Ned Kellys Skull : Science rebuts Kelly “Experts”


The Baxter Skull and Tooth

Its been more than a month since the annual Ned Kelly Weekend at Beechworth. On the Kelly websites and Facebook pages only a scattering of comments can be found, all declaring it a great success, but I had hoped by now to have read someone’s report of the  events that were staged. In particular I was hoping to hear something about the lecture given by Dr Craig Cormick , because it was the only original and credible event  on the programme – I read that it was sold out – but nothing else. Maybe someone who reads this Blog went to it, and can send in a Report. 

I have previously written that the behavior of some Kelly Sympathizers resembles that of Religious fanatics. One such similarity is the often curious relationship that believers have to rational argument and Scientific truth preferring their mythology when it clashes with what science has revealed. An amazing example is the Mormon rejection of  the entire well established prehistory of North America in favour of what their religious texts say. 
The Baxter Skull long ago labelled on the side as “E Kelly”
In a similar way, Bradley Webb the creator of the largest and oldest Kelly resource on the internet, Iron Outlaw, apparently still clings to his view that the skull of Ned Kelly was on public display in the old Melbourne Gaol until it was replaced in the early 1960’s by a skull from India. This replacement skull, the skull of a person Webb says was “some poor Indians” was the one famously stolen by Tom Baxter, believing it to be Ned Kellys in 1979. It was finally returned and analysed by the Victoria Institute of Forensic Medicine, as reported by Craig Cormick in his book, and found with absolute certainty to NOT be the skull of “some poor Indians” as claimed by Brad Webb. Sadly it was not Ned Kellys skull either!
Bradly Webb made his claims about these skulls on his personal website in 2011, and in February this year, after reading Cormicks book I posted a comment on Webbs article about the skull pointing out that he was wrong. This was his reply: 
NCS Publishing27 February 2015 at 14:48
To dear old crusty Bill Denheld – – (or his semi-literate daughter who posts on his behalf), I know you like to hide behind the ‘Dee’ facade but maybe it’s time you pulled your head out of your arse and realised what you actually know about the Ned Kelly story can be written down on the back of a postage stamp…
I’m pleased I kept a copy of this because if you go there now, these vile and misinformed comments have been deleted,  but still there is no acknowledgement that the content of the Post is misleading and wrong.  Science has proved Bradley Webb wrong but he clings to his belief like a willfully blind religious fanatic.  I do note however that last month on Iron Outlaw a link was posted to a talk about the skull by  Craig Cormick on the ABC , which could perhaps mean that Webb has finally admitted his error, though is too embarrassed to openly admit it, or  decent enough to apologise to me or Bill and his family for such an outrageous reaction. Such is the caliber of some of the leading lights of the Kelly world!
In any case Cormicks story is a fascinating example of the power of science and forensic medicine to uncover the truth, and would have made his lecture a fascinating one I expect, quite apart from the opportunity to meet the author and to gather additional snippets of information about the case.
Its worth recounting it here, for anyone who hasn’t read Cormicks book :
In brief, a skeleton – minus the skull –  was exhumed from the grounds of Pentridge prison and identified as belonging to Ned Kelly by using DNA analysis. The DNA extracted from the bones was mitochondrial DNA and it was compared with mitochondrial DNA from a man called Leigh Olver, a direct maternal descendant of Ned Kelly’s sister Ellen. It was believed that the skull wasn’t with the rest of the skeleton because it had been souvenired when all the skeletons buried at the Melbourne Gaol, including Neds, were dug up and reburied at Pentridge in 1929.
The skull stolen from the Gaol in 1979 and still in the possession of Tom Baxter was thought to be Neds but no DNA could be extracted from it, so other methods had to be used to try to identify it. Old photographs taken of the skull before it was stolen, and an even earlier plaster cast of the skull confirmed Baxter’s skull was indeed the one that had been on display in the Gaol, and held earlier in the Australian Institute of Anatomy in Canberra. There had been no switching of skulls as claimed by Bradley Webb.
The next thing that needed to be done was prove that this was indeed the skull taken from the Kelly grave when it was dug up in 1929, so public appeals were made asking for any family knowledge, traditions, photos or artefacts of any kind that could possibly help. Remarkably, a descendant of  someone who was at the exhumation turned up with a 1929 photograph of his grandfather actually holding the skull, and he also brought with him a single tooth that his grandfather had allegedly taken from the skull before handing it on! The tooth had remained in the family who understood it to have been one of Ned Kellys!
It must have been an electric kind of “eureka” moment when the scientists took the tooth and found it was a perfect fit for one of the empty sockets in the Baxter skull, thus establishing with absolute certainty that the Baxter skull was indeed the one exhumed at the old Melbourne Gaol in 1929. It certainly wasn’t “some poor Indians” as asserted by Bradley Webb in 2011. It would also have been pretty exciting when the scientists managed to extract DNA from the tooth, but sadly it proved the skull had never been Ned Kellys! So where is it?
Theres a thread on the Ned Kelly Forum from 2012 about the Skull.  
The NKF Member who rubbished Cormick on Facebook earlier this year but then later deleted his comments, asserted in 2012 that he and Mr Webb knew “without a doubt who has Neds head” He wrote that he has “no doubt that the Melbourne University are knowingly in possession of Neds skull” As is typical with these self appointed experts who dismiss actual scientists, Jager felt no need to back up his  assertions with anything as trivial as “evidence”, or “ facts” or even his reasoning for claiming he knew where the skull was, and the thread ended limply. These are of course sensational allegations and would if true be headline news on every TV channel and News report. But there has been no further NKF interest in the topic for three years! So here we have another loud mouth claim, like the one about explaining Lonigans wounds  that turned out to be nothing but hot air and self promotion. 

