Pastoralists Charles and William
Archer were the first Europeans to settle in Rockhampton. They followed in
the footsteps of their friend
Ludwig Leichhardt who had explored the area in 1844.
The township was established on the
banks of the Fitzroy River and the original cemetery was also situated on
the banks of the Fitzroy not far from the township. As thousands of gold
seekers flooded into the town in the 1850's, it became apparent that another
area was needed for the town cemetery.
In 1864 it was decided to
establish the new cemetery which was to be located on the (then) outskirts
of the town. The cemetery was situated on land described as Portion 53,
parish of Rockhampton, County of Livingstone. Covering an area of
approximately thirty-five acres, it lies within the boundaries of Prospect
Street, Ferguson Street, Gladstone Road and Upper Dawson Road. Some of the
headstones were re-located from the original cemetery on the banks of the
Fitzroy to the new cemetery in Upper Dawson Road, South Rockhampton.
The cemetery was designed on a grid
system, which was common in country cemeteries. There were paths between
each section and a wider road ran through the entire centre section of the
cemetery. The grave sites were separated into different denominations -
Church of England, Congregational, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman
Catholic, Jewish, Salvation Army, South Sea Islanders and pagans. The
cemetery was surrounded by a fence, which covered the entire perimeter with
gates at the Prospect Street entrance.
The first to be buried in the new
cemetery was Louisa Adelaide Smith in July 1864. There are gravestones with
earlier dates, however these headstones were transferred from the original
cemetery to the South Rockhampton cemetery when it opened in 1864.
On 28 November 1866 seven men were
appointed as trustees for the South Rockhampton Cemetery under the provision
of the Cemetery Act. 1865. This was an Act with 41 Rules and Regulations to
establish cemeteries in the Colony of Queensland. The trustees were Edward
Pike Livermore, Daniel Thomas Mulligan, Charles Pybus, William Hitchcock
Buzacort, William James Hartley, Michael Brodnitz and William John Brown. By
1867 the Trustees had set up ten Rules and Regulations for the management of
the Cemetery as well as a schedule of fees which were payable to the
Trustees. To prepare a grave for an adult the fee was 15 shillings and for a
child 10 shillings. Paupers, goal and hospital inmates were not charged. for
a flat headstone 3' x 6' the cost was £1. 10s and for a vault 3' x 8' £2. 10
s. A family vault measuring 6' x 8' would cost £4. The Trustees decreed that
all tombstones fences and enclosures were to be made, removed or replaced at
the cost of the owner and under the supervision of the Sexton.
The first Sexton of the South
Rockhampton cemetery was Mr. W. Smith. He lived in a cottage in Upper Dawson
Road at the site of the cemetery and was paid an annual wage of one hundred
and nine pounds per year. For this wage Mr. Smith was obliged to be present
at all burials and to keep a register of all burials. He was to open the
cemetery for burials between 7am and 6pm and to ensure that no graves were
disturbed or vandalized in any way. In the year 1869, the Trustees received
£170.13s for interments and paid Mr. Smith's wages as well as the
secretary's ( Mr. T. O'Kane) salary of £20. They purchased trees and tools
at a cost of thirty-five pounds.
By 1910 the cemetery was in need of
repairs and Mr. W. Esdale, who was Sexton of the cemetery at the time made
several recommendations for improvements. He recommended that the roads be
repaired, new entrance gates be installed, that a portion of the Jewish
section be transferred to the Salvation Army and that the Trustees visit the
cemetery. On 3 February 1912, a Special meeting was held at the office of
the cemetery. At this time the Cemetery Trustees inspected the new gates and
roads and decided to apportion part of the Jewish ground for use for
Salvation Army burials.
Mr. J. F. Danker was the first
undertaker in Rockhampton. Another undertaker, Mr. Robert George Tucker
arrived in Rockhampton together with his family in 1863. When he died in
1878 his son continued in the business together with his brother-in-law,
Samuel Nankivell. Messrs. Barry and Lowe were operating a business in 1880
and Finlayson and McKenzie in 1891. Funeral directors were responsible for
the ceremonial procession and these were planned to the last detail.
When John Blair, editor of the
Rockhampton Morning Bulletin, died in 1910, the funeral was a dignified and
grand affair. Behind the horse drawn hearse was a mourning coach carrying
his two eldest sons then a landau filled with flowers and another carriage
transporting town dignitary, William McIlwraith. They followed business
leaders, Scottish Association members and the general public. Not long after
this George Tucker (grandson of Robert) imported an electric car believed to
be one of only two in Australia and this was later adapted for used as a
mourning coach and in use until about 1920.
