Ian Jones’ reaction to the Gentleman Ned photo controversy
Much has been written and debated about the fake Gentleman Ned photograph, which was believed to have shown Ned Kelly in his honest, hard-working years and was sold at auction by Christie’s for $19,080 on March 26, only to be proved a fake just weeks later. But we have not yet been privy to the thoughts of the man who authenticated the picture for Christie’s auction house. That is, until now. In an Ironoutlaw exclusive, the No. 1 Kelly expert, Ian Jones, reveals:
- The long list of coincidences that led him to believe that the man in the photo was in fact Ned Kelly
- Little-known details about Ned’s hairstyle and beard
- Inaccuracies in newspaper reports
- He fully accepts the result of a computer analysis that proved the photo a fake
- He was singularly to blame for the mistake
- Christie’s did not deceive prospective buyers of the photo
- He is excited by the very technology that was used to expose his mistake
- The same technology that has been used to prove ‘Gentleman Ned’ a phoney has proved the ‘Boxing Ned’ photo to be genuine.
“Keith McMenomy, who I regard as the pre-eminent Kelly pictorial historian, introduced me to the photo that was to become known as Gentleman Ned 40 years ago. It was a reproduction that had been used in The Herald in 1930. It was quite heavily retouched and you couldn’t make out his face. At first, I thought ‘how on earth could anyone say this is Ned Kelly?’ It was just a man with a beard.
“Then I started putting it together. It’s easily recognised in the props that it was taken by James Bray in his Beechworth studio, and you can establish that it was taken around the mid-1870s. At that time, Ned was overseer of a sawmill, a frequent visitor to Beechworth and described by James Ingram, the Beechworth bookseller who was a Scots Baptist in that period, as ‘a polite, gentlemanly man‘. During this time and a bit later, Superintendent (Francis) Hare described Ned as a ‘well-dressed’ man who could have easily passed as a squatter.
“There is also a reproduction in the Cookson articles of 1911 of a photo of Aaron Sherritt. It was taken in Bray’s studio using the same props arranged in the same way as the purported Ned photo, with only one slight difference – there’s a tie on a curtain which has been shifted slightly. It looks as though both photos were taken at the same time. The elaborate table with an unusual top on it is the same distance from the background in both photos and the camera is at exactly the same height. The light from the skylight is unusually bright, striking down across both of their faces and slightly distorting their features. In each case, their faces are slightly over-exposed. With them both standing beside the same prop, you can measure this man, who was supposed to be Ned Kelly, against Aaron Sherritt. They come out at exactly the same height – Aaron was six-feet tall (183cm), so was Ned, and so was the bearded bloke in the photo.
“I first heard about an original print of the photograph in Christmas 1999 and I saw a copy of it in October 2000. When I saw it, in many ways it was unexpected. It didn’t appear to have the typical impact of Ned Kelly’s face, but I could easily explain that by the effect of the skylight. His hair colour was also distorted and you got exactly the same effect with the Aaron Sherritt photo – Aaron had very dark hair and yet, in the reproduced photo, it looked almost fair.
“The other ‘clincher’ for me was that the photograph came from Tom Lloyd, who had passed it on to his son as a photograph of Ned Kelly, as part of a collection of photos of members of the Kelly Gang. It was in a wallet with pictures of Joe Byrne, Steve Hart and some others. This was the only photograph of Ned Kelly in the wallet. So there was a clear line of descent from Tom Lloyd, Ned Kelly’s cousin and effectively the fifth member of the gang, to the present day. So there was pretty impressive evidence that it was the genuine article.
“Keith McMenomy and I believed it was Ned before we saw the original. In 1967, when describing the photo, I said ‘it’s hard to believe he is a man of 21, with his rather proud, benign face and his thoroughly good, very conservative clothes’. And when I helped (Christie’s auction house executive) Michael Ludgrove with the notes for the Christie’s catalogue, I said ‘the portrait, in many ways, is atypical’. But I saw no discrepancy in the photograph that I couldn’t account for.
