The family of Ned Kelly, Australia’s most infamous outlaw, can now finally hold his funeral, 132 years after he was hanged for murder.
DNA testing last November confirmed that bones found in a mass grave outside the now closed Pentridge Prison belonged to the notorious bushranger who led a gang of bank robbers across the southeastern Australian state of Victoria in the late nineteenth century.
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The son of an Irish convict, he rose to infamy in 1878 following a robbery and shootout, in which three police officers were killed. The reward of £8,000, then the largest ever reward offered by the British Empire was placed on his head, as well as the heads of his gang members.
Kelly was eventually captured by police in 1880 following a final bloody confrontation and was sentenced to death by hanging in November of the same year in Old Melbourne Gaol. He was buried in a mass grave.
In 1929, the grave’s bodies were moved to Pentridge Prison. They were exhumed once more in 2009. However, there remains one mystery. One crucial part of Kelly’s skeleton is still missing… his skull.
Property developers of the site had hoped to retain possession of Kelly’s remains to display in a museum, but Australia’s Victoria state government on Wednesday issued a new license for the bones, which instead returned them to his family. “The Kelly family will now make arrangements for Ned’s final burial,” Ellen Hollow, the great-great granddaughter of the outlaw’s sister said in a statement. “We also appeal to the person who has the skull in their possession to return it… so that when the time comes for Ned to be laid to rest his remains can be complete.”
Kelly’s exploits continue to fiercely divide opinion. He is remembered both as a ruthless criminal and a Robin Hood-type bandit, who fought for the rights of countless Irish under the yoke of British imperialism.
His legend also reverberates in popular culture. He is the subject of Peter Carey’s Booker Prize winning novel, True History of the Kelly Gang. Several films have also been based on his life story, most notably 1906’s The Story of the Kelly Gang, which some view as the first full length motion picture, 1970’s Ned Kelly, where Rolling Stone Mick Jagger plays the eponymous role and 2003’s Ned Kelly, where the outlaw is played by a fellow Aussie, the late Heath Ledger.