So we are left with the ongoing mystery of what happened to Ned Kellys skull. It would seem that it was never buried, but kept as a ghoulish souvenir, and may still be “out there” somewhere, but perhaps no longer identified as Neds, because since 1929 his was believed to be the one at the old Melbourne Gaol, the one known now as the Baxter skull.
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32 Replies to “Ned Kellys Skull : Science rebuts Kelly “Experts””

  1. Ham Williams says: Reply

    The Bendigo Independent of 19 November 1880 would imply that a form of "post-mortem" did in fact occur:

    Ned Kelly’s body, writes our gossiping correspondent, was given over after the execution to the medical men, and a nice mess, I am told, they made of it. The students particularly went in heavily, taking part of his body, and generally examining every organ. It was a ghastly sight – indeed, hardly ever paralleled. I am told that portions of the corpse are now in nearly every “curiosity” cabinet in Melbourne medical men’s places. The skull was taken possession of by one gentleman, and it is probable that he may hereafter enlighten us upon the peculiarities of the great criminal’s brain. The medical men call these things “preparations,” and therefore the public can imagine what has become of Kelly’s body. As a matter of fact, I know, and, indeed, I have seen a part of the body, although it is supposed that it was consumed in the quick-lime which is thrown into the grave.

  2. Molly Edwards says: Reply

    More on the Baxter skull, with extraordinary comments by Chief Justice John Phillips, Ian Jones and others:

  3. A mitochondrial DNA test (mtDNA test) traces a person's matrilineal or mother-line ancestry using the DNA in his or her mitochondria. mtDNA is passed down by the mother unchanged, to all children [].

    The father of Ellen Kelly (King) may not have been George King, but this does not effect the mother-line, nor the findings edited by Dr Craig Cormick.

  4. In "Ned Kelly Under the Microscope" which Craig McCormick edited there is a chapter by Fiona Leahy and Helen D. Harris in which they refer to the Bendigo Independent article detailing the post mortem dissection of Ned's body. They present some memos between Castieau and NIcolson (but admit that the full memo between the two has not been found in the archives) leading them to say that –

    "Our historical research suggested that Kelly had not been dissected after his death and that the article in the Bendigo Independent, re-reported in several newspapers, was not true – that medical men and students had not gone "in heavily" and made a "nice mess" of Kelly's body, nor souvenired body parts and his head."