“The detail went even further than that. Ned’s beard was old-fashioned for a young man, as Mrs Scott said at Euroa. Young men weren’t wearing big beards like this, but here you had a young man wearing the same sort of old-fashioned, big beard. But he didn’t have a big beard like this all the time. He grew it from the time he came out of Pentridge and trimmed it back very close early in 1876 – we’ve got a description of it to prove it – and it was called ‘small’ – small whiskers, moustache and beard. This photo falls into the period where he still had a big beard, which he grew again over the next two years and into his outlawry, and then trimmed back quite considerably again before Glenrowan.
“The similarities continue with his hair. If you were to look for a photo of a man who was to look like Ned Kelly, you’d look for a man with his hair parted on the right-hand side, as it is in the last two prison photos on the day before his execution. As a younger man, Ned parted his hair on the left – you can see it in the portrait taken at Kyneton when he was 15 and you can see it in the Boxing Ned photo when he was 19. His hair tended to fall over the right side of his forehead, exactly how the hair falls on this photo taken at Beechworth.
“The most ridiculous coincidence came last year when we were given a belt to display at Ned: The Exhibition at the Old Melbourne Gaol. It’s an unlikely belt; it’s really a saddle-strap and not designed to go around a waist. It was designed to be fastened tightly around a swag sling on a saddle. When we got a digitalised copy of the photo, you get a good look at the belt. It’s absolutely identical to the belt that was apparently taken from Ned at Glenrowan.
“So here’s a man who matches Ned Kelly in uncanny ways. He’s dressed the way one would expect Ned to have dressed, wearing a matching vest and trousers, as Ned and, of course, a lot of other people did back then. He also wore lightweight boots, which Ned favoured. The boots he was wearing when he got captured had the lining taken out to make them more flexible, as this fellow has done.
“So, we are left with the exquisite mystery of: if this fellow is not Ned Kelly, who the hell is he? He was a man that Tom Lloyd apparently thought was Ned. If Tom owned the photo, he would know who it was. That’s what I can’t work out. Tom would have had to have known who it was to have had the photo in the first place. Tom died in 1927, three years before the photo was published and must have believed it was Ned. Michael Ludgrove and I went along to see a computer analysis by Cliff Ogleby, the geomatics expert at Melbourne University. I took along my photo of Ned at 15, which Cliff hadn’t seen or scanned. That’s the photo that I felt most closely resembled the facial structure and ear position of the Gentleman Ned picture. When we compared it to the death mask and then again to the Gentleman Ned picture, I found it to be totally convincing.
“I feel there has been a lot of imagination used in some of the comments about the ‘Gentleman Ned’ photo. Andrew Rule from The Age pushed the barrow a little hard in the original newspaper report (on May 18, 2002) with a couple of details. There was the nonsense about the ‘spidery’ hands. They’re not like that at all; they look like good, strong, long-fingered hands. In fact, someone said to me ‘I can see why you thought it was Ned Kelly; they sure look like a boxer’s hands’. Then there was the description of him being more like a schoolteacher than a bushranger. Maybe Andrew had a pre-conceived idea of what a bushranger should look like.
“For a start, Ned wasn’t a bushranger at the time. Also, he didn’t have the appearance of your average ruffian on the run from the law. Mrs Scott at Euroa said that he was much better looking and better dressed than she expected. One of his descendants, ‘Black Jack’ Griffiths, who I met when he was in his sixties and dying, was apparently a dead-ringer for Ned. I mentioned that to one of the family and they said ‘oh yes, in his younger days he was very much like Ned, and very debonair’. Other people were talking about the length of his upper lip, but the fact is that you can’t see his upper lip in the photo because it was totally obscured by shadow and moustache. There was a lot of hyperbole floating around.
