Day 73: A grave subject

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Toowong cemetery

Highgate Cemetery in London, Pere Lachaise in Paris, Forest Lawn in the Hollywood Hills and now Toowong Cemetery in Brisbane.Toowong cemetery

And this sprawling final resting place of the famous, infamous and everyone in between is unquestionably up there with the rest of the world in terms of fascination and setting.

Cemeteries always have good stories to tell and Toowong, established in 1866 and officially opened in 1875, doesn’t fall short.

It’s set over 44 hectares, much of it steeply sloping hillside, at the corner of Frederick Street and Mount Coot-tha Road just over 4kms west of the CBD.

Toowong cemetery
City rises behind old monuments

Rows of white concrete graves dotted with all types of angels and stone memorials, line the hillsides while paths and roads wind around and through the various “portions” with giant overhanging figs, tall pines and spots of forest and lawn in between.

There are a few entrances but the main entry is announced by stone pillars and looks up to the tall spire of its first occupant on a knoll above.

There’s a possible Jack the Ripper, a “spree” killer, lots of politicians, sections reflecting the various migrations (Jewish, Chinese, Greek, Italian, Russian just at a glance) and heaps of interesting monuments and memorials.

Toowong cemetery
Ralston Memorial

Queensland historians Jack Sim and Paul Tully announced in August 2008, that Walter Thomas Porriott, now resident of Toowong Cemetery, was in the Whitechapel area of London at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders and later migrated to Australia.

His headstone says simply “Bessie – died 25th June, 1957 – and her husband.”

There’s also a war graves section, which includes two members of the Dutch Navy from World War II.

The cemetery was given a heritage listing in 2002 and has a number of plots with their own heritage listing, including the extravagant and enigmatic Temple of Peace mausoleum and the Caskey Monument.

The Temple of Peace was erected by 1924 by Richard Ramo, a Prussian migrant, and has many anti-war inscriptions. It’s a memorial to his four sons and his dog that was “maliciously poisoned”.

Three of his sons died in World War I and his adopted son was killed in an accident in 1923, or so it says.

Toowong cemetery
Temple of Peace

It also says that thousands of people attended the mauolseum’s dedication ceremony on December 6, 1924 when the Labour Band played “The Red Flag”.

The only trouble is that researchers have not been able to find any record of two sons, a third estranged son did die at Gallipoli and a son fought in Belgium but returned. Another of his sons did go to war and there’s no conclusive evidence that the son who shot himself in 1923 was ever actually adopted.

A mystery. Perfect for such a place.

Toowong cemetery
Inside the mausoleum

Lt Lachlan Caskey, a member of the 5th Queensland Imperial Bushmen, was killed in action in the Boer War in South Africa in 1901, aged 31.  His monument is the first known South African War monument to be erected in Queensland and one of only four in Brisbane.

There are plenty of politicians of all persuasions and pedigrees but among the more interesting are Samuel Griffith who was also a principal author of the Australian Constitution, with a special paved area acknowledging this part of history.

Francis Forde, (1890-1983) who, for eight days in 1945, was Australia’s shortest serving Prime Minister. He retired to State politics after that.

Other notables are former premier T.J. Byrnes who died from complications from measles aged 37 in 1898 and whose statue still stands in Centenary Place (See Day 34).

Toowong cemetery
Adventurer Edward McGregor immortalised in Carrara marble

Premier T.J. Ryan, whose statue is in Queen’s Park (see Day 72) is also there along with the firemen Mooney who also has the water fountain in the CBD (see Day 46).

There are explorers (August Gregory and Charles Heaphy), sportsmen (boxer Peter Jackson, Australian cricket captain Percy McDonnell), the suffragette Emma Miller and author Steele Rudd, both immortalized in King George Square (see Day 36) and great yarns like that of the killer Karl Kast.

Kast (1916-55) was a German immigrant who shot two Wickham Terrace doctors and tried to detonate a bomb at their Ballows Chambers rooms before killing himself, basically because they didn’t agree with him he had a health problem and couldn’t work.

Toowong cemetery
The Mayne family grave

A huge white-fenced and white monument immaculately kept by the University of Queensland, is dedicated to the famous Mayne Family (see Day 8) .

The history, in a nutshell, is that Brisbane’s first cemetery was near the northern side of the William Jolly Bridge but as Brisbane expanded after free settlement in 1842, it became too inner city and was moved a bit fuirther out to 25 ha where Suncorp Stadium now stands.

In 1861,  200ha was set aside at Toowong, even further west, and in 1870, a cemetery trust established to look for another site as Toowong was considered inappropriate by some.

In steps the governor, Colonel Samuel Wensley Blackall, who supported Toowong and was also in poor health and listed it as his preferred final resting place.

He was buried on the highest point on January 3, 1871 to become the first official occupant and Toowong was accepted as the final location.

Toowong cemetery
The Blackall Memorial

Another six people were buried before it was officially opened in 1875.

All plots were sold by April 1975, and it was closed to new burials but then the council started a clean-up and about 1000 memorials were removed. It was reopened in burials in 1998 with about 450 plots available.

This is just scratching the surface. It’s an interesting spot that needs at least another day to fully get around or to join a regular walk organized by Friends of Toowong Cemetery.

Or perhaps, since like the worlds great cemeteries it has tales of being haunted, it’s a Saturday night Ghost Tour.

Toowong cemetery
Entrance gates
Toowong cemetery
Graves are lined up on the hillside

Day or night, it hasn’t seen the last of me yet – hopefully not the last anyway!

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