Dean's headstone officially unveiled

Last updated 12:14 23/02/2009
JILL McKEE/137433
UNVEILING: Piper Max Wells leads (from left) Paula Wells, Reverend Tekura Wilding, Southland District Mayor Frana Cardno, Winton Community Board chairman John McHugh and Minnie Dean biographer Lynley Hood during a service to unveil a headstone marking the convited baby-killer's grave.

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Humanity was restored to Southland's most infamous citizen yesterday with the official unveiling of a headstone to mark the grave of convicted baby-killer Minnie Dean.

About 60 people, including those with direct connections to the life and crimes of Dean, gathered at the old Winton Cemetery yesterday afternoon for a service to officially unveil the headstone installed at the grave of Dean and her husband Charles last week on behalf of her great-great-nephew, Martin McCrae, of Stirling, Scotland.

Piper Max Wells led family and guests to Block VIII, Plot 2 Dean's final resting place after her journey from the scaffold 114 years ago for a service punctuated with themes of peace, healing and forgiveness.

Winton Presbyterian Church's Reverend Tekura Wilding said the legend of Dean, the only woman to be hanged in New Zealand, had become part of folklore both in Winton and New Zealand, but it was time to give her peace.

Timaru woman Paula Wells, Dean's first-cousin four times removed, said it was time to remember her relative as a human being but conceded her legend had grown over the years.

"We cannot easily change her reputation in the world."

Those in attendance all acknowledged it was time for her to have a marker but one man said it was not a time to make her a "saint".

Mrs Wells said she discovered the connection to Dean through tracing her family tree, and yesterday was about healing her family.

Dunedin man Murray Hanan had a unique take on the day.

His grandfather, lawyer and politician Josiah Hanan, with defence lawyer Alfred Hanlon, defended Dean and her husband Charles jointly charged with murder.

"My grandfather got the husband off."

Dean biographer Lynley Hood said yesterday was about making peace with the past and removing stigma.

"She was demonised this unveiling has been transforming."

Nelson artist Janice Gill, a former Winton resident who has produced 14 paintings based on Dean over 30 years, said Mr McCrae had commissioned her to produce one last work based on yesterday's service.

The headstone is the second to appear on the grave in the past fortnight after an unofficial stone was installed days out from the official version being put in place.

Winton Community Board chairman John McHugh said the source of the interloper remained a mystery but he had been speaking with Mr McCrae about installing it at the cemetery as a pointer to Dean's grave something Mr McCrae had agreed to.

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