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Notorious outlaws and villains are known as much by their appearance, accessories and calling cards, as by the dry historical detail of their deeds. Robin Hood was known for his archery talent, and in camp circles for his green felt costume and pixie boots, Dick Turpin got by on Black Bess and costume masks, Jeffrey Archer had his notorious shepherds pie and Krug parties while Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly, Australian bushranger and bankrobber, wore a suit of armour and helmet which would not have disgraced a knight of the realm.

This piece of iron, pictured right, fashioned from a 19th century plough mould board, is believed to be the shoulder plate from the suit of armour which went missing in the aftermath of the Glenrowan Inn shoot-out between the police and Kelly’s gang in the early hours of June 28, 1880.

Deflecting a number of police bullets that morning, Kelly famously called out “you bloody cocktails, you can’t hurt me, I’m in iron”, but he was captured soon after and stripped of his armour by a posse of policemen, including Constable Patrick Gascoigne. According to the family who consigned the plate to Christie’s auctioneers, it had been purchased from the niece of Gascoigne’s daughter, Kitty Davenport, in 1970. She had maintained that her father had hidden the plate in his saddlebag after the siege, as senior officers were confiscating Kelly mementos from the policemen involved.

Kelly memorabilia has been widely faked, but the academic and leading authority on the outlaw, Ian Jones, said he had “no reason to doubt” its authenticity, and the certainty of this opinion was reflected in the hammer price of A$170,000 (£60,715) (plus 17.5/10 per cent premium) paid for the plate in Melbourne on July 31.