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Cemeteries around the world – Waverley Cemetery

Waverley Cemetery is a heritage-listed cemetery on top of the cliffs at Bronte in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Opening in 1877, and built by R. Watkins and P. Beddie, the cemetery is noted for its largely intact Victorian and Edwardian monuments. It is regularly cited as being one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, and it contains the graves of many significant Australians including the poet Henry Lawson. It is also known as the General Cemetery Waverley.

The cemetery is owned by Waverley Council and is self-funded, deriving its income from interments – including burial, cremation, memorials and mausolea – of which there has been over 86,000. Waverley Cemetery was used during the filming of the 1979 Mel Gibson film Tim, as well as Baywatch and Dirty Deeds. The cemetery was designed to function in a similar manor to Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

Waverley Cemetery contains the graves of many famous people who shaped Australia, this includes literary figures such as Henry Lawson, one of Australia’s most famous poets, Jules Archibald, founder of The Bulletin and benefactor of the Archibald Prize 19th Century writer Louis Becke, nineteenth century poet Henry Kendall, the American actor William E. Sheridan, poet and author Dorothea Mackellar, and author Ethel Pedley. Other significant figures include aeronautical pioneer Lawrence Hargrave, Olympic swimmer Fanny Durack, and New South Wales Premier Sir James Martin, whose remains were transferred to Waverley Cemetery after the death of his wife in 1909.

The cemetery contains over 200 war graves from various past conflicts, of which there are 132 registered and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The front gates are a memorial to the residents of the area who died during World War I and World War II. Inside the main gates is a memorial to the military forces of NSW which houses the remains of several officers killed in an 1891 sea mine explosion at Middle Head. At least eleven United States Civil War veterans are also buried at Waverley, including Phineas Thompson. In addition, the cemetery is home to the Irish memorial, the final resting place of Michael Dwyer of the 1798 Rebellion, and a memorial to all those who died in that rebellion. There is also a memorial stone commemorating the 1981 Hunger Strikers. As well as nationally famous figures, the cemetery contains the graves of notable Sydney identities including Robert “Nosey Bob” Howard, the state executioner who served until 1904, rugby player Peter Burge and Sydney crime figure George Freeman.

Architecturally, Waverley Cemetery is significant in that it showcases examples of stonemasonry and funerary art dating back from the 19th Century, with features such as the gates, buildings and fencing, which are considered of “outstanding aesthetic value”.

Waverley Cemetery is uniquely positioned on an elevated urban site overlooking the Tasman Sea to the east and the Waverley townscape to the west. Spanning some 16 hectares, Waverley Cemetery retains much of its Victorian layout and geometric grid-like pattern of burials.

Despite its suburban environment, Waverley Cemetery is dominated by its cliff top location and its expansive views to the ocean and horizon. The contrast of the natural and manmade elements combine to create a picturesque setting for the cemetery.

Containing over 90,000 burials and interments, Waverley Cemetery is dominated by white marble monuments and headstones from the mid-to-late 19th Century as well as a selection of later funerary furniture that demonstrate the changing social values and attitudes towards death it has experienced during its operation. The cemetery also contains various additions to older elements for example the circle garden containing interment of ashes created in a former garden area.

Inside its boundaries, the cemetery forms its own enclosed townscape where, apart from the ocean view to the east, all other major views are within the cemetery itself across its own landscape and monuments. This occurs because the cemetery occupies a valley and two adjacent ridges. Major monuments and memorials within Waverley Cemetery are situated at key points such as at the junction of main roads and pathways and other key vantage points at the edge of cemetery sections. Major monuments prominent in the landscape include the 1798 Memorial; the Governor Duff monument; the Henry Kendall monument; the Johnston family vault; the Greek Revival monument to Sir James Martin; and the Chowder Bay Monument.

The 1798 Memorial has a central theme of martyrdom. The architect’s brief called for “a monument in Irish architecture” to the memory of the 1798 rebels. The design was on an imposing scale calculated to make a strong impact. The design was also heavily influenced by the chairman of the organising committee Charles MacCarthy, who was an award-winning sculptor, painter, musician and writer. The base of the memorial is 9.1 metres (30 ft) wide and 7.3 metres (24 ft) deep. The back wall rises 3.0 metres (10 ft) above the ground with the height of the cross 9.1 metres (30 ft). The main material is Carrara marble, while the rear wall is decorated with bronze plaques and the floor has mosaic pictures of thatched cottages and round towers. Commemorations are conducted inside the memorial which effectively forms a “church sanctuary” or stage while onlookers gather on the surrounding driveways and paths. The monument was erected by Ross and Bowman (stonemasons). The memorial is located in the centre of Waverley Cemetery, facing north at the end of a 180-metre (590 ft) main driveway.

Another individual monument of significance is the Stuart family vault. Dating from 1914-1916 this is a surviving work from the partnership of Walter Burley Griffin, Marion Mahony Griffin and J. Burcham Clamp. James Stuart was the founding partner of Stuart Brothers, master builders. The tomb is situated on a prominent junction at the terminal point of two large retaining walls. Built of granite the vault features gothic detailing with a pyramidal roof form built from slabs of stone. Twin doors in heavy bronze face the ocean on the eastern side of the vault. These are cast with a prismatic pattern that at head height forms a double set of diamond shaped vents. The doors are flanked by polished granite tablets with gilded inscriptions to the memory of members of the Stuart family. Other detailing includes buttresses with lancet tracery and more prismatic patterning around the cornice of the vault. There is a granite urn near the entry doors. On the western wall a round ended cross is formed by the intersection of four granite blocks, which also provides ventilation for the vault.

Waverley Cemetery contains a number of early buildings, independent structures and built elements. The cemetery office, residence and amenities building are located at the entrance of the cemetery while a number of shelters are within the cemetery itself. The cemetery also contains substantial sandstone retaining walls and terracing, pathways, and remnants of sandstone road kerbing and guttering. The cemetery also retains key landscape elements including mature Norfolk Island Pines on the boundaries, Canary Island Date Palms within the cemetery and numerous remnant historic shrubs and grave plantings and more recently established garden areas.

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