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Ned Kelly death mask
, date unknown

by an unknown artist after Maximilian Kreitmayer

cast plaster

Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly (1855–1880), bushranger, is Australia’s pre-eminent folk hero. Kelly and his siblings were raised by their mother, Ellen Kelly (née Quinn, 1832–1923) after the death of their father, an Irish ex-convict. The family was in constant conflict with the authorities and Ned Kelly, implicated in the criminal activities of the Quinn clan, was charged with several offences over the 1860s and 1870s, and spent some years in prison. In 1878, accused of shooting at a policeman, Ned and his younger brother Dan Kelly went into hiding near Mansfield, Victoria, and were joined by their friends Joe Byrne and Steve Hart. Ned killed three members of a police party sent to capture him in the famous shoot-out at Stringybark Creek in October of that year. Despite the huge prices on their heads, the exploits of the ‘Kelly gang’ multiplied. They avoided capture until June 1880 when they arrived in Glenrowan, intending to ambush a police train. Ned, wearing a homemade suit of armour, was wounded in the ensuing ‘siege’ in which Dan Kelly, Byrne and Hart all died. Kelly survived, only to be hanged in Melbourne Gaol on 11 November 1880.

Following the execution of a notorious prisoner, it was customary for a death mask to be made. Maximilian Kreitmayer, the proprietor of a Melbourne waxworks, took a cast of Ned’s clean-shaven head in the deadhouse of the Melbourne Gaol. One of the several masks that were made of Kelly was immediately put on display in Kreitmayer’s establishment.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery Study Collection, Canberra
Gift of John Molony 2018
Accession number: SC1.2019