Burial site may hold Australian outlaw’s bones

Image: One of the unearthed unmarked coffins, at the former Pentridge Prison site in Melbourne, is seen in this handout photograph
One of the unearthed, unmarked coffins at the former Pentridge Prison site in Australia may include the remains of Ned Kelly, the country's legendary 19th-century outlaw. Ho / Heritage Council via Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Scientists said they have uncovered a burial site that might contain the bones of Australia's most notorious outlaw, Ned Kelly.

Kelly led a gang of bank robbers in Australia's southern Victoria state in the 19th century and became notorious after crafting a suit of armor from plow shears for his last stand with police.

He was hanged in 1880 but his final resting place is unknown. His body was initially buried in an unmarked grave at a prison called the Old Melbourne Gaol but was moved with the remains of other executed convicts when the facility closed in the 1920s.

State government archaeologist Jeremy Smith said Sunday his team found the bones of 32 prisoners at Pentridge Prison, another former jail where the remains of Kelly and other executed prisoners were believed to have been taken.

Smith said the prisoners' bones — intermingled at the grave site — would be sent for scientific analysis, though it may not be possible to positively identify them.

"Identifying the remains of Ned Kelly may prove difficult, as his were not handled with a great degree of care," Smith said in a statement. "It is also possible that his skull and other body parts were stolen immediately following his 1880 execution."

Debate about Kelly's bones has added to the legend surrounding him in Australia, where roaming outlaws are known as "bushrangers."

Kelly was of Irish descent and is regarded by historians — and many admirers — as a political rebel and Robin Hood-like figure who challenged the British colonial authorities of the time.

Kelly led his gang in a series of daring bank robberies in Victoria and a cat-and-mouse chase through the Outback in which he is believed to have shot and killed at least one police officer.

The armored gang engaged police in a final battle in June of 1880 in the town of Glenrowan, about 15 miles northwest of the Victorian capital of Melbourne. Kelly was wounded in the legs and arms while charging police lines. He was apprehended, tried and hanged.

The showdown became part of Australian folklore, and the fascination has been fueled by films — including a 2003 Hollywood film starring Heath Ledger and a 1970 version starring Mick Jagger — as well as books, songs and a series of paintings by artist Sidney Nolan.