Rare letter about Ned Kelly describes faithful mare

Donald Sutherland's letter describing the dramatic capture of Bushranger Ned Kelly. Photo: State Library of Victoria
Donald Sutherland’s letter describing the dramatic capture of Bushranger Ned Kelly. Photo: State Library of Victoria

A 133-year-old letter describing the dramatic capture of Australian outlaw Ned Kelly, recently donated to the State Library of Victoria, describes how his faithful mare followed him among the trees as the final stages of the shootout unfolded. The letter by Scotsman Donald Gray Sutherland, dated July 8, 1880, provides an account during the siege at Glenrowan in which an armour-clad Kelly was shot and captured.

Sutherland’s letter to his parents in Scotland, says: “The Kelly’s are annihilated. The gang is completely destroyed …”

Ned Kelly, pictured in 1874.
Ned Kelly, pictured in 1874.

Sutherland even enclosed a lock of hair from Kelly’s horse with the letter, noting in the postscript: “The hair enclosed is from the tail of Ned Kelly the famous murderer and bushranger’s mare. His favourite mare who followed him all around the trees during the firing. He said he wouldn’t care for himself if he thought his mare safe.”

State librarian and library chief executive Sue Roberts described the donation of the letter as extremely generous and a significant addition to the Kelly story.

“This letter is a very personal account of events that have become part of Australia’s folklore.

“We are delighted that Mr Sutherland’s family chose the State Library of Victoria as caretaker for this remarkable document. It will join Ned’s armour, Jerilderie Letter and other important items in our Kelly collection – one of the largest and most significant in the world.”

Sutherland sailed to Australia in 1876 when he was 24.

He travelled to Glenrowan after the police shootout with the Kelly gang, and witnessed an injured Kelly lying on the stretcher.

Sutherland told his parents: “On hearing of the affray I at once proceeded to Glenrowan to have a look at the desperados who caused me so many dreams and sleepless nights.”

This was probably no exaggeration, as Sutherland worked at the Bank of Victoria in Oxley, just eight miles from Glenrowan. The branch  had yet to be raided by the Kelly Gang.

“I saw the lot of them. Ned the leader of the gang being the only one taken alive. He was lying on a stretcher quite calm and collected notwithstanding the great pain he must have been suffering from his wounds.

A photograph taken on  July 5, 1880, showing a policeman equipped in the Kelly armour. Photo: State Library of Victoria
A photograph taken on July 5, 1880, showing a policeman equipped in the Kelly armour. Photo: State Library of Victoria

“He was wounded in 5 or 6 places, only in the arms and legs – His body and head being encased in armour made from the moule (sic) boards of a lot of ploughs. Now the farmers about here, have been getting their moule boards taken off their ploughs at night for a long time but who ever dreamed it was the Kellys and that they would be used for such a purpose.

“Ned’s armour alone weighed 97 pounds. The police thought he was a fiend seeing their rifle bullets mere sliding off him like hail. They were firing into him at about 10 yards in the grim light of the morning without the slightest effect.

“The force of the rifle bullets made him stagger when hit but it was only when they got him in the legs and arms that he reluctantly fell exclaiming as he did so ‘I am done I am done’.”

Kelly, he wrote, did not at all look like a murderer and Bushranger.

“After his capture he became very tame and conversed freely with those who knew him. Not having the pleasure of his acquaintance I did not speak to him although I should have liked very much to ask why he never stuck up the Bank of Victoria at Oxley.

“Poor Ned, I was really sorry for him. To see him lying pierced by bullets and still showing no signs of pain.”

Kelly, viewed as a murderer by some and as a folk hero by others who considered he was fighting against colonial authority, was hanged at Old Melbourne Jail later that year for killing three policemen.

3 thoughts on “Rare letter about Ned Kelly describes faithful mare

  • October 13, 2013 at 3:27 am

    And what about the mare ? I thought we would learn more about her ?

  • October 14, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Yes Fiona, it would be interesting to know what happened to the mare, maybe Robin will be able to fossik that one out.

  • October 16, 2013 at 4:32 am

    I wanted more about the mare too. After all, it was a horsetalk pge.


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