KELLY: LEGENDARY MAN, LEGENDARY BEARD
BY SHARON HOLLINGSWORTH
When you think about Ned Kelly what is the first thing you associate
with him? For many it would be his armour. But after looking around on
the internet it seems that for quite a few it would be his beard!
Both the armour and his beard added lustre to his legend. Ned had
quite an epic beard. The dictionary defines epic as "very imposing or
impressive; surpassing the ordinary." Yes, that would describe Ned
Kelly on many levels!
Ned's beard is almost always mentioned in any best of beards list or
poll on the internet, too. He also tops those at times!
In our modern times there are sports stars (and others from all walks
of life) especially in Australia that have large bushy beards which
are termed "Ned Kelly beards." In the press many of those are said to
have "beards to make Ned Kelly proud."
Still, it is not the norm to see men with really big beards in our
society nowadays. They are the exception rather than the rule. That
was not always the case, though.
In the late nineteenth century beards were the height of fashion, it
was quite unusual to see a man without one. Bearded gentlemen like the
ones in the illustration below sport typical facial hair of the era.
One can imagine them eagerly following the Kelly saga as it unfolded
in real time!
In a 1947 newspaper article wig maker James Graham (in the business
for 67 years..making 1880 his starting year!), opined that "The really
palmy days of hair-dressing and the tonsorial art were in the
'eighties, when every man had a beard that made him a Ned Kelly
Let's take a closer look at Ned Kelly's beard...
The first prison photograph of Ned Kelly at aged 15 has him as a
smooth faced youth, but his second prison photo in 1874 at age 19 has
him with just a hint of stubble. The police would eventually update
this photo with amateurishly drawn on facial hair. There would be at
least four different versions done of it.
[Ned at 19, and one with the addition of a 'fake beard']
Less than a year later the famous "Boxing Ned" photo was taken and
Ned's beard had filled quite a bit.
[Boxing Ned photo..courtesy of Dave White collection]
It would be six more years, and the eve of his execution, until Ned
would be photographed again (that we know of). In the years between
there would be plenty of illustrations and descriptions of him, some
very flattering and some not so very!
In 1876 Ned Kelly was described in an arrest warrant as having small
whiskers, moustache and beard.
In 1878 at the time of the Stringybark Creek incident Ned was
described by the sole surviving witness Constable Thomas McIntyre as
having "a full beard and moustache of a dirty, dark red colour,
moustache cut square across the mouth." As for the rest of the gang,
Joe Byrne was described as having a "fair moustache and long beard on
chin, very fine, like first growth." Dan Kelly's and Steve Hart's
descriptions did not include facial hair. Steve would later be seen
with a small growth of whiskers and there were some reports that at
one point he had grown his beard long, but after the siege of
Glenrowan when Father Gibney found the bodies of Steve and Dan he
described them as "beardless boys."
Ned later told James Gloster about the shootout at SBC and that
"Kennedy must have been a very good shot as well as a brave man, for
one of the shots went through my whiskers."
There seems to be a bit of a discrepancy in the size and colour of
Ned's beard. After the Euroa robbery, bank manager Robert Scott said
"Ned is a good looking man with reddish whiskers." Mrs. Scott, told
Ned that "he was a much more handsome and well dressed man than she
had expected and by no means the ferocious ruffian she imagined him to
That statement by Mrs. Scott must have inspired playwright Douglas
Stewart. In his 1943 play entitled "Ned Kelly" he had Joe chiding Ned
over Mrs. Scott's attentions to him. He compared Mrs. Scott to a hen
sparrow who would have liked to make a nest in Ned's beard!
Another report from Euroa described Ned as having "dark hair, dark
brown whiskers, and beard and moustache worn long."
[Euroa bank robbery illustration]
The write up in the Jerilderie paper after the robbery says of Ned
that "He stands nearly 6 feet high and wears a beard about two and a
half inches long."
That does not seem to go along with the assertion of Rev. Gribble that
Ned had a "long, flowing brown beard" nor the police telegram stating
that the "first offender" had a long beard.
Another colour discrepancy is from artist Thomas Carrington who saw
Ned after the capture at Glenrowan. He said that Ned had "...hair jet
black, inclined to curl, reddish beard and moustache and very heavy
[Ned in the dock]
Then we have yet another artist weighing in. Julian Ashton, who did
the sketch of Joe Byrne's body by candlelight at the Benalla lockup
(and, who, at Ned's trial did the famed "Ned in the Dock" illustration
which Constable Thomas McIntyre said was the best likeness of Ned
Kelly that he had seen) saw Ned just after his capture. In a 1934
article he described Ned and Jack Bradshaw took exception to it and
wrote a letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD.
