proceeds to sabotage the railway track. They later relocate to a hotel with sixty villagers held as hostages.

Kelly plays with them, and Joe Byrne sings to them the song ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’, an anonymous Irish-Australian song about the bushranger Jack Donahue.

Thomas Curnow, a Hostage

Thomas Curnow, one of the captured people, begs the Kelly gang to let him out because he needs to meet his wife who is waiting for him near the building. He assures them that he will never tell a word about them to police. He is finally released, though Joe Byrne warns that it is unsafe to let him go.

Curnow goes to the railway station, stops one of the trains and informs a group of policemen about the presence of the Kelly gang at the hotel.

Police vs Gangsters Gunfire

The police surround the hotel that leads to a vigorous firing between the police force and the gangsters. During the battle Kelly wears a 42 kg bulletproof jacket that largely helps to protect his life.

The gunfire finally ends in the evening lasting for seven hours in which approximately 15,000 bullets were fired. All members of the Kelly gang, except Ned Kelly, are shot dead during the battle.

The End

Kelly sustains serious leg injuries but survives because of the bulletproof jacket. A priest confirms the deaths of the gang members.

Kelly is arrested, and it is speculated that Dan Kelly and Steveheart escaped to Africa, as their bodies are not found at the scene. Ned Kelly is executed on a momentous day, with his final words being “Such is Life.”

Ned Kelly Characters

• Ned Kelly

The central character (antagonist) and the head of the notorious gang known as the Kelly gang. He is a criminal (a notorious bushranger) who outsmarts the police and escapes easily after every notorious activity.

Ned Kelly is a determined, intelligent and persuasive character and leads the gang successfully in various criminal activities.

• Joe Byrne

Joe Byrne is one of the notorious Australian outlaws, a prominent member of the Kelly gang and a friend to Ned Kelly. Joe Byrne is a loyal friend and a ruthless energy to Aaron.

Byrne actively participates in robberies and violent actions of the gang. He also helps Ned Kelly and gang in their escapades.

• Living

One of the bank employees (a clerk) at Jerilderie who is present during the bank robbery of the Kelly gang at the beginning of the play.

He is the man who teases another clerk named Mackin, and when confronted by Ned Kelly during the robbery, he never opens up about the bank manager.

• Mackin

Another clerk at bank in Jerilderie. He engages in the conversation with Living and is involved in the first stages of the practical joke on Tarleton, the bank manager.

• Tarleton

The manager of the bank at Jerilderie. Living and Mackin mock him for his idleness, calling him an “old cow.”

• Roo Kelly

The lover and companion of Ned Kelly. She is also involved with the gang but in a supportive position and is the one who informs Joe Byrne that Aaron has turned into an informer for the police.

• Aaron

A member of the Kelly gang who betrays the rest of the gang to the police. This betrayal culminates in his death at the hands of Joe Byrne.

• Thomas Curnow

During the critical situation at the Glenrowan railway station when the workers taken Hostages, Thomas Curnow begs the gang to set him free and assures that he would never inform about them to police.

However, in the climax, Curnow betrays the gang by information police about their hideout, thus defeating this evil gang.

• Richard

A police officer who is under the control of the Kelly gang. He is continuously drugged to keep him unconscious and unable to fulfill his duties. His captivity serves as an advantage for the gang until Thomas Curnow’s intervention.

• The Parson

A character who reflects on his own life in Australia and expresses his concerns about the constant threat posed by outlaws like Ned Kelly.

FAQs: People Also Ask

Q: Who is Ned Kelly and what did he do?

Ned Kelly was a criminal, a notorious bush ranger in Australian who stole from the common people and robbed banks, and spent his life on the run from the police.

Kelly also killed 3 policemen at Stringybark Creek in 1878. The climax of the action took place in June 1880 when the Kelly gang staged a siege at Glenrowan that ended up in the deaths of several members of the gang and Ned Kelly himself was captured and later executed in November 1880.

Q: How did Ned Kelly die?

Ned kelly was alive at the end of the Glenrowan Siege and was later executed by hanging in November 1880 at the Old Melbourne Gaol in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Although Kelly defended himself and justified that the robberies he committed were because of the police brutalities and prejudice, he was proven guilty and was sentenced to death.

Q: What were Ned Kelly’s last words?

Some sources state that the final words of Kelly, right before he was hanged to death were “Such is Life”. These words have since become catchy and often used in regards to talking about Kelly.

Q: Why is Ned Kelly a hero for kids?

Kelly is viewed as a hero-like figure for kids in Australia because of several reasons:

  • Most people see Kelly as a symbol of underdog, fighting against a powerful and oppressive authority.
  • Kids are often captivated by the stories of Kelly that has been romanticised and mythologised over years, becoming an integral part of Australian folklore.
  • Kelly’s defiance against authority, his daring escapades and his cunning tactics to outwit the police, all make him a hero-like figure among kids who admire bravery.
  • Today in Australia, Ned Kelly is celebrated as a cultural icon, with his pictures appearing everywhere, even in children’s books.

Q: What was Ned Kelly’s famous letter?

Ned Kelly’s famous letter is known as the “Jerilderie Letter” that is indeed a longest one containing 56 pages of 8,000 words in which Kelly has tried to justify his actions.

The Jerilderie Letter can be viewed as an important historical record as it contains the text written by Ned Kelly in 1879. It was actually dictated to Joe Byrne, another member of the Kelly gang, and it was named after the town of Jerilderie in which it was written.

The letter can be viewed as the statement announcing Kelly’s position and is directed to the police and the public detailing the perceived injustices committed by the authorities. It is a comprehensive account of Kelly’s perspective regarding events that led to his becoming an outlaw.

On the issue of the killings of three policemen at Stringybark Creek in 1878, Kelly justified the killings as mere acts of defending themselves and laments the injustices he claims to have suffered at the hands of the police, which led to him and his gang named outlaws.

In the letter, Ned Kelly also condemns what he perceives as the corruption and brutality of the police force and advocates for justice for the poor and minority in the society.

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