Old Uralla Cemetery: more than just bushranger territory

There’s a bit of a celebrity in Old Uralla Cemetery in the New England region of NSW.

Resting there is Captain Thunderbolt, Australia’s longest roaming bushranger. Fred Ward and his horse were eventually shot by a off-duty policeman in 1876, putting an end to decades of robberies.

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Captain Thunderbolt’s grave is right near the entrance to Uralla cemetery.

While Thunderbolt’s grave is a reminder of Australia’s bushranging and criminal past, there’s other history on show at the cemetery.

Unusual iron headstones.

There are at least three iron headstones in this cemetery, all on children’s graves.

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While not unheard of, iron headstones aren’t often seen in pioneer cemeteries. My curiosity was sparked and my assumptions were confirmed after a quick history search of Uralla. There used to be a foundry in the small town. Not just one, two!

An iron foundry was established in the town in 1875 by Henry Goddard so it’s no surprise why there are these headstones in the cemetery. The locally poured castings would have been cheaper than the traditional stone headstones.

You’ll note there is a lamb cast in two of the three headstones. Its symbolism means innocence.

Henry Elbe died in 1886 aged 14 days. Cast in iron is on his headstone is “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not for of such is the kingdom of heaven”.

Footstones galore

Just as uncommon as iron headstones are the footstones on display in Old Uralla Cemetery. There are several examples of them at Uralla.

A headstone and footstone at Old Uralla Cemetery.

Footstones are exactly what they say they are – stones that are positioned at the foot of the grave, just like head stones sit at the head of the grave.

The headstone is the primary grave marker. The footstone usually includes the initials of the person in the grave. Occasionally it will include the year of death. Some think the footstone gives makes the grave look like a bed. Like many markers in Australia’s older cemeteries, some footstones have been removed simply to make the cemetery grounds easier to maintain (One thing less to have to mow around!). That’s why I was delighted to see about half a dozen footstones in Old Uralla Cemetery. It’s something you don’t see every day.

Very uncommon. A headstone and two footstones at Old Uralla Cemetery indicating there are two people buried here.

A grave mistake!

Here’s another thing you don’t see every day in a cemetery. A typo from 1884!

Oops.

The R was originally left out of Barnden. Harriet is buried beside her stockman husband George (died 1907), her son George Jnr (1909) and his wife Betsy (1916).

Note the olive wreath on Harriet’s headstone. While olive is said to symbolise peace, a wreath can represent a symbol of eternal life, with no beginning and no end. (For more cemetery symbolism read last week’s blog here.)

Hard times

Like all old cemeteries, there are some graves that remind us of the harsh times of the past. This headstone tells a very sad tale of parents who lost their three children over 11 years.

The Murray family grave.

Matilda Murray was pregnant with Chester when 2 year old Arthur died in 1886. She was late in her pregnancy with Colin when Chester then died, aged 10. And then just a few months later, Colin died, aged 3 1/2 months.

Sadly these sorts of headstones are common in Australia’s pioneering cemeteries. Times were very tough in the late 1800s.

Don’t fall for the cemetery celebrity trap.

While Thunderbolt the bushranger might get top billing at the cemetery, there’s so much more to see. His grave is right beside the cemetery’s entrance so it’s tempting to visit his grave and then leave. Old Uralla Cemetery has so much more to offer and offers a real insight into the New England’s pioneering history.

Thunderbolt’s grave is only metres to the right of this entrance but there’s so much more to see at Old Uralla Cemetery.

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. (Overseas orders will incur an additional AU$8 postage.) Lisa enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.

Lisa Herbert is a journalist, author and cemetery wanderer.

A taxi driver’s murder, executions and the missing graves: Darwin’s fascinating Fannie Bay gaol

It was a crime that angered locals. A popular taxi driver has been murdered, his body left in scrub on the outskirts of Darwin. 500 people attended his funeral.

42-year-old George Grantham had been working late and he rang his wife to tell her he’d be home for supper. He’d had a few wins on the Tennant Creek races earlier in the week so it’s estimated he was carrying between £500 and £600 the night of 17 April 1952.

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George Grantham’s grave is in Darwin’s Gardens Cemetery.

His murderers, young Czech immigrants Jerry Koci (20yo) and John Novotny (19yo), shot their victim in the head with a rifle they’d wrapped in a pair of jeans. Once they dragged his out of the green taxi they shot him again twice to make sure he was dead. Their plan was to go back to Europe to play music so they needed money and a car to get to Melbourne.

Police described the murder as “the most brutal in Territory history“.

Koci and Novotny were picked up police in Queensland and eventually made full confessions.  They were tried and sentenced death. Their execution date was kept secret because of the constant threat of locals lynching the pair.

The execution

The gallows were specifically constructed for the two men’s hanging in the gaol’s infirmary. Justice was delivered quickly back then. Construction of the gallows was underway just two months after their crime.

The pit was more than 4 m long, 2 m wide and nearly 4 m deep and required extensive excavation. The work was made more difficult because of the age of the infirmary building (built in 1887).

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The work of digging their graves was given to some Malay Pearl divers who had been imprisoned for, among other things, willfully damaging the Paspaley lugger (Pearling boat). The digging proved a difficult task because of the solid rock.

At 8 on the morning of 7th August 1952, less than four months after the murder of George Grantham, Jerry Koci and John Novotny were executed together at Fannie Bay Gaol, side by side. They’d been given 24 hours notice of their fate. Anecdotal evidence suggest that their bodies were buried away from the marked sites at the end of the infirmary building. Incredibly their final resting place within the gaol grounds isn’t known.

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The initials of the killers are displayed on the outside of the infirmary, just metres from the gallows inside, but the location of their graves is a mystery.

VISITING THE GAOL: If you’re in Darwin the Fannie Bay Goal is a great way to spend an hour or so. The Police Museum and Historical Society with the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory have done a great job documenting the gaol’s history.

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.

Lisa Herbert holds The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan.
Lisa Herbert has authored The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, a funeral planning guide.

Discrimination in death: Why are there so few headstones in Derby?

Unidentified and unmarked graves are everywhere in Australia. In the Kimberley region of Western Australia, many of the unmarked graves in cemeteries are those of Aborigines. Buried in a strange custom and a strange country, their relatives were unable to fill their traditional mortuary rights.

“… When people were buried in the ground in a strange place it caused much more upset then the death itself.

“It was the white person’s way. Old people used to be buried in a cave. It was strange … new culture. Strange to the old people. Our people …”

Just last week saw the burial of 70 sets of indigenous remains recovered from the crumbling pioneer cemetery at Fitzroy Crossing. The whites had long been removed to safer ground, but the blacks were left to wash into the mighty Fitzroy River as the rivers banks eroded away.

