True History of the Kelly Gang

True History of the Kelly Gang

infobox Book |
name = True History of the Kelly Gang
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption =
author = Peter Carey
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = Australia
language = English
series =
genre = Crime, historical novel
publisher = University of Queensland Press
release_date = 2000
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Hardback and Paperback)
pages | isbn = ISBN 0-7022-3236-X
preceded_by = Jack Maggs
followed_by = My Life as a Fake

"True History of the Kelly Gang" is a historical novel by Australian writer Peter Carey. It was first published in Brisbane by the University of Queensland Press in 2000. It won the 2001 Man Booker Prize and the Commonwealth Writers Prize in the same year. Despite its title, the book is fiction and a variation on the Ned Kelly story.

In an effort to attract foreign readers to the story, the book's American publisher, Alfred Knopf, heralded the book as a "great American novel", even though the novel takes place entirely within Australia. The claim that this book is an "American novel" appears to be based on the fact that author Peter Carey, an Australian, has lived in New York for many years.

Plot summary

Ned Kelly begins his autobiography with a description of his father, John "Red" Kelly, an Irishman transported to Van Diemen's Land and eventually settling in the colony of Victoria, Australia. After marrying Ned's eventual mother Ellen (née Quinn), the Kellys settle in Avenel, a rural area northeast of Melbourne. Red Kelly is shown to have numerous brushes with the colonial police forces, resulting in his imprisonment and eventual death when his son Ned was twelve years of age.

After the rest of the family resettles in northeast Victoria under the Land Grant Act, Ned's mother attempts to provide for her children by running a shebeen and taking on a series of lovers, including the notorious bushranger Harry Power. Power agrees to take on the young Ned as an apprentice, and provides Ned with knowledge of the land, hideouts, and strategies for bushranging. Kelly eventually leaves Power and returns to his family's settlement, where he is shown making dogged attempts to live an honest lifestyle.

Kelly is arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for reception of a stolen horse (although Kelly claims that a friend, "Wild" Wright, knowingly sold him the stolen horse without Kelly's knowledge - Kelly later extracts revenge on Wright in a bare-knuckle boxing match). After two years of working as a sawmill hand, he is drawn back to bushranging when a herd of his horses is appropriated by a rival squatter. His descent back into crime is precipitated by a visit from a local police officer, Constable Alex Fitzpatrick. The policeman woos Ned's younger sister Kate, prompting Ned to reveal that Fitzpatrick has multiple mistresses in other towns and has no intention of marrying Kate. After his mother Ellen threatens the constable with violence, Fitzpatrick pulls his revolver on the family and Ned shoots him in the hand in self-defense. Although he dresses the wound and Fitzpatrick leaves while promising that no action will be taken, warrants for the arrest of Ned and his younger brother Dan are issued the next day.

Ned Kelly and his brother Dan hide out in the hills of northeast Victoria, eventually being joined by their friends Steve Hart and Joe Byrne (later becoming known as the Kelly Gang). Kelly's mother is eventually arrested along with her baby daughter and imprisoned in Melbourne as enticement for Kelly to give himself up. A detachment of four policemen is eventually sent to kill the quartet after efforts to arrest them prove unsuccessful; the Kelly Gang ambushes them at Stringybark Creek, where Ned kills three of the policemen. This adds to the growing folklore surrounding the Kelly Gang, which they fuel by robbing banks and giving parts of the money to the lower-class settlers in Victoria who help to shelter the gang.

During the gang's raids, Ned Kelly meets a young Irish girl named Mary Hearn, who already has a young son by Kelly's stepfather, George King. Kelly falls in love with Mary and makes plans to escape the colony with her after she becomes pregnant with his child. Crucially, it is Mary who motivates Kelly to begin writing the story of his life as a legacy for his future child, who she fears will never know its father. Following two successful bank robberies, Mary uses the money to emigrate to San Francisco with her son and Kelly's unborn daughter; Kelly remains behind, however, unwilling to leave Australia until his mother is released from jail.

