Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Original Sydney Burial Site

The first burials of Europeans after 1788 in Sydney took place near the shore presumably near the hospital in George Street. It is only conjecture but Ruth Park makes a good case for the area shown in the photo.

Looking from Campbell’s Cove.
“Pause a moment and look towards the west. Somewhere here, between Metcalfe Bond and Gloucester Walk is the probable site of Sydney’s first graveyard. This place at the Rocks in all likelihood was Sydney’s first graveyard, where some of the sick of the First Fleet, for whose care Captain Phillip hurried up his portable canvas hospital, found their lonely resting place. Others say that the first dead were buried up close to the ridge, where Harrington Street now is, but it seems unlikely that graves were dug in so rocky and so precipitous a place. Here, in a patch of sandy earth, in this bay so like hundreds of others still around Sydney, a cranny of glistening cutty-grass and sparkling sea, a bay convenient to the hospital and yet some distance from the marine and convict camps - here they surely laid the forty-one exiles, including ten children , who died in the settlement’s first five months.”
Ruth Park

Part of Taphophile Tragic's to view the others click here.


  1. I didn't know that about this Rocks site.

  2. I am sure many relics and artifacts... and bodies have been found during the building up of the waterfront area. To think these first arrivals never had a chance to enjoy (or make the best of) their new home.

  3. There is a lot of sad history pertaining to the early days of colonisation of Australia and this is a case in point. Interesting post!

  4. The graveyard that could be! The fact that Ruth Park set her "Playing Beatie Bow" in The Rocks area with this history makes the novel even more beautifully eerie! Great photo of this corner of the Harbour!

  5. They had so many hardships in the previous centuries! Lucky to be alive right now:) That's a very impressive bridge!

  6. It's times like this that I realize the history of Sydney goes a long way back from the colonization of South Aust.

  7. You'd think building excavations would have revealed some evidence to support this theory. It's sad to me that this first graveyard has been lost.

  8. Hadn't really thought about where the original cemeteries were.

  9. mmm ... not convinced. Peter. RP does express herself equivocally, you must agree. The original tented hospital is considerably to the left of the B&W photo you have led with in your post today. Much of Dawes Point itself was covered with fortifications and canon even from the single digit years of the colony.

    From my readings, the people who died in the very early years were pretty much buried anywhere. Phillip tried to recommend 5 specific sites, but he was ignored. Remember, we are talking about colonists (and convicts) who died from 17788 to 1792 when the Old Burial Ground was proclaimed on what is now the site of the Town Hall. So four years worth of deaths.

    The first gallows was close to the intersection of Essex and George and they were interred on that spot - halfway between the gaol and the military barracks at Wynyard. I am going into this issue further with a historian on early Sydney, so will let you know if there is anything more definitive available.

    Golly I am pleased you posted this. There is nothing I like more than a historical mystery. Yes there is. A historical mystery about burials. Much appreciated.

  10. Me again ...

    P. 71 Karskens, 'The Colony', states that 'the dead were buried on the slopes south of the military encampment. The military were encamped about where the Cahill Expressway intersects with George St, making the burials about on the area referred to as Church Hill.

    Stay tuned ...

  11. always thought the first one was where the Town Hall is now. Very interesting.

  12. Peter & Ann: Here is the timeline:
    1788-1792 burials 'somewhere' in The Rocks
    1792-1820 burials at the current Town Hall site
    1820-1901 burials at Sandhills Cemetery aka Devonshire St Cemetery (plus by this stage, other cemeteries around the greater city)
    1901 Devonshire St Cemetery closed for the construction of Central Station and bodies and grave markers moved to a range of other cemeteries.

    Karskens, who I quoted earlier, is a lecturer on the early colony at UNSW. Her book is wonderful, and to hear her speak is engrossing.

    I asked Cathy Dunn from Australian History Research and she directed me to an audio file by Dr Lisa Murray on the City of Sydney site http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/aboutsydney/historyandarchives/media/Lisa-Murray.mp3

    According to the very opening of this talk, there were three sites for burials between 1788 and 1792: Dawes Point for mariners and seamen; The Rocks near the canvas hospital; and, behind the military barracks in what is now Clarence St at the back of Wynyard. This last one, roughly corresponds to Karskens site.

    My guess is that these bodies are still in the ground, but perhaps washed away to some extent.


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