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70 sets of Indigenous remains were laid to rest in an emotional ceremony in Fitzroy Crossing WA last week. Photo: Facebook ABC Kimberley

Northwest of Fitzroy Crossing is the town of Derby. Like so many Australian cemeteries, Derby Cemetery tells a story of segregation. There are some fantastic information boards at the cemetery that aim to preserve the area’s dark history. I’ve summed them up here:

DIVIDED BY RACE AND RELIGION

The area of the old Derby Cemetery nearest the road is generally called the Pioneer Cemetery, while the bush at the back is referred to as the Aboriginal or Old Native Cemetery. Under the WA Aborigines Act 1905, anybody coming within five chains (20 metres) of a group of two or more Aboriginals could be fined 200 pound or imprisoned or both. Some people think that this segregation is the reason Aboriginals were buried separately.

Aboriginal burials were not recorded. That’s why many Aboriginal people in Derby don’t know where their relatives were laid to rest.

After the ‘yes’ vote of the 1967 Referendum, Aboriginal people were counted in the national census. Not surprisingly, more Aboriginal names began to appear in the burial register. Following the 1965 Equal Wages determination many station owners were unable or unwilling to pay equal wages to their Aboriginal workers. Up until this point, they’d been unpaid, working for just food, clothing and tobacco rations. Redundant workers sought shelter in towns like Derby, and the cemetery became more important to them, although graves continued to be unmarked.

It doesn’t look like a cemetery, does it? These Aboriginal graves at the back of the Derby Cemetery remain unidentified.

BURIALS – NO TIME TO WASTE

It’s hot in the Kimberley. A lack of mortuary refrigeration meant that burials usually happened on the same day as death. Digging a grave by hand was hard work in the hard soil. There was no on-site water supply. The oil drums that still lie in the Aboriginal cemetery were probably used to cart water to soften the ground.

Coffins were ordered from Perth and sent by steamship in sections and then assembled when they got to Derby. The Police Department held the coffins for Aboriginal burials, however Aboriginal people who died in the local ‘native hospital’ were buried in blankets.

WHERE ARE THE HEADSTONES?

The Derby Pioneer and Aboriginal Cemetery was in use for nearly 90 years, but the headstones represent only a handful of the people buried there. There are only 73 headstones but more than 500 burials recorded in the existing burial registers. There are many other graves whose names were not recorded. Most belong to Aboriginal people. A fantastic 2007 community project researched all this information and its appears on information boards at the cemetery itself. Its aim was ensure the area’s history was preserved and to make sure the Aboriginal people buried in Derby were properly commemorated. In consultation with the Aboriginal community including Nyikina Elders and Mowanjum Aboriginal community, they’ve done a wonderful job:

Project coordinator: Mandy Gadsdon.
Oral history collection: Colleen Hattersley
Historical Research: Colleen Hattersley, Kath Mills.

You’ll see clearly marked ‘white fella’ graves in Derby Cemetery, but no marked Indigenous graves.

The Derby Cemetery lacks defined graves and headstones.

 

Derby cemetery information board.
Burials were a white fella practice. The information boards at the Derby Cemetery offer a great insight into days gone by.

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.

 

Test cricketer lies in unidentified grave in WA’s Goldfields, Cricket NSW searching for descendants

The hunt is on for relatives of an Australian test cricketer who lies in an unidentified grave in Western Australia’s Goldfields.

John Cottam was the 49th Australian to don the baggy green. He was one of five players drafted into the test team in Sydney in 1886-87 to replace players involved in a pay dispute.

Cottam was out for 1 and 3 on debut and never played for Australia again.

He died 10 years later in Coolgardie, aged 29. It’s assumed he made his way to the Goldfields in search of fortune, but, like so many other prospectors in that era, he succumbed to typhoid fever in 1897.

John Cottam’s grave lies in plot 10 of the ‘General’ section of the Coolgardie Cemetery, 40km south west of Kalgoorlie, WA.

Kalgoorlie resident and keen cricket historian Clint Easton found Cottam’s lonely grave in the cemetery of once-prosperous mining town of Coolgardie. Clint was planning to self-fund the placement of a headstone to commemorate the cricketer and his achievements. Cricket NSW and Cricket Australia have since heard about Clint’s efforts and have now paid for a bronze plaque to be put on the grave. It will be unveiled on John Cottam’s birthdate, September 5.

Cricket NSW is now keen to find any living relatives of John Cottam.

Who was John Thomas Cottam?

Cricket NSW Honorary Librarian and Official Historian, Dr Colin Clowes said Cottam was 19 when he made his first-class debut for New South Wales against the touring English team in 1887.

“He did well enough – 29, second highest score, and 14 not out – to be chosen for the following test match after several players withdrew over a pay dispute,” said Dr Clowes.

“John toured New Zealand with the NSW team in 1890. He scored three half-centuries, a number equal to those scored by all the other players combined.

“John played no further first-class cricket and it is difficult to construct his career after that New Zealand tour. However after one Club match later that year The Referee wrote:

‘Cottam and Clarke showed splendid form and after recovering from his recent severe prostration, it would appear that the former has regained all his wonted brilliance as a batsman.

‘When in his best form we have not a better batsman in the colony than Cottam, whose style is well nigh faultless’.”

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John Cottam appears in ABC Guide to Australian Test Cricketers by Rick Smith (ABC Books, 1993)

Liked a drink

Dr Clowes said John Cottam appeared for Redfern in the initial season of Electoral Cricket in 1893-94 “with little success”.

“The reason for his loss of form is unclear but a drinking problem is a probable cause as a John Cottam is mentioned in newspapers in several alcohol-related incidents. One of these placed him in Fremantle in February 1896 where he was robbed of a gold watch while drunk.

“Sometime after this he went to the Goldfields,” said Dr Clowes.

Cricket NSW applauds Clint’s “amazing” efforts

In a letter to Clint Easton, Cricket NSW CEO Andrew Jones thanked him for his “amazing” research.
“A very sincere thank you for your efforts. You have shown exceptional diligence and love for the game and we appreciate it greatly,” wrote Mr Jones.

Kalgoorlie mine worker and avid sports fan Clint Easton. Photograph: ABC Goldfields

Mr Easton has been delving into John Cottam’s family tree. Speaking on ABC radio, he said there’s not much to go on.
“I found he was the eldest son of Thomas Cottam. There are two young chaps called Cottam in cricket history so hopefully they are related to him.”

