When Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick fired his police issued Webley revolver inside the Kelly homestead during the botched attempt to arrest Dan Kelly for horse stealing, it signalled the start of the Kelly outbreak. For the next twenty months, rifles, shot guns, and revolvers would be used on both sides of the law to devastating effect.
Weapons played a vital role in the shaping of the Kelly Legend even though the police and the Kelly Gang exchanged shots only twice, at Stringybark Creek, and the siege of Glenrowan. On that fateful day of Sunday 28 June 1880, it would be a 16-pellet cartridge fired from a police shot gun by the murderous Sergeant Arthur Steele that would usher in the final chapter to one of the most talked about periods in Australian history.
Up until Euroa, Ned’s weapon of choice was an ancient carbine of .577 calibre, sawn off at the butt and barrel and held together with waxed string. It’s total length was only sixty centimetres. It was probably given to him around the age of fourteen during Ned’s brief ‘apprenticeship’ with the cantankerous bushranger Harry Power. Ten years later this gun would be used with deadly effect against a party of police at Stringybark Creek.
After the shootings the Gang found themselves with an impressive array of weapons. On this hunting trip the police had intended to kill both Ned and Dan. This is evident in the body straps and pack horse brought on the expedition in order to bring the bodies of the Kelly boys back to Mansfield. When the Gang rode out of the bloodied police camp they took with them four Webly revolvers, Scanlon’s .500 calibre seven shot Spencer Carbine (borrowed from the Woods Point gold escort), and Kennedy’s double-barrelled shot gun (borrowed from Reverend Sanderford, the Mansfield Vicar).
Their collection grew when the Gang held up the National Bank in Euroa. They rode away with two rifles, two double-barrelled shot guns, eight revolvers and a Snider-Enfield .577 calibre rifle which, nicknamed ‘Betty’, quickly became Ned’s favourite. He even engraved a K onto the rifles butt. When the gang moved on to Jerilderie they relieved from their police prisoners a six-shot .36 calibre Colt Navy revolver, another revolver, and the station’s two .539 calibre Callisher and Terry Carbines. They also collected two revolvers from the Bank of New South Wales.
Leading up to the battle at Glenrowan the Gang amassed an arsenal of unknown size. What is known is that they bought additional firearms including some Winchester rifles and a treacherous Colt revolving rifle, which had the unpleasant knack of firing all six chambers at once and removing the shooters fingers. When a mounted trooper dropped his Martini-Henry rifle near the Kelly homestead that too was added to the stock pile. It was this Martini-Henry that was used by the Gang to test the strength of their armour.
Most of the best guns, including the Spencer and ‘Betty’, were distributed to the Kelly sympathisers on the lead up to the Glenrowan showdown. The Gang figured they would not need such weapons as their armour would reduce the effect of range and firepower. Ned reverted back to his original carbine given to him by Power. He also carried the finger removing Colt and two cap-and-ball revolvers, one of which was the Navy Colt courtesy of the Jerilderie police.
When the plan to derail the special police train went airy the sympathisers and their weapons melted back into the bush. Today, many of the guns still exist and are jealously guarded by the descendants of the men who were keen to declare a republic of North East Victoria.