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The Undertakers


Death in the 19th-century could be an expensive affair. Possible costs included mourning clothes and black hatbands, a pall (a cloth placed over the coffin), grave fees, doctor’s fees, stonemason’s fees, registration of the death, flowers and wreaths, and food for guests. There were also fees for the undertakers who provided coffins, a hearse and horses, and took care of other arrangements.

Ad for Hislop Undertakers, 1894.
Early undertakers relied on horse-drawn transport, and a surviving remnant of those days are the concrete troughs which can be found in a quiet part of the cemetery. They were originally used for holding food and drink for the horses that pulled the hearses, as well as other carts that visited the cemetery.

Many undertakers were actually cabinetmaker and carpenters seeking extra income, as this advertisement from 1900 shows.

An electric tramline was laid along Gladstone Road in the 1900s, allowing people to use trams for the funeral processions. Special hearse trams were used, in which the coffin was placed at the front of the tram behind the driver and the mourners were seated in the carriage behind.

A list of Brisbane-based undertakers, 1892 (Weatherill’s Directory)


John Hislop Undertakers, Brisbane, ca. 1902 (John Oxley Library)