SYMONDS STREET CEMETERY, AUCKLAND
Compiled by Geoff and Shirley Kendall
Links to indices for the Presbyterian and Roman Catholic sections of the Symonds Street Cemetery may be found at the foot of the preface below. However, we recommend that you read this introduction written by Geoff and Shirley as it goes a long way towards demonstrating the devotion and selfless commitment they have towards preserving the history of our country. Researchers throughout New Zealand and the world owe them a huge thankyou.
This final compilation of graves extant on the Karangahape side of the Symonds Street Cemetery covers all known Presbyterian and Roman Catholic graves in 1996-7. It has been necessary to run these two sections together because the boundary line defining each area is difficult to ascertain with any degree of certainty. The original Catholic Cemetery ran right up to East Street which has now been renamed Alex Evans Street and this caused me some confusion, as I am an expatriate living in Australia. Some graves appear to be in the Roman Catholic Cemetery but research indicates that the people concerned were actually Presbyterian. There are a few stones which currently have been overturned or are completely lost under masses of ivy - these obviously have not been included because they could not be read. The inscriptions which are believed to have been Presbyterian are included in that section even though their location numbers say Section V. All research indicates that the boundary between sections U and V is not sharply defined and a few Catholic graves rest near some folk of the Presbyterian faith. While these have been included amongst the Presbyterian records even though their loction number indicates the stone is to be found in the Catholic Cemetery the actual numbers will also be found in the graves listed in Section V.
This record is complemented by the database prepared by David Verran at the Auckland Public Library. Each of us has information that the other does not so it pays to check at the Library as well. David has access to newspapers and burial records which I do not but I have found graves which David does not have in his collection. It should be noted that there are a number of 'before and after' photographs in the entire work, mainly for the purpose of documenting vandalism but more importantly, to provide a record of work done and money spent by the City Council and Parks and Reserves Department in the maintenance of the area. Credit must be given to the people working in these departments for their ongoing efforts in saving our heritage.
Most of these entries bear location numbers but just a few graves do not because of discrepancies in records. Several have identical numbers which have been taken from the Auckland Public Library records. Using the map drawn some years ago by an architectural student, we found a few graves were not listed i.e. Carrie, while others indicated on the map are not to be found today in the location suggested. Every effort has been made to date to ascertain the exact location of each grave but where the above occurs, compiler has sometimes left out a dubious location while making last minute checks to have all information correct and detailed. Other graves have numbers which do not quite correspond with those held at the Auckland Public Library records, and as stated, the map used as a point of reference appears to be a little awry at times. Despite this, where a stone has a number at all, it can usually be located in the correct section if anyone is prepared to use a bit of common sense and effort. The map does not always line up as expected but when searching, finding a number or name listed close by gives the searcher the general location and one must be prepared to look around. We must be exceedingly grateful to the person who drew this map for the graves within the four sections of the Presbyterian and Roman Catholic Cemeteries.
Some gravestones have obviously been moved from their original sites and are now found in long grass or simply lying on top of other graves. Two which were found some years ago, i.e. Roderick Patterson and John Vercoe seemed to have vanished completely but upon searching the area yet again, they were re-discovered along with a number of others which also had not previously been recorded. Others have been uncovered with a lot of effort and cleaned for identification, including that of Dr Charles Cowan, discovered around 1993 by gardener Glen McRae under the trees between the back of the ladies' toilet block and the Alston headstone, where it now rests.
The condition of the tombstones varies considerably. Some early ones are relatively easy to read while later stones have worn away or been covered with lichen, making an accurate reading almost impossible at times. Those which suffer most from the growth of lichen are the black or red marble stones. A gentle brushing-down with a soft brush and bottle of water often leads to marvellous views of the writing thereon. Stones facing east can best be read or photographed in the morning with the sun shining on them while others facing in different directions are better photographed in the afternoon. The lichen and erosion must also be borne in mind if an inscription herein bears the wrong digit or other information. Many hours of rinsing stones with clean water, gentle brushing to avoid damage to the stones, and peering through a magnifying glass at the resultant photographs have still occasionally failed to produce exactly what was written on a few of these old headstones, despite all our efforts to ascertain a record which is accurate and complete. Compiler defies such critics to try their hand at reading these difficult stones. Anyone looking for an old grave in these cemeteries should study the appropriate map, record the names of stones nearby, and be prepared to spend a bit of time looking in the area specified. Where words such as Sacred to the memory of or In loving memory of appear enclosed in brackets at the beginning of an inscription, this indicates the compiler has had to journalise the beginning of a stone where the top is missing or unreadable. It simply makes more sense of the inscription we have been able to find and the brackets signify this portion of the inscription has not been sighted.
