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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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Ned Kelly death mask

date unknown
an unknown artist after Maximilian Kreitmayer

cast plaster (28.0 cm x 21.5 cm depth 18.5 cm)

Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly (1855–1880), bushranger, is Australia’s pre-eminent folk hero. Kelly and his siblings were raised by their mother, Ellen Kelly (née Quinn, 1832–1923) after the death of their father, an Irish ex-convict. The family was in constant conflict with the authorities and Ned Kelly, implicated in the criminal activities of the Quinn clan, was charged with several offences over the 1860s and 1870s, and spent some years in prison. In 1878, accused of shooting at a policeman, Ned and his younger brother Dan Kelly went into hiding near Mansfield, Victoria, and were joined by their friends Joe Byrne and Steve Hart. Ned killed three members of a police party sent to capture him in the famous shoot-out at Stringybark Creek in October of that year. Despite the huge prices on their heads, the exploits of the ‘Kelly gang’ multiplied. They avoided capture until June 1880 when they arrived in Glenrowan, intending to ambush a police train. Ned, wearing a homemade suit of armour, was wounded in the ensuing ‘siege’ in which Dan Kelly, Byrne and Hart all died. Kelly survived, only to be hanged in Melbourne Gaol on 11 November 1880.

Following the execution of a notorious prisoner, it was customary for a death mask to be made. Maximilian Kreitmayer, the proprietor of a Melbourne waxworks, took a cast of Ned’s clean-shaven head in the deadhouse of the Melbourne Gaol. One of the several masks that were made of Kelly was immediately put on display in Kreitmayer’s establishment.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery Study Collection, Canberra
Gift of John Molony 2018

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.
Audio description icon

Audio description

2 minutes 22 seconds
Show transcript

Artist and subject

Maximilian Kreitmayer

Ned Kelly

Subject professions

Law and justice

Donated by

Professor John Molony (1 portrait)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Phrenology video: 3 minutes 25 seconds
Phrenology video: 3 minutes 25 seconds
Phrenology video: 3 minutes 25 seconds
Phrenology video: 3 minutes 25 seconds

Ned Kelly and death masks

'Judge a person by their cover'

Portrait story

Alexandra Roginski explains the history behind the pseudo-science of phrenology.

Ned Kelly death mask
Ned Kelly death mask
Ned Kelly death mask
Ned Kelly death mask

Getting a head

Magazine article by Alexandra Roginski, 2015

Alexandra Roginski gets a feel for phrenology’s fundamentals.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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