Valerie McKai with the death mask she believes belongs to a prominent Melbourne bushranger.
Valerie McKai with the death mask she believes belongs to a prominent Melbourne bushranger. Hayden Johnson

Death mask mystery...could it be Ned Kelly's?

A GHOULISH memento of Australia's most infamous outlawed bushranger could be on the Fraser Coast.

Torquay woman Valerie McKie believes she has a rare death mask of Ned Kelly, one of only a handful in existence.

She was given the mask by her late partner Stan Jones, father of the 1980 Formula One world champion Alan Jones, before he died in the 1970s.

Stan told her it belonged to a prominent bushranger and was worth a lot of money.

"I think it might have been the big one," she said.

"It's someone important and it's a bushranger from Victoria.

"I wasn't told it was Ned Kelly but Stan said it belonged to someone very famous."

Mrs McKie said Mr Jones had a friend at an old prison in Melbourne who gave it to him.

"It was the Pentridge Prison it came from definitely but they closed Pentridge down," she said.

Ned Kelly's gravesite lies behind the former walls of that prison in Coburg, Melbourne.

A National Trust spokeswoman said it was a possibility the mask belonged to the bushranger.

"There was more than one mask made of Ned," she said.

"We have one on display at the Old Melbourne Gaol but we don't know how many or where the rest are."

Mrs McKie said she had compared pictures of Kelly with the mask but believed it was impossible to tell.

"They shave them, they shave their heads and their whole neck and beards to get the noose around them to be hung," she said.

She has carried the mask all around Australia but now plans to sell the artefact because of financial troubles.

"I've kept it with me, I wouldn't leave it in the house in case the house got burgled," she said.

"Stan told me that one day when I needed some money to sell this and I'd be fine.

"It was all a bit mysterious."

Death masks were used for phrenological analysis, where the shape of a person's head is studied to determine their character traits and they were often put on display in public places to serve as a reminder of the power of the police.

Ned Kelly was captured in 1880 after a gun battle with the Victorian Police at Glenrowan.

Despite a petition signed by 60,000 people Kelly was sentenced to death by hanging.