If you can help locate any relatives of John Cottam you can get in touch with NSW Cricket via library@cricketnsw.com.au or 02 9029 2305.

Cricket NSW recently placed an advertisement in the Daily Telegraph (via Bruce Cain)

Coolgardie, the original site of WA’s goldrush

While the current population is under 1,000, during the goldrush Coolgardie was WA’s third largest town, with a bustling street filled with grand hotels and even a stock exchange with 25 stock brokers! Coolgardie has a fascinating and large cemetery, telling the stories and struggles of the region’s mining pioneers and their families. There’s even an assassination tale of an Afhani cameleer who was shot in the back as he prayed.

All Black in Coolgardie Cemetery

John Cottam is not the only national sportsman buried in the cemetery there. One of the first All Blacks lies in a grave only marked by a number. Kalgoorlie historian Moya Sharp is working to have a headstone or plaque erected on his grave. George Maber died of Typhoid aged 25 in 1894, three months after making his debut for New Zealand. There’s more information about George Maber via Moya’s fantastic Outback Family History blog. On ABC radio, Clint Easton said he was hoping to work with Moya to have George Maber’s achievements and Coolgardie resting place recognised too.

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.

REMAINS OF MENTAL ASYLUM PATIENTS BURIED IN TRENCHES

Small boxes buried at Goodna Cemetery contained exhumed hospital patients, according to former hospital worker.

A retired carpenter and hospital worker holds an important piece of the puzzle in the hunt for the remains of more than 2,000 patients of the notorious Wolston Park Mental Asylum in Brisbane’s west.

While a teenage apprentice, Mr Ferg Brindley made hundreds of small wooden boxes that, he says, were used to house the remains of patients who were exhumed from the hospital’s cemetery in the late 1940s.

About 50,000 people were hospitalised in the asylum in the 120 years between 1865 and the 1980s.  In the late 1940s, bodies in the asylum’s third cemetery were exhumed over a four-year period to make way for the development of the new Repatriation Pavilion for “mentally unbalanced” and “war-affected” soldiers returning from the Second World War.

Newspaper reports say 2,800 bodies were removed, though cemetery records have only accounted for around 200 of those which were moved to the nearby Goodna General Cemetery.

Qld Times article 29/11/46 - Mass Exhumation of Bodies

A 1946 newspaper article mentions the exhumation of 2800 bodies from the Goodna Mental Hospital Cemetery to “improve the site of a new block being erected for servicemen suffering war effects”.In response to my research efforts to find those remains, and a subsequent blog, I’ve been in touch with Mr Ferg Brindley, who worked at the Asylum from 1948 to 1953 as a teenager.

Making boxes to fit shin bones

Now in his late 80s and living in the western Queensland town of Roma, Mr Brindley remembers the cemetery being exhumed by a hospital employee and patients. (Mr Brindley’s recollection is corroborated by Hansard’s Parliamentary record-keeping. On 11 Dec 1946, the Minister for Health, Mr T Foley, told Queensland Parliament the “work of exhumation is being performed by an employee of the hospital, assisted by four border-line patients who volunteered to assist to do the work”.)

As an apprentice carpenter, it was his job to make plywood boxes for the storage of each of the grave’s remains. Mr Brindley made “hundreds of plywood boxes, stained black, for the remains”.

“They were designed to enclose bones, so the size was about 2 feet long (to fit a shin bone), by 10 inches by 10 inches. That’s only an educated guess. They were rectangular boxes, not coffin-shaped.”

Mr Brindley can’t recall how many boxes were made but says before he started work at the asylum, there were others before him making the boxes.

“The work was quite a production line.”

He said it was his job to make the framework while an inmate put the plywood on, and the painter did the staining.

Burying remains in trenches

Mr Brindley says the rectangular boxes were buried in trenches in the nearby Goodna Cemetery, about five kilometres away.

“They were re-sited in the Goodna cemetery to the left of the shelter shed.”

“Long trenches were dug by an employee and inmates. I don’t know if any identification was placed on the boxes.”

Goodna Cemetery

The Goodna Cemetery, west of Brisbane, is one of the oldest in Queensland and is one of the few that remains community run, with a Trust overseeing its operation.

The Trust secretary is Ipswich Councillor Paul Tully who wouldn’t be drawn on Mr Brindley’s recollections.

However Cnr Tully says another former hospital worker (who became an alderman of the Ipswich City Council in later years) gave him details about the exhumations which took place in the late 1940s.

“Those who had been buried for fewer than 30 years were exhumed and re-buried at the Goodna Cemetery with a full and proper burial, with a Minister of Religion and two witnesses in attendance. These are all recorded in the official burial register.

“They were individually buried along with their original headstones. The burial area is towards the middle of the cemetery,” wrote Cnr Tully in response to my query about the possibility that hundreds of small rectangular boxes were buried in trenches at the Goodna Cemetery.

Playing with a skull

Ferg Brindley’s father was a warden at the hospital. Growing up in the nearby suburb of Goodna, Ferg Brindley remembers swimming in Woogaroo Creek, near the site of the Asylum’s original cemetery which was later abandoned because its proximity to the creek and river and subsequent regular flooding.

“The early cemetery was parallel to the creek to the left of the bridge (now gone),” recalls Mr Brindley.

“This is where we swam as kids. Some kids had a skull.

“Work on removing this cemetery was done in the early 1940s. The area became a vegetable garden. I have no way of knowing, but I believe the bodies are still there, and just the head stones were removed.”

The Asylum’s first cemetery is now the site of the Wolston Park Golf Club, a very scenic and peaceful space that is home to hundreds of kangaroos.

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The Wolston Park Golf Club is now a popular spot for kangaroos and golfers alike.

Commenting on my earlier blog (Mental asylum mass exhumations and missing remains: the tale of Wolston Park’s lost and forgotten patients), ‘David’ tells me “the golf club has had numerous sonar sessions through the place to make sure there are no remains left along the bank and indeed most of the course”.

“The course and its surroundings have been checked off by the historical society as well, although in recent times like the 2011 floods (and even the 74 floods) when the clubhouse itself went 6 feet under, it’s sad to think what could have been displaced from the site.”

There were at least three cemeteries at the hospital over the years; two of which were moved to make room for hospital wards. The exhumations of the 1940s weren’t the only ones in the Mental Hospital’s history.

An article in the Brisbane Courier of June 22 1911 says “following upon the arrangement for the erection of the two new wards it has been found necessary to remove the old asylum cemetery, and the remains of 198 patients have been taken up, enclosed in new coffins, and transferred to a new cemetery”.

