7th annual meeting of the International Society for Forensic Radiology and Imaging | 13th annual meeting of the International Association of Forensic Radiographers

Background

Image courtesy of the State Library of Victoria

Edward “Ned” Kelly was born in 1854 to Irish parents, in the then British colony of Victoria. At age 12 his father died. He assumed leadership of the family, running afoul of the law by nefarious activities including horse stealing leading to a term of incarceration. Subsequent to release from prison, he fled into the bush after being indicted on an accusation of attempted murder of a policeman. As head of the Kelly gang (including his brother Dan) he was involved in many armed bank robberies and the murder of 3 policemen. He was finally captured by authorities following a gun battle at Mrs Jones’ pub in Glenrowan at which he and gang members donned homemade armour to withstand police bullets. He was brought down by 2 shots to his unprotected legs (but not before 19 bullets struck the armour leaving deep divots) and was eventually hanged for his crimes in the Old Melbourne Goal.

Whilst on the run from the law, he dictated the famous Jerilderie letter. This 56-page document outlined Kelly’s beliefs on the injustices that had beset his family and the general treatment of Irish Catholic colonials by police as well as demands for the redistribution of wealth from prosperous land owners to the rural poor. It stands as a testament to his passion about the wrongs that had beset him and others, and has been instrumental in Ned ‘s transition from outlaw to hero, from reviled cop-killer to revered nationalist and freedom fighter.

Following his burial in a marked grave at the Old Melbourne Goal, Kelly’s bones were moved to another prison site when the goal was closed. That burial site was unmarked. In 2009 the presumed graves of Kelly and 32 other executed felons were uncovered. Extensive forensic investigation was undertaken on the bones including CT scanning at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM). In 2011, scientists at VIFM were able to categorically state that one set of bones was that of Kelly when DNA obtained from the bones compared favourably with the DNA of Leigh Olver (Ned’s sister Ellen’s great grandson). The CT findings of healed foot, wrist and left elbow injuries also matched those recorded by the goal’s surgeon as being caused by the bullets at Glenrowan.

Kelly’s armoured helmet image now pervades Australian culture. In the art of Sidney Nolan, fashion, books and movies it is quintessentially Aussie, culminating in the massed accumulation of Nolanesque Kelly performers that starred in the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics. The helmet has therefore been chosen as the cornerstone of the ISFRI 2018 logo due to its iconic association with Australia (and Victoria in particular) as well as the role that VIFM and forensic imaging had had on the positive identification of Kelly’s skeletal remains. The ISFRI 2018 organizing committee is extremely grateful to the State Library of Victoria (where his armour now resides) for allowing us to use that image in our logo.

The scientific programme will include a plenary session on the historic and forensic investigation of Kelly’s remains, and the cocktail party will be held in the restored old Melbourne Goal, where Ned spent his last weeks of life and in which he is said to have stated at the execution gallows – “such is life”.

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