The Port Fairy Public Cemetery - a brief history

  In 1843 the town of Port Fairy was granted to James Atkinson (who renamed it 'Belfast') by the NSW government.  Sometime between 1845 and 1850 Atkinson allocated land in 'Green's paddock' as a temporary cemetery until Superintendent La Trobe would choose a proper site.  La Trobe instructed surveyor Robert Hoddle to layout another cemetery further away from the town in October 1849.  Hoddle laid out what became known as 'the sandhills' or 'the dunes' cemetery.  To confuse things further, it seems that people had been buried at both sites earlier and both at various times were called the 'old' cemetery and the 'new' cemetery.  Prior to either of these sites being used, people were buried randomly:  for example, we know that several victims of drowning were buried on the banks of the Moyne River.

  We don't know which was the real 'old' or original cemetery but both operated at the same time until the Sandhills Cemetery, for a variety of reasons, fell into disuse.  The present cemetery was graced by wrought-iron gates, their whereabouts unknown at present, and a handsome fence with bluestone pillars at each end (still there).  The layout of the cemetery was typically Victorian with serpentine, curving paths and, no doubt, cottagey plantings making it an attractive place.  The sexton's hut was used as a 'robing' room for priests or ministers (more recently as a mower storage).

  Sometime (1960s/70s?) a rabbit-proof fence was erected at the front of the cemetery with extremely ugly brick pillars and a low wrought-iron gate (which was replaced in about 2008) with the new picket fence and gates modelled on the original drawings.  The immediate plan of the Trust members is to beautify the Children's area by removing the distinctively ugly toilet block as it sits amongst the children's graves.

  Many of the graves in the old section of the cemetery would have been marked with simple wooden crosses or sandstone memorials, neither of which have survived the Port Fairy climate.  Confusing numbering systems, lack of memorials and lost records make it hard to identify the locations of early burials.  Another priority is to prepare computer records of what information exists.

  Apparently, the Port Fairy cemetery was one of the earliest in Australia to introduce the lawn cemetery concept as a method of burial.


S. Jones, 11-11-2012