The remains of Australia’s most famous outlaw, Ned Kelly, are finally to be laid to rest, 132 years after he was hanged for murder.
Kelly’s descendants, who received the bushranger’s remains after they were exhumed from a mass prison grave, said yesterday they will hold a private church memorial service tomorrow before the burial in an unmarked grave this Sunday.
The home-made armour and helmet Kelly wore during his last violent shoot-out with police, and his reported final words before he was hanged at Old Melbourne Gaol on 11 November, 1880 – “such is life” – helped make him an iconic figure in Australian history.
His comrades-in-arms, known as the Kelly Gang, became a symbol for social tensions between poor Irish settlers and the wealthy establishment of the time. Kelly himself became a folk hero to many for standing up to the Anglo-Australian ruling class. His story has been told in novels and several films.
Kelly’s descendants said the private farewells were in keeping with the outlaw’s requests.
Anthony Griffiths, the great-grandson of Kelly’s younger sister, Grace, said: “To us this is a funeral. This is us burying a family member and we want to see the burial, the service and the graveside treated with the respect and dignity that should be accorded to any other grave.
“The idea of it being turned into some tourist site is most distasteful to us and we would ask people to respect that and remember that.”
The church service will be held at Wangaratta, a town about 140 miles north-east of Melbourne, and hundreds of family members are travelling there from all around Australia.
Monsignor John White, the parish priest at St Patrick’s Church in Wangaratta, said yesterday: “It’s the first occasion that Ned Kelly has been offered the full ritual of the Catholic Church in the public forum in the presence of his family, which to us is extremely important.”
It is thought Kelly will then be buried at Greta, south of Wangaratta, where his mother was interred in an unmarked grave.
Local man Michael Wescombe has a clear view of the Greta cemetery from his home – and the Kelly fans who visit.
He said: “At the moment, all those people are disappointed, because they don’t know what they’re looking for [as her grave is unmarked]. There is enormous interest. I believe there should at least be a map at the front gate so people know where to go.”
And he added: “As soon as there is a new grave here, people will know. I don’t think they can keep it a secret. You drive around here, everyone is making a living out of Ned.”
While Ellen Kelly’s grave has no headstone or other marker, locals believe it lies in the back left corner of the cemetery, in the Roman Catholic section.
Ned Kelly’s remains have made a circuitous journey to their final resting place.
They were first buried in a mass grave at Melbourne Gaol. When that closed in 1929, Kelly’s bones were exhumed and reburied in another mass grave at the newer Pentridge Prison, in Coburg, north of Melbourne.
It then also closed, in 1997. All the bones buried there were exhumed in 2009 and returned to the families or reinterred.
Ned Kelly’s skeleton was positively identified in 2011 by scientists after DNA tests using a sample from a descendant. The Victoria state government said last August it would return the skeleton to the family.
However, Kelly’s skull is still missing – it is believed to have been separated from his skeleton during the transfer.