The Story of the Kelly Gang

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This article is about a film. For the bushranger, see Ned Kelly.
The Story of the Kelly Gang
The Story of the Kelly Gang 1906.jpg
A famous still from the film showing one of the actors in a Kelly suit of armour.
Directed by Charles Tait
Produced by William Gibson
Millard Johnson
John Tait
Nevin Tait
Written by Charles & John Tait
Based on the play The Kelly Gang by Arnold Denham
Starring Elizabeth Tait
John Tait
Distributed by J & N Nevin Tait
Release dates
  • December 26, 1906 (1906-12-26)
Running time
4,000 feet[1] (approx 60 min)
Country Australia
Budget £ 1,125[2] or £400[3]
Box office £25,000[3][4][5]
The Story of the Kelly Gang (fragment).

The Story of the Kelly Gang is a 1906 Australian film that traces the life of the legendary infamous outlaw and bushranger Ned Kelly (1854–1880). It was written and directed by Charles Tait. The film ran for more than an hour, and at that time was the longest narrative film yet seen in the world, making it the first ever non-documentary feature-length film. Its approximate reel length was 4,000 feet (1,200 m).[6] It was first shown at the Athenaeum Hall in Melbourne on 26 December 1906 and in the UK in January 1908.[7][8]

In 2007, The Story of the Kelly Gang was inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register for being the world's first full-length narrative feature film.[9][10]


Film historian Ina Bertrand suggests that the tone of The Story of the Kelly Gang' is "one of sorrow, depicting Ned Kelly and his gang as the Last of the Bushrangers." Bertrand identifies several scenes that suggest "considerable sophistication" as filmmakers on the part of the Taits. One is the composition of a scene of police shooting parrots in the bush. The second is the capture of Ned, shot from the viewpoint of the police, as he advances.[11]

According to the synopsis given in the surviving program, the film originally comprised six sequences. These provided a loose narrative based on the Kelly gang story.

  • Scene 1: Police discuss a warrant for Dan Kelly's arrest. Later, Kate Kelly rebuffs the attentions of a Trooper.
  • Scene 2: The killings of Kennedy, Scanlon and Lonigan at Stringybark Creek by the gang.
  • Scene 3: The hold-up at Younghusband's station and a bank hold–up.
  • Scene 4: Various gang members and supporters evade the police and the gang killing of Aaron Sherritt.
  • Scene 5: The attempt to derail a train and scenes at the Glenrowan Inn. The police surround the hotel, Dan Kelly and Steve Hart "die by each other's hands" after Joe Byrne is shot dead.
  • Scene 6: The closing scenes. Ned Kelly fights hard but is shot in the legs. "He begs the Troopers to spare his life, thus falls the last of the Kelly Gang…" [12]

Some confusion regarding the plot has emerged as a result of a variant poster from the film dating from 1910. Its similar (but different) photos suggest that either the film was being added to, or altered, or an entirely new version was made by Johnson and Gibson, as the poster proclaims. Fragments of another version of the story, "the Perth fragment", shows Aaron Sherritt being shot outside, in front of an obviously painted canvas flat. This now appears to be from a different film altogether, perhaps a cheap imitation by a theatrical company, keen to cash in on the success of the original.[8]


Still image of film.

There is considerable uncertainty over who appeared in the film. According to the Australian National Film and Sound Archive, the only actors positively identified are;

Others thought to be in the film include

  • Frank Mills, as the title character Ned Kelly
  • John and Frank Tait, Harriet Tait, members of Charles Tait's family.[14]

In her memoirs, Viola Tait claimed the part of Ned was played by a Canadian stunt actor, who deserted the project part way through.[14]

Origins and locations of the film[edit]

Australian bushranger Ned Kelly had been executed only twenty-six years before The Story of the Kelly Gang was made, and Ned's mother Ellen and younger brother Jim were still alive at the time it was released. Historian Ian Jones suggests the story still had an "indefinable appeal" for Australians in the early twentieth century.[15]

The film was made by Charles Tait and Nevin Tait, Millard Johnson and William Gibson, pioneering exhibitors. Johnson and Gibson also had experience developing film stock.

In later years, William Gibson claimed that while touring through New Zealand showing the bio-pic "Living London", he noticed the large audiences attracted to Charles McMahon's stage play The Kelly Gang. Film historian Eric Reade claims the Taits themselves owned the stage rights to a Kelly play,[16] while actors Sam Crewe and John Forde later also claimed to have thought of the idea of a making a film of the Kelly Gang's exploits, inspired by the success of stage plays.

A second variation of the story claims that the rights to a popular Kelly play were purchased from E. J. Cole's Bohemian Company, and members of the troup performed in the film.

Tait's wife Elizabeth and their children and brothers are thought to have also taken part.[8]


Shooting of the film reportedly took over six months and involved 60 people with a budget of an estimated £1,000.[1]

W. J. Lincoln later claimed in 1916 that the film was actually "directed by Mr Sam Crews, who, by the way, worked without a scenario, and pieced the story together as he went along."[17] He later added that "the principal characters were played by the promoters and their relatives, who certainly made no pretensions to any great histrionic talent."[17]

Another article gave credit to the direction to Lincoln and said the film was shot in Blackburn.[18]

Much of the film was shot on the Chartersville estate at Heidelberg, now a suburb of Melbourne.[14] The Victoria Railways Department assisted by providing a train.[19] According to Lincoln, "the scene depicting the attempted train wrecking episode was taken on the Outer Circle rail way."[17]

Other scenes in the film were shot in the suburbs of St Kilda (indoor scenes), and possibly Eltham, Greensborough, Mitcham, and Rosanna.[20] At the end of the twentieth century, only about 10 minutes were known to have survived.[21] In November 2006, the National Film and Sound Archive released a new digital restoration which incorporated 11 minutes of material newly discovered in the United Kingdom.

