Perth, Western Australia
Nov 1, 2001
Today's East Perth Cemeteries complex was originally made up of a group of seven cemeteries which were operated independently by various religious and ethnic organisations. Each burial ground had its own boundary fence and roads were laid out between them to give access.
Land was allocated progressively between 1842 and 1888 as various community groups grew in number and the following table documents the growth of the site. A plan of each denomination's burial ground will pop up if the relevant date is selected.
Hint: A slide show depicting the growth of the East Perth site can be seen if the first date is selected and the navigation arrows on the maps are followed.
The 1899 map displays the area that was used for burials while the 1952 map shows the site after it was remodelled and some land was reclaimed for other purposes.
More specific information about each denomination's burial ground is presented further down
With the exception of the Chinese, each religious denomination managed its own cemetery. Although records were required to be kept, very few remain today, but some information about the Church of England, Roman Catholic and Wesleyan sections was uncovered by researchers in the past and was published in the landscape study and conservation plans commissioned for the site by the East Perth Redevelopment Corporation in 1991 and the National Trust in 1995.
Control of the original public burial ground was handed over to the Church of England in 1842
and as has already been shown, a burial chapel was added to the site in 1871. A further portion
of land was allocated to the church in 1882, but as it turned out, the latter allocation was not
used. Perth Town Lot T27 was subsequently sold for residential development in 1903 and the
middle class housing estate, "Waterloo Heights," was built on it in 1910.
The grave sites were arranged in long lines running approximately north/south with paths separating the different classes and providing access to the individual plots.
The rows were arranged in descending order of status with the most prestigious, the family vaults, ranged along the Horatio Street boundary. Then followed the brick graves and finally the free graves for the poor which occupied the largest area.
The roads and paths separating the gravesites were not uniform and once again, reflected the
heirarchical status of the gravesites. Paths alongside the vaults were 8 feet wide and needed
to accomodate carriages and large crowds. The pathways were 7 feet wide between the brick graves
but were only 4 feet wide between the free graves.
The free graves were meant to be used for multiple burials and were dug to a depth of 10 feet with the coffins placed in tiers one above the other over a period of time.
As can be seen, plots were layed out in numerical order and in the case of the free graves, only every second plot was used. After the first 259 plots were used the grave-diggers went back to the first row and began using plots 260 to 517 which had been passed over the first time round.
After plot 517 was used, they went back to the beginning again and began placing a second tier over the first, commencing at number 1 and following the same pattern as before. They were to repeat the procedure and add as many tiers as super-soil would allow.
On December 19, 1843 the Church of England set out its regulations for the layout and use of its Burial ground and the details were published in the Perth Gazette on December 23, 1843.
No allowance was made initially for a cemetery chapel, entrance gates or other structures
and when St. Bartholomew's Chapel was built in 1871, it took up the sites set aside for several
brick graves. One of the narrower internal drives was designated as its main approach.
The burial instructions set out by the Church of England Trustees in 1843 were meant to be a guide for their cemetery operations throughout the colony.
The Roman Catholic Church adopted similar regulations when it was granted its own burial ground on Perth's Cemetery Hill in 1849, although there were some significant differences to the Protestant model. The lower economic status of many members of the Catholic community and particular concerns of the Catholic faith were the main contributing factors.
Family vaults and brick graves were allocated less space and because of that, the cost of gravesites was able to be reduced. Arrangements for burials in free graves were similar to those adopted by the Anglicans, although interment costs were substantially reduced.
The layout of the Catholic cemetery also differed from the Anglican one on the other side of
Wickham Street. Compare the following plan with the Anglican model shown above. It has been
based on a map drawn by Richardson and Davies during their 1986 survey of the site for the
Historical Society and CALM.
Lots T41-42 were combined and divided into four burial areas with a central area of 45 square feet reserved for the clergy and an obituary chapel. Additional ground was to be made available for extensions to the chapel if required.
Although the provision of a chapel was given a high priority and was identified as an area on which funds were to be spent, the chapel was never built and as late as 1876 when the church acquired the adjoining land on Lot T43, the Catholics were still hopeful that finances would allow for the construction of a chapel and other facilities on the site.
The Catholic Church expected the cemetery to be used for a long time and provided for a charnel house to be built in the north-west corner of the cemetery so that bones could be exhumed over time and stored. It is not known if it was ever built but it was to have been 11 feet long and 7 feet wide with specifications similar to those of a family vault. The top of the enclosure was to have a trapdoor and be covered at ground level with thick jarrah boards.
