Perth, Western Australia
Nov 1, 2001
[Colonial Secretary's Office Perth, February 13, 1830]
Western Australians are fortunate to still have their historic East Perth Cemeteries as if they were in most other capital cities, they would have fallen prey to the pressures and demands of urban sprawl.
They were set aside as the main burial ground for the capital of the Swan River Colony soon after its foundation in 1829, and were not only associated with the early pioneering period, but for virtually the entire colonial period which lasted until to the end of the nineteenth century.
They are quite correctly called cemeteries as even though the site appears as one today, it originally incorporated seven individual denominational cemeteries which came into existence progressively through the latter half of nineteenth century until the time when the site was closed in 1899. Each cemetery was fenced off and in most cases was separated from the others by a public roadway.
The cemetery complex also houses St. Bartholomew's Church which served as a burial chapel and a parish church for nearby residents, and both the cemeteries and the chapel were classified by the National Trust of Australia (WA) as places of cultural heritage significance and listed on the Register of the National Estate by the Australian Heritage Commission in 1978.
Apart from being the main burial ground for the capital of Western Australia since its foundation in 1829 and one of the few remaining original burial grounds in any of the Australian capital cities, the National Trust identified the cemeteries as being significant at a Local, State and National level on other counts as well:
They represent aspects of the social, religious, political, economic and artistic life of the community during the nineteenth century in relation to death and burial, and demonstrate the nature of community attitudes, values and taste and the changes which occured throughout the period.
The gravesites, memorials and grave surrounds are significant as historic artefacts and relics associated with nineteenth century burial customs and practices in Western Australia. They are significant for the records which are inscribed on them and as examples of the nature of nineteenth century monumental craftmanship in Western Australia and elsewhere. The memorials are significant for their association with numerous prominent public figures and the first generations of settlers in Western Australia.
The historic trees on the site are representative of cemetery and street tree plantings in Perth in the late nineteenth century and are significant as landscape elements and as potential propagation stock.
St. Bartholomew's Church is significant for its association with the Church of England Cemetery; its age; its association with the noted colonial architect, Richard Roach Jewell; and for the community sentiment associated with the building. There is also significance at a Local and State level as part of the history of the Church of England in Western Australia.
The site occupied by the cemeteries is also significant as a prominent
landscape and townscape feature and is one of the earliest public sites to
have been surveyed in Perth.
During the nineteenth century the area was generally known as Cemetery Hill although there were in fact seven cemeteries there in the end, each being independently owned and controlled by their respective denominations. The seven groups and their date of introduction to the site were:
For twenty five years after the cemeteries were officially closed, some burials were permitted in existing family plots. The site rapidly fell into a general state of disrepair and was eventually passed on to various government departments before it finally ended up under the protection of the National Trust.
In the meantime, some of the unused land had been sold off to housing developers and the outlying Presbyterian, Hebrew and Chinese sections were redeveloped into grounds for the nearby Perth Girl's School. The roads running through the remaining cemetery area were closed and surviving gravestones, primarily from the Presbyterian section, were relocated into the reclaimed roadways. Only the trees which lined the streets and the overhead power lines remain today.
It has been suggested that possibly 10,000 people were buried in the East Perth Cemeteries, but only around 800 gravesites can still be identified. Possibly only 20% of the original memorials and gravesites remain, the identities of many hundreds having been lost through neglect and the encroachment of the former Perth Girls' School grounds.
The Western Australian Genealogical Society published a microfiche set of memorial inscriptions taken from tombstones in the cemetery on April 16, 1960 and twenty five years later the Royal Western Australian Historical Society released a new set of memorial inscriptions in a new study on the cemeteries. It was interesting to note the differences between some of the transcriptions and a possible explanation could be the effect of a further twenty five years of exposure to the weather and vandalism.
Recently, more burial records for the East Perth cemeteries have been assembled from archival records through a joint effort between the Western Australian Genealogical Society, the Royal Western Australian Historical Society and the National Trust of Australia (WA) - each organisation having its own specific interest in the preservation of the site, whether it be physical, historical or genealogical.
A more in depth historical record of the cemeteries site is outlined on the next page which presents the story in a time line format.