A Portrait of Joe

Bray Joe

The Bray portrait or ‘gentleman Joe’, as it is often referred, is an image which has divided public opinion for many years, from those who believe the young, well-dressed fellow, is twenty one year-old Joe Byrne, to others who claim, quite positively, that it is not. With some individuals even asserting that the young man pictured is actually Joe’s cousin, also named Joseph Byrne. However, if the man photographed is indeed Joe’s cousin, why was the carte de visite in the hands of Antonio Wick? This underlying question is something that has never been properly looked at, and instead, for the most part, is often brushed over. For me, as someone who is constantly seeking both understanding and justice for Joe, I cannot allow broad statements such as this to go unchallenged, and it is also the reason I have decided to put forward my research and views.

For the writing that follows, I have used evidence regarding Ian Jones’ own views on the photograph, Joe, and his family’s, association with Antonio, the features seen within the James Bray portrait in comparison to those seen in the Arthur Burman and John William Lindt photos, and finally, a waxwork face Aidan and myself have found which we firmly believe was taken directly from Maximilian Kreitmayer’s cast of Joe, with the likeness matching both the Bray and Burman photographs.

Despite Ian Jones being the first individual to publish the Bray portrait in his 1992 biography, The Friendship that Destroyed Ned Kelly, Jones’ views on the photo, I believe, have played a significant role in defining how many view this image of Joe. Firstly, in The Fatal Friendship (2nd edition of above), when describing the Bray portrait, Ian asserts it is “hard to believe that this urbane figure is Joe Byrne.” I have always found this statement to be unusual, and question why “it is hard to believe”, as Joe is nearly always described as being well mannered and both soberly, and, well dressed. I understand that my views on Joe do differ quite substantially from Jones’, and I make no apology for this, but I cannot understand why he would find Joe’s well-presented appearance unbelievable. Joe was cultured, he was well read and spoken, and he liked to dress smartly, so why wouldn’t this portrait represent him as such? In addition, Jones makes reference to Joe’s apparent opposition at having his likeness taken; using the long held belief that Joe had a ‘hair’ or ‘double lip’ as a reason for why he was against it. Stating, “Much of Joe’s apparent resistance may have sprung from ingrained sensitivity over his imperfect upper lip,” even going so far as to suggest that it “also might have contributed to his tearaway and potentiality violent character.” I have never understood this statement, and in fact I find it to be quite detrimental to Joe, both in terms of his memory and how individuals continue to perceive him. For me, it is almost as if Jones wishes to paint Joe as a self-conscious and volatile individual, so obsessed and paranoid with his appearance that he would turn to violence to cope with this unacceptable imperfection. This belief that Joe had a deformity which he so desperately tried to cover has never sat well with me, and is something I have often questioned. Obviously, this is spoken of at length in The Fatal Friendship and Jones even goes so far as to surmise that Joe only ventured into James Bray’s studio in Camp Street once “he had succeeded in cultivating a downy moustache to hide his upper lip.” The prison recordist, while noting Joe’s features certainly made no mention of it, with Jones concluding “Joe’s upper lip, that disproportionate scar on his self-image, passed unnoticed.” What is evident in both photographs, is Joe’s broader bottom lip and bow shaped, almost delicate, upper lip, which would explain why, at Jerilderie, William Elliot made mention of it as being ‘short’. In the footnotes of The Fatal Friendship, Jones mentions that Tom Lloyd remembered Joe speaking “in a clipped sort of way.” In reference to this statement, it should be acknowledged that “clipped” has two meanings. It can refer to the way in which an individual moves their lips when speaking, or rather doesn’t, or, it can mean the way they pronounce certain words. For example, thinking or feeling would be pronounced as ‘thinkin’ and ‘feelin’. It is my belief that both are applicable to Joe, and a lot of the supposed deformity was due to the tight lipped manner in which he spoke.

In regards to Joe’s appearance, I understand that there have been individuals in the past who have claimed that the moustache pictured is too thick to be Joe’s, as McIntyre himself described it as being “very fine, like first growth.” However, I believe the “fine” McIntyre was referring to had more to do with Joe’s hair being soft, as opposed to grown out and bristly, which is evident in both the Bray and Burman photos. His hair does appear to be quite soft and thin, which could also explain why it appears to be receding on his scalp slightly, again, apparent in both images of Joe. Moreover, when looked at properly, it is evident that most of this thickness is actually shadow, as is clear from the difference in lighting across his face and around the collar of his jacket. A similar problem, except it is excess light rather than shadow, is seen in the photo of Dan Kelly, with the light that is reflecting off his hair almost entirely obliterates his hairline, leaving many to believe he had a receding hairline.


