St Stephens Cemetery, Newtown

Graveyard

Tours of the graveyard take place on the first Sunday of the month at 11.30 am and cost $10, to inquire further email,  tours@neac.com.au

Origin of the Cemetery

In 1848, a group of influential Church of England businessmen purchased 12½ acres of Camperdown land which had originally been granted to William Bligh upon his apointment as 4th governor of NSW. (Bligh named the land Camperdown after a victorious sea battle he had engaged in.)

These businessmen wasted no time and the following year established Camperdown Cemetery as a business proposition – to be the Church of England’s principal burial ground in Sydney.

They, laid out the ground in the popular plantation design which included a central circular path, divided the area into 56 sections of each 100 feet square, erected a 6 foot high paling fence to enclosed the area, built the sexton’s cottage and planted the fig tree at the entrance to the cemetery, and organised for the 1st grave to be put in place: the grave of Sir Maurice O’Connell, Bligh’s son-in-law, who had inherrited and sold them land but had died a few months before. O’Connell’s grave was brought from the Old Devonshire Cemetery and placed in Camperdown Cemetery as it’s first internment.

And what a business proposition Camperdown Cemetery was, for in just 18 years the cemetery was considered well and truly full and was closed!

The cemetery buried a diverse range of people, from the eminent to forgotten convicts. Being a time of high infant morality, it was not uncommon to find half a dozen children from one family buried here. There are also many graves connected to the sea – sailors, navy, Sydney Harbour drownings and shipwrecks.

Closure of the Cemetery

The cemetery was closed in 1867 after between 16,000 – 18,000 souls were buried in recorded, pauper and clandestine graves. Numbers are unclear because pauper’s graves often had many people buried on top of each other and the government prohibited such graves from having headstone. Pauper’s graves were designed for people with no family or money. In such cases the cemetery had to apply for government funding for these burials.

Walled in

One hundred years on, the council felt they needed a public park in Newtown to cater for the growing population in Sydney. Closure of the cemetery was continually opposed by the church, however lack of funds in the depression years causing the cemetery become an eyesore and then a murdered young girl’s body found in the cemetery grounds lead to a public outcry over the need for the overgrown cemetery to be cleared. The result was three quarters of Camperdown Cemetery being resumed in 1948 for Camperdown Memorial Rest Park which opened in 1951.

All headstones from the resumed area were placed where ever they could fit within the reduced cemetery and the remaining placed against the sandstone wall that was built to separate the parkland from the cemetery. It was thought nailing the headstones to the wall would preserve the headstones but sadly as the nails have expanded with rust this has cracked almost all of the sandstone headstones on the wall.

This massive relocation of graves makes locating a headstone today a challenge. Also, sandstone being soft in nature has meant that there are only about 2000 headstones remaining, and many of those are not readable.

Tours of the Cemetery take place on the first Sunday of the month at 11.30 am to inquire further email:  tours@neac.com.au