Monday, 22 April 2013

West End Cemetery - Religious Trends in Townsville

Cemeteries are a rich resource for the historical study of social conditions and demographic trends in a community.  Headstone inscriptions can provide information on birth and death rates, the prevalence of disease, patterns of migration and settlement, marriage patterns and religious trends. Townsville’s West End Cemetery is a unique window into the lives of the city’s early inhabitants; providing valuable information on mortality rates and disease; monumental symbolism and the social and religious trends in the community, from the 1860s to the mid 1900s.
Townsville's West End Cemetery, 2012.  Photo: Trisha Fielding.
Surveyed in 1865, West End Cemetery was Townsville's first official cemetery but its second burial ground. An unofficial burial ground was located somewhere in the present suburb of North Ward, but was abandoned within a couple of years as settlement spread rapidly around the base of Castle Hill and into North Ward.  It wasn’t officially gazetted as a cemetery reserve until 1872 however the burial ground was in use from at least March 1868 when Captain Henry Sinclair, founder of Bowen, was buried there.  Sinclair’s headstone is believed to be the oldest in situ monument in the cemetery. The earliest burial records for the cemetery date from 1873.
The total number of burials at this cemetery has been estimated to be over 8,000.[1] This seems a reasonable estimate given that the burial register lists numbered graves up to 7,718 along with the fact that graves often contained more than one burial. 

Religious Trends 

Cemeteries provide a wealth of information for the study of religious trends in a community.  This is because denominational differences are clearly reflected in epitaphs and mortuary symbolism.  Roman Catholic, Church of England and Presbyterian religions all have a high statistical representation in the West End Cemetery. Between 1870 and 1900, 44.7 per cent of the 4,555 burials recorded in the burial register were recorded as Anglican or Church of England, 23.1 per cent were recorded as Roman Catholic, 10.3 per cent Presbyterian and 6.6 per cent Weslyan (only two burials during this period were recorded specifically as Methodist).[2] 

 Between 1901 and 1940, 41.4 per cent of burials were registered as Church of England, 23.8 per cent Roman Catholic, 13 per cent Presbyterian, 3.4 per cent Weslyan and 5 per cent Methodist.[3] 
These figures are consistent with Queensland-wide statistics. In 1891, religious adherence in Queensland largely reflected the country of origin of the population: Anglicans, Methodists and Baptists were mainly English, Presbyterians were largely Scottish, Roman Catholics mainly Irish, and Lutherans usually German.[4]  The largest denomination was Anglican (36.2 per cent), followed by Catholic (23.6 per cent) and Judaism was the only non-Christian religion specifically enumerated. [5]

Headstone/monument shapes
Simple slab shapes such as Norman and Gothic (after Georgian architecture) and anthropomorphic (human-like) were used widely in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and are found throughout the West End Cemetery. Others include more elaborate monument styles favoured during the later Victorian period (c. 1860-1900) and into the Edwardian period including the taller, shrouded urn; winged-angel; obelisk; broken-column; Calvary cross and Celtic cross style monuments. Table or altar monuments were commonly used from the late eighteenth century to the late nineteenth century.

This impressive monument was erected in memory of Viola Bismuth Noble.  
Photo: T. Fielding, 2012.
Common symbols include the broken column (for a life cut short), ivy (hope and immortality), the poppy (sleep), the cross (faith), weeping willows (grief and loss), the broken chain (loss), the dove and olive sprig (faith and renewal), the anchor (faith), the trumpet (resurrection), clasped hands (farewell and reunion), an hourglass (the passing of time), the bodyless, or winged cherub (the flight of the soul), a book (the Bible or Book of Life), a rose (symbolising English origin), thistle (symbolising Scottish origin) and the shamrock (symbolising Irish origin).[6] 
Clasped hands, symbolising both farewell, and also hope of a reunion in the afterlife. (Note the male and female cuffs).
Photo: Trisha Fielding, 2012. 

Other interesting symbols found throughout this cemetery include Masonic symbols (compass and square) and the Knights Templar symbol (cross and crown).

 In my next blog I’ll talk about the differences in the symbolism used on the headstones for some of the different religious denominations in the West End Cemetery.

[1] Peter Bell and David Young, unpublished report for the Townsville City Council, West End Cemetery Townsville: Conservation Strategy’, 1997, held by City Libraries Townsville Local History Collection.
[2] K. M. Gillespie, unpublished report, ‘A Monumental View of West End 1987, Appendix F, p. 2, held by City Libraries Townsville, Local History Collection.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Government Statistician’s Office, Queensland Past and Present: 100 Years of Statistics, 1896-1996, Queensland Government, Brisbane, 1998, p. 86.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Graeme M. Griffin and Des Tobin, In the Midst of Life… The Australian Response to Death, 2nd Edition, Melbourne University Press, 1997, p. 92, and Lionel Gilbert, A Grave Look at History: Glimpses of a Vanishing Form of Folk Art, John Ferguson Pty Limited, 1980, p. 33.

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