    Then they go on to say that the remains found at Pentridge did have some signs of post motem dissection (saw marks on skull and spine/verterbrae). Then to go on to explain that.

    There is too much to report here of what all they surmised but I am not sure what to make of their allegations. More info/input is probably needed by all parties involved.

    Dee, I also am chagrined about the lack of reporting on what went on at various and sundry Kelly events that many of us could not attend. That is one great thing that Dave White used to do at the now defunct glenrowan1880 site. He would give blow by blow accounts that made you feel like you were there.

  5. Interesting post Dee.

    I had taken an interest in Ned Kelly's death mask when visiting the Outlawed Exhibition at the Melbourne Museum 2004.

    Of special interest was the Ned Kelly death mask.
    It was not the 'shouldered' Ned death mask, rather a thin walled shell plaster cast death mask without shoulders which were added later to make the 'bust'. It was attributed to Maxmillion Kreitmeyer, of the local Wax Works specialist showing important people life likeliness at his shop in Little Bourke St Melbourne. In the past I have had communications with descendant Mr Desiderio Cristofani who owned the Cristofani Waxworks in Sydney. Cristofani had specially come to Melbourne to do the job and was accompanied by Kreitmeyer.

    This cast copy of Ned's head is held by 'The University of Melbourne' – School of Anatomy. At the Outlawed exhibition I took some photos 3D photo sets, see 'The death mask and faces of Ned'-

    Although there was little explanation of the Kelly death mask loaned to the exhibition by the Melb Uni, I realised it must have been one of the first impressions made by Kreitmeyer and Cristofani as it was a hollow shell casting evident by the broken neck revealing the thin wall thickness of the piece.

    Being familiar with the process of taking dental and face mask impressions, I know that to take a plaster cast impression from a persons face (negative), and then from that impression take a (positive face) as a solid block casting from within that mould, there is always a chance of a 'stick up' making the moulding impossible to remove without breakage, and if 'stuck up' you would destroy both the original mould and the impression from within. To insure this did not happen, a thin walled 'slush' casting shell captured the inside shape. This is repeated a few times to add thickness and when fully set, the 'shell cast' moulding could be removed without destroying the mould.

    In 1975 I remember seeing the bone Kelly skull well before it was stolen.
    What is interesting is that a tooth taken from that skull in 1929 by a workman, proven to be fit perfectly into a tooth socket of that Kelly- Tom Baxter skull, and that all along that skull photographed in 1929 in the Argus or The Age was not Ned Kelly's skull at all, even though someone had inscribed it E.Kelly.

    I just happened to find some poor photos of the plaster cast skull as displayed beside Ned's death mask. There is no doubt the plaster cast is from the Kelly- Tom Baxter skull.

    Please see the image linked above


  6. Deb Middleton says: Reply

    Ian MacFarlane wrote in his 2012 book: "This suggests that the real skull had been removed much earlier, most likely at the 11 November 1880 ‘dead-house’ post mortem. It was there that his body was nailed into a rough wooden coffin for burial next day in the gaol yard".

    "Somehow, (phrenologist Archibald S.) Hamilton managed to get inside the ‘dead house’ at the gaol after Ned’s execution there and saw Bourke Street Waxworks Museum entrepreneur Max Kreitmeyer moulding Kelly’s death mask. The death mask appeared in Kreitmeyer’s museum next day. Hamilton obviously made measurements of Ned’s head because his ‘findings’ were soon published. These concentrated on what he considered Ned’s overblown self-esteem".

    As you say Dee, it is impossible to guess where Ned's skull is today.

    I'm not a Ned supporter but wish all could be finally reunited in the end. Nobody could object to that.

    Despite legislation prohibiting removal of executed prisoners bodies or body parts, Ned's head didn't make it into the coffin.

  7. Rowan Burford says: Reply

    I thought it had been proved on an earlier blog that executions were accompanied by a post mortem and that a coronial inquest resulted.