Although undertakers were in
business in the early days of the town, residents were not legally obliged
to use them. Family members undertook many burials. An instance was reported
in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin on 15 August 1868 when it was found that
a young woman had, on the previous Monday asked for and obtained a ticket
for a free grave for her two month old child. The Police Magistrate at this
time had the power to order free burials, however it was often considered
wasteful to spend £5 pounds on a baby's grave. Murderers were generally
buried in the pagan section at a cost of ten pounds.
Two men who were hanged, George
Palmer and Jack Williams, for murdering local businessman, Patrick Halligan,
were both buried in the Pagan section of the cemetery,. These were also
Government burials at a cost of ten pounds, with Mr. Tucker the undertaker.
George Palmer aged just 22 when he was hanged, was to have a flat stone
erected at the gravesite. In contrast to the ignominy of the murderers'
Palmer and Williams' burial, was that of their victim. Mr. Halligan had been
a prominent member of the township, and the largest number of persons ever
assembled in Rockhampton at the time gathered to pay last tribute of respect
and to follow Mr. Halligan's remains to the cemetery. Mrs. Halligan had
ordered a fine memorial to be raised over the body of her husband. When
finished, it was to be the most handsome monument in the cemetery. It can be
found in the Roman Catholic section of the cemetery and remains one of the
finest memorials in the section.
Many people were interred at the
South Rockhampton cemetery between its opening in 1864 and the last burial
in 1970. However as it was not a legal requirement to be buried in the
cemetery many would have been buried in lonely graves on outlying properties
or in private family burial plots attached to properties such as the Archer
family's private burial plot at Gracemere. However, not even within the town
was it considered essential to utilize the cemetery. In 1879 a Chinese
'coolie' found to be suffering the disease leprosy was chained up in the
vicinity of the Rockhampton Railway Station where he had been living. He was
left chained there until he died and then was buried nearby.
Macabre activities in the Dawson
Road cemetery came to the notice of newspapers in 1868 when former Gold
Commissioner T. J. Griffin was hanged for the murder of two men. The
Cemetery Board had suspected an attempt would be made to interfere with his
grave and ordered the Sexton to keep watch for the first two nights.
However, on June 9th, Griffin's grave was opened, the head severed from the
body and removed. During this period the Sexton and Mr. Tucker, the Funeral
Director, decided to bury the body of an unknown seaman in the same grave.
The Board reported the grave robbery to the Colonial Secretary with the
suggestion that a reward should be offered. The reward was never collected
however it was believed a local Doctor, with an interest in phrenology
exhumed the body.
In 1930 at the request of local
authorities a proclamation was issued to close the old cemetery except in
respect of land already purchased. A Special notice on 20 June 1930 stated
that no further burials were to be made at South Rockhampton cemetery. This
was by order of the Cemetery Trustees and signed by W.H. Rogers, Secretary.
Controversy concerning the old cemetery did not cease with its closure.
In August 1931, a fire swept
through the cemetery. This had been started by an assistant burning rubbish
in the Southern section and quickly spread through the Church of England
section to the Presbyterian and then to the Roman Catholic section. Many of
the timber memorials must have been destroyed in this fire and none remain
today. In 1934 the Cemetery Trustees were criticized for the absence or
trees and for allowing the grass to become so long that the firs was able to
seep through unchecked. The Rockhampton Morning Bulletin thought
that some of the two thousand pounds, which was held in credit, should be
spent in beautifying the cemetery.
Over the years the cemetery has
been vandalized several times, often causing a great amount of destruction.
The cemetery was vandalized in January 1974 when five youths were found by
the Sexton Mr. G. Bielenberg to be destroying glass domes with slingshots.
And again in May 1989 when 30 - 40 headstones were damaged and pushed over.
In 1992 vandals destroyed more than 90 gravestones. Statues of angels were
toppled and engraved sandstone tablets were broken and crushed.
In 1992 Town Clerk, Rob Noble
proposed to beautify the site by placing all memorials and headstones in a
memorial wall. Council intended to landscape the area, as a passive
recreation area with no organized sport allowed. Many residents were
outraged at the intended destruction of the cemetery and the public was
reminded that Queensland Premier Kidston was buried in the cemetery, as were
bishops, mayors and prominent business people. A public meeting was held in
Our Lady's Hall, Rockhampton 1992 to try to prevent the Council re-shaping
or destroying the cemetery. At this meeting an eight member committee was
formed to liase with the Council over the fate of the cemetery. It was felt
that alternatives were needed for restoration and maintenance while
preserving the present character. The committee nominated the cemetery for
Heritage listing with the Queensland Heritage Council and the cemetery is
now Heritage listed and has become a joint project between the Council and
the Heritage Council to restore the site.
The last burial in the cemetery was
in 1970 however under local Government by laws a council could not close a
cemetery until 20 years after the last person had been buried there. On 8th
March 1993, the cemetery was officially closed although friends and
relatives would still be allowed to visit.