A Major Forensic Investigation Has Uncovered More Of Ned Kelly's Secrets

Ned Kelly’s skull?
The skull with CT scan lines. Image: Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine.

Scientists have just conducted a major forensic investigation into the remains of Ned Kelly, the bushranger.

The comprehensive study has uncovered the truth of his burial, post-mortem and what became of his skull.

The infamous story of the outlaw has been debated and discussed for more than a century, yet some mysteries still remain about Ned Kelly and the Kelly Gang.

And Ned’s death 136 years ago still sparks debate on whether he was a Robin Hood-like character or just a criminal.

Just this week three policemen killed by the Kelly gang were honoured. On Police Remembrance Day, Constables Michael Scanlan and Thomas Lonigan, and Sergeant Michael Kennedy, received the Victoria Police Star medal.

Craig Cormick, the book’s editor, gathered contributions from more than 30 experts to guide readers through historical documents as well as complex science, addressing many of the myths.

“His remains have revealed many answers to long-held debates about him, including where he was buried, whether a post-mortem was conducted on him, and what became of his skull,” Mr Cormick said.

“The book explores the science undertaken by researchers at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, including identifying skeletal remains, analysing DNA samples from Ned Kelly’s blood-soaked possessions and physically matching injuries on bones to known bullet wounds that Ned Kelly sustained.”

Mysteries of Ned Kelly solved:

What happened to Ned’s head?
Ned Kelly was hanged at Old Melbourne Gaol on 11 November 1880, and his body buried in a grave there. Many stories emerged of his skull being separated and used as a paperweight or trophy, but it was eventually put on display at the museum of the Old Melbourne Gaol, until it was stolen in 1978.

Has Ned’s skull been found?
Ned’s skull was eventually returned by a Western Australian farmer, Thomas Baxter, in 2009. This skull, which became known as the ‘Baxter Skull’ was the same one that had been on display at the Old Melbourne Gaol for many, many years. The skull was certainly very similar in shape to Ned’s (based on craniofacial superimposition of his death mask), but was shown by DNA examination not to be his. Ned Kelly’s skull has never been found.

So whose skull was it?

Circumstantial evidence pointed to the skull belonging to multiple murderer Frederick Deeming. But the only way to know for sure was to put forth a rare and complicated request to exhume the remains of Deeming’s brother, Thomas Bailey, to obtain a DNA sample. After due process it was discovered that the skull does not belong to Frederick Deeming. It does not belong to Ned Kelly. And so the mystery continues.

Last scene of the Kelly drama: the criminal on the scaffold. Image: State Library of Victoria.

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