  8. Deb Middleton says: Reply

    The Victorian Execution of Criminals Act 1855 which was, I think, still in force in 1880 had this paragraph:

    VI. Any person… who shall bury or remove from such Gaol within the time aforesaid any such body as aforesaid shall be deemed guilty of felony…

    In relation to Archie Hamilton, he would have had to produce an order from a JP to view the body (IV), and if such declaration was false would have been guilty of an offence.

    Let's just say that the procedures at Ned's execution were rather lax.

    I don't think there is much doubt an autopsy occurred.

  9. Molly Edwards says: Reply

    Re Banjoe's comment on the 17th – Gary Dean is a Kelly "expert" who contested the identification of the Kelly bones on the basis that no patralineal DNA from George King (who disappeared) could be found to prove Leigh Olver is a descendent. However, the only person who claimed to be the father of Ellen Kelly (King) was Bricky Williamson. Surely some DNA from Bricky or his descendents can be obtained to solve that mystery. Read about some of this here:

    [A 2012 book discovered the Bricky Williamson connection – pardon the pun].

  10. Ern Dexter says: Reply

    CONGRATULATIONS DEE! That pageviews total is phenominal. Well done.

    I bet you didn't think that this was possible when you began. You have also become an expert in your own right.

    Bill's site is still doing well, drawing on interest by thoughtful people about his ground-breaking, original research.

    You are doing the same thing among the bookd, srticles, documents and websites dealing with the Kelly Legend.

  11. Joe Furnell says: Reply

    I defer to Molly, but simply point out that George King was registered as the father of Ellen Kelly (King). The literature indicates that the horse thief George King could not have been her Dad while serving a jail sentence. After being released he soon married Ned's mother Ellen and accepted responsibility for the child Ellen.

  12. I would hope that by now the Kelly “expert” Gary Dean has realised his mistake and accepts that the skeleton identified as Neds was indeed Neds. His idea that more than the mitochondrial DNA link was needed to make it certain was way off the mark! Essentially what he was suggesting, was that those bones could have belonged to someone who was not Ned Kelly but who was hanged and buried at the Melbourne Gaol and was a direct maternal relation of Ellen Kelly! Oh and also had bullet wounds in the same places as Ned Kelly was reported to have them!

    What is it with amateur Kelly “experts” ? They are at liberty to have whatever opinions they like about Ned Kelly but not their own set of “facts” about the science. And I wonder when Bradley Webb and Steve Jager are going to prove or else retract their foolish claim that Ned Kellys skull is at the Melbourne University?

  13. Ken Bleth says: Reply

    There are so many things missing in the Kelly story – skull, official documents, court exhibits, genealogy – it's a very convoluted tale.

    Is it too late for the Bricky Williamson claim to be disproved?

    There is no proof George King was a horse thief, or that he was caught and imprisoned in NSW, or that he was the person released in time to marry Ellen Kelly.

  14. I read a book about Shakespeare by Bill Bryson and its amazing how little remains of anything original from his great life. From memory I believe every one of the original manuscripts has disappeared, there is one actual signature of his on an official document, but just about everything else has gone. There are people who say Shakepseare didnt exist and even if he did he came from such an ordinary background that he couldn’t possibly have written the things he is supposed to have written and therefore someone else is the real author of all that incredible literature.

    So, "incomplete" is possibly the norm when it comes to historical records – and in fact there is a remarkable abundance of stuff about Ned Kelly, notwithstanding the absences.

  15. By posting those images of the Baxter plaster cast skull next to Ned's death mask (on this page 17 Sept) I contend my 2004 prediction that the Ned death mask shown was in fact the Original death mask AND held by Melbourne Uni- Anatomy school. Perhaps Steve Jager misinterpreted this death mask being the skull. He is reported as saying he has inside knowledge Melb Uni has Ned's skull but I think everyone since then is mixing things up. The skull is not the death mask.

    Like Dee says

    " What is it with amateur Kelly “experts” ? They are at liberty to have whatever opinions they like about Ned Kelly but not their own set of “facts” about the science."

