Headstones Over Time

There is often a great variety of grave monuments to be found in historic cemeteries. Generally, speaking, the style of these monuments can be divided into four distinct eras.

Early-to-mid 19th century
The common style at this time was for a tablet-style headstone (sometimes with an arched top) at one end of the grave, with a small footstone at the other. The footstones were usually inscribed with the initials of the deceased and the year of death. These were used in early burial grounds at Skew Street and Paddington (1820s-70s), and some of these monuments were later transferred to cemeteries such as South Brisbane and Toowong, where they can still be seen today.

D’Arcy family grave, South Brisbane Cemetery. (FOSBC)

Later 19th century
This was the 'golden age' of grave monuments, notable for the variety and occasional grandeur of the stones. For the wealthy, grave monuments became an obvious statement of social status and public grief, and so large marble statues and columns would be erected on the graves of loved ones. These were very expensive, and poorer people continued to use simpler tablets or crosses, often made of sandstone. The very poorest often had no marker at all. Monuments of these era tend to feature rich Victorian-era symbolism, with plants and flowers, religious icons or hands and faces being prominent.

Late 19th/early 20th century obelisk, South Brisbane Cemetery. (FOSBC)

Mid-20th century
It was sometime after the carnage of the First World War that monuments took on a simpler form. This was reflected in the simple yet beautiful headstones used on the graves of those who had fallen or served in that war, with white marble stones of medium height and uniform style. By the mid-century, most headstones had a very similar style, being low tablets with a plain inscribed facing. However, lead lettering became more elaborate around this time. Symbolism had become rare, and there is a sense of social conformism to these stones. Of course, this was not a uniform trend and there were still some very distinctive monuments erected during this time, although these were in the minority.

Typical mid-20th century headstone, South Brisbane Cemetery. (FOSBC)

21st century
We have recently seen something of a return to the 'showiness' of late 19th-century grave monuments. Newer monuments in Brisbane cemeteries tend to be highly-stylised expressions of love for the deceased, sometimes reflecting their interests and passions. There are scattered examples in Toowong and South Brisbane, although they are most noticeable in certain sections of the Mt Gravatt Cemetery.

Headstone installed at South Brisbane Cemetery, 2020. (FOSBC)