The restoration now is 17 minutes long and includes the key scene of Kelly's last stand. However, a copy of the programme booklet has also survived, containing both extracts from contemporary newspaper reports of the capture of the gang, and a synopsis of the film, in six 'scenes'. The latter provided audiences with the sort of information later provided by intertitles, and can help historians imagine what the film may have been like.


Still image of film

The film was given a week of trial screenings in country towns in late 1906. This proved enormously successful and the movie already recouped its budget for these screenings alone.[22]

Its Melbourne debut was made at the Athenaeum Hall on 26 December 1906. Although the country screenings had been silent, when the movie was screened in Melbourne it was accompanied by live sound effects, including blank cartridges as gunshots, pebbles shaken for rain, metal sheets wobbled for storms and coconut shells beaten together to simulate hoofbeats. At later screenings a lecturer would also appear explaining the action.[23]

Many groups at the time, including some politicians and the police interpreted the film as glorifying criminals and in Benalla and Wangaratta the film was banned in 1907, and then again in Victoria in 1912.

The film toured Australia for over 20 years and was also shown in New Zealand, Ireland and Britain. The backers and exhibitors made "a fortune" from the film, perhaps in excess of £25,000.[20]



  • One of the gang's actual suits (probably Joe Byrnes') was supposedly used in the film.
  • The trains shown in the film were filmed with permission from the Victorian Railways Commission.
  • In 1906, the producers claimed authenticity, but apologised to the public for dressing the police in uniforms which they would not have worn while out in the bush. This was explained as necessary to enable the audience to distinguish between the outlaws and the police, in a time before colour film and when close-ups (allowing distinctions among characters) were rare.[14]

Other Ned Kelly films[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "THE STORY OF THE KELLY GANG.". The Register (Adelaide: National Library of Australia). 22 December 1906. p. 4. Retrieved 7 September 2013. 
  2. ^ Graham Shirley and Brian Adams, Australia Cinema: The First Eighty Years, Currency Press, 1989 p 18 gives the figure at £1,000 – with this being recouped during the first week
  3. ^ a b "THE RESEARCH BUREAU HOLDS AN AUTOPSY.". Sunday Mail (Brisbane: National Library of Australia). 17 February 1952. p. 11. Retrieved 28 April 2013. 
  4. ^ Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, 7.
  5. ^ ""Kelly Gang" Film Began Era Of "Feature" Pictures.". The Sunday Herald (Sydney: National Library of Australia). 9 October 1949. p. 9 Supplement: Features. Retrieved 4 August 2012. 
  6. ^ Ray Edmondson and Andrew Pike (1982) Australia's Lost Films. P.13. National Library of Australia, Canberra. ISBN 0-642-99251-7
  7. ^ The Argus, 27 December 1906
  8. ^ a b c Ina Bertrand and Ken Robb (1982) "The continuing saga of...The Story of the Kelly Gang." Cinema Papers, No. 36, February 1982, p.18-22
  9. ^ Chichester, Jo. "Return of the Kelly Gang". The UNESCO Courier (UNESCO) (2007 #5). ISSN 1993-8616. 
  10. ^ The first feature-length documentary film was The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight in 1897
  11. ^ Senses of Cinema. Ina Bertrand. Australian Contemporary Cinema, Issue 26, May 22, 2003.[1] Retrieved 10 January 2013.
  12. ^ National Film and Sound Archive
  13. ^ Sally Jackson and Graham Shirley, The Story of the Kelly Gang. National Film and Sound Archive, Australia [2]
  14. ^ a b c d Viola Tait (1971) A Family of Brothers. The Taits and J.C.Williamson; a Theatre History. Chapter 4. Heinemann Australia. ISBN 0-85561-011-5
  15. ^ Ian Jones (1995)Ned Kelly; A short life. Thomas C. Lothian, Melbourne. p.337. ISBN 0 85091 631 3
  16. ^ Eric Reade (1979)History and Heartburn: The Saga of Australian Film. p.5. Harper & Row, Sydney. ISBN 0-06-312033X
  17. ^ a b c "PICTURE PROFILES IN THE OLDEN DAYS.". Winner (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). 9 February 1916. p. 11. Retrieved 26 October 2014. 
  18. ^ "History of the films goes back to the day just 65 years ago ...". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 30 October 1954. p. 10. Retrieved 18 June 2015. 
  19. ^ "THE STORY OF THE KELLY GANG.". The Register (Adelaide: National Library of Australia). 24 December 1906. p. 7. Retrieved 7 September 2013. 
  20. ^ a b Eric Reade (1975) The Australian Screen. P. 28-30, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne. ISBN 0-7018-0319-3. Reade claims the film cost £400 to make
  21. ^ Hogan, David (7 February 2006). "World's first 'feature' film to be digitally restored by National Film and Sound Archive" (Press release). National Film and Sound Archive. Retrieved 09 01 2013.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  22. ^ Shirley and Adams p 17-18
  23. ^ Graham Shirley & Brian Adams, Australian Cinema: The First Eighty Years, Currency Press, 1989 p 17

External links[edit]