Changing Funerary Practices

By the end of the 19th century the popularity of monumental cemeteries was on the wane. Although funerals remained both fashionable and profitable into the next century, the prohibitive cost of monuments and mourning clothes contributed to a decline in elaborate burials. Finally, the senseless carnage of World War I significantly changed attitudes to the Christian faith, death and mortality. With so many young men lost or buried in foreign fields, Victorian-era monuments suddenly seemed overblown and inappropriate. People still had to be buried, but now much less was spent on their funerals.


Although it had long been common in other cultures, cremation as a form of corpse disposal only developed in Europe and North America during the 1870s, mainly as a response to chronic overcrowding in cemeteries. Despite this, burial remained the normal practice for several decades due to lingering cultural and religious preferences. Cremation was also not widely available due to a lack of facilities, but public health and urban space considerations saw it used in Queensland from the 1930s onwards.

Cremation quickly became popular as an affordable alternative to interment, and so use of the cemetery for actual burials declined. At the same time, descendants of many of those buried in earlier years had long since died themselves or had stopped attending the graves, and so by the 1930s many of the older headstones were in a dilapidated state.

The cemetery sexton was then authorised to remove any stones in poor condition, or lay any particularly dangerous headstones flat on the ground. This was done to avoid incidents like the time a boy playing hide-and-seek in the cemetery in the 1930s suffered a broken arm when a headstone toppled on him.

The cemetery gradually took on its more ‘historic’ appearance as the proportion of new to old headstones changed and grave tending declined over time.