In the north-east corner of the cemetery an area of unblessed ground 9 feet long and 12 feet
wide was set apart for the burial of the 'unbaptised and impenitent' with no grave markers of
any kind being permitted on the graves.
Little is known about the other five cemeteries although analysis of aerial photographs taken of the site in 1948 and 1951 suggests that a grid pattern was a common feature.
Only the Wesleyan (Methodist) and Independent (Congregational) cemeteries remain today. They were both gazetted in 1854 and were extended across Wickham Street in 1882. The Hebrew, Presbyterian and Chinese sections were allocated in 1867, 1881 and 1888 respectively and were all outside the current boundary of cemetery. They were reclaimed by the State in the 1950s when the current shape of the cemetery came into being.
In most cases church burial records were not kept or were lost over the years, but fortunately, the Archivist of the Wesleyan Church was able to provide the Historical Society with a list of 177 burials dated between 1859 and 1885.
Richardson and Davies quoted from it in their study in 1986 and concluded that 166 of the burials related to people who were resident in, or near Perth, or who were brought to Perth for burial. There was also a case of a man from Geraldton who died in Perth.
Richardson concluded that two more deaths in Wanneroo and Canning may have resulted in burials in East Perth. If that was so, it would account for a possible 168 of the 177 Wesleyan interments recorded between 1859 and 1885, but there may have been more buried in East Perth as the Wesleyan cemetery was in operation between 1854 and 1899.
Surviving monuments in the area record 39 people who were definitely on the burial list but
there may be more as some unnamed children are recorded on the stones as well.
Like the Wesleyans, the Independents, or Congregationals, as they later become known, were granted their own cemetery in 1854. It remains relatively undisturbed to this day but even less is known about it and the burial practices employed in it.
Perth Townsite Lot T39 was the original parcel of land to be gazetted and as with the Wesleyans, it was extended southwards across Wickham Street in 1882 with the addition of Lot T28.
The Congregational community remained compartively small and as a result, Lot T28 was never used for burials. Although it was incorporated in the redesigned cemetery complex in 1954, its history took a different path to the rest of the cemetery land.
In 1915, after the last of the original trustees (and legal owner of the land) died, the Church asked the Government to revest the land for 'church purposes'. Approval was eventually granted in 1929 and when the rest of the burial grounds were resumed by the Government, Lot T28 was not included in the East Perth Cemeteries Act (1932).
Although the Church planned to build a church hall on the site, it was still vacant in the
late 1940s when the Perth Girls' School was looking for additional playing fields. The Public
Works Department had the final say, however, and after lengthy negotiations with the church, a
land swap was arranged and Lot T28 was incorporated into the redevelopment scheme of the 1950s.
The burial ground that was originally allocated to Perth's Jewish community has laid flattened and idle for many years, although recently new buildings have been erected on much of the original reserve.
Perth Townsite Lot E70 was gazetted as a Hebrew Burial Ground in August, 1867 and the Inquirer reported the first burial in December, 1867. That was when the body of David Joseph, a Jew who had died May, was removed from the Church of England Cemetery and placed in his own people's newly consecrated burial ground according to their law and customs.
By the time the East Perth cemeteries were closed in 1899 only the south-east corner of the Hebrew cemetery was fenced in. Only 11 gravesites could be identified when the site was surveyed in 1951 by the Public Works Department but it was concluded from the way they were dispersed over the area that a lot more burials had taken place.
Like the Presbyterian and Chinese cemeteries, the Hebrew burial ground was reclaimed between 1951 and 1954 and the surviving memorials and gravestones were relocated into the main cemetery reserve on the east side of Plain Street. They grouped together in the closed section of Wickham Street near its intersection with Horatio Street.
It has been said that the relocated Jewish gravestones were disturbed again in 1994 to make way for the official party which came into the cemetery to unveil the Chinese Pioneer Memorial.
In 1995 the West Australian reported the possibility of the remaining Hebrew gravestones being moved back to their original resting place. It said the chairman of the WA Jewish Historical Society, Dr David Mossenson, was in the early stages of negotiation with the East Perth Redevelopment Authority, which now control's the site.
Nothing has eventuated so far, and the site is now being built on, but the word is that the
idea has not been dropped and a small reserve, where the original fenced-off section was, may
still be put aside for the Jews.
Today the site of the original Presbyterian Cemetery is changed beyond recognition and there is no visual evidence to suggest that it ever was a graveyard.
Although the Presbyterian community had been active in Perth beforehand, the Church was not formally established in the colony until Rev. David Shearer arrived in 1879.