“Andrew (Rule) spoke to me for half an hour. I told him everything I’ve told you. I urged him to speak to Keith McMenomy, which he did for about 10 minutes, but there wasn’t a flicker of acknowledgment of either conversation in the story that appeared. Keith (McMenomy) and I had no doubts that the man in the photo was Ned and I am still utterly baffled by the mystery it poses. I totally accept the results of the computer analysis and I did so as soon as I saw Cliff Ogleby‘s demonstration. Suggestions that I was appalled and shattered at the outcome is just bulldust. Cliff wasn’t pushing a barrow or trying to show anything except the facts. I’m not interested in trying to prove I’m right. I’ve made mistakes before. All I want to do is get it right – that’s what it’s all about.
“Far from being disappointed that the photo was not of Ned, I was quite buoyed by the whole experience. My wife, Bronwyn, told me I came home and said ‘it’s not Ned, but it’s so exciting what you can do with that technology’. There was a lot of rubbish that was being peddled about the picture; that you only had to run a ruler between his ear and his nose – it ain’t that simple. Cliff Ogleby said that without the 3D digital scan of the death mask, which allowed you to view the head from any angle, it would be very hard to say with any certainty that it was or wasn’t the same man by just looking at a few photographs.
“My dread was that it would be a hung jury; a line-ball. Then we would get more overstated arguments from people saying ‘it isn‘t Ned’, while we would be saying ‘frankly, we’re not convinced because we believe it is Ned’. I was deeply worried by the thought that it could drag on like that forever without a conclusion. The Age would get a prolonged story out of it, but it wouldn’t do anybody any good. I was delighted that it was such a clear-cut result.
“Any suggestion that Christie’s tried to deceive people is nonsense. The buck stops here with me. I was responsible for identifying and authenticating it. Christie’s relied upon my identification of it and had no reason to believe, even weeks after the auction, that it was anything but a genuine photo of Ned.
“A lot of people who didn’t think the Gentleman Ned photo was Ned are now saying that the Boxing Ned photo isn’t him either. But when we tested the Gentleman Ned photo, we tested the boxing photo as well and I’m glad to say that it is, without a shadow of a doubt, a genuine photo of Ned Kelly. If it turned out that the boxing photo wasn’t Ned, I’d have given up.”
– as told to Ben Collins.
InterNED featured regular instalments relating to people still involved in the Kelly story. Here you will read about experts, historians, authors, descendants, and others with interesting tales to tell about their connection with Ned. Compiled by Ben Collins, InterNED gave you an insight into the lives of people who were helping to keep the legend alive.
Ben Collins was the co-author of Jason McCartney: After Bali – the highest-selling non-fiction book by an Australian author in 2003 – which tells of Jason McCarthy’s recovery from horrific burns suffered in the Bali terrorist bombings and his quest to play one last game of AFL football. In 2004, Collins wrote The Book of Success – a series of interviews with Australian leaders in business, sport, politics, science and entertainment. In 2006, he wrote The Champions: Conversations with Great players & Coaches of Australian Football, which included in-depth interviews with the likes of Ron Barassi and Bob Skilton.
Collins started as a cadet journalist with The Courier in Ballarat in 1997 and worked with Fairfax Community Newspapers before becoming one of the original reporters with the Herald & Weekly Times’ free commuter publication, MX, in 2001. He is a full-time writer for The Slattery Media Group, which produces all AFL publications including the AFL Record. The Red Fox is his fourth book and his first biography.
A Byrne family who lived nearby – Ben likes to think they could be related to gang member Joe Byrne – introduced him to the Old Melbourne Gaol and Ned when he was five. One of Ben’s aunties is also a close friend of a woman who married into the Bartsch family, who are direct descendants of Aaron Sherritt’s sister, Julia.
Through this connection, Ben was shown around the Sherritt family property at Sheepstation Creek in the Woolshed Valley near Beechworth – a property that features prominently in Ian Jones’ book, The Friendship That Destroyed Ned Kelly: Joe Byrne & Aaron Sherritt. Ben and Ironoutlaw webmaster Brad Webb designed and edited the catalogue Ned: The Exhibition, written by Ian Jones.