    The lack of science exhibited by Steve Jager and all the other Kelly experts as with the StringyBark creek police camp site, we have an over abundant number of Kelly experts that are so sure of their facts and will swear black and blue but never produce any proof, its all in their belief.

    Why is it so hard for them to say I was wrong.

  16. The Australian Geographic article, – DNA confirms Ned Kelly's remains.

    I think what Gary Dean was trying to say – ' that in order to prove a persons remains' you need both male and female DNA.

    Very often a journalist will interview you AND later omit certain bits of the discussion giving the impression the interviewee has it all wrong in the report.

    Years ago I had a similar experience with the Herald Sun regarding Laurie Nowell in his excellent report "Kelly boots 'burial clue' " All that I suggested to Laurie was from what I had read, that Ned may have been adopted or taken into the Kelly family, so any DNA testing may not be conclusive if they compared DNA from any known family descendant.
    ( source, Edna Cargill nee Griffiths book Glenrowan Vol1 of 6)
    But I was lambasted for that suggestion ever since'. How dare I suggest this!

    While the A.G. report was about the positive identification of Ned's bones, and as Dee points out this could also have been achieved by examination from bullet strike injury and bone damage alone, however this does not prove who Ned Kelly really was, and as I know Gary, and I with many thousands of others are really interested to know, this being the very point the A.G report could have also addressed.

    All the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine were interested in was identifying Ned's bones no more no less, and if you want to know more, who will pay?

    It was a shame the DNA testing did not go further when they accepted only one male descendant, Mr Leigh Olver put his hand up for providing his DNA, proving without doubt the skeletal remains were Ned's because Leigh's DNA carried his mothers and her mothers and her mothers DNA back to Ellen King (Kelly).

    Yet there is another story to be told by Edna Cargill Griffiths.

  17. Bob Graham says: Reply

    The missing drawings by the Kelly gang shooting police, and the gsng's long hate campaign against Detective Ward are absences that suggest systematic, deliberate plundering and sanitisation of the archival records.

    It looks as though the nation's history has been hacked, scammed.and stolen.

  18. Justin Owen says: Reply

    For too long the rotten, the corrupt and the plain evil like Ned Kelly have been held up as national icons through ignorant arguments that they represent healthy Australian anti-authoritarianism and egalitarianism. Australia, it needs to be remembered, only narrowly escaped ‘Waltzing Matilda’ — a song celebrating a vagrant and a sheep thief — as our national anthem. Australia has enough genuine heroes (such as the late Sergeant Kennedy) and achievers across all walks of life we can rightly honour. Ned Kelly and his criminal ilk do not need to be remembered. They don’t need to be romanticised. And they certainly don’t deserve to be celebrated.

  19. John Cropley says: Reply

    I believe the correct description of the "Edna Cargill nee Griffiths book Glenrowan Vol1 of 6" (above) is:

    The children's world of Mr Kelly : [stories of Glenrowan West, Greta and the Eleven Mile] / [by Edna Griffiths Cargill].
    1975, English, Book, Illustrated edition:

  20. Jim Dyson says: Reply

    It is remarkable how many Ned artifacts have carvings confirming his ownership. I'm thinking particularly of his (Luplau, SLV) rifle with the inscription 'Son of Red' carved in the stock. A suspicious addition accompanying his probably correct initials of EK. The indentification on the Baxter skull was probably added at the Australian Institute of Anatomy where it had been lost for several years.

  21. So Bill, the suggestion that Ned Kelly was adopted into the Kelly family can now be dismissed entirely. The mitochondrial DNA proves that Ellen Kelly was his mother. However I suppose the absence of DNA from the paternal line means we cant be sure of who his father was, but I cant think of a reason why anyone would want to suggest it was someone other than Red. Ellen had no trouble finding partners but I have never read anything to suggest she cheated on any of them….but is that what Gary Dean is suggesting Bill?

