Early Southside Burial Grounds

South Brisbane is the oldest surviving municipal cemetery in Brisbane but it was not the first. Here is a quick history of the some of the burial grounds that came before it:

The original South Brisbane burial ground.

Municipal cemeteries - a new concept

Cemeteries were mainly located in churchyards and private burial grounds before the 19th century, but overcrowding and high maintenance costs resulted in municipal authorities taking responsibility for them. The first public cemetery in England was in Norwich in 1819, and one was established in the fledgling settlement of Brisbane in 1843. There had been a burial ground for soldiers and convicts near what is now Skew Street at North Quay since the 1820s, and a small cemetery had also been established at Nundah by German missionaries in 1838.

The cemetery at West End

A new law in 1825 directed that no burials could take place within churchyards or the limits of a town, and so new burial grounds had to be established at least one mile from town centres. A public cemetery for South Brisbane (below) was first surveyed in 1843, on the site of the current West End school. This burial ground is reported to have been used only once by the 1860s, at which time the dead of South Brisbane were ferried across the river to be interred at the North Brisbane cemetery which is now the site of the famous Lang Park sports stadium.

The inconvenience of this makeshift arrangement was a source of frustration for the rapidly-growing population south of the river:
'The number of funerals daily having to cross the river to add to the already crowded graveyards on the other side, for want of a burial ground here, is a standing disgrace to the inhabitants of South Brisbane.' (Brisbane Courier, 6 March 1866)
Looking across the former Paddington Cemetery, circa 1870. (Queensland State Archives)

Ovens Head

The area around the current South Brisbane Cemetery was known as Ovens Head, after the nearby rocky outcrop on the riverbank.

The slopes were already a popular recreation spot by the 1860s, and large groups of people would travel there from Brisbane by steamboat for day excursions, picnics and special occasions. This popularity was not lost on real estate agents, who in 1863 were touting the area as the site of the future ‘town of Ovens Head’.

This township was not to be, as the government surveyed the area in 1863 and a large piece of riverside land was set aside, taking in the current cemetery and parkland.

The Cemetery Act was introduced in 1865, and the reserve was divided in 1866 to allow for the establishment of a general cemetery to service the borough of South Brisbane, under the control of local trustees.

The slopes of the new cemetery had good drainage, which was an important sanitary factor. The existing North Brisbane cemetery at Paddington was on quite flat ground and became waterlogged in wet weather. The resulting foul stench led local residents there to complain about the health dangers posed by the pollution.

Another advantage of the reserve was that the surrounding area was still mostly undeveloped, and large parts had already been reserved for other government facilities. Transport was also an important consideration, and the cemetery reserve was quite accessible by road and river.
'From its position, there is no danger of its ever being surrounded with houses, and the access from the river makes it available for the large population settled on Oxley Creek and both sides of the Brisbane River. It is to be hoped that the trustees will have the ground carefully laid out, as it is well calculated for the purpose.' (Queenslander, 17 March 1866)