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Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 14:25 GMT 15:25 UK
Ned Kelly photo mystery
Ned Kelly reward poster and armour
Ned Kelly, who used this home-made armour, was hanged in 1880

A photograph, allegedly of the Australian outlaw Ned Kelly and which sold at Christie's for more than 7,000 (19,080 Australian dollars), is not him, according to medical and forensic experts.

The picture, which is said to show Kelly during his "respectable years", was snapped up by a private collector at Christie's in Melbourne on 26 March.

But within hours of the sale, Dr John Chapman, a retired dental surgeon living in Melbourne, raised concerns about its authenticity.

ned kelly
Ned Kelly became a folk hero after his death
"The photo was on the front page of the Christie's catalogue," he said. "As a head and neck expert with an interest in Australian history I could see it wasn't Ned. I even took measurements and checked it against undisputed police photos. It's no more Ned Kelly than I am."

Ned Kelly was 25 when he was sentenced to hang in Old Melbourne jail in 1880.

Outlawed and pursued by police he became Australia's most notorious bushranger. His last stand at Glenrowan, in northern Victoria, turned him and his home-made armour into a national icon.

Hollywood treatment

"Forget about Captain Cook. Kelly is more of an Australian symbol," said David Cook, the head of Christie's Australian paintings department. "Australians identify with people like Kelly who stood for anti-establishment and anti-law and order."

Since Peter Carey's fictional book, True History of the Kelly Gang, won the Booker Prize last year there has been great interest in the Australian outlaw.

Nicole Kidman
Nicole Kidman: Keen to see Kelly on the big screen
Stars including Nicole Kidman and Brad Pitt are said to have expressed an interest in giving Ned the Hollywood treatment. A home-grown Australian version, Our Sunshine - starring Australian actors Heath Ledger and Geoffrey Rush - is also in production.

Melbourne souvenir shops are full of Kelly memorabilia. Tea towels featuring his black helmet with a narrow slit compete with fridge magnets and silver spoons.

Forensic tests

But as the tourist trade in Kelly-mania thrives, memorabilia sold at auction has taken a dive.

A Sidney Nolan painting of Kelly, which was expected to fetch a record price earlier this month, failed to sell. And the disputed photograph was one of the few items not to be passed in at auction in March.

Peter Carey
Peter Carey won the booker prize for his novel on Kelly
"I told Christie's about my concerns, but they said they were satisfied the photo was authentic and that was the end of the matter," explained Dr Chapman.

But now three other independent scientists have agreed the picture is not of Ned Kelly. Cliff Ogleby, an Australian imaging expert from the Department of Geomatics at Melbourne University, says his results show the photo is not of Ned.

"We've used a fairly standard forensic technique - superimposing a known image on top of another one. If you do that with this photo there's no way the two match up."

Christie's told the BBC they stand by the photo.

"The historical experts we consulted are convinced it's Ned Kelly," said Christie's executive Michael Ludgrove.

"They want Cliff Ogleby to prove to them it's not. I see this as a historical whodunit. We want the history of this photo to be exact and unquestionable."

See also:

19 Oct 01 | UK
31 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
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