The estimated location of the Brisbane Mental Hospital Cemetery

The estimated location of the Brisbane Mental Hospital Cemetery which was closed in 1945 to improve the outlook from the new Repatriation Hospital which was opened on 26 Jan 1948.

So the mystery remains…

WHAT WE KNOW:

Records show there were 200 patient re-interments at Goodna Cemetery. The records show and Cnr Tully says those 200 received full burials.

Newpaper reports and Parliamentary records claim thousands of hospital patients were exhumed between 1945 and 1948.

A former worker says he made hundreds of small boxes for the exhumed remains which were then buried in trenches at Goodna Cemetery.

The Goodna Cemetery Trust wouldn’t be drawn on Mr Brindley’s claims.

So … where are the remains? Your guess is as good as mine. I’d like to know your thoughts.

Cement grave markers from Brisbane Mental Hospital are part of a memorial at Goodna Cemetery.
Numbers are etched into markers which stand in rows at Goodna Cemetery. The markers originally stood over graves in the Brisbane Mental Hospital Cemetery, less than six kilometres away.  The highest number on the grave markers is 2,300.

If you have any information that may be able to shed light on the hospital’s cemeteries and the location of the remains of patients you’re welcome to contact me via  Lisa@thebottomdrawerbook.com.au or leave a comment on this blog.

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. You can buy here. Lisa enjoys telling the stories of the dead, giving them an important voice from the grave.

Lisa Herbert holds The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan.
Lisa Herbert has authored The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, a informative and amusing funeral planning guide.

Goldrush murder: Assassinated Afghani cameleer rests in outback WA cemetery.

If dehydration, typhoid, a mine collapse and alcoholism didn’t get you, an assassin might.

In the back corner of  a large cemetery in the goldrush town of Coolgardie, about six hours from Perth, sits the grave of a man who was shot in the back as he prayed.

The headstone reads: “Tagh Mahomed who died by the hand of an assassin at Coolgardie Jan 10 1896 aged 37 years. His end was peace.”

Tagh Mahomet was an Afghani cameleer and businessman. Camels and their handlers played a vital role in the outback at the time, carrying supplies to sheep and cattle stations and goldfields. Tagh and his brother Faiz were local merchants and were prominent in civic affairs. They were the state’s largest camel owners.

Tagh Mahomet
Tagh Mahomet, 1890s. Image: State Library of Western Australia 186P

Tagh was shot by a fellow Muslim in a mosque on Mount Eva, on the eastern outskirts of Coolgardie. There are differing accounts of why Goulam Mahomet killed Tagh. Some believe the death was caused by ongoing feuding factions back home in Afghanistan. Goulam Mahomet claimed that Tagh has threatened him. Goulam Mahomet was hanged for the murder of Tagh at Fremantle Prison.

The Muslim section of Coolgardie Cemetery is in the back left hand corner.

Coolgardie Cemetery is a large goldfields cemetery. While the current population is under 1,000, during the goldrush, Coolgardie was WA’s third largest town, with a bustling street filled with grand hotels and even a stock exchange with 25 stock brokers!

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. You can buy here.

Searching for gold, laid to rest under tin: a prospecting history captured in WA’s remote Menzies cemetery.

Mining accidents, typhoid, suicide, exhaustion, burns, starvation, childbirth, diarrhea, and dysentery are just some of the causes of death of those who moved to the Goldfields of Western Australia for a new, wealthier life.

A TYPHOID HOTSPOT

Menzies is a small town 130km north of Kalgoorlie and 730km north east of Perth. Poor sanitation led to a deadly outbreak of Typhoid in 1895. Twenty-eight of the 42 known burials at the Menzies cemetery in 1896 were typhoid victims.

Between 1895 and 1905, at least 105 people buried at Menzies are thought to have died from typhoid. Most victims were men aged 20-40 years old.

Men aged between 20 and 40 were the most prominent typhoid victims at Menzies cemetery.

Twenty-eight of the 42 known burials at the Menzies cemetery in 1896 were typhoid victims.

RARE TIN and IRON HEADSTONES

In all my cemetery travels I’ve never seen so many tin and iron headstones as I have at the Menzies cemetery. Trinkets, photos and crosses would be been housed behind glass in the headstones which were a much cheaper option than the traditional headstones. Many were home-made from the only materials available nearby, including kerosene tins.

Tin headstones housed trinkets, crosses and wreaths. There are no graves with the glass still entirely in tact in Menzies cemetery.

The tin and the wreaths have survived the last 90 years; the glass not so much.

There are only a few iron memorial headstones at Menzies cemetery. This is something I’ve only seen in the WA Goldfields. If you know of any others I’d be keen to hear from you. Here, this home-made memorial looks like it was made using a bed frame and a kerosene can.

Wreaths would have been housed behind the glass of this tin headstone at Menzies cemetery.

John Cunningham’s “sorrowing wife” would have erected a tin headstone before a marble one was made, often years later.

UNMARKED GRAVES APLENTY

Not uncommon in Australia’s bush cemeteries is the use of rocks around unmarked graves, identified only by iron plot markers.

Rocks and an old enamel pannikin mug mark grave 20 at Menzies.

An unmarked grave surrounded by iron at Menzies cemetery.

According to the information sign at the cemetery, the mortality rate from typhoid fever in the Goldfields was many times higher than any other place in Australia, while alcohol abuse, poor diet, and dust from mining operations contributed to lots of other illnesses. Looking for gold in one of the country’s harshest and driest regions was incredibly tough. Sadly there was also a high suicide rate.

menzies suicide carving
Prospector Peter Bremner suicided in 1902.  The signage and information for visitors to the Menzies cemetery embraces a journey back in time.

Rich in history and well-researched, the red dirt cemeteries of the Goldfields are nestled in woodlands and are part of a fantastic tourist trail in the region called the Golden Quest Discovery Trail. The once bustling mining towns are long gone, but their cemeteries remain, giving travellers like myself an insight into what it was like to live and die in the search for gold.

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. You can buy here.

 

 

 

Mental asylum mass exhumations and missing remains: the tale of Wolston Park’s lost and forgotten patients.

In 1947 a patient of the Brisbane Mental Hospital claimed he’d been forced to dig up the bodies of around 4,000 patients buried in the hospital’s cemetery. What happened to those exhumed remains isn’t clear. This is the story of Wolston Park’s missing bodies.

The Asylum and its cemeteries

The hospital at Wacol has had several name changes over the years including the Goodna Asylum for the Insane, the Brisbane Special Hospital and Wolston Park Hospital.

