Ned Kelly’s death mask

Old Melbourne Gaol Collection

Edward (Ned) Kelly was the first person born in Victoria to be hanged.

Convicted at Melbourne on 29 October 1880 for murder, Ned Kelly was a well-known bushranger who captured the public’s imagination. His death mask was created after his execution at the Old Melbourne Gaol on 11 November 1880.  He was aged 25.

After the execution, Kelly’s body remained suspended for 30 minutes as required by law to ensure he was dead. It was then placed on a handcart and wheeled out the door, across the yard and into the dead-house. There the execution mask was removed to reveal that Kelly’s features had not been disfigured. He had died with a placid expression and his eyes remained bright. Waxworks proprietor Maximilian Kreitmayer shaved the head and prepared a wax mould for a death mask.

The mask was cast using plaster and many copies were made, including one that Kreitmayer displayed in his Wax Museum on Bourke Street.  Death masks were made in the name of science – as well as to inspire fear in would-be criminals.  The use of the now discredited science of phrenology was an attempt to understand criminality.  Phrenology was a method of reading the shape of the scull and the bumps on the cranium.  Each bump, lump and indentation corresponded to a characteristic that built a picture of the individual’s personality.

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