Finally, I wish to make a point in relation to the clothes that Joe is wearing, as I feel some individuals doubt that it is Joe because of this. In the portrait, Joe is dressed smartly, as was his want, in tweed jacket, waistcoat and trousers with a crisp white shirt, on his feet are a pair of polished blutcher boots. A stark contrast to the rough, oversized hand-me-downs Dan was afforded in his portrait. Margret and Ellen were both widowed selectors, but it should be remembered, and respected, that the lives they lived were a world apart. Margret ran a successful dairy, with a heard of “fourteen or fifteen” cows. In her interview with Jones, Elly Byrne recalled, “People came to the house to buy milk and butter. Mother never took a pannikin of milk out of the house to say, ‘Will you buy this?’ We never had to beg money. We always had enough.’” It should also be remembered that after Paddy’s death in 1870, Joe worked as cart boy for Dodd’s Tannery, he ‘picked up’ in the shearing shed and worked an array of jobs within the Chinese Camp at Sebastopol. Finally, at the inquest of Ah Suey’s death, and at the trial of Ah Nam, Joe described himself as a ‘laborer’.

When individuals question the validity of the Bray photo, they often refuse to acknowledge that it was in the hands of Antonio Wick, as were the carte de visite’s of Margret and Patsy Byrne. These portraits, along with others, were passed onto his grandson, Bill Knowles, whose mother was Annie Wick. If one is so adamant to prove the man behind Bray’s camera is not Joe, why ignore this one crucial fact? It is this feigned ignorance that has always bothered me, and is something that seems to taint a lot of people’s understanding of the man Joe was. Firstly, Antonio knew Joe well, so how could he have mistaken the man in the photo to be Joe? How would his children have also mistaken Joe, when they knew him equally as well? His daughter Annie had been a school friend of Joe’s and William, Antonio’s son, stated he “knew the defendant well”, when testifying in court against Joe whom he had seen riding his father’s horse in 1873. Antonio and Margret were close friends and for a while at least, they may have even been linked romantically. Early in 1877, Antonio gifted Margret a carte de visite of Annie, and in return she gave him the portrait of Joe. If this is not reassurance enough, a further detail which may not be known by many is that the portrait of Margret was also in the possession of Antonio. This photograph would have been given to Antonio in 1879, and may have been a type of peace offering from Margret, in light of what had happened between the two since Joe’s outlawry. Finally, the photo of Joe was given to Jones by Bill Knowles in the 1960’s, when he was handed the collection of small sepia carte de visite’s, Knowles remarked that there was “a photo of Byrnes” included within. I fully appreciate that everybody is allowed an opinion; however, I find it quite remarkable that individuals can simply overlook, or dismiss this evidence while in the pursuit of self-gratification.

Another much raised question when individuals ask ‘Is it Joe?’ Is the way Joe looks in the Bray portrait compared to how he does, three years later and in death, in both the Burman and Lindt photographs. Personally, I have never understood this, as Joe’s prominent features are clear and identical in both.