Its first incarnation was as the Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum. The Asylum’s first inmates (as they were called back then) were taken by boat to the 450-hectare bushland site, west of Brisbane, in 1865.

The Asylum’s first cemetery was in the very flood-prone south west corner of the site (now the Wolston Park Golf Club). Its location on the banks of the Brisbane River was ridiculed by an anonymous contributor to the Queensland Times (25 Feb 1869) who could foresee problems ahead:

“The graveyard is on the bank of the river, and the first flood will take all the dead lunatics down to Brisbane.”

A 1869 Queensland Times article mentions the flooding potential of the Woogaroo Cemetery.
An anonymous contributor to the Queensland Times writes: “Speaking of burials at Woogaroo. The graveyard is on the bank of the river, and the first flood with take all the dead lunatics down to Brisbane. (The Qld Times, 25 Feb 1869, p3)

The writer wasn’t too far wrong and a second cemetery for patients was soon built on much higher ground. But making room for more hospital building development, according to Vicki Mynott of the Richlands, Inala and Suburbs History Group, less than a decade later in 1910, another cemetery was established. This third and final cemetery sat on the northern outskirts of the hospital site, at the end of what’s now known as Wilga St in Wacol.¹

The estimated location of the Brisbane Mental Hospital Cemetery
The estimated location of the Brisbane Mental Hospital Cemetery at Wacol which was closed in 1945 to improve the outlook from the new Repatriation Pavilion which was opened on 26 Jan 1948. The remains of thousands of patients were removed from this cemetery over a four-year period by several patients who officials say “volunteered” to do the work.

It’s thought thousands of bodies buried in this third cemetery were exhumed between 1945 and 1948. Newspaper reports say 2,800 bodies were removed, though cemetery records have only accounted for around 200 of those which were moved to the nearby Goodna General Cemetery.

Qld Times article 29/11/46 - Mass Exhumation of Bodies
A 1946 newspaper article mentions the exhumation of 2800 bodies from the Goodna Mental Hospital Cemetery to “improve the site of a new block being erected for servicemen suffering war effects”.

The remains were moved because the hospital cemetery was considered too close to the proposed Repatriation Pavilion which included three new wards for “mentally unbalanced” and “war-affected” soldiers returning from the Second World War.

How many people died at the Asylum?

LOTS. About 50,000 people were patients at the hospital in the 120 years between 1865 and the 1980s². The hospital was always overcrowded and there are regular mentions of an “acute shortage of female nurses” in the annual reports.

In 1941/42, for example, 2,466 people were patients. Of those, 214 died during the year. 23 of those deaths were within one month of arrival.

The table below shows that in the ten-year period between 1937/38 and 1946/47 there were 1,828 patient deaths.

YEAR TOTAL DEATHS MALE FEMALE % OF DEATHS PER AVERAGE NO OF RESIDENTS
1937/38

192

110

82

11.31

1838/39 174 109 65

9.86

1939/40 180
1940/41

159

95 64 8.57

1941/42

214

115 99

11.62

1942/43

160

88

72

1943/44

167

104

63

1944/45

178 96

82

1945/46

208

104 104

10.79

1946/47

196

112

84

10.17

SOURCE: Queensland State Archives Series ID 201, Mental Hygiene Annual Reports.

With the hospital files locked up tight thanks to the Queensland Government’s Right to Information Laws, there’s no way of finding out more information about these deaths or how many of these patients were buried on hospital grounds. Patients with family who had the financial means were likely buried closer to Brisbane in Toowong Cemetery. Those without family were likely given ‘pauper funerals’ and buried on site until 1945 when the cemetery was closed. Burials were subsequently carried out in the nearby township cemetery, now known as Goodna General Cemetery. And it’s at the Goodna Cemetery where this tale unfolds and it becomes apparent the dead were lost and forgotten in death as they were in life.

The exhumations

There are no available government records that indicate how many patients were exhumed from the hospital’s cemetery to improve the site of a new facility for returned servicemen. However, a newspaper article suggests 2,800 bodies were moved.

  • Exhumations took place over four years: 1945 to 1948 to “improve the immediate surroundings of the new Repatriation Pavilion”. (Hon. T A Foley: Hansard, 11 Dec 1946)
  • While licences costing £1 were required to exhume a body from public cemeteries, there was no such licence requirements to move a body from elsewhere. As such there are no official records. (Queensland State Archives Series ID 20957 – Exhumation Permit receipt Books – Correspondence )
  • In the 1944/45 annual report it was reported the “cemetery has been abolished and burials are now done in the township cemetery”.
  • In Parliament on 25 Oct 1945, Secretary for Health and Home Affairs T A Foley reported that two additional grave diggers were hired in the 45/46 financial year.
  • On 11 Dec 1946, the Minister for Health, Mr T Foley, told Parliament the “work of exhumation is being performed by an employee of the hospital , assisted by four border-line patients who volunteered to assist to do the work”. When asked if he considered it a “suitable activity for the mentally sick”, he responded, “The Director of Mental Hygiene has satisfied himself that the work has no detrimental effect on these patients”.
  • In the 19 June 1947 edition of The Courier Mail, an article disputes claims the patients volunteered. The newspaper says one patient “had to dis-inter and rebury 4,000 bodies from a cemetery “as part of “hard manual labour in the name of occupational therapy”.
  • A front-page article in The Queensland Times (29 Nov 1946) reports, “the mass exhumation of 2,800 bodies from the Goodna Mental Hospital Cemetery to the Goodna Public Cemetery is half completed”. A similar story in The Courier Mail had added, “After removal, a hearse is used to convey the bodies to the Goodna Cemetery, where they are reburied and allotted public grave numbers.”
  • BUT the Goodna Cemetery Trust says the remains of only two-hundred or so patients were re-interred at Goodna and that no records were kept in relation to the positioning of these graves on any of the maps held by the Trust.

The Goodna Memorial

A memorial plaque at Goodna Cemetery
A memorial plaque at Goodna General Cemetery commemorates all those who died at Brisbane Mental Hospital and whose final resting place is unknown. There is no such memorial or acknowledgement on the hospital grounds.

A memorial to those who died at Brisbane Mental Hospital sits in Goodna Cemetery.
More than 55 years after the remains of at least 207 hospital patients were re-interred at Goodna, the original cement grave markers from the Brisbane Mental Hospital cemetery were used to establish a memorial to all those who died at the hospital.