"Sir,—Mr. Julian Ashton says that he is happy when working among his
cabbage plots out at Bondi. I do not wish to disturb his happiness.
But what he states about Ned Kelly, who should be allowed to rest in
silence, is absolutely incorrect, Mr. Ashton says he saw Ned Kelly
after he was brought in by the police, shot down In his armour. "I
well remember Ned Kelly's shock of red hair," he says, "and his warm
auburn beard." What he means, by the word "warm" I cannot under-
stand, but by this description I think Mr. Ashton was suffering from
imaginitis, and that he never saw Ned Kelly at all. I knew Ned Kelly
well, and I must contradict Mr. Ashton. He Is entirely wrong In his
description of the unfortunate man.
I say that Ned Kelly had not red hair and a warm auburn beard, and I
think someone must have "readied up" an impostor, with red hair and a
warm auburn beard, for a practical Joke on Mr. Ashton. I have a
photograph of Ned Kelly taken at Wangaratta, with hair and beard as
black as a crow...."
Is the "photo" below the one Bradshaw is alluding to? It must be a
case of imaginitis because that looks like an illustration not a "true
photo" as he labels it!
[Bradshaw illustration...courtesy of Michael Ball.]
While on the subject of Jack Bradshaw, below is an illustration from
his book showing Ned with a lush beard!
[illustration courtesy of Greg Young.]
Sgt. Steele said that Ned had dark brown whiskers and hair.
To further muddy the waters, Mr. Zincke, who was later one of Ned's
lawyers said that "Ned had dark brown whiskers and black hair and
We can only surmise that the colour differences could have been a
trick of the light as some of the lowlights and highlights of the
hairs came into play.
There was a period of over a year and a half during which there were
no confirmed sightings of the gang. However, a few unconfirmed
sightings were made. One of the four men seen in the Gunbower Island
area had "his whiskers shaved in Yankee fashion, which he had appeared
to have recently done." From the descriptions of the other three that
man would have been Ned. Just for fun Greg Young did an "arty" mock up
of Ned's first prison photo with a Buffalo Bill style beard attached
giving us an idea of how Ned would have looked shaved in the Yankee
[Yankee cut photo courtesy of Greg Young]
At Glenrowan when Ned was captured Sgt. Steele says that "I was
holding him by the wrist and the beard, when he remarked, 'Are you
Sergeant Steele?' I replied, 'Yes,' and he said, 'I thought so.' He
apparently had doubt of my identity, because I had a beard when he
last saw me, and removed it during the pursuit."
[Sgt. Steele with and without a beard]
Senior Constable John Kelly also testified that "I held him by the beard."
Interestingly, Frank Clune in The Kelly Hunters said of Sr. Constable
John Kelly: "'Seeing the train arrive, Senior Constable Kelly ran on a
wide circuit from the north end, to report the state of affairs to the
superintendent on the railway platform. He was lucky that some of the
newly-arrived police did not shoot him as, in the half-light, with his
big black beard and powerful
frame, he looked like Ned Kelly. He had lost his wideawake hat in the
bush and, to keep his head warm, was now wearing Ned Kelly's
bloodstained skull-cap. He was also carrying Ned Kelly's six-barrelled
Spencer rifle. As most of the police were not wearing uniforms,
it was surprising that they did not shoot one another in the general
confusion that ensued when the reinforcements arrived."
[illustration of Sr. Constable John Kelly]
These bits from the Royal Commission make mention of Ned's beard at Glenrowan:
8242. It would be?—Yes, I considered so. Sergeant Steele ran and got
him by the wrist and under the beard.
8243. Then he had not his helmet on?—The helmet was on; Sergeant
Steele said not, but I say it was.
8244. How did he get his beard?—He had him by the neck; it was not the
beard. He had him by the neck some way.
11272. You did not see anybody taking the revolver from him?—No, I
cannot say who took it. One had hold of his arm, and one his beard,
and another his arm.
11273. Who had hold of his beard?—Senior-Constable Kelly and Bracken
was standing over him.
11274. Might you be mistaken on that?—No.
11275. If anybody swore that Steele had him by the beard, would it be
true?—The lot of them might have got hold of him at different times.
(That last statement is probably true!)
