Ashes urn coming to State Library

By David Schout

Australia has reclaimed the Ashes, quite literally. 

While the men’s cricket team reclaimed a replica urn after a 4-0 drubbing of England during last summer’s test series, the real urn is leaving its London home later this year for the first time in 12 years.

From December, the State Library will host the precious urn, a symbol of sporting rivalry between England and Australia.

For three months it will be the centrepiece of Velvet, Iron, Ashes – the first exhibition to hit the library’s brand new Victoria Gallery.

The urn’s history is a quirky one, and dates back to 1882. 

Then, the touring Australian cricket team defeated England to the dismay of locals fans and as a result, the following day’s press included a mock obituary of the “death” of English cricket.

The ensuing article determined that “its body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”.

This was the first reference to the “Ashes”, the word eventually used to describe the test series played between Australia and England every one to two years.

Just weeks later, England set off to tour Australia and pledged to bring back “the Ashes of English cricket”. 

After defeating Australia at Rupertswood Estate on the outskirts of Melbourne, a small red terracotta perfume jar was filled with what’s believed to be the ashes of a burnt cricket bail and was presented to winning England captain Ivo Bligh.

After Bligh’s death in 1929, the urn was donated to the Marylebone Cricket Club and was eventually housed in the Lord’s Cricket Ground museum.  

From there, it became the public image and symbol of England and Australia’s rivalry.

Since 1929, the urn has remained at the “home of cricket”, and returned to Australia just twice (in 1988 and 2006).

“We are delighted to loan the Ashes Urn, a symbolic and special treasure, to State Library Victoria,” MCC chief executive and secretary, Guy Lavender said.

“The story of the Ashes Urn is one that captivates so many people around the world and the State Library’s exhibition is a very fitting place for its story to be told.”

These days a replica urn is given to the Ashes winner and, at just 11 centimetres high, it is the smallest trophy in world sport.

State Library Victoria CEO Kate Torney said the library was honoured to feature the urn at the upcoming exhibition. 

“We are thrilled to have the chance to bring to life the wonderful stories surrounding the Ashes tradition, which of course, began here in Melbourne. The history of the urn is very much woven into the history of this state,” she said. 

The Ashes Urn will be on display from December 2019 – February 2020. 

For more information about Velvet, Iron, Ashes, visit slv.vic.gov.au/velvet-iron-ashes

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