In 1881 Perth Town Lots E70 and E71 were gazetted as a Presbyterian Burial Ground and when the cemeteries in East Perth were closed in 1899 all of Lot E71 was being used and a small strip across the adjoing end of Lot E70.
The Public Works Department surveyed the Presbyterian Cemetery in 1951 when it was preparing to resume the land and recorded all the graves that were still in existence. The memorials and grave surrounds which were considered to be in a reasonable condition were removed and relocated in the cemetery reserve as it stands today.
As the sections of Horatio and Wickham Streets which fell within the remodelled cemetery boundaries were to be closed and incorporated into the cemetery, the section of Horatio Street was chosen as the new Presbyterian Cemetery and the salvaged memorials and grave surrounds were placed in rows along the length of the street.
The original site, together with the adjoining Chinese Cemetery, was converted into tennis courts for the Perth Girls' High School and after the Police Department took over the school buildings, the old cemetery land was turned into a car park and a vehicle examination station.
On Remembrance Day in November, 1958 the
West Australian reported the public outcry which arose when bulldozers
uncovered remains from the old cemeteries.
Chinese who died in Western Australia between 1880 and 1901 were mainly aged between 20 and 40. Of the 237 reported deaths for the period, 70% occured in the countryside, especially in the far north of the colony.
Death certificates and funeral directors' records document 53 Chinese funerals in the Perth metropolitan area between 1893 and 1901. Two of them involved cremations at the Woodman's Point Quarantine Station.
The Chinese were introduced into the colony as labourers and did not receive very formal funerals as they were generally treated as outcasts in both life and death. Many Christians refused to allow 'heathen' Chinese to be buried in consecrated land, and others stipulated that they be buried in fenced off 'Chinese' or 'alien' areas.
A letter written by Acting Commissioner of Crown lands, J.W. Brooking to the Colonial Secretary in September 1888 asked that the northern half of Perth Town Lot E69 be gazetted as a Chinese Cemetery. Until then it had been designated as a general cemetery reserve.
Unlike the other cemeteries, the Chinese one was not vested in the Chinese community as there were very few Chinese living in Perth at the time. In fact, it was not until the 1914 that a Chinese association was formed and began to lobby the Government.
Confusion exists over the exact location of the cemetery. When it was gazetted it was clearly identified as occupying the northern half of Lot E69 only. Later on, public maps showed it taking up the entire area of Lot E69 which extended from Wickham Street right through to Bronte Street.
The Chinese community seem to have taken matters into their own hands and seem to have used a small strip on the eastern side of the southern half of Lot E69 adjacent to the Presbyterian Cemetery rather than next to the Hebrew Cemetery in the northern half as originally gazetted.
After the Chinese community had formed their own society, the Chung Wah Association, they wrote to the Government in 1914 seeking permission to sell part of the unused cemetery land and use the proceeds to maintain the neglected cemetery grounds.
Nothing remains of the cemetery today except for a plaque which the Historical Society erected on the Bronte Street boundary in September 1994. About the same time the Chung Wah Association unveiled a monument in the East Perth Cemeteries. It was dedictated to the State's Chinese pioneers in an official ceremony in the presence of the Governor on September 27, 1994.
Several possible reasons existed for exclusion from the denominational cemeteries. Poverty and the inability to afford the cost of the burial and the plot were two. Another factor was how the person died, as was the case with criminal executions and those living outside a state of grace necessary for burial in consecrated grounds.
Each year the Government advertised in the Government Gazette for tenders to take responsibility for the burial of destitute paupers and during the 1860s one successful tenderer was Edward Wilson who provided the service for £2 per adult and £1 per child. S.J. CHIPPER, was the Contractor for the Burial of Paupers in 1866.
Regarding the issue of 'state of grace,' the Perth Gazette published a letter from the Colonial Chaplain, James Brown. In response to public criticism, he had written to justify his decision to forbid the burial of James Pollitt, an habitual drunkard, in the Church of England Cemetery in January 1866.
As has been mentioned already, the Roman Catholic Church set apart a burial ground for the unbaptised and impenitent in the north-east corner of the cemetery. It was an area of unblessed ground 9 feet long and 12 feet wide and no grave markers of any kind were permitted on the graves.
A letter published by F.P. Barlee in the Government Gazette in 1867 explained that until then the Church of England had allotted a corner of its cemetery for the burial of criminals and the like. In his letter, Barlee was petitioning the Governor and the Surveyor General to set aside a designated area in Perth Town Lot E73 to the west of the newly gazetted Hebrew cemetery.
There is no indication, however, that the request was ever granted and it is more likely
that the Anglicans had to come to the party once again.