Every graveyard needs a book like this: a little history, a little architecture, a bit of gossip, and a self-guided walking tour or two.
For the most part, I am woefully uneducated about Australian history. Because of that, I found the information about the Victoria Gold Rush, the return of the “diggers” to settle in Melbourne, and the early exploration of the continent to be quite fascinating. The labor struggles and political battles were also new to me. Best of all were the opinionated biographies of the people buried here.
The Melbourne General Cemetery itself had an unusual history, with this management overseen by religious leaders — and its monuments approved by religious censors — that stands in contrast to the rural and garden cemeteries that I’m more familiar with.
The only reason I’m withholding one star from this book is that there are too few photographs and those included rarely rise above overexposed snapshots. They don’t do justice to this atmospheric old place.
This view of the cemetery and the photos that follow were taken from the book The Melbourne General Cemetery by Don Chambers. I’ll review it tomorrow.
Melbourne General Cemetery
College Crescent, Parkville, Victoria 3052, Australia Founded: 1852 Size: 106 acres (43 hectares) Number of interments: 300,000
Melbourne General Cemetery is the final resting place of Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister, authors, billiards players, and the Princess Theatre ghost, along with 300,000 others.
Established by trustees in 1852, Melbourne General Cemetery opened in June the following year. It stands two kilometers north of the city of Melbourne, in the suburb of Carlton North. The cemetery’s first burial was merchant John Burnett in May 1853.
As the first modern cemetery in Victoria, Melbourne General is crossed by wide paths that loop between its rotundas and chapels. Each denomination — Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Wesleyan, as well as Jewish and Quaker — was separated from the others. The cemetery’s oldest buildings are the Jewish chapel, completed in 1854, and the Catholic mortuary chapel, which dates to the 1870s. Several of the heritage buildings are built of bluestone.
Originally, the Chinese, Afghan, and Aboriginal communities were restricted to a small “Other Denominations” section of the the cemetery, but there they could pursue their own traditional burial rites.
A sandstone monument remembers native chief Derrimut, who died in 1864. Because Derrimut didn’t fit into the recognized Western religions, he was buried amongst the Chinese. The Koori, his people, don’t traditionally mark their graves. After his death, Derrimut’s monument was erected to honor him for warning early colonists that some up-country tribes planned a massacre in October 1835.
The grave of Sir Redmond Barry, the Acting Chief Justice, who sentenced Ned Kelly
Also buried here are Irish-born Robert O’Hara Burke and Englishman William John Wills, chosen despite their lack of exploration experience to walk across the Australian continent from south to north. On the return trip, Burke and Wills starved to death. Their bodies were recovered in January 1863 and given state funerals.
Four Prime Ministers are buried at Melbourne General Cemetery. Two lay in the Prime Ministers Garden—Sir Robert Menzies and Sir John Gorton—alongside a cenotaph for Harold Holt, whose body was lost at sea while he was swimming. James Scullin is buried elsewhere in the cemetery, as is Sir Isaac Isaacs, the first Australian-born Governor General.
The grave monument of billiard champion Walter Lindrum comes with a pool cue and ball. It’s the cemetery’s most-visited monument.
Preachers, con men, musicians, actors, scientists, and other permanent residents include:
Patrick Hannan, who discovered gold at Kalgoorlie in Western Australia
Sir Redmond Barry, the judge who sentenced outlaw Ned Kelly to hang
Mendel Balberyszski, who survived the destruction of the Vilnius Ghetto in Lithuania
British opera singer Frederick Federici, who originated the title role of The Mikado in New York and who is said to haunt the Princess Theater, where he died singing Mephistofeles in Faust.
Walter Lindrum, buried beneath a tombstone in the shape of a billiard table
Boxing champion “Gentlemen Jack” John Reid McGowan
The cemetery offers tours both during the day and at night. The next day tour is coming up on July 12, 2017.
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