Cement grave markers from Brisbane Mental Hospital are part of a memorial at Goodna Cemetery.
Numbers are etched into each of the markers which originally stood over graves in the Brisbane Mental Hospital Cemetery, less than six kilometres away. The highest number on the grave markers is 2,300.

The Brisbane Mental Hospital memorial sits at the back of the Goodna Cemetery.
The Brisbane Mental Hospital memorial, made up hundreds of small grave markers, is nestled at the back of the Goodna Cemetery. While there are around 200 hospital patients confirmed buried in the cemetery, the whereabouts of those graves is unknown. According to a 1946 newspaper article, there are as many as 2,800 unmarked graves on the cemetery grounds.

“It doesn’t ring true”: Goodna Cemetery disputes reported grave figures.

The Goodna Cemetery Trust does not believe there are thousands of asylum patients buried in unmarked graves within its boundary.

Cemetery treasurer and trustee Helen Gilmour questions the 1946 newspaper article which claims the exhumation of 2,800 patients and their re-interment at Goodna was half completed.

“Maybe the journo made a mistake. Maybe they accidentally added an extra zero and it’s just 280 graves?” she said.

“Given the records we hold, it’s just not feasible.

“The 200-or-so burials are documented in the Cemetery’s register. Why would they not document them all if there were more?”, she asks.

Having trawled through the Parliamentary records of the time, I’ve found no official mention of the number of exhumations.

Ms Gilmour also queried whether it was physically possible for 2,800 exhumations and re-interments to be carried out in four years. Grave digging by hand is hard work and time consuming. It would have required opening 2 or 3 graves per day.

Another question to be asked is simply “why?”.

It is common for cemeteries and graves in Australia to simply be abandoned, with markers or headstones removed, leaving no hint of what lies beneath. I’ve lost count of the cemeteries I have visited where councils in previous decades have had a misguided “clean up” and removed grave markers.

Why were the bodies supposedly exhumed from the Brisbane Mental Hospital Cemetery instead of being left there and the grave markers simply removed? (I’m assuming that’s exactly what happened to the hospital’s first two cemeteries.)

Does it matter?

Does it matter that patients of a mental institution had their graves disturbed and that their final resting place is unknown? After all, these people died between 75 and about 120 years ago. I’ll let you answer that one for yourself.

The Goodna Cemetery trust’s Helen Gilmour said she is often contacted by people who are trying to find where their descendants are laid to rest.

“I get about two calls a week from people looking for family members who were at the hospital. It’s become more prevalent over recent years with the increasing popularity of family trees,” she said.

“Unfortunately, I have to tell them that I don’t know.”

The Woogaroo Asylum's female wards, built in 1866.
The Asylum’s female wards, built in 1866, are still on site. People were admitted to the institution for a range of psychiatric illnesses and, sadly, for a range of conditions that we know now didn’t warrant being locked up. These include epilepsy, post natal depression, anxiety, alcoholism, dementia, senility, stammering (stuttering), cleft palate, syphilis, obsessive compulsive, and simply because they were old and their family was unable to care for them.

If you have any information that may be able to shed light on the hospital’s cemeteries and the location of the remains of patients you’re welcome to contact me via Lisa@thebottomdrawerbook.com.au or leave a comment on this blog.

UPDATE: See a subsequent later blog which includes additional information about the whereabouts of hundreds of remains. A former worker claims they were buried in trenches in the Goodna Cemetery. CLICK HERE. 

¹ Wacol, Wolston, Woogaroo 1823-2014 (Volume 1). Mynott, Vicki (2014).

² Wolston Park Hospital, 1865-2001: A Retrospect. Mark Finnane (2008).

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. You can buy here. She enjoys telling the stories of the dead, giving them a voice beyond the grave.

Lisa Herbert holds The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan.
Lisa Herbert has authored The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, a informative and amusing funeral planning guide.

“Killed by a blow from a whale”: The tragedy of the Kelly family. 

One son drowned,  one son died via a whale blow, four of their siblings didn’t see their first birthday, and another died when she was just 14. That was the fate of the seven Kelly children. 

The Kelly tomb in Hobart’s first cemetery tells an intriguing yet devastating tale of the extraordinarily difficult way of life in Australia’s pioneering days.  

Hobart Town was one of the great whaling ports of the  southern hemisphere.
Hobart Town was one of the great whaling ports of the  southern hemisphere. James Kelly, who died in a whaling accident, is remembered in the family tomb in Hobart.

The children’s father,  James Kelly, lived to be 66 but, despite being very successful, his latter years must have been a lonely existence. Not only did he lose all of his children, his wife Elizabeth died when she was 33. Described by historians as an “energetic explorer who circumnavigated Tasmania in an open 5-oared whaling boat, James Kelly named Port Davey and Macquarie Harbour on the west coast. A skilled seaman and successful whaling entrepreneur, Kelly became pilot and harbourmaster for the Derwent in 1819”.

The Kelly tomb in Hobart's St David's Park.
The nine members of the Kelly family are remembered on the four sides of the Kelly tomb in Hobart’s St David’s Park which was Hobart’s first cemetery.

Thomas Kelly's tomb inscription
Thomas Kelly died in a boating accident on the Derwent River, one year after his brother was killed by a whale. 

Elizabeth had lost five children by the time she died in 1831, aged 33.
Elizabeth had lost five children by the time she died in 1831, aged 33.

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 for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. The second edition is available in Australia for $18.95, including postage. You can buy here.

Five hundred bodies lost: The troubling tale of gold fortunes at Arrowtown

They wanted to be buried near their families, yet 500 Chinese miners never made it home after years of hardship in New Zealand.

Now a busy, pretty tourist centre and known for its appearance in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, the gorgeous little South Island town of Arrowtown became a bustling gold mining town in the late-1800s.  Chinese miners joined European miners at the invitation of the New Zealand Government, but they found it tough-going when the Europeans opposed their presence because of their success. The Chinese work ethic and mining knowledge meant they found gold in areas others didn’t.  That was seen as a threat to the other miners.

An information sign in the tourist precinct reads, “Ageing Chinese depended primarily on each other for support. Officially, they remained unwelcome immigrants and were specifically excluded from New Zealand’s Old Age Pension Act in 1898.”

Alienated they stuck together, forming their own little community. The remnants of the Chinese village along the Arrow River remain in Arrowtown. Now restored, they’re a popular tourist attraction.

A restored Chinese village greets tourists at Arrowrtown these days.
A restored Chinese village, including Chinese miner huts like this one, greets tourists at Arrowtown these days.

