Updated August 8, 2004
|It now seems impossible to keep track of every time Ned Kelly is in the news, but if it is important we will cover it here. Just as importantly we are interested in your views on the Kelly Outbreak so please have your say.|
West Australian Tom Baxter
has been claiming for many years that he holds a skull stolen from the
Old Melbourne Gaol, which he has always maintained is Ned Kelly's. ABC's
TV show 'Rewind' investigated his claim and, to no one's surprise,
concluded that it is not Ned's.
The fact that the skull does
match one of the gaol's former inmate's appearances shows why Mr. Baxter
(despite all evidence it wasn't Ned's) has been so adamant that he obtained
it from the gaol. Because, although misidentified by Mr. Baxter, it does
mean that the human remains were stolen from the gaol.
Baxter's skull (pictured) is not Neds
(Conclusions at bottom of page)
21/05/02 8:30am Radio National (AM621) 'The Law Report' (Jan Wositzky)
Jan Wositzsky explained
that todays Law Report was investigating the mystery of the disappearance
of the skull of Edward Kelly. It addressed three main questions: Is the
skull in Tom Baxter's possession that of Ned Kelly? How did it wind up
in West Australia? and, What are the possible legal implications for handing
it back over to the proper authorities?
Jan met Tom Baxter
last year. Baxter claimed that his intention was to return the skull to
descendants for a 'proper' burial. He told Jan the skull was secreted
in the West Kimberly's in W.A. (about 200 km from Broome). He would not
disclose how the skull came to be into his possession.
Kelly authority Ian Jones was quoted as saying, when he first saw the skull at the OMG and handled it; he was struck by two anomalies. The skull was whole and that it was his understanding that the skull should have been in two distinct pieces to allow for the removal of the brain during autopsy, and secondly that his impression was that the skull was "too delicate" to have been Ned's. He also thought it might possibly be the skull of a woman?
Jan also spoke to forensic sculptor Ron Taylor who said, that from studying a picture of the Baxter skull, he determined that some things suggest that it is a male skull, but he would need to have the skull in his hands to make a "proper analysis". He explained that such an anaylsis would require a photo to be taken of the skull and placed over the top of other photographs of Ned to compare them directly. A facial reconstruction could be performed (as per forensic police tests). He added of course the best test would be a DNA test. Jan questioned him on how possible it was to be sure to a percentage and he answered " pretty much 100%".
Lawyer Ken Oldis explained that the legal requirements of the day stated that the body of executed prisoners was the property of the state and must be buried within prison grounds. He suggested it was therefore not likely to be 'legal' to have the skull on display at any stage. That handling stolen goods was a felony. Baxter was quoted as saying he wants to do "what's right" not necessarily what's legal. He said, " morality drives me, not legality " The main point of contention from Baxter's point of view is that Ned did not receive a 'fair' trial.
Victorian Chief Justice John H. Phillips (author of the book 'The trial of Ned Kelly') said he has never suggested Ned Kelly was not guilty, but that the judge in the case did not allow the jury to decide. He said that Judge Barry directed the jury to find Ned guilty, and that certain evidence (in Ned's favour) was never presented at trial.
Father Nordan was approached some years ago to be an intermediary for Baxter. He said that "initially" he thought it a genuine request. On being questioned he explained that the fact that the issue had continued for several years suggested to him that there was not a "genuine effort" to return the skull. He said every 6 months or so publicity around Tom Baxter surfaces but tend to go nowhere. He said he thinks the wishes of the family should be taken into consideration and that the fact that the skull Baxter has is human remains should not be forgotten.
Roma Crotty (descendant) did not wish to be interviewed but did give Jan a quote. She said that she indicated to Tom Baxter that if it were to be proven the skull is Ned's, then she sees nothing wrong with returning it to the family. She added that providing permission from the proper authorities was granted.
Richard Berman-Hardman from the National Trust (NT) stated that the NT would be prepared to relinquish their rights of ownership providing certain conditions were met. He said if Tom Baxter handed the skull to experts for testing and if tests were positive, and a "popular and ethical outcome" were to be established (involving the family, church and state), then they would relinquish their claims of ownership.
Baxter is currently open to charges of handling stolen goods, but Ken Oldis said that he knew a number of lawyers who would be prepared to assist Baxter with a letter of indemnity from prosecution.
Senior Constable Wayne Wilson of the police said that under such circumstances the police would be happy to work along those lines. He said much of the resentment of the police killings at Stringybark Creek in 1878 was dissipated after the memorial last year at the site.
Kate Kelly's granddaughter Ellen Hollow (initially misnamed as Roma), was "delighted" on hearing the news that the NT was prepared to relinquish their rights of ownership. She said everyone was clearly seeking an end to the issue. She explained that in speaking publicly she represented only herself, but believed the issue was a "matter for family members".
After collecting agreement from all sources for a suitable resolution, Jan rang Baxter with the good news. His response was not perhaps in line with what would be expected from his expressed desire for such a universally acceptable resolution. In fact he said he would "...have to think about it". Jan questioned him on how long would be required for him to decide, and he gave the vague reply "...as long as it takes...". He appeared suspicious and claimed he required more proof that the resolution was genuine. Jan pointed out to him that it would appear that he has been offered everything he wished for. He asked what exactly Baxter required now? Baxter did not appear to give a laudable response. Jan went further to point out that by rejecting such a resolution that Baxter was running the risk of looking like an attention seeker. Baxter appeared to become defensive at the question replying, that just because Jan said that didn't make it true. He said that having the skull "was a burden", but that he was happy to bear the burden for Ned's sake.
The investigation ended with the Jan saying Ellen Hollow after offering her DNA for testing, remained waiting. Ellen was given the last word and offered Baxter this judicious request, "Please Tom, do the right thing " she appealed to Tom to allow the issue to be put to rest and be finished once and for all.
In my opinion,
by not complying with the reasonable outcome offered him, Tom Baxter appears
not to be genuine. As Jan said, he does indeed run the risk of looking
like an 'attention seeker'. After all he has no plausible grounds for
holding on to the skull now.
Photo of the 'Baxter'
skull from Sun newspaper clipping (provided by D. White).
First published 21st may 2002