Family farewells Ned Kelly

Ned Kelly
Ned Kelly

As Ned Kelly's descendants carried his coffin from the memorial service he never had 132 years ago, the bushranger's favourite song rang out through the church: "In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore."

The lyrics, which Ned Kelly reportedly sang in his cell the night before he was hanged, were an apt soundtrack to the realisation of his dying wish - a traditional Catholic burial in consecrated ground alongside his loved ones.

More than 200 assorted Kelly descendants, along with dozens of intrigued public onlookers and regular Friday churchgoers, attended yesterday's noon service dedicated to the bushranger at St Patrick's Church in the country Victorian town of Wangaratta.

Proving that the Kelly enigma continues to divide, parish priest Monsignor John White told mourners he had received offensive phone calls and emails when it was revealed he would deliver the outlaw's liturgy.

But as he told the crowd, this service wasn't about Ned Kelly, the cop-killing, bank-robbing bandit.

It was about Edward Kelly, a baptised Catholic, who was entitled to the dignified burial he was denied following his hanging at Melbourne Gaol in 1880, when his decapitated body was entombed in the dirt with no family members present.

"Today, we're righting that wrong," Monsignor White said.

Reading prayers and blessing Kelly's coffin with holy water before reflecting briefly on his life, the priest said the mass was not the time to rehash the legend that's been told and retold with wildly varying details and moral judgments.

"I speak simply as a priest who resides at this requiem mass ... about a man who occupies a unique place in the Australian story," the monsignor said.

Those present included Kelly's great-grandniece, Joanne Griffiths, and great-grandnephew, Anthony Griffiths.

"We're very relieved to have given Edward what he wished for and what he asked for," Ms Griffiths said outside the church following the mass.

Laying Kelly to rest would give the family closure and end a multi- generational cycle of pain, Ms Griffiths said.

Kelly's skull remains missing since it was stolen from a display case at the Old Melbourne Gaol in 1978.