Bones may be Australian outlaw Ned Kelly's: Government

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Melbourne, Mar 9 (UNI) Bones found at the former Pentridge Prison site here may include those of the country's legendary outlaw Ned Kelly, the Australian government has said.

Archaeologists, who have been digging at the former prison site, unearthed a mass grave of unmarked coffins containing the remains of 32 executed prisoners buried after being removed from the old Melbourne Gaol when it closed in 1929, Planning Minister Justin Madden said.

Kelly became a folk hero of the nation's colonial past with his gang's daring bank robberies and escapes. Debate has raged for decades over whether he was a hero, a lovable rogue who fought the colonial British establishment, or simply a horse-thieving killer surrounded by a gang of thugs.

He was hanged for his crimes in 1880 and buried in a mass grave at a prison in the southern part of the city in Victoria state.

The remains have been being taken to the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine for analysis and identification.

''It may not be possible to conclusively match remains to individual prisoners, we hope the analysis will provide a better understanding of the history of the burials,'' the Age quoted Mr Madden as saying.

Identifying the remains of Kelly may prove difficult as his bones were mingled with those of other prisoners, Senior Archaeologist Jeremy Smith said.

Archaeologists would be looking for a headless body and signs of an injury to a wrist. Kelly's head was known to have been removed from his body after his death and he had a wrist injury from one of his shootouts.

It was also possible that his skull and other body parts were stolen immediately following his execution.

The Planning minister said record keeping of prisoner burials at the time was very poor, but an undated Department of Justice plan helped lead archaeologists to the burial area.

Kelly was hanged at Melbourne Gaol on November 11, 1880. His notorious crimes included murder.

Films have portrayed Kelly as a hero, from one of the world's first feature-length films, the 1906 silent movie 'The Story of the Kelly Gang', to the 1970s version starring Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger and the late Hollywood star Heath Ledger's 2003 film.

Australian author Peter Carey's novel True History of the Kelly Gang was awarded the 2001 Booker Prize.

UNI XC SYU KP1041

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