    Theres one other thing – this would have been the sort of thing that someone could have asked Craig Cormick – but I don’t think its possible to PROVE unequivocally using DNA techniques alone, that remains belong to a specific person, unless of course you already have some DNA from that person to compare it with. What DNA evidence can establish without some DNA known to be from the person, is a PROBABILITY that the remains belong to a certain person.Other evidence, in this case the place where the bones were recovered from – the prison cemetery – and the injuries evident on them – is used to generate a very high probability, in fact a certainty for all practical purposes – that these bones are Neds.

  22. Look for Harry Nunns offspring. There may be stuff lurking that we can see again… Just sayin'..

  23. The Edna Cargill books have been brought up time and again on Kelly forums and has been summarily dismissed on every occasion. Brian McDonald in 'What They Said About Ned!' summed it up the best: "Delightful stories but not for research."

  24. Joe Furnell says: Reply

    Technically, Ellen senior was single when Ellen Kelly (King) was conceived. So she was not cheating

  25. There is only one – who is a lawyer…

  26. Gary Dean was talking about Neds parentage not Ellen's. The only issue NOT established in relation to the suggestion that Ned was adopted into the family is who his father was and I can't think of a reason not to accept that it was Red. In any event we can assert quite confidently that Ned was NOT adopted!

  27. Jim Hamner says: Reply

    Harry wasn't a Kelly supporter. Removing docs that cooked Ned would have been counter-productive, wouldn't it? He was a lot smarter than that.

    He was also a minor hero of Kokoda, so there!

  28. Yes Dee,
    Ned Kelly and descendants of Ellen King (Kelly) have the same DNA, so the story of Ned being adopted or 'taken in' has been dismissed.

    However, as with all recorded 'oral' history passed down there is always an element of truth. I certainly do not dismiss all the family stories that young Edna Griffiths heard from her parents and Jim Kelly himself. Edna's mother kept notes, names, dates and their relative connections, associations, but were lost when their house went up in flames during the 1930s. Edna has gone to extraordinary lengths to re write what she remembers – and for some not all of it is appreciated. There appears to be some dark dark secrets in those old cupboards.

  29. In aswer to John.

    John Croley said he believed the correct description of the (Edna Cargill nee Griffiths book Glenrowan Vol1 of 6)
    was "The children's world of Mr Kelly 1975"

    No John that was her first book.
    Later, she began the Glenrown Series 1 through 6, and now at age 88, she is completing another volume. Recently I spoke to Edna and she is a sharp as a tack.

    I include Edna's introduction pages 7 Vol 1

    If anyone is interested I can upload the complete introduction pages.

  30. John Cropley says: Reply

    Ta Bill.

  31. Joe Furnell says: Reply

    When the Kelly skull was stolen from the Old Melbourne Gaol in 1978, it wasn't the first time it had vanished. Whilst at the Australian Institute of Anatomy in Canberra, it went missing for "some time". "The curator of the institute. Mr. R. P. Stone, said to-day the skull had been found when junk was being cleared from an old safe.

    "But there is no reason to display Ned Kelly's skull. So far as we are concerned it is just another skull. We have cases of them in the basement. The only reason to display it would be the morbid interest it would create."

    When the bushranger Ned Kelly was hanged in 1880 his head was severed from his body.

    The body was buried in the old Melbourne Gaol, but the skull was kept at the Victorian Penal Department until it was taken to Canberra for research by the first director of the Institute of Anatomy, Sir Colin Mackenzie, in 1934.

    (The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 December 1952, page 3)

    OMG, the shabby, cavalier treatment of the [Baxter] skull began long before it was stolen. The Australian Institute of Anatomy operated from 1931-84. Originally it held the anatomy collection of Sir Colin MacKenzie. The Institute was formally abolished in December 1985.

    The full story of all this is in Dr Cormick's book "Ned Kelly: Under the Microscope"

    One wonders what became of all those cases of human skulls at the AIA?

  32. Brian Smith says: Reply

    Poor Bill getting another dose of hate from the Kelly nuts. The silly fools. He is one of them, but with an open mnd.

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