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In 1825, while living next to Cottage Creek, missionary Lancelott Threlkeld was invited to witness the burial of a young Awabakal girl. It took place in what he described as a barren sandhill covered with bushy scrub, likely in the area of the present sportsgrounds in Parry Street. Threlkeld was asked not to disclose where the body was buried because the mourners were afraid white fellow come and take her head away. They had reason to be worried as robbing the graves of Aboriginal people for scientific study or curiosity value continued throughout the nineteenth century. When Cottage Creek marked the edge of the town of Newcastle, the land bounded by the main road (then Blane, now Hunter Street) and its banks was considered a suitably out-of-the-way place for cemeteries to serve three religious groups: the Presbyterians, Wesleyan Methodists and Roman Catholics. (see map) Catholic burials began to the east of the creek in 1842; and Presbyterians were allocated their adjoining land in 1845. The space available increased after the railway was built on a causeway through the tidal flats on the harbourside of the cemeteries in the late 1850s. This embankment trapped run off on the land side, creating a pond between the causeway and Hunter Street (then Blane Street) which was later filled in, allowing the cemeteries to expand towards the railway. The water table remained high and some graves quickly filled with water, forcing grave diggers to hold the coffin down using long poles while burial took place. The cemeteries became the last resting place of many Novocastrians, each with their own stories. Martin Brennan, buried in the Catholic cemetery in 1853, had been a convict transported from Ireland who stayed in Newcastle as a coal miner after he served his time. Elizabeth Lintott was laid to rest in 1860 having died after falling into a fire while suffering what was thought to be an epileptic seizure. Second mate on the barque Dudbrook, David Murray, was buried in the Presbyterian section after he drowned in the harbour on New Years Eve 1863. One of the more grand memorials was a broken column dated 1870 which marked the grave of Archibald Rodgers.(see photo) In 1854 he had been the founder of one of the first iron foundries in Newcastle, located in Carrington. His hand was crushed at the foundry, leading to his death from tetanus.11 Annie Coglan was the mother of four children, one of them only a few weeks old, when she died of inflammation of the lungs and was buried in 1880. The last recorded burial in the Presbyterian cemetery was John Henry Davey aged 1 year and 7 months who drowned in a tank at his parents home at Hamilton Commonage on 30 August 1881. As the city expanded, the small denominational cemeteries were reaching capacity, and it was decided to move future burials to a modern new multi faith cemetery at Sandgate from 1881. Sandgate Cemetery was designed to be accessed by rail, and people wanted to make this journey in style in the 1880s, a high point in the Victorian culture of mourning. A mortuary platform was built near what is now Worth Place from which funerals departed, with special carriages for the body, which travelled free of charge, and the mourners, at regular fares. There was also a special mortuary tram carriage to bring bodies to the mortuary station.(see photo) Although closed for further burials, the bodies remained in the Cottage Creek cemeteries and concern about them grew. In July 1890, sickness in the Wickham area was being blamed on the countless germs and morbific matter which not only drained from the graves into the muddy and smelly Cottage Creek but also circulated as dust on the main roads. Many thought the land, now in a bustling part of the city, could be better used.(see photo) In 1916, the remains were exhumed and reburied, mainly at Sandgate but some at Swansea and the land was sold for private development.



Extended Data

Cemeteries and the Mortuary Platform