Yet surprisingly, a walk through the Arrowtown cemetery reveals a lack of Chinese graves. Gold rush towns in Australia contain many Chinese graves, but not in New Zealand’s Arrowtown. Many Chinese were buried in the local cemetery but they were later exhumed.

The Arrowfield cemetery has few Chinese graves
The Arrowfield cemetery has few Chinese graves, despite the town being home to many Chinese miners in the mid-1800s to the early 1900s.

Here’s why…

“Old miners longed to be buried in ancestral cemeteries, where their spirits would find rest.

“Fund-raising among wealthier Chinese enabled hundreds of elderly men to make the final journey home and provided for the dead to be exhumed.

“The last ship carrying nearly 500 bodies back to China sank off Hokianga in 1902.”

A tragic end to a tough life. 

Arrowtown remained a mining village until 1928. 

Arrowtown is now a bustling tourist precinct.
Arrowtown, near Queenstown, is now a bustling tourist precinct and proud of its Chinese mining heritage.

Lisa Herbert regularly wanders through cemeteries. She’s the author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an amusing and informative workbook for those who want to have a say in their funeral.  “Your ideas, funeral plans, and your life’s reflections will sit quietly in its pages until they’re needed.” The second edition is currently available in Australia for $18.95 delivered. Purchase here

 

Cemetery tales: typhoid and death by beer barrel.

A visit to New Zealand’s Cromwell cemetery

There are few cemeteries that don’t have a typhoid story to tell.

Typhoid fever is a contagious bacterial infection that can be controlled by vaccination, but it was a different story in years gone by.  (Tens of millions of people have died from this disease and thousands continue to do so, particularly in developing countries).

Still holidaying, I came across this grave in the South Island town of Cromwell on my usual cemetery wanderings. Four Scally children died within one month from typhoid in 1874. They were 7, 6, 5 and 3. One year later, their mother Ellen and sibling Margaret (almost a year old) died from the same disease. Ellen was 29.

The Scally family's gravestone tells a sad story. Five children and their mother dying of typhoid.
Four Scally children died of typhoid in one month. Their mother and sibling died of typhoid a year later.

There are other historic graves telling a similar story of pioneering hardship in the cemetery. Below is a photo of the Goodger family grave.

George drowned, aged 53. His son Henry (14) and daughter Mary Anne (12) died from typhoid on the same day three years earlier. (There are no records of the cause of death for the other family members but because his wife and infant daughter died within a month of one another one can assume the deaths could be attributed to disease or childbirth complications.)

The Goodger family grave in the Crowell cemetery, New Zealand
The Goodger family grave. Patriarch George drowned, aged 53. His son Henry (14) and daughter Mary Anne (12) died from typhoid three years earlier, on the same day. 

Cromwell’s first cemetery was founded in 1865 and, like many cemeteries, contains unmarked pauper graves.

Many Australian cemeteries in rural and regional areas have at least one of these graves pictured below, referring to a horse accident. It seems New Zealand is the same.

John Garrett, killed in a horse accident, aged 32. He lies in the Cromwell cemetery in New Zealand's South Island
John Garrett was killed aged 32 by “the fall of his horse”.

However one cause of death I have never seen before on my cemetery wanderings lies on the gravestone of 26 year old Joel Chapman. He was killed by a landslip in 1875. The cemetery records show there are several men buried in this cemetery that were killed by “fall of earth”. Landslips and rock falls remain a daily event in New Zealand. These days though authorities are better at monitoring and predicting them.

IMG20170702150705
Joel Chapman was killed in a landslip in 1875. He is one of several men killed “by a fall of earth” to be laid to rest in the Cromwell cemetery.

And so the Litany Street cemetery in the small South Island town of Cromwell, like all other historic cemeteries, provides an insight into the difficulties of pioneering life.

Other causes of death of people in this cemetery, as listed by some great work by the Dunedin Group of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists and members of the Cromwell Family History Society, include: appendicitis, teething, whooping cough, childbirth (there are many of these), dropsy, pleurisy, cancer (just one), pneumonia, congestion of the lungs, dysentery, exposure, bronchitis, diarrhoea, tuberculosis (just one) and “cardiac”.

And then there’s poor ol’ George Hayes who died on 24 Dec 1874. His cause of death is listed as: “Accident (barrel of beer fell on him)”.

IMG20170702150502
The Litany St cemetery, Cromwell’s first cemetery.

Lisa Herbert regularly wanders through cemeteries. She’s the author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an amusing and informative workbook for those who want to have a say in their funeral.  Your ideas, funeral plans, and your life’s reflections will sit quietly in its pages until they’re needed.

The second edition is currently available in Australia for $18.95 delivered. Purchase here.

Dissenters to the right, Roman Catholics to the left – segregation in death

The historic cemeteries of Akaroa on New Zealand's South Island 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.

The Akaroa Dissenters Cemetery is nestled in pretty native and exotic vegetation
The Akaroa Dissenters Cemetery is nestled in pretty native and exotic vegetation, separate to the nearby Catholic and Anglican cemeteries.

 

Graves are laid across the steep slope in an east west orientation and, as usual, reveal tough times for pioneering families.

 

Many young women died in their early 20s
Catherine Bruce died aged 23, her sister Jeannie died aged 21 six years later. They and their father are buried in Akaroa Dissenters Cemetery.

The Roman Catholic Cemetery at Akaroa
The Akaroa Catholic Cemetery sits on the hill overlooking the harbour at Akaroa, on New Zealand’s South Island. The Dissenters Cemetery sits below it. Most graves run across the slope in an east west orientation.

 

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.

 

 

Where did the cemetery at Singapore’s Fort Canning Park go?

Does moving headstones move a graveyard? In Singapore, apparently so.

While the headstones and monuments at Singapore’s popular tourist spot, wedding and concert venue Fort Canning Park  have been moved, the graves themselves remain. But you wouldn’t know they were there and no-one seems too concerned. Sprawling lawns now cover the one-time cemetery, with just a few monuments clumped together in a corner and some headstones incorporated into a wall that runs down the sloping hill.

The official line from the authorites is that most of the graveyard’s monuments and headstones were so delapidated they were removed in the mid 1970s.

Six hundred people were laid to rest in the cemetery between 1822 and when it closed in 1865. Can’t you tell? Um… Well… No. 

Lush lawns now cover 600 graves at Fort Canning Park , Singapore.
Sprawling lush lawns and a paved pathway now cover 600 graves at Fort Canning Park , Singapore.

The
headstones that have been incorporated into a beautiful brick wall reveal the diverse range of people buried at Fort Canning. A third of them were Chinese Christians and languages on some of the reamining tombstones include German, Thai and Dutch.

