Forensic Discovery Revives Interest in Australia’s Favorite Bad Guy

A contemporary illustration by artist J. Nash shows Ned Kelly’s last stand.

Combine Robin Hood, Jesse James, a political rebel, and a hardened killer, and what do you get? That would be Ned Kelly, the most infamous of a uniquely Australian breed of criminals called bushrangers. The first bushrangers were escapees from Australia’s convict colonies. (Modern Australia dates from 1788, when British prisoners were sent there as punishment.) Some bushrangers became thieves like those of America’s Wild West outlaws, who robbed stage coaches and banks.

Edward (“Ned”) Kelly, born in 1855, was the son of an Irish convict. Ned was already in trouble with the law in his teens. He took to the Australian countryside, called the bush, after a confrontation with a lawman at his home. Then, starting in 1878, Kelly and his gang went on a rampage, taking hostages, robbing banks, and killing police officers. To many of the common people, who had come to Australia as prisoners, Kelly became a hero for rebelling against authority and the British colonial upper class. Other Australians saw him as a common criminal. Spooky-looking metal armor that Kelly had fashioned from plows helped transform his image from rebel to superhero. Finally, in June 1880, Kelly was captured during a shootout with police. He was tried for murder and multiple bank robberies, convicted, and sentenced to hang. “Ah well, it has come to this” are said to be his last words.

A new discovery has put Ned Kelly back into the headlines, 132 years after his execution. The location of Kelly’s grave was not known until recently, when forensic scientists identified his skeleton, found in a mass grave near a defunct prison. They matched mitochondrial DNA taken from the skeleton with the mtDNA of a living great-grandson of Kelly’s sister. They also found bullet holes and even lead pellets in the bones that corroborated the evidence given by the doctor who examined Kelly after his arrest. Now the remains are being handed over to the Kelly family for burial. A mystery remains, however: What happened to Kelly’s skull? It was not found with the rest of the skeleton.

Image credit: ©Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Related Links

  • Final Resting Place of an Outlaw
    Read the details surrounding the forensic mystery and see photos of Kelly and his armor.
    (Source: Archaeology Magazine, September/October, 2012)
  • Ned Kelly
    This website includes first-person testimony by the lawman who brought Kelly down.
    (Source: Wikipedia; accessed August 31, 2012) 
  • Ned Kelly Remains to Be Returned to Family
    This article focuses on the transfer of Kelly’s remains.
    (Source: Irish Echo: Australia’s Irish Newspaper, August 3, 2012)
  • Jerilderie Letter
    Click on the “next” arrows to view and read one of only two documents credited to Kelly.
    (Source: State Library of Victoria; accessed August 31, 2012)
  • History of Australia (1788–1850)
    Get background on Australia’s early history.
    (Source: Wikipedia; accessed August 31, 2012)


  1. jesse james says:


  2. Uncaged says:

    this seems interesting

  3. elena says:

    this is crazy !!!!D:

  4. shemari says:

    coool book

  5. Anonymous says:

    was he a good guy or a bad guy?

  6. JEREMY says:

    they should check if the skell shader

  7. JEREMY says:

    not good

  8. Grimmy Yolo Sniper says:

    this is the BOMB
    But this is whats up


    this is an amazing story but his missing skull kinda creeps me out…