Joe and Joe 2

Firstly, in the Bray image, it is immediately evident that Joe had broad hands, with his fingers also being quite thick. This, I believe, is the reason William ‘Brickey’ Williamson asserted that Joe had “small hands”, as the broadness of them, coupled with the size of his fingers, did in fact give this illusion. When comparing his hands in the Bray image to those in the Lindt photos, where they are clearly seen, the broadness of his hands and wrists is identical. In terms of Joe’s fingers, it should be noted that this is possibly the reason Joe is wearing Scanlan’s blue topaz ring on his little finger; it was the only finger it could slide on easily. Discussion has also centred on Joe’s ears in the Bray portrait, with questions raised at how large they appear. This has always baffled me, as they are the same, in size and shape, as his ears in the Burman and Lindt photographs. Joe’s ears, which were large and slightly turned in are seen clearly in the Benalla images, all that differs is the angle with which the photo was taken on. This is something that people seem to forget, especially when arguing against the Bray portrait being Joe. Even the two images taken front on of Joe, by Burman and Lindt, appear slightly different. For example, in the Burman photograph, Joe’s face looks to be narrower than the one taken by Lindt, which has a fuller appearance. Coupled with this, it has often been thought that Joe’s nose was broken at Glenrowan because of its misshapen appearance. However, in the Bray portrait, the shape of Joe’s nose is identical to the way it looks three years later, all that differs is the angle in which the photograph has been taken. When studied appropriately, what is apparent is that the bridge of his nose is slightly curved, and I believe it was this that led Jones to assert that Joe’s nose had been broken during the siege. Further to this, the shape of Joe’s nose could be described as being aquiline, as it is narrow and pointed, with the tip of it being slightly turned upwards. As mentioned earlier, the shape of Joe’s lips have long been a topic of discussion. In regards to the Bray and Burman images, Joe’s bottom lip is clearly seen in both, with the shape being the same. When the Bray portrait is viewed digitally, at a higher resolution, the top lip can be seen through the wispier parts of the moustache that have not been affected by shadow, and the shape is unmistakably the same. While on the subject of Joe’s moustache, I feel it is important to clarify my beliefs in regards to it being burnt at Glenrowan. Jones states his moustache had been “singed to a few downy wisps.” However, I do not believe this to be the case. Joe’s moustache was always fine, and was never thick and bristled like Ned’s. In the sepia photo by Burman, Joe’s moustache can be seen, but due to the morning light, and given his hair’s lightness, it is harder to see. Williamson stated that Joe’s moustache was “short”, which I believe is how it has been captured by Burman’s lens, as he had it trimmed just above his top lip. There is also identical likeness when comparing the Bray image to Lindt’s full length photographs of Joe. In both these images, Joe’s muscular thighs cannot be overlooked, and is why I believe Williamson made mention of Joe’s “thick legs” to police.

Joe and Joe

Finally, I have read where individuals have remarked on Joe’s youthfulness in the Benalla photographs compared with the Bray portrait. I think there is one crucial point that these individuals are overlooking; Joe had been dead for twenty four hours when his body was strung against the lockup door and photographed. How an individual looks in life can differ considerably to how they might in death (apart from the distinguishing features). From both the close-up images taken by Burman and Lindt, it is evident that the muscles in Joe’s face are slack, and are pulling down to one side. Joe died on the 28th of June, in between the times of five and six o’clock in morning, his body was photographed at nine o’clock the following day. This is more than twenty-four hours of lifelessness for the body of twenty three year old Joe Byrne. To put this in greater perspective, decomposition begins after just twelve hours, meaning his muscles had fully relaxed and his skin had begun to shrink.

Joe on door

Furthermore, it is noted that “with rigor mortis, the first muscles affected will be the eyelids, jaw, and neck. Over the next several hours, rigor mortis will spread into the face and down through the chest, abdomen, arms, and legs until it finally reaches the fingers and toes.” Something that many may overlook is that Joe’s right ankle appears to be rolled; this is due to it being entirely useless. The bullet that tore into his calf would have severed the nerves in his leg, meaning he would have only been able to painfully drag it during the siege. Not only do these sad array of images show Joe in death, after he had bled to death in fact, but they show him as his body is in the stages of decomposition. There is nothing to be gloated about within this image.

An integral piece to this argument is the discovery of a waxwork face, although mistakenly labelled as ‘Ned Kelly’, I believe it is undoubtedly the face of Joe Byrne.

Waxwork Joe

While trawling through the internet in late December, Aidan came across the image on Pinterest (of all places) with the individual who had uploaded the image believing, as many others did, that it is a nonsense photograph of Ned. It is all well and good if you have already seen it, as obviously many have, both when it was correctly labelled and displayed as Joe and when the image was wrongly labelled. At first, both myself and Aidan discounted it, but it wasn’t until we properly scrutinised it did we truly realise, and appreciate, what we were looking at. We have kept it to ourselves for a good few months, as we are not the kind of people to rush in with half thought up ideas, in the hope that it may win us praise; Joe deserves more than this. We also believe that it was made by renowned Melbourne waxwork proprietor, Maximilian Kreitmayer, who, as it happens, also made Ned Kelly’s death mask.

Looking past the faux hair, moustache, bushy eyebrows and beard, the distinguishing features are there. What we see, is the face of Joe, both as he looked photographed in death and as the twenty year old leaning casually against Bray’s studio prop. Firstly, looking through the heavy moustache, the broadness of Joe’s bottom lip can be seen, as can the bow-shaped upper lip, with his lips appearing to rest as they were in the lockup photos. The distinctive shape of Joe’s nose is also seen in the waxwork, the pointed tip and slight curve is clearly visible.

Joe Nose

Further to this, the shape of his septum, which is an unmistakable characteristic of Joe’s nose, is obvious within the wax, and I believe it impossible to dismiss this as a sheer coincidence.

