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South Rockhampton Cemetery

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.   



L. McDonald, Rockhampton A History of City and District, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, Qld. 1981

Northern Argus, 18.12.1869

Burial Register, Local History Library, William Street, Rockhampton.

Rockhampton Morning Bulletin 24.6.1919J.T.S. Bird, The early history of Rockhampton.

Cemetery Board Minute book, Local History Library, Rockhampton.

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