The historic cemeteries of Akaroa on New Zealand’s South Island. Catholics to the left, Dissenters to the right.
The sign says Roman Catholics to the left, dissenters to the right.
While religious segregation in life receives much attention in the public domain these days, segregation in death doesn’t.
I stumbled across this sign while walking through the historic cemeteries of the small New Zealand town of Akaroa.
So, what is a dissenter?
In the context of this photo, the dissenters of Akaroa were mainly Presbyterians.
While bubbling away for centuries, dissenters began to emerge more prominently in the 17th and 18th centuries. They questioned the role of their religion in light of new findings, that is scientific findings by people such as Isaac Newton.
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church states: “In a religious context, those who separate themselves from the communion of the Established Church.” People began separating themselves from churches including the Roman Catholics and the Church of England.
“Many of the dissenters in English religious history survive in present-day Christian denominations. Many of these are now known as “Free Churches.” Some of these are Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Methodists. ”
The Akaroa Dissenters Cemetery
It was opened in 1873. A row of trees and a dilapidated post and wire fence separate the dissenters from the Roman Catholics. They, and the nearby Anglican cemetery, are in a great little spot with great views and dense forest. There’s a network of walking tracks that connects the cemeteries to the Garden of Tane, a stunning scenic reserve.
Graves are laid across the steep slope in an east west orientation and, as usual, reveal tough times for pioneering families.
Further reading: This note on Protestant Dissent and the Dissenters in English history is drawn in large part from the first chapter of a M.A. thesis by Steven Kreis, “An Uneasy Affair: William Godwin and English Radicalism, 1793-1797,” (University of Missouri-Columbia, 1984), pp.7-14.
Lisa Herbert is a journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan.