General History of South Brisbane Cemetery

(The following information is adapted from the Queensland Heritage Register)

The South Brisbane Cemetery was established in 1866 as a general cemetery, occupying land on the Brisbane River adjoining Dutton Park.

Above: South Brisbane Cemetery, ca. 1890s. (John Oxley Library)

The area now known as Dutton Park was originally thickly timbered and cut by steep gullies. A rough track from Woolloongabba to Ipswich passed through it. Some farms were established in the 1840s, the road was surveyed, but there were few houses.

In 1863 the area around Dutton Park was surveyed. A large recreation reserve was set aside, and then divided into recreation and cemeteries reserves by a later survey. The Cemetery Act of 1865 provided for the government to set up general cemeteries under the control of local trustees and South Brisbane Cemetery was established in 1866 under Trustees TB Stephens, AJ Hockings, WT Blakeney, WM Baynes and J Mooney. The first burial took place in July 1870 and was that of Jane Hockings.

The South Brisbane Cemetery was one of several government reserves in the area. A public park runs along its northern boundary and there were reserves for a pound, a gaol, an asylum and an orphanage in the vicinity. As public transport became available more people moved to the area. A railway station was opened at Boggo Junction in 1884 and the first horse-drawn bus service linking the area with the city began in 1890. The main road and the railway pass close to the cemetery, which was important in providing access for funeral corteges and for those visiting graves before private transport was common.

Trustee Thomas Blacket Stephens, 1867 (John Oxley Library)

A Caretakers Cottage was built in 1881 and in 1888 handsome entrance gates, railings and a boundary wall were designed by the noted architect AB Wilson and were built by W Reid at a cost of £662.

7 acres on the south side of Cornwall Street were added to the cemetery reserve in 1904. This was an area that had been surveyed for residential subdivision and adding it to the reserve effectively closed a section of Cornwall Street.

In 1908 a tramline reached the area with a terminus close to the cemetery at the corner of Gladstone and Cornwall Roads. The area developed rapidly in the 1900s and it became known as Dutton Park, in reference to the local park named after CB Dutton, Secretary of Public Lands 1883-1887. By the late 1920s, the suburb was considered fashionable.

The Greater Brisbane Council was created in 1925 by amalgamating the metropolitan councils. The Brisbane City Council assumed the management of public cemeteries from this time and took control of the South Brisbane Cemetery in 1928. In 1930 the portion of Cornwall Street between the two sections of the cemetery was officially closed.

In 1939 the Brisbane City Council embarked on an extensive programme of works at the cemetery. Over the next few years, concrete paths were laid, internal roads upgraded and kerbing installed. 60 feet of stone wall was constructed within the cemetery and a new chain wire fence erected from the existing iron railings in Cornwall Street to the cemetery corner. Two modern brick toilet blocks were constructed in 1941 at a cost of £500. Alterations and repairs were also carried out to the caretaker's cottage and waiting shed. The landscaping at the cemetery was improved with the planting of many trees and shrubs, including cypress pines and blue gums along the Brisbane River.

Work on the cemetery was halted by wartime shortages of labour and materials, but recommenced in 1945 when a survey of the cemetery noted lavatory blocks for men and women, two shelter sheds, a timber sexton's cottage, a timber tool room, motor shed and men's room. A brick staff amenities block was constructed in 1954. It was later falsely claimed that this block was once a morgue.

The memorials in the cemetery range from those of prominent early residents, displaying fine examples of the mason's skill, to those of prisoners from nearby Brisbane Gaol. The memorials in the cemetery reflect post World War II immigration and the cultural mix of the South Brisbane area in the second half of the 20th century. These include Greek and Italian graves and those of the many Russians who first settled around Woolloongabba and South Brisbane in the 1920s, following the Communist takeover in Russia. The cemetery also contains the graves of 50 soldiers who died in World War II.

Regular visiting of graves to tend them has become less common in our society, as has burial itself. In the 19th century cremation was rare, but through the 20th century it became steadily more common. Cemeteries established since 1950 have been of the lawn cemetery type with plaques laid flush with the ground, precluding the wide variety of memorials in earlier cemeteries such as that at South Brisbane. The cemetery was closed to new burials in 1961-2, but continuing use of family plots is permitted and a small number of new plots were released in 1998-9. In 1996 the caretaker's cottage burned down and the shelter sheds have not survived. One of the toilet blocks burned down in 2013 and was subsequently demolished.