Ned Kelly is farewelled at the Wangaratta church before his burial at the Greta cemetery on Sunday.ONE of the many folk songs that sprang up in the wake of the Kelly outbreak has a verse that goes:
Thirty policemen did outdo you,
In a hotel owned by Jones,
Then they captured and hanged you,
Nothing left of you but the bones.
On Friday, at St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Wangaratta, those bones – or, as they were described by Monsignor John White, the mortal remains of Ned Kelly – arrived in a coffin to be given a Requiem Mass before their burial on Sunday in the Greta cemetery.
He will be buried beside his mother Ellen’s unmarked grave. The cemetery also contains the unmarked graves of his brother Dan and Steve Hart, the two gang members who died in the gun siege at Jones’ hotel in nearby Glenrowan.
As a convicted murderer, Kelly was denied a burial in consecrated ground after his execution in November 1880. His headless body was dumped in a pit and covered with lime to rot the flesh. ”No family members were there to mourn his passing or pray for him,” Monsignor White said.
Through his siblings, Ned Kelly is believed to have around 450 descendants today. They took up the body of the old church and entry into that part of the church was rigorously monitored.
There was no eulogy in the service but family members who read from the scriptures wore the green sash Kelly was awarded in his youth for saving a boy from drowning. He wore the sash again, beneath his armour, in the gang’s final stand at Glenrowan, appearing out of the morning mist in his cylindrical helmet and body plate to advance on a small army of troopers and native police in an attempt to draw their fire and permit his younger brother Dan and Steve Hart to escape.
Conducting the service, Monsignor White’s achievement was to assist his congregation to glimpse the young man – only 25 at the time of his death – beneath the legend so that it did indeed feel like a funeral. Delivering the homily, Monsignor White said that ”of all Australians, Ned is no doubt the most famous, although some would say infamous, and therein lies a great divide. That divide is still simmering.” He said the Kelly story was ”an ongoing story in the ongoing Australian story”.
The Monsignor said he had received a number of offensive communications from people
objecting to Kelly receiving a ”public liturgy” but said the focus of the service was not on the deceased but on a merciful God.
Citing the example of the thief who died on the cross beside Christ, he said, ”We don’t make the judgments. We don’t know what goes on in people’s hearts and souls and minds. God does that. Today we want to bring closure to what was denied his family and what was denied his mother Ellen. Ours is a church of saints and sinners and we are not here to decide which side Ned falls on.”
The service ended with a poignant rendition of In the Sweet By and By, the song Kelly is said to have sung in his cell at the Old Melbourne Gaol the night before he was hanged. As it was being sung, his coffin was carried to the hearse.
Outside, the mood became a lot less restrained. Men, women and children stepped forward to touch the coffin bearing a wreath of Australian flowers and the ubiquitous green sash. A small group of bikies appeared. As the hearse began to leave, there was an outbreak of applause and a call of ”Three cheers for Ned”, which were duly given.
Among those present was a descendant of Michael Scanlon, one of the policemen shot by Kelly at Stringybark Creek. He was without bitterness. Another branch of his family included a forebear who had gone to school with the fourth gang member, Joe Byrne. Also present were descendants of Aaron Sherritt, the former friend of the gang shot by them for being an informer.
Anthony Griffiths, a descendant of Ned’s sister Grace, described the day as ”pretty emotional” and said, ”It’s come to a conclusion.” Then he added, ”Well, this chapter has.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.