Are you sure you want a Ned Kelly tattoo?


The life of outlaw Ned Kelly ended abruptly when he was sent to the gallows for his crimes - and now it appears he is still something of a curse more than 130 years after he went to his grave. 

An extraordinary study has found that people with tattoos of the Irish- Australian criminal, who is seen by some as a freedom-fighting folk hero, are more likely to be murdered or kill themselves.

The tattoos of the highwayman, who was hanged in Melbourne in 1880 for the murder of three policemen, are more common on those who have met a violent death.

Ned Kelly

Mark of death: A professor at Adelaide University found that Australian men with tattoos of the outlaw Ned Kelly were more likely to have been murdered or killed


Ned Kelly

Outlaw idol: A tattoo of Ned Kelly depicting his distinctive armour which was made from parts of farm machinery





Edward 'Ned' Kelly was the first son of Irish convict John 'Red' Kelly, who moved to Australia in 1848.

Ned was born in Beveridge, just north of Melbourne, some time between June 1854 and June 1855.

At the age of 14, Ned was arrested for the first time for assaulting a Chinese pig farmer.


Ned Kelly


Ned had numerous run-ins with the police over the years, for charges ranging from being an accomplice to a bushranger, being in possession of a stolen horse,  assault and drunkenness.

Ned and other members of his family went into hiding after an incident at their home in which a police officer was injured in a scuffle.

Three police officers who were chasing Ned were shot at Stringybark by the outlaw and his brother Dan. 

The pair robbed two banks before police finally caught up with them. Ned was hanged on November 11 1880. His last words were ‘Such is life’.


Ned Kelly


He looked into the cause of death of 20 Australian men, aged between 20 and 67, who had tattoos of Ned Kelly's face or name.






The comparison between murder, suicide and Ned Kelly tattoos was made by Adelaide University Professor Roger Byard.

He began looking into the phenomenon after seeing there were an unusually high number of Kelly tattoos on bodies in the Adelaide mortuary.

Of the 20 men with Ned Kelly tattoos that the professor studied, only three  had died from natural causes - the rest were murdered or killed themselves. 

He also found that 11 of the 20 Kelly enthusiasts also had signs of drug and alcohol abuse.


Ned Kelly

Professor Byard wrote in a paper for the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine: 'Although the population studied is highly selected, individuals with these tattoos had an above average incidence of traumatic deaths.

'Individuals with Ned Kelly tattoos in this series certainly had an above-average incidence of traumatic deaths compared to other forensic cases.

'Ironically this was also a feature of the ill-fated members of the Kelly Gang, whose leader is commemorated in these designs.' 

Professor Byard's report also noted that some of the tattoos depicted Kelly's distinctive body armour, which he had made from parts of agricultural machinery.

Ned Kelly

Pistols: A drawing shows Ned Kelly wearing a helmet made from farm equipment during a shootout with police at Glenrowan in which the outlaw was finally caught


Bad boy: Those with Ned Kelly tattoos were also found to have a higher rate of drug and alcohol abuse

Tattoos also quoted Kelly's supposed final words as he stood on the gallows - 'Such is life'.

Although other researchers have previously linked violent death with anti-social tattoos on bodies, this is the first time that a specific link has been found with Ned Kelly tattoos.


Ned Kelly



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