This was also in the Royal Commission report:
He [Ned] said, “What is your name?” I said, “My name is Dwyer.” He
said, “Where are you from?” I said, “That is no matter to you.” I saw
him looking wistfully at the bottle in my hand, and looking down I saw
I had about a nobbler in it, and I said, “Will you have a drink of
brandy?” and he said, “Yes, please, if you will give it to me.” I
said, “Why would I not?” He said, “Put the glass to my lips, I
cannot—my hands are tied.” I put it to his lips, and some of the
brandy fell on his big beard, and he put his hand up to suck the
brandy in this way—[indicating his meaning]—and looking up at me, he
said, “Give me a bit of bread, I am very hungry.” Mr. Sadleir, hearing
his remark, said, “You shall have every care and attention, Ned. Go,
Dwyer, and see if you can get a bit of bread for him.” I went and got
some scone cakes from Mrs. McDonald’s, and Mr. Sadleir seeing from his
sucking his beard that he would like more brandy, told me to fetch a
bottle of brandy. Mr. Sadleir gave him the brandy, and I gave him the
In the book "The Bushrangers" by William Joy & Tom Prior they spoke to
a 93 year old man (book published in 1963, so the gentleman would have
been around ten yr old in 1880) who admits to being "the one person in
Euroa at that time who did NOT see the robbery." But he later saw Ned
and said of the occasion:
"I saw Ned Kelly after his capture. He was on the train to Beechworth
and the train stopped here for half-an-hour or so. There was a big
crowd and he looked out the window. He didn't say anything but, after
a while, he gave a smile and a wave. My strongest memory is of what a
fine beard he had. All the men used to wear beards in those days and I
remember I was terribly impressed by the fact that he had a longer and
better-looking beard than my
father. I can still see that beard - and the way he ignored the police
who were guarding him...."
[Ned on the train to Beechworth]
While Ned was being housed in the Beechworth Gaol for his committal
hearing, Constable McIntyre was also being housed there as he was to
be a witness. He noticed Ned out in the gaol yard.."he had procured a
bucket of water and sitting down on a low seat he after many shiftings
about, got it into a favourable light to obtain the best reflection of
himself in the water and taking a comb out of his pocket he proceeded
to comb his hair and beard and into this improvised mirror he gazed
nearly the whole of the time he was in the yard."
While Ned was being held in the Old Melbourne Gaol for his trial
family members stayed at the Robert Burns Hotel in Lonsdale Street.
The proprietor was a man named Daniel Buckley who had "the largest
beard in the city." (sure would like to see a photo of him!)
The Kelly family and friends had gotten thousands of signatures on a
petition to save his life, but it was not to be.
Two photographs were taken of him the day before his execution. It is
very obvious that his hair and beard had not been cut in some time.
One the photos is at the beginning of this article, the other is
[Ned in chains]
One of the newspapers had this regarding his execution:
"Dr. Barker instructed the executioner how to adjust the noose, and
this having been done by placing the knot close under the left ear of
the condemned man, while the cap was drawn closely over his head,
covering his entire face, but leaving his heavy beard exposed."
[Ned on scaffolding illustration]
After the execution Ned's hair and beard were shaved off so that Mr.
Kreitmayer could make the famous death mask.
I wonder if anyone had the presence of mind to sweep up and save
Ned has been portrayed many times on the film screen dating back to
1906. Most of the actors used fake beards but a few actually grew
beards for the part. I am not sure about Bob Chitty in 1951's
Glenrowan Affair as I have not seen the film to ascertain the
genuineness, but I did read where he said he was growing a long beard
for the role. Mick Jagger had a fake beard that resembled Abraham
Lincoln's according to many wags! The Last Outlaw's John Jarratt had a
real and very believable beard. He was quoted as saying: "I grew this
beard long before shooting started when I was working as a concrete
contractor with my brother."
Heath Ledger used fake beards in the 2002 film but he had to fight for
the right for his version of Ned to have a beard at all. There was
discussion by some of those in charge of having Heath and Orlando
Bloom to be smooth skinned to show off their matinee idol good looks,
especially for the US market. According to one news article:
"Thankfully though the demand by one of Ned Kelly's international
backers to "lose the beards" didn't pass."
In closing, I would like to quickly touch on the beards of the police
in the Kelly hunt. Look at these lineups of the troopers who were at
Glenrowan for the capture of Ned Kelly. Note how many of them are
Captain Standish was Commissioner of Police during the Kelly hunt. In
1879 he sent a telegram to Melbourne:
"Purchase or have made a dark brown beard & moustache in one
beard not too long
send up without delay to Craven's Hotel."
It sounds like he was getting ready for a bit of undercover work! This
makes me think about all those fake "Ned Kelly beard" sets they hawk
Police Inspector Brooke Smith was not a favourite of Ned's. Ned made a
jest about him in the Jerilderie Letter.
"..reminds one of a poodle dog half clipped in the lion fashion.."
Here is a photo of Brooke Smith..
and here is an illustration of a poodle dog half clipped in the lion
[courtesy of Greg Young]
I would like to extend special thanks to Dave White, Greg Young, and
Michael Ball for their encouragement and assistance with this article.
First published: 26 July 2010