The gang is eventually cornered by a large squad of dozens of policemen (versus just four in the Kelly Gang) in the town of Glenrowan where the gang has taken numerous hostages and constructed several suits of plate-steel armor for protection. One of the hostages is the crippled local schoolmaster, Thomas Curnow, who encourages Kelly to relate the story of his entire life after seeing samples of his writing. Curnow betrays the gang by warning the incoming police train that the gang has sabotaged the tracks, feeling that history will view him as a "hero". The policemen surround the town and engage in a furious shootout with the armor-clad gang, seriously wounding Ned Kelly and killing the other three members of the gang. Kelly's narrative stops abruptly just before the shootout itself; a secondary narrator, identified as "S.C", relates the tale of the gunfight and Kelly's eventual death by hanging. Since Curnow is shown to have escaped Glenrowan with Kelly's manuscripts, it is assumed that this narrator is a relative of Curnow's. Kelly dies a hero to the people of northeastern Victoria, with the legend of his life left to grow over time.


The novel is divided into thirteen sections (each ostensibly written by Kelly), with a short description at the beginning of each section describing the physical condition of the original manuscripts. The novel also includes a preface and a frame narrative at the end which describe the events of Kelly's final shootout at Glenrowan and his eventual death sentence. Carey departs from what is known about Kelly's life by providing him with a lover and a daughter, for whom he has been recording his life history whilst on the run from the police.

The novel is written in a distinctive vernacular style, with little in the way of punctuation or grammar; the influence of Kelly's Irish heritage is also apparent in his language. The style is similar to Kelly's only surviving piece of writing, the Jerilderie Letter. Excepting the frame narratives of "S.C", the novel does not contain any commas. Although there is much profanity in the novel, it has been censored (replacing vulgarities with terms such as "effing" or "adjectival") for the benefit of Kelly's fictional daughter, presumably by Kelly himself.


Horses play a significant role throughout the novel, paralleling at times both the confinement and freedom of Kelly and his family. The night sky is admired and expounded upon by Kelly throughout his history, usually standing as an infinite and ancient contrast to the brevity of his life on earth [p.337] . The pivotal importance of storytelling and the seeking of truth is a theme which dominates the work as a whole, and is manifested in numerous ways not only through Ned Kelly but also through many of the other characters.


External links

* [ Interview with Peter Carey] about the novel
* [ Book Review]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • History of the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs — The history of the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs stretches from the 1930s to the present day. Based in Belmore, a suburb of Sydney, the Bulldogs in 1935 were admitted to the New South Wales Rugby Football League (NSWRFL) competition, a… …   Wikipedia

  • History of the Washington Redskins — This article details the history of the Washington Redskins a professional American football franchise. The Washington Redskins have played over one thousand games. In those games, the club has won five professional American football… …   Wikipedia

  • motion picture, history of the — Introduction       history of the medium from the 19th century to the present. Early years, 1830–1910 Origins       The illusion of motion pictures is based on the optical phenomena known as persistence of vision and the phi phenomenon. The first …   Universalium

  • The Age Book of the Year — Awards are annual literary awards presented by Melbourne s The Age newspaper. The awards were first presented in 1974. Since 1998 they have been presented as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival. Initially, two awards were given, one for… …   Wikipedia

  • The Secret River — infobox Book | name = The Secret River title orig = translator = image caption = author = Kate Grenville cover artist = country = Australia language = English series = genre = Historical fiction publisher = Text Publishing, Australia release date …   Wikipedia

  • History of Australia (1788–1850) — History of Australia This article is part of a series Chronological …   Wikipedia

  • History of film — This article is about the history of cinema. For other uses, see History of photography. Years in film 1870s 1880s 1890s …   Wikipedia

  • The Whitechapel Murders (1888-91) — were a series of eleven unsolved brutal murders of women committed in Whitechapel, in the East End of London between 3 April 1888 and 13 February 1891. At various points all of them have been ascribed to the notorious, but elusive, individual… …   Wikipedia

  • The Children of Húrin —   …   Wikipedia

  • The Commission (mafia) — The Commission is the governing body of the Mafia in the United States. Although its makeup has changed several times since its 1931 creation, the bosses of the New York Five Families still provide the core membership of The… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.