Almanac Poetry: Ned Kelly’s Last Hours


Ned Kelly’s Last Hours


On his last night,
Kelly slept fitfully
after a final meal
of roast lamb and peas
washed down with a bottle of claret.
He rose at five a.m.,
sang some bush ballads
then briefly went back to sleep.
At eight a.m., he walked
across the prison yard
toward his place of execution,
remarked upon the beauty of some flowers,
saw the dray for his dead body.
At ten a.m., upon the gallows,
the petty thief Upjohn did his work.


. . .


After death, Kelly’s head
was cut off, shaved,
inspected by doctors.
A plaster cast was made.
The body was dissected.
Portions of the corpse
were displayed by Melbourne medical men
in “curiosity cabinets”.
His skull was used as a paperweight
by a minor public official.



Acknowledgement: first published in Southerly journal, 2017.


Ned Kelly on the Scaffold


(Source of image: Wikimedia Commons. Original source: Australasian Sketcher, November, 20, 1880.)



More poetry and prose from Kevin Densley HERE



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Kevin Densley is a graduate of both Deakin University and The University of Melbourne. He has taught writing and literature in numerous Victorian universities and TAFES. He is a poet and writer-in-general. His fifth book-length poetry collection, Please Feed the Macaws ... I'm Feeling Too Indolent, was published in late 2023 by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Other writing includes screenplays for educational films.


  1. DBalassone says

    Wow. Expertly handled, Kevin. You know your subject very well.

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Many thanks, Damian. Pleasing to hear such comments from a fellow-poet. I’ve been interested in this Kelly subject matter since I was a kid. My poems about them have certainly had a considerable “gestation period”!

  3. Colin Ritchie says

    Love your work Kevin, another fab poem reflecting so well moments in our history.

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Colin. Your response is much appreciated.

  5. A few points , if i may, Kevin.

    The crowd outside?

    The mournful family?


  6. Kevin Densley says

    Of course, Glen – but in this instance I decided to focus my work upon a smaller canvas. There are many different sorts of poems (and other kinds of writing) which could be written, I suppose, about the bigger picture.

  7. Can you imagine what runs through a person’s mind in those last moments as the noose goes into place?. What happened to his body after death was appalling, but that treatment was hardly unique.

    I’m sure Redmond Barry was chopped up for curiosity?

    Terrific Kevin.

  8. Ta Kevin.

    I did my BA Honours thesis on the outbreak. I’m always interested seeing material pertaining to it.


  9. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Dips. Yes, I’ve quite often thought about what the condemned think about in their last moments – and have read numerous historical and contemporary accounts of executions, the vast majority of which give one a strange, horrible chill. And Redmond Barry … what an interesting, complex character …

    And thanks again, Glen – highly interested, informed and engaged readers such as yourself are what a writer wants.

  10. So much written about Ned Kelly. The latest I red (apart from your poem) was a graphic novel by my favourite Australian comic book artist, the late, great MONTY WEDD.It’s really, really good. Far better than watching the Crows – but that’s another story.

  11. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Fisho, for your comments. That graphic novel does sound like something I should have a look at.

    Re the Crows … I suppose “disappointing” is an understatement.

    I’m a Cats supporter; as far as I’m concerned, we’re “just going” at present, even if we do have quite a bit of talent.

  12. Very solemn, Kevin.
    In keeping with the subject.

  13. Nicole Kelly says

    Love the Kelly story, Kevin. Thanks for an interesting read.

  14. Kevin Densley says

    Yes, Smokie, thanks. I worked particularly hard upon getting the tone of this poem right.

  15. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Nicole. I’m pleased that you found the poem interesting.

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