Anyone who follows my blog knows the huge significance I place on cemeteries. They are the keeper of stories and an important part of our history.
My guest blogger here is Daryn Sibley, a Brisbane man who has been researching his family history for several years. If you know Wynnum, you’ll know Sibley Road. Yes, he’s part of that family. Daryn, like me, is a keen cemetery wanderer. He donates his time to clean graves at the South Brisbane cemetery.
Daryn has since found family at rest at Brisbane’s Toowong Cemetery and this is what he’s doing to give that unmarked grave some attention. These are Daryn’s words:
As a result of the Global Pandemic that started in 2020, most of the world was thrown into ‘Lockdown’ as Borders closed across the world, and across Australia. As we had many restrictions about where we could go, and who we could visit – I decided to visit my deceased Ancestors across Brisbane. We were lucky in Queensland, that we had a lot of freedom so I was able to combine my love of walking and visiting cemeteries – but with a purpose, to visit as many of my great grandparents – and their parents, and in turn learn their stories.
I carried my trusty ‘Grave Cleaning Kit’ with me, wherever I went. A bucket, a spray bottle of water, white vinegar, a soft brush and my trusty rake. As I visited everyone, I cleaned and tidied as I went. In some small way, it felt like I was connecting with them – it was a way of saying ‘thank you’ for the sacrifices they made in order for me to now be living in such an amazing place.
I was disappointed when I discovered some were in unmarked graves. One particular plot at Toowong Cemetery is the final resting place for six of my family – across three generations.
Nearby was another plot with a 4th Generation that I was excited to see – had a headstone and was the grave of my great great grandparents from Denmark.
As restrictions lifted late last year, I was able to take my father and his sister to ‘meet’ the family and inspect the real estate!
My aunt was sad when she saw the plot at Toowong. It looked so barren and neglected. I decided then, that my 2021 project would be to make it a more colourful place to visit.
I found a photo of my great grandmother’s funeral in 1951 and noted the abundance of flowers, this gave me an idea!
I’ve added some soil and potting mixture and have started a garden. I have planted a nice flowering ground cover which has a mix of white and purple flowers. Currently I have only planted one plant, and revived only a small part of the grave. I will monitor for a few weeks and then complete our garden once I know that the plants will grow with limited care and attention.
Once I have it all established – it should be fairly self sufficient and I can go back to my monthly visits to keep an eye on everyone. I would really appreciate any advice from anyone else who has started a cemetery garden! TIPS WELCOME!
(You can email your tips to Lisa@thebottomdrawerbook.com.au or comment on this blog. I’ll then add them to the blog. Thank you. Lisa x)
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. It is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage (Additional postage of AU$8 is payable for overseas orders). She enjoys sharing the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.
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.
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.”
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.
“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 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.
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. It is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage (Additional postage of AU$9 is payable for overseas orders). She enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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)”.
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 $24.95 including postage. Purchase here.