Ned Kelly's Jerilderie letter

Learning intention

Students examine why Ned Kelly wrote the Jerilderie letter and the impact it had on the public, the police and how we understand his life.

Students will:

  • Identify and describe points of view, attitudes and values in primary and secondary sources (ACHHS155)
  • Identify and analyse different historical interpretations (including their own) (ACHHS173)


In 1879, Ned Kelly dictated the Jerilderie letter to Joe Byrne. In the letter, Kelly told his version of events leading up to his exile and eventual capture. The letter provides us with a unique insight into what Kelly was thinking and feeling, as well as how he hoped to be perceived by those around him.

You can find background information for students in the the Bushrangers section of Explore history and the Select resources section of Learn skills.


Primary sources on ergo:

Evaluating sources - student template [Word 8.52KB]


Have a brief discussion with the class about what they already know about Ned Kelly. Ask them where they've heard about him and his life, what they think of him - was he a hero or a common criminal?

Introduce primary sources from ergo. Each source provides contextual information, including transcripts, and a zoom function so students can investigate detail. Use the evaluating sources template [Word 8.52KB] as a basis for analysis.

Use questions like these to guide the discussion:

  • Why did Ned Kelly write the Jerilderie letter? Who did he write it for?
  • Why did Ned Kelly dictate the letter to Jo Byrne? What does this tell us about Kelly?
  • How does Kelly use language to make the reader feel more sympathetic towards him? What kinds of words influence how we see him and his actions?
  • If you were a member of the Victorian police at the time, how would you have felt about the Jerilderie letter?
  • How do criminals make their version of events public today? Book deals? News coverage? What does this tell us about how society's views of crime have changed?
  • Find out more about Irish settlers and their common complaint of being victimised and disadvantaged during colonial times.

More to explore

The complete Jerilderie letter online with transcript from the National Museum of Australia

A page from Ned Kelly's letter.
A page from Ned Kelly's letter.
A page from Ned Kelly's Jerilderie letter.
A page from Ned Kelly's Jerilderie letter.