A funeral for an unknown gold miner whose remains were discovered buried near Cromwell four decades ago is to be held next week — giving him a final resting place more than 140 years after he died.
A funeral organised by Alexandra-based funeral director Lynley Claridge, of Affinity Funerals, is planned for May 14.
She hopes he will come to symbolise the hardship and bleak optimism of the gold fever that swept Otago from the 1860s which brought vast wealth to many and cost some, including the miner, their lives.
Mrs Claridge said she was prompted to volunteer her business’ services after being touched by the man’s story published in February.
‘‘Living in Central Otago against the backdrop of the goldfields and everything they brought, and took away, from the community, I’ve always had a strong connection with gold miners.
‘‘Reading about the unknown gold miner languishing in the anatomy department at Otago University, I just felt I needed to bring him home.’’
Final details are being settled, but the May 14 service would include a nod to the era, such as a specially made pine coffin with rope handles, a horse and dray to carry the coffin and fourth generation funeral director Clark Campbell, of Campbell & Sons in Mosgiel, now a co-owner of Affinity, wearing his great-grandfather’s original morning suit and top hat.
The funeral will to be held at 11.30amat the Cromwell Cemetery and will go beyond what would have been afforded by the man when he was first buried more than 140 years ago.
The service, which is open to all, will be presided over by Central Otago Archdeacon Damon Plimmer and will also be live-streamed.
Discovered in 1983, the skeletal remains —and boots — of the unknown man, were exhumed from a grave above the Clutha River in the Cromwell Gorge.
From there, his remains were sent to the University of Otago where they have been kept in the anatomy department ever since.
His discovery came as archaeologists scrambled to identify historical sites ahead of the construction of State Highway 8, the Clyde Dam and subsequent flooding of the gorge by Lake Dunstan.
What Dr Neville Ritchie, who discovered the remains as the then-director of the Ministry of Works archaeological programme for the Clutha Valley Development Project, did not bargain for, was the fact the man’s remains had been disturbed before.
Dr Ritchie said there was clear evidence of grave robbing.
In the almost 40 years since, traditional archaeology and advances in technology meant it was possible to coax more answers from the remains.
That included two approaches.
The first was outlining the historical background, archaeological excavation, material culture, the social and historical context of the man’s life and death and the grave robbing.
It was the second — a bioarchaeological approach — that gave the clearest picture of who the man was.
Using molecular and chemical evidence it was found he was between 30 and 50 years old, at 189cm was unusually tall for the time, and isotopes in his teeth pointed to him having come from central or southern England, northern France or Denmark.
That work was due to the team at the University of Otago
— anatomy department professor and bioarchaeologist Dr Hallie Buckley and archaeology department Southern Archaeology director and honorary research fellow Peter Petchey.
Both said their work with the man was complete and they hoped he could be given a final resting place.
Cue Mrs Claridge.
‘‘I hope the community will join us in saying farewell to this miner who, we believe, has captured the hearts of many here in Central Otago,’’ she said.