Some graves with almost consecutive numbers are close to each other, while you can find a wide open space between them with the wanted number being still in a direct line. The graves sweep along lines from one edge of a section to the other, then turn and retrace the same line a bit further over. The actual lines are not always apparent when walking about the cemetery, but can, nevertheless, be traced quite easily if armed with a map for the section needed. It must also be remembered that some gravestones which have been smashed by vandals, have now been removed to the gardener's shed. Correspondence studied at the Auckland City Council Archives also suggests that some stones have gone missing over the years i.e. several including the headstone of the family of William McIntosh, who arrived 1842. William drowned in 1855 and his body was never recovered. A grandson wrote to the Council that the stone bore many family names but when he visited the grave after returning from WWI, he found it and several others had disappeared but there was no record of their fate. Compiler, accompanied occasionally by the stonemasons, Jerry Smith and Tony Joselyn, who did the cleaning and repairs last year, discovered recently that a large number of headstones were used as fill for a foot and vehicle bridge over the drain about the centre of the Cemetery. Anyone looking at the restoration of those stones near the gardners' shed in the Presbyterian Cemetery, will see immediately what a difference this restoration has made to the look of the area.
Our heartfelt thanks to the gardeners, Allan Wesley, Andrew Beskeen, Glen McRae and Darren Kalka, over the years we have spent on this project, for their help in repairing and finding stones, for the cups of tea which helped us on our way, and their unfailing courtesy and support over the last ten years. It can be a very tedious business traipsing around old cemeteries without comfort stops and a break for refreshments. The Council and Parks and Reserves staff have been most helpful and spared no effort to collect and mend broken stones where possible. Persons who never venture into the old cemeteries have no means of knowing how much work is done to maintain the area. Lack of manpower to preserve the area is the main reason for any untidiness. It is too much to expect one man to provide a pleasing park area where the general public is encouraged to wander through and remember the pioneers of early Auckland.
A very special vote of thanks also goes to Maureen J. Kelly, whose prolific research has contibuted a number of volumes of early birth, death and marriage notices for the northern area. In an effort to provide background information on the people buried within the cemeteries, the reader will find at the back of the collection of inscriptions a further section devoted to such notices which are hereby incorporated with Maureen's permission. Anyone researching early Auckland should invest in a set of these books (a selection of Births, Deaths and Marriages from the Southern Cross and New Zealand Herald, pre 1858 to 1866. They are sold for a very modest price, barely covering her production costs. To further enhance the history, but not included herein, compiler has also prepared a number of pages with photographs and biographical data from the Auckland Volume of the Cyclopedia of New Zealand, reports from local newspapers of the day regarding murders or other tragedies. To complement the work by Maureen Kelly, I have added other data found in various sources so the extra information could be a great help to researchers of all aspects of early Auckland history.
While the military were well-represented in the Anglican Cemetery, (although many stones have since been removed for the building of the motorway), the Wesleyan missionaries and teachers are to be found mainly in the Wesleyan and General Cemetery along with a few of the Scottish settlers who came on the "Jane Gifford" and the "Duchess of Argyle". All three cemeteries contain the headstones for some of the pioneers who sailed from Scotland and Nova Scotia but they predominate, naturally enough, in the Presbyterian Cemetery.
There can be a surprising amount of family history recorded on the old tombstones while others bear the fewest words possible. The thing which shines through is their pride in the land of their birth. The remarks on some of the stones give us a lot of personal details about how, when and where some of these people died. In conclusion, anyone finding an incorrect entry or being able to add to the information offered, please let David Verran at the Auckland Public Library or the compiler know so that it can be rectified or added to the existing data. David has worked long and hard on this project, as I have done also, with the express desire to produce a quality and comprehensive work. Information has been shared by both parties with this one object in mind. Spare a thought for those pioneer women who had very large families and often died young of consumption and childbirth or were left widowed early with no pension available!
In November 1997, compiler has walked with stonemasons, Jerry Smith, in the Presbyterian Cemetery, and Tony Joselyn, in the Anglican Cemetery, trying to decipher some of the stones. Jerry and Tony were responsible for the restoration work carried out in early 1997. We discovered that under the ground which is now grassed-over and compacted, covering the drain in the centre of the cemetery, there are a large number of stones which were used as fill to make a driveway over the drain. There is no record of whose gravestones these may be and it is unlikely they will ever be recovered. There are probably between 30 to 70 stones in all and they could account for a number which have been documented in the past but which have vanished without trace. Several assorted pieces were retrieved, cleaned and and photographed but we have not been able to identify same as many pieces are missing. Several graves previously transcribed have been revised when they were professionally cleaned, as errors in the original transcription became obvious.
The partial transcriptions offered at the end of the work may be solved by someone with access to newspapers, archives and repositories or those with a family connection. A few other stones are so densely-covered by ivy and tangled foliage that it is impossible to even find the stones let alone read them. However, work continues in clearing and beautifying the whole area in so far as one man can do it with assistance every weekend from the P. D. workers who are contributing valuable efforts into making the cemeteries safer, more open and accessible.
Finally, on a lighter note, Geoff and I
have raised the eyebrows of many an idling motorist at the lights by Grafton Bridge. We
would cross the road with our faithful shopping trolley, complete with spade, jemmy for
lifting smaller pieces of broken stones, brushes, numerous bottles of water, gardening
gloves, writing materials and notebooks. We would, naturally, be wearing our old clothes
and gumboots (not a pretty sight), and determinedly disappear through the iron gates
bearing all these tools. By the time we eventually vanished into the precincts of the old
cemetery, we usually had the complete attention of most of those motorists and left them
wondering whether we were going to bury or disinter!
By Geoff and Shirley Kendall
© Geoff and Shirley Kendall