Joe, waxwork

The nasolabial folds (smile lines) and cheeks match identically to the Burman close up and Bray portrait. His cheeks were high with strong bone structure, as too are the cheeks of the waxwork. The brow bone is also the same, as is Joe’s retreating forehead. A final point, in terms of likeness, is in relation to the slightly abnormal bag Joe had under his left eye. This abnormality is seen within the Bray portrait and the Burman and Lindt close-ups, and is also identifiable in the waxwork. The eyelids have to be discounted, as Joe’s eyes would have been closed when the cast was made. The glass eyes were placed behind the face, with the lids then sculptured over them.

Joe and waxwork

I believe it’s important, at least for me, to view this image for what it is; Joe’s death mask. After the hurried inquest on Joe’s body, Kreitmayer had the head shaved and body stripped so that he could create the cast. To do this, he first applied a layer of wax and then to reinforce it, plaster was added over the top. This may have been the waxwork face, when it was attached to the cast of Joe’s arms and legs, which was displayed in Kreitmayer’s Burke Street Waxworks in July 1880. A news snippet mentions that “Crowds of Burke Street promenades have been attracted to the windows of the Waxworks, by the exhibition of the boots taken from the dead body of Byrne, and secured by Mr Kreitmayer, the enterprising proprietor of the establishment. The boots are of the ‘riding’ sort with high heels. They are small and somewhat dandified in cut, and still stained with the soil of gravel and the blood of the fatal encounter. Mr Kreitmayer has also obtained a cast of Byrne’s body, from which a model has already been taken that will shortly be exhibited in the Chamber of Horrors with the genuine boots upon it.” In conjunction, Kreitmayer made a number of models from the casts of Joe’s body, and Aidan and I have dedicated a lot of time studying what may have become of these casts, for Joe, if for no one else. Obviously, a few copies would have been made and distributed by Kreitmayer. I strongly believe the figure of Joe that was displayed on the Success when it was a floating museum in the 1890’s, has also been made from the original cast. It is a rather sad image, the lifeless wax imprinted face of Joe, sitting slumped, his head titled slightly, arms bent as they were in death…However, while Aidan and myself wait for the high resolution copy to be located, we cannot say definitively. (Many thanks to Matt Shore for his valuable assistance with this and added information on the Bray photo.)

No doubt, there may be some individuals who after reading all I have presented will continue to argue that the Bray photo, and the waxwork, is not Joe. That is their right of course, and I cannot force my view upon anyone, but at least I know that I have made this stand for Joe, and for common sense. It has always saddened me that a lot of the way Joe has become to be perceived is due to the misguided, and in some cases, blatant ignorance of a few. Never in my writing, or research, do I attempt to hide any aspect of Joe’s character that I do not agree with. Do I question long held beliefs that I deem to be unfounded? Yes, of course, and I will continue to do so. In relation to Ned, not that it is his fault; Joe, Dan and Steve have never been allowed the same understanding, as I have found since starting An Outlaws Journal. Through the writing up of this piece, I hope to enable people, who may have questioned it in the past, the ability to see Joe, as he was in 1877. To visualise him walking down Camp Street, a pipe firmly clamped between his teeth, trying not to scuff his polished blutchers on the cobblestones, his red hair slicked back, tweed jacket rolled under his arm, against the heat. Or when viewing the waxwork photo, they may be able to look beyond the tacky hair and beard, and see the young handsome face beneath, much more than just an outlaw. Finally, I hope in both images, they see the likeness of Joe Byrne, preserved forever through the lens of James Bray and wax of Maximilian Kreitmayer.

Joe deserves to be seen.


Ian Jones, The Fatal Friendship

Ian Jones, The Friendship that Destroyed Ned Kelly

Keith McMenomy, Ned Kelly The Authentic Illustrated Story

The Ovens and Murray Advertiser (1872, 1873, 1875)

The Age (1880)

Matt Shore, The Ned Kelly Vault

What happens to the body after death. Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com 

Waxwork, retrieved from: https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/539657967846068544/

3 thoughts on “A Portrait of Joe

  1. Very interesting Georgina! I personally have never doubted that the Bray photo is of Joe but your comparisons to the Burman and Lindt photos and the waxwork make some good points that should give people food for thought. Thank you for sharing and keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a fantastic story on Joe. He was never my favourite member of the KellyGang, due to preconceived ideas from countless other authors. You have convinced me that Joe was much more than an opium-smoking trigger happy felon. I agree with your thoughts on the photographs. A great read well researched. Congratulations Georgina.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s