Cemeteries around the World: The Waverley Cemetery

Based on top of the picturesque cliffs of Bronte, Australia, sits The Waverley Cemetery. The first purchase of land took place in 1875, but the history of the cemetery really begins in 1859. Situated in the isolated eastern suburbs of Sydney, New South Wales, the small town began to attract traders.

They manufactured items like soaps and candles, dairy produce and even farmed emus. The cemetery was officially discussed in 1863 due to the growing population of the area. Inspiration was taken from other cemeteries who were showing signs of reform movements, such as Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

At the time, a self-funded burial ground was agreed upon. In 1868 Waverley Council agreed to manage the necropolis, with the condition that it incurred no cost in doing so. Workers set out designing, styling and landscaping the area so that it was functional as well as picturesque. The first part of the cemetery was completed and opened in 1877, with the first internment taking place just three days later. Since then there has been over 86,000 people placed within the grounds, either through burial, cremations, memorial or mausolea. The cemetery now spans an impressive 16 hectares of cliff with over 50,000 gravesites.

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Sat upon the cliff edge, the cemetery is surrounded by blue sea making it an iconic place for visitors to enjoy the view. The burial ground is also well regonsied for its architectural headstones and monuments which highlight significant stonemasonry and cast iron work. The cemetery was in fact used during the filming of the 1979 Australian romantic drama film, Tim, starring Mel Gibson. Waverley is one of the oldest continually operating cemeteries in Sydney and is still an independent business, with no reliance on government funding.

The cemetery owners continue to maintain the grounds in the hope it will ‘keep its charm and character but be cared for’. Visitors are able to find out about their ancestors who are placed within the cemetery and discover the communities heritage. Mayor Sally Betts and environment minister Mark Speakman announced that Waverley Cemetery will be listed on the State Heritage Register. This listing arose after the Heritage Council of NSW approved an application by the devoted community group, Residents for Waverley Cemetery. Heritage minister Mark Speakman said the Heritage Council for NSW awarded Waverley Cemetery this listing based on the cemetery’s spectacular “genealogical, historical, architectural and artistic character.”

Not only is the cemetery famous for its stunning views, it is also the final resting place for a number of well noted people throughout history. It contains over 200 war graves from various different conflicts. Over 100 are registered from World War One and 132 of them are maintained and registered with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Inside the gates of the cemetery there is a memorial to all the military forces, several of which died in a sea mine explosion in 1891.

Here are a few notable people who rest within the cemetery:

Henry Archibald Hertzberg Lawson (June 1867 – September 1922)

Henry Lawson is one of the most-known Australian poets and fiction writers. Many claimed he was fueled by his mother who was the poet, publisher and feminist Louisa Lawson, especially in his earlier work. After producing a range of different poems, in 1891 Lawson was offered the Brisbane Boomerang, which he eagerly accepted. He claimed it was ‘the first, the last and the only chance I got in journalism’. He contributed prolifically to the Boomerang but unfortunately the weekly newspaper became in trouble and had to let him go. The memorial at his resting place isn’t the only significant homage to the writer. A bronze statue of him, accompanied by a dog, fencepost and a swagman, all reflected in his writing, stands proudly at The Domain in Sydney.  

William E.Sheridan (June 1839 – May 1887)

A Civil War veteran and stage actor, Sheridan remained acting right up until his death. He was cast in numerous roles, both lead and supporting, but was most well-known for his villainous parts. He became a well-respected actor across America, associating himself within theatres in St. Louis, Washington D. C., Boston, New Orleans and Philadelphia. Sheridan’s career spanned over thirty-years in both classic and contemporary roles. His success moved across countries and in the early 1880s a tour of the American West Coast and Australia were met with applause. Unfortunately ,when he returned to Australia in 1886 he gave his final performance. In 1887 he passed away whilst sat in the audience of a local theatre, having suffered a stroke a few hours previously.

George David Freeman (January 1935 – March 1990)

Born in Annandale, a Sydney suburb, Freeman had already turned to crime by the age of 12. He was arrested in 1947 for theft, served two years’ probation and then left school aged 14 to earn money. In his adult years, Freeman was linked to the Sydney drug trade during the 1970s and 1980s and was an illegal casino operator. He has several links to American crime figures and became a notorious one himself. He served several prison terms for theft but was never brought to trial for his later alleged crimes, such as murder. Having survived a murder attempt in 1979 he eventually died of heart failure due to an asthma attack in 1990.

Albert Family – Music publishers and builders of the ‘Boomerang’ mansion in Sydney

Arthur Tauchert – Star of the silent movie classic ‘The Sentimental Bloke

Dorothea Mackellar – Poet

Eliza Winstanley – Australia’s first leading lady of the stage

Maj George Johnston – ‘Rum’ Corp soldier and pioneer

Harold Hardwick – Champion swimmer and boxer

Harry Rickards – Tivoli Theatre owner

John Fingleton OBE – Australian cricketer

John Sands – Greeting card manufacturer and stationer

Laurence Foley – Boxer

Lawrence Hargrave – Aviator and inventor

Louis Beck – Author

Sarah (Fanny) Durack – Olympic gold medal swimmer


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