 

Some headstones remain, bricked into a wall at Fort Canning Park, Singapore

  

A handful of monuments remain in one corner of the former cemetery at Fort Canning.

 

I can’t help but wonder what Australians would think of a lawn replacing an old cemetery. Do you think there’s a period of time than passes before it’s OK to transform a cemetery into a recreation area?
 

 

 

Kranji War Cemetery

A mass grave and tributes to our war dead: Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore

I’d never heard of Kranji War Cemetery, but I’m glad I stumbled on it during a visit to Singapore.

One of the first graves I noticed was that of Aboriginal soldier, Private J Knox. Private Knox died of illness as a Prisoner of War in Changi in August 1942. He served in the 2/26th Battalion, a Queensland unit that contained several Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. They fought in Malaya and Singapore but were captured when the British Empire garrison surrendered. The prisoners endured shocking slave labour conditions, and several Indigenous men were among the many Australians who died in captivity.

More than 20,000 Australians served, with around 1,800 lives lost in battle during the fall of Singapore. Around 15,000 were captured as Prisoners of War.

Private J Knox lies in Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore
Private J Knox lies in Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore. He died as a Prisoner of War six-and-a-half months after allied troops were ordered to lay down their arms on February 15, 1942. His grave is in the first row on the left as you enter the cemetery. The flowers and flags laid on his grave just two days prior are a poignant reminder of the ongoing effects of war. A hand-written card said he was remembered by “his mob back in Australia”.

The Kranji War Cemetery is on the outskirts of Singapore. The Japanese landed just a few kilometres from the cemetery’s site on 8 February 1942, at the mouth of the Kranji River. The following night they launched an attack. Fighting continued for a few days, much of it hand-to-hand combat. Japanese troops had the numbers and lots of support from the air. Allied forces never stood a chance.

Names with no graves, and graves with no names.

The Kranji War Cemetery is the final resting place of more than 4,400 casualties of World War II. Among those graves are 850 without a name, only “known unto God”.

There are 850 graves of unknown soldiers at the Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore.
There are 850 graves of unknown soldiers at the Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore.

And then there are walls and walls and walls of names – names of land troops and airmen who don’t have graves. I can only assume many of those 24,000 casualties were left where they fell as they attempted to stop the Japanese during their surprise invasion through 200km of Malayan rainforest. Many would have been Prisoners of War who died in captivity, most notably during the construction of the Burma-Thailand railway. There is a memorial at the Kranji War Cemetery to the twenty-four THOUSAND people who have no known grave. (I needed to spell that out as I am still trying to come to terms with that number. Each of those men had families. Can’t. even. fathom).

The memorial to the 24,000 soldiers and airmen with no known grave.
The memorial to the 24,000 soldiers and airmen with no known grave. The wreaths were laid two days prior to my visit during the 75 year commemorations of the Fall of Singapore.

This memorial wall is littered with the names of Australians.
This memorial wall is littered with the names of Australians. There are many Commonwealth nationalities on the walls at the Kranji War Cemetery.

Mass hospital grave

There’s another memorial at Kranji War Cemetery which really put my heart into my throat. It relates to a mass grave that is located on hospital grounds in Singapore.

The Singapore Civil Hospital Grave Memorial at Kranji War Cemetery lists the names of 107 Commonwealth casualties buried in a mass grave alongside 300 civilians.

The Singapore Civil Hospital Grave Memorial
The Singapore Civil Hospital Grave Memorial commemorates 107 Commonwealth servicemen buried in a mass grave on hospital grounds. There are 300 civilians in that grave as well.

You see, during the last hours of the Battle of Singapore, hundreds of wounded civilians and servicemen taken prisoner by the Japanese were taken to the hospital. The number of subsequent fatalities was too great for the hospital and authorities to handle. The deceased were put into an emergency water tank that had been dug on the hospital grounds prior to the war. This mass grave holds more than 400 people.

After the war it was determined that identifying those within was an impossible task. So the grave was left undisturbed and enclosed, consecrated by the Bishop of Singapore. The site is marked by a cross, put there by military authorities.

The Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore
The Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore. The walls of the large structure in the background have the names of 24,000 servicemen who don’t have graves.

The Kranji War Cemetery isn’t far from the Kranji train station so I can highly recommend you pay it and our fallen soldiers a visit the next time you’re in Singapore.

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. Lisa’s passion is telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.

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Hanging coffins of Sagoda, Phillipines

Umbrellas over graves and coffins hanging from cliffs.

Two of my friends visited cemeteries during their recent overseas Christmas holidays.

In the Phillipines, the Hanging Coffins of Sagoda caught Steve’s interest.

Nobody really knows the reason these coffins hang from the side of limestone cliffs in Echo Valley within the Mountain Province. There’s speculation that it either gets them closer to heaven/paradise, protects them from animals and floods or even that it saves space so as not to use up valuable agricultural land.

It’s thought the local Igorot, the local tribe, have been laying their loved ones to rest this way for 2,000 years. It’s a practice that has been done in China too, for well over 2,000 years.

This burial custom still takes place these days, though it’s only some of the elderly who choose this method of burial. Visitors to the area walk through a more conventional cemetery on the hike to the cliffs.

The coffins are in a range of sizes, with the small ones said to be filled with bodies that are in the foetal position; the theory being that those people leave the world as they entered it. Hanging next to some of the coffins are wooden chairs. It’s on those chairs the deceased sat as they were prepared for burial.

It’s hard to fathom just how those heavy coffins are put in place. Some are also laid in nearby caves. Eventually the coffins disintegrate. People visiting the site are encouraged not to stand under the cliffs, just in case some bits and pieces fall from the cliffs.

Umbrellas shade graves at Nusa Lembongan
Graves are shaded at Nusa Lembongan, south east of Bali

The graves my friend Charlotte visited on Nusa Lembongan are more conventional but just as peaceful. They’re also an example of the way ancestors are cared for and tradition upheld. The island is south east of Bali and is fast-becoming a popular tourist destination because of its stunning beaches and bays, snorkelling and great natural attractions.

Many of the headstones there are shaded by colourful parasols. This is to keep the hot, tropical sun off the dead. Protecting graves from the elements is not uncommon. I have seen graves in Botswana, Africa shaded with iron and cloth covers and decorated covers over Aboriginal graves in some of Australia’s more remote communities.

You can always tell a lot about a culture, a town or a community by the way they treat their dead, can’t you?

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. (Overseas orders will incur an additional AU$8 postage.) Lisa enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.