Mayors shouldn’t presume what dead people want

Justin Lester generally seems to have started of his job as mayor of Wellington well, but he has not done well in trying to presume what Katherine Mansfield would want to happen to her body.

Mansfield died in France of tuberculosis in 1923, aged 34.

Last Friday: Wellington mayor wants to bring Katherine Mansfield’s remains home

Wellington’s mayor wants to exhume Katherine Mansfield’s remains in France so she can be laid to rest in the capital.

Justin Lester has written to the mayor of Avon, where Mansfield’s grave is.

He said Katherine Mansfield House and Garden is leading the repatriation of the author’s remains but was happy to offer his support.

“It’s about making sure Katherine Mansfield is in a place where she did want to be buried.

“She fell ill very quickly and she wasn’t living in the place where she was buried for very long. She was there for a short period of time.

“There’s no real connection to that location, whereas Wellington was her birthplace and a place she held fondly in her heart.”

Lester said it was early days and the move would need the support of French authorities and Mansfield’s family to move ahead with the process.

“There is no rush, there’s no urgency around this but I think it is a nice idea and something I’m happy to support.”

Lester (and Katherine Mansfield House and Garden) seems to be presuming what someone who has been dead for nearly a hundred years would want. And what Mansfield’s family would want. But the latter doesn’t want.

On Wednesday: Move to have Katherine Mansfield’s bones returned to NZ blocked by English relative

The eldest relative of Katherine Mansfield has blocked a move backed by Wellington Mayor Justin Lester to have the author’s remains exhumed from her burial site in France.

Englishwoman Janine Renshaw-Beauchamp – Mansfield’s great niece – is understood to have petitioned the mayor of Avon in France after moves by the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace Society in Wellington to get the celebrated author’s bones returned home.

On Thursday, birthplace society president Nicola Saker confirmed it had received a letter from Avon’s mayor rejecting the proposal.

The wishes of relatives were a consideration under French law.

Didn’t those wanting to move the remains check with relatives?

But the idea has not met with universal acclaim – English Mansfield biographer and member of the International Katherine Mansfield Society Gerri Kimber called the proposal a “crass and ill-judged venture.”

“Why on earth do the mayor of Wellington and the [birthplace society] believe they have the right to disinter a private individual’s remains? Shall we also disinter Lord Rutherford’s remains from Westminster Abbey and send them back as well?”

Kimber called the proposal ignominious and urged New Zealanders to reject it as Renshaw-Beauchamp had.

Victoria University Mansfield scholar Lydia Wevers echoed Kimber’s sentiments.

“It’s a mad and idiotic suggestion that goes against everything she wrote about herself.”

And this also sums it up: Martin Doyle Cartoon: Put away your spades