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Ravensthorpe Historical Society

About The Old Cemetery

Cemetery Reserve No. 7381 of 20 acres (8 ha) on Moir Rd was granted on 12 March 1901 and gazetted on 11 July of the same year. It remained in use until 1918. Over 90 graves are contained in the reserve, but only a few headstones remain.

In 1906 the management of the cemetery was questioned by the Minister for Lands. Warden Spence replied that there was No burial register, no account of fees paid, no copy of by-laws; all arrangements were made between the Undertaker Havercroft and bereaved families concerned.

The Lands Department replied the same year to the Phillips River Road Board (PRRB) suggesting the Board take over administration of the cemetery and adopt the Cemetery Act 1897. PRRB agreed and appointed a board of Trustees, namely S. Swain JP, Chas Chapman (Baptist), S. Minehen (Rom. Catholic), W.E Elston (Church of England and T. Griffiths (Congregational). This was followed in 1907 by a government grant of £20 ($40) for fencing of the cemetery. Undertaker Havercroft started complaining about the rocky terrain, too hard to dig graves.

Warden Spence reported in 1907 that since opening of this field 8 years ago only 25 burials conducted in cemetery. Fence now completed. He followed with the comment that More than half existing deaths have been suicides in 1909. By 1910 about 32 bodies buried at present site. Cost of re-location of cemetery not warranted noted Warden Spence.

The removal of the cemetery to a new site was requested by undertaker Havercroft in 1913. He gave three reasons for his request. These were that granite was being struck at only 2ft (60 cm) depth, the difficult sinking made digging costly and blasting with dynamite was cracking existing graves. A new site was chosen by the PRRB officer in good sinking ground, mostly clay, adjacent to the Ravensthorpe-Hopetoun railway line operating at that time, making it convenient for use by families at Kundip and Desmond. The request was declined.

Finally, in 1918 a letter from the PRRB to the Lands Department stressing the urgency of the re-siting of the cemetery bore fruit. It lead to the establishment of Cemetery Reserve No. 16941 on 50 acres (20 ha) 5 km east of Ravensthorpe along South Coast Highway. This is a beautiful site, nestled amongst the Salmon Gums (Eucalyptus salmonophloia). Consecration took place the same year.

And so started the slow neglect and decline of the old cemetery until the early 1990s when a descendant of a person buried there contacted the Historical Society about the lamentable state of the Old Cemetery (on Moir Rd).

RHS volunteers cleaned up the re-growth amongst the graves where some substantial headstones still stood. The cemetery grounds are quite extensive, as each denomination used to have its own corner to bury its adherents. In early days it was not practice to bury suicide, unchristened persons or Aborigines in consecrated ground which extended the site still further. Cleaning up the whole site was beyond the scope of RHS.

Very few of the graves had permanent markers and many names were missing. As the PRRB offices had been destroyed by fire in April 1916, and the Burial Register with it, no records remained of who was actually buried in the Old Cemetery. RHS put out a plea in the West Australian Newspaper for names of ancestors buried in the old Cemetery and were able to identify 64 names of the interred. These were engraved on a plaque which was erected on a cairn at the entrance of the Old Cemetery (funded by the Heritage Council in 1993). To the left of the main entrance there are six unmarked graves, which have since been marked out by the descendants of the Aboriginal people who lived here.

An avenue of Warted Yates (Eucalyptus megacornuta) was planted along the southern end of the site. A line of white crosses were erected between the few remaining headstones to indicate possible grave sites.

On the east side of the main burial ground there is a group of graves. The sign Memorial Garden directs to it through a narrow winding path. On 17 October 2009 a memorial service was held in dedication of the bodies laid to rest there.

© Ravensthorpe Historical Society. Compiled by A. Williams and E.Tink.
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