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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, (neé Quinn) after the death of their father, an Irish former convict. The family was in constant conflict with the authorities. 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. A police crackdown led to the arrest of Mrs Kelly in April 1878. In October of that year, Sir Redmond Barry sentenced her to three years’ hard labour. Around the time of their mother’s sentencing, Ned and Dan Kelly went into hiding in the Wombat Ranges near Mansfield, Victoria. A police party comprising Sergeant Kennedy and Constables Lonigan, Scanlon and McIntyre was dispatched to capture them. On 25 October 1878 the officers camped at Stringybark Creek, where Ned marked them. The next day, when Kennedy and Scanlon went out to search the surrounding bush, the ‘Kelly gang’ – Ned, Dan, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart – ambushed Lonigan and McIntyre. Ned Kelly shot Lonigan dead as the officer drew his revolver. McIntyre surrendered, and when Kennedy and Scanlon returned, Ned called on them to do likewise. They refused; Ned Kelly killed Scanlon and mortally wounded Kennedy, later shooting him in the heart as an ‘act of mercy’. McIntyre escaped to Mansfield and related the story to his colleagues. Within weeks, the Victorian government advertised huge rewards for the Kelly gang members, and these rewards increased in the months to come, as the gang’s exploits multiplied and Ned composed the ‘Jerilderie letter’ expatiating on his motives. They avoided capture until they arrived in the town of Glenrowan in June 1880, intending to ambush a police train. In the town’s inn, Kelly, wearing a homemade suit of metal armour, was wounded in a ‘siege’ in which Dan Kelly, Byrne and Hart all died. Kelly survived, only to be hanged in Melbourne Gaol on 11 November 1880.

Maximilian Kreitmayer (1830–1906), medical modeller and waxworks proprietor, came to Victoria in 1856 and opened a grisly anatomical museum. By 1862 he had established a museum in Melbourne, and he soon launched similar ventures in Sydney, Adelaide and Hobart. From 1869 he owned Melbourne’s only waxworks – its Chamber of Horrors including the Kelly gang. Following the execution of a notorious prisoner, it was customary for a death mask to be made. Kreitmayer is said to have shaved Kelly’s hair and beard, and taken the mould of his face in the deadhouse of the Melbourne Gaol.

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