DEATH IN EARLY MELBOURNE
Take a visit to Melbourne’s popular and historic Queen Victoria (QV) market. The site is also Melbourne’s first major cemetery – the Old Melbourne Cemetery 1837-1922 – now located largely under the market car park. The market was established initially east of the cemetery on Elizabeth Street, but expanded west in 1878 and began acquiring cemetery land for market sheds and stalls and eventually car park.
We also visit the site of Melbourne’s earliest cemetery nearby, the Flagstaff Gardens Burial Ground (1836 -1837). Also nearby St James Cathedral (1842) which is Melbourne’s oldest building and is historically linked to the burial grounds.
Melbourne’s two first cemeteries at Flagstaff Gardens and Queen Victoria Market hold the remains of the European founders of Melbourne as well as Aboriginal graves. The human remains of an estimated 9000 people are on the sites. Most lie as little as 1.5 metres below the QV Market car park and adjacent market stalls. Thousands of vehicles annually park on top of their bodies.
How this happened is an extraordinary tale. Fortunately we have the maps, images, stories, records and grave inscriptions to bring this story and the memories of our founding fathers and mothers to life. This is a significant story that needs revealing not just to show respect, not just to learn how greed triumphed over decency but importantly because the QV Market and Melbourne City Council prior to the current re-development were proposing ways to desecrate the dead again.
While this idea has apparently been abandoned for a park concept, a huge development is still planned for the Franklin street area, also part of the former cemetery.
Yes, instead of a vision for one of the greatest potential heritage and visitor sites in Australia, our civic leaders dream of cash registers and supermarket aisles. Why did we restore and honor the graves of our soldiers in France and Turkey yet dishonor the founders of our own city? What does this say about us as a community?
Yet once the people of Melbourne did care. In 1922 when the Government railroaded the cemetery bill through parliament, there was a concerted public movement led by Isaac Selby who fought the development and meticulously documented the history of the cemetery’s inhabitants in a long and bitter campaign.
My intention in conducting this tour is to keep faith with those pioneering objectors. The National Trust of Victoria, Koorie Heritage Trust, Victorian Trades Hall Council and Heritage Victoria also have concerns about any development that disturbs the graves.
FLAGSTAFF CEMETERY 1836-7.
Willie, the child of James Goodman was the first person to buried in Melbourne, Port Phillip District. He was buried on 13th May 1836 at the very first cemetery at Burial Hill which is today’s Flagstaff Gardens west of the market. Flagstaff was only used for about 8 burials. There is a memorial on the hill.
‘OLD MELBOURNE CEMETERY’ (today located on QV market) 1836-1922
A second cemetery ‘Old Melbourne Cemetery’ was established in 1837 in West Melbourne bounded by Queen Street to the east, Peel Street to the west, Franklin Street to the south, and Fulton Street(which no longer exists) to the north. The first person to be buried on this site was also a child. He was Frederick William Craig, the infant son of Skene Craig. The Old Melbourne Cemetery (QV Market) was divided into areas according to religious denominations. It was the first of this kind in Australia. Two acres each were given to the Church of England, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics and one acre each was given to the Jews, Quakers, Methodists and Independents. Later half the Quaker section was allocated to the Aborigines. We visit each section and read the inscriptions for former headstones and discuss key personalities and events.
The Old Melbourne Cemetery (QV Market) was closed in 1854 as it was full, then re-opened in 1864 for the sale of new plots, re-closed in 1867, with the final burial taking place in 1917. A third cemetery – Melbourne General Cemetery in Carlton was opened on 1st June 1853 to meet demand.
A Crown grant had been passed providing land for a nearby general market on 4th March 1867. Today’s meat hall dates back to 1869.
When the QV Market first expanded into the cemetery in 1878, it was the northern part, the Quaker/Aborigine area near Fulton Street which it acquired first.Two grants that provided more land for the market, were dated 1878 and 1880 (see Queen Victoria Market Lands Act 1996 – Act No. 78/1996 at www.dms.dpc.vic.gov.au).
Legislation was passed requiring all bodies in the Old Cemetery to be exhumed.
Transcriptions of legible headstones made by G. P. Townend. A gentleman in his late 60’s he saw the urgency of making a record of these markers.
From 1920-22, 914 graves with identifying monuments were re-interred at Fawkner, Kew, St. Kilda, Cheltenham and the Melbourne General Cemetery. Many of the headstones crumbled when shifted. At this stage, the cemetery was in a terrible state of neglect, with very long grass. Identification of the burial plots was made difficult because the register of burials prior to 1866 was lost or destroyed. Many graves were unmarked. Others had ‘headstones’ of red gum, which had weathered away.
As there were about 10,000 burials on the site, there still remain approximately 9,000 people buried under the sheds and car park of the Queen Victoria Market. When any work is carried out at the market, bones are often disturbed. It was closed permanently in 1922. A Market Bill was rushed though parliament to overcome protests by groups formed to protect the heritage of the site.
Isaac Selby wrote an extensive book called “Old Pioneers Memorial History of Melbourne” about the market site. This was part of an extensive campaign to alert the people ofMelbourneto the site’s significance.
In 1996, the previous Crown grants were revoked and the Queen Victoria Market Lands Act 1996 came into being. A sculpture memorial to the deceased called ‘Passages’ stands on the corner of Queen Street and Therry Street.
Melbourne City Council announces it is considering a proposal to convert the site into a supermarket with a huge underground car park. This would effectively destroy or remove any remains of the 9000 early settlers. They are still finalising development proposals (2020).
Marjorie Morgan’s book, “The Old Melbourne Cemetery 1837 – 1922” published by the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies in 1982, has names of people buried there from transcriptions of legible headstones made by G. P. Townend in 1913-14.
Isaac Selby wrote a book called “Old Pioneers Memorial History of Melbourne” in 1924 which extensively outines the history of persons connected to the cemetery.
Royal Historical Society of Victoria’s Historical Magazine, Volume 9, No. 1, pages 40-47 has an article on the cemetery.
Another book, “Melbourne Markets 1841-1979, the story of the fruit and vegetable markets in the City of Melbourne” (Footscray, 1980), edited by Colin E. Cole has material on Melbourne markets.
We also run tours of St Kilda General Cemetery (see St Kilda Tours)