The Ned Kelly Project

Scientists at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine have identified the body of Ned Kelly

Mr Leigh Olver with the Ned Kelly death mask.

A DNA sample taken from Melbourne school teacher Leigh Olver, who is Ned’s sister Ellen’s great grandson has confirmed the body is that of Australia’s most famous son.

An exhaustive historical and forensic science exercise, employing the expertise of historians, pathologists, anthropologists, odontologists, radiologists, and ballistics and DNA experts, has identified the iconic bushranger’s remains among those transferred from the Old Melbourne Gaol to Pentridge Prison in 1929 and then exhumed again in 2009.

They were among the remains of 33 other individuals, many of which were co-mingled and incomplete, making the result even more extraordinary. Ned’s is an almost complete skeleton found buried in a wooden axe box; however most of the skull is missing.

The project involved collaboration with the ancient DNA laboratory EAAF in Argentina, members of which have worked with the VIFM on human rights projects.

VIFM Case # 3081/10 – The bones of Ned Kelly

Mr Clark said he was enormously impressed with the efforts of the forensic team.

“This is an extraordinary result from our forensic team here in Victoria,” he said.

“To think a group of scientists could identify the body of a man who was executed more than 130 years ago, moved and buried in a haphazard fashion among 33 other prisoners, most of whom are not identified, is amazing.”

“We are so fortunate to have this calibre of expertise, all under the one roof, here in Victoria,” Mr Clark said.

The skull handed in to the VIFM by Mr Tom Baxter.

The investigation began when a skull believed to belong to Ned Kelly was handed into the VIFM on November 11, 2009 by Mr Tom Baxter.  The skull had been stolen from the Old Melbourne Gaol in December 1978 where it had been on display next to the death mask of Ned Kelly. The ink inscription “E. Kelly” was written on the side.

The State Coroner ruled the skull to be out of the coronial jurisdiction because death had occurred more than 100 years previously.  The Victorian state government asked Professor Stephen Cordner and his team of forensic experts to try and identify the skull.

Through a series of craniofacial super-imposition, CT Scanning, anthropology and DNA tests, the team concluded it was not Ned.

Although the identity of the skull is still unknown, the team is continuing testing and is hopeful of a positive result in the near future.

While the skull investigation was underway, the team turned its expertise to trying to find Ned.

It looked to the Pentridge remains which were exhumed in 2009 and are currently being held at the Institute on behalf of Heritage Victoria.

CT scan taken at the VIFM of Ned Kelly’s bones.

Through a series of CT scanning, X rays, pathology, odontology, and anthropology expertise plus extensive historical research, the team could confirm that this skeleton belonged to Ned Kelly.

A DNA sample taken from Mr Olver was compared to the remains and the identification was complete.

Dr Soren Blau and Professor Stephen Cordner inspect the bones of Ned Kelly at the VIFM.

The 20 month investigation has involved several Victorian Government agencies including Heritage Victoria, the Coroners Court of Victoria and the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, as well as the assistance of the National Trust and the Old Melbourne Gaol, the University of Melbourne, the EAAF Laboratory in Argentina, the Argentine Ambassador, the Benalla Pioneer and Costume Museum, the Police Museum, the Victorian State Library, the Public Records Office and many others.  It was specifically funded by the Attorney General.

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Introduction to the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine’s Ned Kelly Project.

The Hon John Coldrey QC, Chair of the VIFM Council

The Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine is recognised as one of the leading institutions in the international world of forensic medicine.

It is an independent medical and scientific organisation, whose members provide expert evidence to the courts in cases of homicide and cases of physical and sexual assault upon adults and children.

It is involved in the retrieval of tissue for transplantation and it conducts research into accident and injury prevention.

One particular area where the Institute serves the community is that of Disaster Victim Identification. This expertise has been made available internationally for example in Kosovo, East Timor, Bali, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Pacific Islands.

Most significantly, the Institute was involved in the identification of the victims of the Black Saturday bushfires. In all of these areas the Institute conducts teaching and research.

It achieves its goals through a dedicated team of forensic pathologists, clinical forensic physicians, forensic dentists and anthropologists, and scientists in the mortuary and others such as toxicologists and molecular biologists.

In short, the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine is CSI turbo charged and with the lights on, or Silent Witness with a voice. If you want proof of these assertions visit the rest of this website.

Almost 131 years ago Ned Kelly was tried and executed. Since that time his life and death have continued to fascinate the Australian community.

Chief Justice John Phillips, the first chairman of this Institute, was so intrigued by the Kelly saga that in 1987, he wrote a book entitled “The Trial of Ned Kelly”, in which he suggested Ned may have had a defence of self defence.

The Chief Justice would have found the Institute’s involvement in this historic project an occasion for great pride.

In his book, John Phillips referred to the work of Mr Ian Jones, who he described as “a Kelly expert par excellence.”

Mr Jones has helped us with the investigation and we are grateful to him.

I wish to particularly acknowledge the invaluable contribution of two other people and one particular organisation.

The Ambassador of Argentina, His Excellency Pedro Villagra Delgado who assisted the Institute in arranging the transport of bone samples to Argentina for analysis by the Institute’s collaborators, the EAAF (Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team) Laboratory. The EAAF is a non-government organization which has been working tirelessly since the early 1980’s in Argentina, and subsequently all over the world, helping to identify those who are missing and dead as a result of war, internal violence or as a result of murder at the hands of the authorities. As a consequence they have developed very special expertise, including expertise in extracting DNA from degraded remains, expertise which has been vital to the success of this project.

And I would like to acknowledge Mr Leigh Olver, Ned Kelly’s great great nephew, or to put it another way, the great grandson of Ned’s sister Ellen. Mr Olver very kindly provided a blood sample for DNA comparison purposes.

Many other people assisted with this project and they are acknowledged on this website.

We are thrilled to share the details of the Institute’s investigation into the Ned Kelly project and hope you enjoy it.

The Hon John Coldrey QC

Chairman, The VIFM Council