Exhumation of Archbishop Clune

On International Talk Like A Pirate Day (19 September) 2006, I was staring at four crosses on the floor of St Mary’s Cathedral making jokes about searching for treasure. This was the first day of the exhumations of the second and third Catholic Bishops of Perth and the start of my involvement in what would become a seven year project. This project has seen me exhume the first Bishop of Perth on my honeymoon, help osteoarchaeologists and doctors analyse remains and catalogue over 17,000 artefacts identified in the underfloor deposit of the Cathedral.

The final stage of this project commenced with the exhumation of Patrick Joseph Clune, the fourth Bishop and first Catholic Archbishop of Perth. Clune was born in Ruan, Co. Clare and at 15 he entered the Catholic Missionary College of All Hallows in Dublin to study for the priesthood. In 1898 he arrived in Perth with the first group of Redemptorist fatyers at the request of the then Bishop of Perth, Matthew Gibney.

It was said that his eloquence and manliness had a remarkable influence on the men in the rough settlements of Australia and New Zealand and in 1909 when he returned to Perth, he was used freely for appeals to open Churches, schools and convents. In 1910, the increasing financial difficulties within the Perth Diocese saw Rome request that Gibney resign. Gibney named Clune as his successor and three years into his role as Bishop, he was named the Archbishop of Perth.

Although the Perth Archdiocese was an ever increasing responsibility, in 1916 he became a senior chaplain to the Catholic members of the Australian Imperial Force which took him to the war front in Ypres. What he saw left such an impression that at the end of his appointment he appealed for Belgian patriotic finds, assisted the families Yugoslav internees and was in favour of conscription.

Throughout his life, Clune supported the Irish quest for independence. This came to a head in 1920 when, on a visit to Ireland, he became shocked by the outrages perpetrated by the ‘Black and Tans’ on behalf of the British Government. This led him to attempt to negotiate peace between Lloyd George and the Sinn Fein leaders. It is said that George supported a temporary truce but there was opposition from the British Parliament unless the Sinn Fein delivered up all their arms. Although his attempts to bring peace to Ireland were unsuccessful, he did arouse public awareness in Europe and the USA about the true state of affairs in Ireland.

Upon his return to Perth, he put all his efforts into developing the ever expanding archdiocese by erecting 56 building between 1921 and 1931 including a new sanctuary and transept of the Cathedral, which remain today. In 1933, as his health was failing, he appointed Redmond Prendiville as his coadjutor bishop. He finally succumbed to his infirmities on 24 May 1935 and was buried at Karrakatta cemetery where he remained until the exhumation commenced on 14 May 2013.

Fr Robert Cross, a priest and an archaeologist headed up the exhumation. He conducted it with the support of the employees at Karrakatta, Bowra and O’Dea; Dr Michael Shanahan, a retired general surgeon; Vivian Lengkeek, an archaeologist and Terra Rosans, Brenda Fuller, Sue McGalliard and myself. Brenda and Sue are osteoarchaeologists, with Sue’s specialities being joint disease and pathology.

The exhumation commenced with the majority of earth being removed by a mechanical digger and then a team of amazing employees from Karrakatta. Once we reached approximately six feet, we commenced the excavations by trowel and sieved the spoil. This was to ensure we identified any fixtures of the coffin and any of Clune’s remains. The coffin had collapsed, but the majority of the bones were in situ. Some fabric was identified and it appears that he was buried in green vestments.

The bones were not as well preserved as the other Bishops and Archbishops we had previously exhumed, but an initial examination by Sue and Brenda has determined that a number of his ribs had been broken during his life, that for many years he required dentures and he suffered from arthritis and osteoporosis, all ailments expected from a 71 year old man.

While the examination of the bones remains ongoing, it has been determined that his remains will be placed in the Cathedral crypt in September of this year to coincide with the 100 year anniversary of the elevation of Perth to a Catholic Archdiocese. Although this will sadly mark the end a very unique experience, we do have another 20 odd thousand artefacts to clean and catalogue from the initial underfloor excavation to take my mind off it.


All information of Clune’s life was collected from: