No, it’s not something out of a Harry Potter novel. It’s actually something very close to home… especially if you live in Sydney. Mortuary Station is a reminder of how funerals used to be. It serves as an example of the role of Government in the provision of burial services to the expanding nineteenth century city of Sydney.
Coffins and mourners got on the “funeral train” at Mortuary Station and were transported to cemeteries such as Rookwood further down the line.
Opened in 1869, the ornate Gothic Mortuary Station is heritage listed. It was renamed Regent Station at some stage and still stands at Chippendale, not far from Central Station, which was once the site of Sydney’s second cemetery. (Central Station was once the Devonshire Street Cemetery, the final resting place of 30,000 people. It closed in 1890.)
“The Mortuary Station demonstrates the removal of burial grounds to the outer suburbs of the city and the commitment of the government of the time to allow access to those cemeteries and a greater vision of providing a modern necropolis for the Sydney region. It is associated with attitudes to disposal of the dead during Victorian times in Australia, and in particular with the funeral trains which ran regularly between the city and Rookwood. It remains as the only substantial building structure associated with the operational workings of the original Sydney rail yard. “(NSW Department of Environment)
According to the NSW Department of Environment, “The building was used as the terminus for funeral trains only until 1938. When the rail funeral business gave way to road corteges and motor hearses, rail services were restricted to weekends and finally curtailed. On April 3 1948, trains were withdrawn and the cemetery line closed. Trains left from the main terminus platforms over the final ten years of the funeral rail service. There being no call for the rail hearse, the Mortuary Station ceased to function in the capacity of its original purpose.
“From 14 March 1938, Mortuary Station was used for the consignment of horses and dogs, and its name was changed to Regent Street Station. From February 1950 it was used as a parcels dispatch, at which time catenary wires were placed inside the rail pavilion and (apparently at this same time) the easternmost arches at either end were removed of ornament on the inner face to allow for the passage of larger rail vehicles.”
There is much symbolism at Mortuary Station. This sandstone ornamental etching depicts an hourglass and metaphorical wings, a symbol that human existence is fleeting, and that the “sands of time” will run out for all of us.
Mortuary Station is open this long weekend in Sydney (10/6/19)as part of the Transport Heritage Expo.
ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. The second edition is available in Australia for $18.95, including postage. She enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.