Land was put aside in Caulfield for a new cemetery known as the Brighton General Cemetery in 1853. The first 6 Trustees who were elected in 1854 represented people of the different religious denominations who would be buried in the cemetery: Presbyterians, Catholics, Church of England, Methodists, Baptists and Independents. Another 55 years passed before Jewish people were given land and approval to build a mortuary chapel and cleansing house.
Initially, money earned from interments was not sufficient to cover the costs of wages and the making of roads and paths. The task of clearing land was enormous and the entrance to the cemetery desperately required a culvert so horses and carriages could safely enter. The Trustees, with John Simmonds as Secretary, were forced to ask for Government assistance. Thanks to Simmonds, things gradually improved. A post and rail fence was erected and a 12 ft. square waiting room / office was constructed by Robert Hayball.
In 1885 a water closet was built for men even though it was only open during funerals. The fact that there was not a water closet for women until 1914 probably indicates that women did not attend the interment ceremony.
In 1892 a beautiful building called 'The Lodge' was built in the middle of the cemetery. It was and still is the home of the Groundsman and his family.
Brick walls with 2 sets of gates ( one on North Road and one on Hawthorn Road ) were built surrounding the cemetery. The main drive which was originally dirt was replaced and over a period of time 70 miles of brick pathways were constructed.
In 1924 when motorised vehicles had taken over from those drawn by horses, the horse troughs were removed.
Prior to 1861, at which time the cemetery was resurveyed and new Deeds were issued to plot owners, the early graves were set at odd angles to the paths. Although probably not the first burial to have taken place, the first recorded burial was of Joanna Wallace Manson on 14 October 1855. Joanna was 10 months old and died of dysentery. The exact position of her grave in the Methodist section is unknown but the headstones of the third and fifth recorded burials are in good condition. Thomas Cargill was the fifth interment recorded and he died of 'mental aberration' aged 38 years.
There are many fine monuments in the cemetery. Some notable ones are in desperate need of repair but the Cemetery Trust is unable to do repairs without permission of family members, and many are reluctant to do anything at present.
Some graves make good landmarks such as the Miller vault. Built for Septimus Miller in 1902 following the death of his 13 year old daughter Gwendoline, it contains wonderful marble effigies. Unfortunately its stained glass windows are destroyed.
The grave of 5 year old Paul Dehnert who died of gastroenteritis has a high column seen from afar. On top is a lovely carving of a young boy. After Paul and his baby sibling died his parents adopted two children but in a bizarre twist the father Paul Edward Dehnert left his estate not to his family but funded a trust, still in existence, for the welfare of children.
James Coppell Lee drowned in 1920 aged 18 years. His family owned a copper foundry at 500 La Trobe Street, Melbourne. The business still exists 100 years later producing ferrous and non-ferrous alloys. James Lee's workmates made a copper effigy of him which stands on top of a column. Having no photo of him they modelled the statue on his cousin.
Many graves such as those of James McKenzie Elder ( from the meat exporter family ) and Wilbur Breatherton aged 5 years, who died in a car accident in 1926, are decorated with angels.
Notable people buried here include Arthur and Merrick Boyd, Frederick McCubbin, Thomas Alexander Browne ( author Rolf Boldrewood ), John Furphy the blacksmith and Sir Frederick McCoy, scientist and early Professor at Melbourne University. The most popular grave is that of gangster Joseph Leslie Theodore "Squizzy" Taylor.
The saddest grave must be that of Alma Tirschke, raped and murdered in 1921. Colin Campbell Ross was convicted and hung for this crime and his mother was never allowed to have his body for burial. In 2009 the case was reopened and Ross was posthumously pardoned. In October 2010 his remains were identified and have been interred in his mother's grave.
Jan Rigby is a member of the Brighton Cemetorians, a 'Friends' group which conducts research on the graves in the cemetery. The burial records are being indexed and all the headstones are being photographed. A history of the Brighton Cemetery is being written, partly funded by tours of the cemetery which are very popular, especially the Halloween tour.
Of particular interest to the group are the graves of returned servicemen. The Caulfield Military Hospital which was nearby became the home to many disabled servicemen, many of whom are buried at Brighton.
A strong room in 'The Lodge' contains records of the 68,000 interments. Staff are only too happy to provide information on the graves and as well as receiving donations they are grateful for stories which are related to those buried in the cemetery.
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