Author: Charlie Farrugia

Senior Collections Advisor, Public Record Office Victoria

This Sunday 4 December SBS will show a documentary titled Ned’s Head, which documents a team of forensic scientists at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine as they seek to identify a skull reputed to be that of Ned Kelly. Ned’s Head will also include some of the results of research undertaken by a historical team, which includes me, that investigated Ned Kelly’s death to find out what was done with his remains following his execution, and whether an autopsy was conducted at all. During my 25 year career here at Public Record Office Victoria I have undertaken as much intensive work on our Kelly documents than on any others in our collection. Just some of the Kelly related activities in which I have been directly involved include:

  • identifying and purchasing one of the Kelly copy depositions (now in VPRS 4966)
  • identifing and researching a poster pertaining to the motion picture The Story of the Kelly Gang (currently on display at the Old Treasury Building)
  • processing and digitising police correspondence relating to Kelly, now online as VPRS 4965/P2, and
  • providing assistance to research conducted by Museum Victoria regarding the fate of the Kelly armour.

Over the last decade or so, scarcely a year has passed without something relating to Ned occupying a portion of my time. The enormous academic and legal interest in the Kelly story occupies a lot of my time because Public Record Office Victoria holds the world’s largest accumulation of original records related to the Kelly Gang. The Kelly Historical Collection is recognised by the UNESCO International Memory of the World Register. This claim might come as a surprise to some. But Ned, his family, gang members and acquaintances didn’t create many records of their own during the Kelly Outbreak, trial and execution of Ned Kelly. (We also hold the only letter known to have been written in Ned’s own handwriting.) Indeed, most of the remaining key figures in Kelly story are agencies of the Government and legal system of the Colony of Victoria. Collectively it generated a great deal of documentation, much of which is now in the collection of Public Record Office Victoria. The government agencies that created records about the Kelly Outbreak include Victoria Police, the departments of Crown Law and Chief Secretary, the Criminal Law Branch of the Victorian Government Solicitor, the Supreme Court, Pentridge Prison, Melbourne Gaol, the Coroner, the Kelly Reward Board, the Office of the Governor, the Executive Council and the Royal Commission into the Outbreak of the Kelly Gang. Some of the records created by these agencies are included in the five series collectively known as the Kelly Historical Collection (VPRS 4965 to VPRS 4969 inclusive) and most of these have been digitised and are accessible via our online catalogue. So, which of these records were relevant to the forensic investigation? Well, you’ll just need to watch Ned’s Head to find out. I'll blog again next week, but in the meantime search our collection for Kelly records.

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