Old Sydney Burial Ground

From the City of Sydney website…

  

Archaeological Works Underway

Recent archaeological investigations associated with the Sydney Town Hall upgrade have uncovered evidence of the Old Sydney Burial Ground that was formerly on the site. The cemetery was in use from 1792 to 1820, but was exhumed in 1869 to make way for the Sydney Town Hall.

A Public Open Day was held on Tuesday 22 January 2008 so members of the public could view the excavation site. Read more below.

Follow this link to read a short history on the Old Sydney Burial Ground. An inventory of names of the 2266 people buried in the cemetery between September 1792 and September 1820 has been compiled by the council from historical sources and can be downloaded. Presentations delivered at a public information session in September 2007 can also be found below.

Public Open Day

An archaeological excavation beneath the Sydney Town Hall commenced on Monday 7 January 2008, as the first stage of a five-year rescue plan for the historic building. The excavation, which has been approved by the NSW Heritage Council, will create space for an essential plant and equipment room to house services required for the building to meet modern fire safety standards. A Public Open Day was held on Tuesday 22 January 2008 so that members of the public could view the excavation site and meet the archaeologists.

The City of Sydney has appointed archaeologists Dr Mary Casey and Tony Lowe of Casey & Lowe Pty Ltd to direct the excavation works. The graves are being excavated in line with Heritage Council guidelines and the excavation is expected to take six weeks to complete.

Preliminary archaeological investigations indicated that there were remnants of a number of graves in the basement area belonging to the Old Sydney Burial Ground. Graves in the area were largely exhumed in the 1880s when the Peace and Centennial Halls were built.

The archaeological excavation currently underway will record the remnants of any graves that may have been missed. Of the 53 grave sites identified 12 were found to contain bone fragments during preliminary investigations.

The archaeological excavation covers about half of the area of the Peace Hall.

View of the extent of the archaeological excavation beneath the Peace Hall, Sydney Town Hall, 22 January 2008.

Archaeologists were at work during the open day, measuring and recording the graves.

An archaeologist from Casey & Lowe Pty Ltd recording a grave during the open day.

The graves are on a similar orientation facing east west. The outlines of former coffins and graves could be clearly seen in the soil.

Photo showing the orientation of graves.

There are a number of smaller grave cuts, indicating the graves of infants. This photograph shows the excavation of a grave of an adult and infant buried together. Bone fragments have confirmed this was the grave of a woman; she probably died during childbirth.

Photograph showing the grave of an adult and infant buried together.

After the fieldwork is completed, a full report documenting the graves and analysing the finds will be prepared for the City of Sydney and the Heritage Council of NSW. It is hoped that information gathered and artifacts found during the excavation process will contribute to our understanding of early colonial life and death in Sydney.

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Previous Archaeological Discoveries

This is not the first time that evidence of the Old Sydney Burial Ground has been uncovered.

This plan shows the location and distribution of graves of the current archaeological excavation (in green) in relation to previous finds in 2003 (in turquoise), 1991 (in red) and 1974 (in black) and overlaid with the building footprint of the town hall.

Plan showing the location of graves uncovered in current and previous archaeological investigations. Plan prepared by archaeologist Tony Lowe, Casey & Lowe Pty LTd.

Plan prepared by archaeologist Tony Lowe, Casey & Lowe Pty Ltd.

Photographs and artifacts from previous archaeological discoveries in 1991 and 2003 were also on display at the open day.

Artifacts from archaeological discoveries in 1991 and 2003 were on display at the open day.

Headstone fragment, commemorating Elizabeth Steel, died 1795.

Partial headstone, uncovered in 1991, inscribed: “In Memory of Elizh Steel died ……….. 1795 Aged ……”

Elizabeth Steel was a convict who was transported to Australia on the ‘Lady Juliana’, arriving June 3, 1790. She died in 1795 soon after completing her sentence on Norfolk Island. Her burial at the Old Sydney Burial Ground was recorded on 8th Jun 1795. She was 29 years old.

Fragment of a headstone with only the word Regt. (ie Regiment) legible. Found in 2003.

Headstone fragment, recovered in 2003 near Druitt Street, with the word Regt (ie. Regiment) visible.

The Old Sydney Burial Ground buried both the convict and free population. There were no apparent denominational divisions, but some social distinctions were maintained in the spatial organisation of the cemetery. Early Sydney residents recalled that the military were buried in certain parts of the cemetery. The corner close to Kent Street hosted graves of the non-commissioned officers of the 46th and 48th Regiment. Over in the south-west corner near the Presbyterian Church, soldiers of the 73rd Regiment were buried. And in the ground fronting George Street, near Druitt Street, were buried some non-commissioned officers of the NSW Corps.

Headstone fragment, recovered in 2003.

Headstone fragment, recovered in 2003 near Druitt Street. The words ‘Faithful’ and ‘Peaceable’ are clearly visible. This was part of an epitaph.

For more images and information related to the Old Sydney Burial Ground, follow this link to the short history of the Old Sydney Burial Ground. It includes suggestions for further reading. You can also listen to audio presentations by Dr Lisa Murray, Dr Mary Casey and Dr Denise Donlan.

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Was your ancestor once buried here?

Records relating to the Old Sydney Burial Ground are scant. No dedicated burial register or plan for the cemetery has survived and possibly never existed. No records were kept of where burial sites were located. Nearly 140 years later, the challenge has been to resurrect the names of those buried in Sydney’s first official cemetery.

An inventory of names has been compiled by the council from historical sources and can be downloaded. This is the first time that a consolidated list of burials for the Old Sydney Burial Ground has been produced.

Was one of your ancestors buried in the Old Sydney Burial Ground? The City’s History Program is always happy to receive biographical information about persons formerly buried on the site. Information will be placed on file in the City Archives. Send information to history@cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au

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Inventory of Burials

This is the first time that a consolidated list of burials for the Old Sydney Burial Ground has been produced. The inventory identifies the names of 2266 people that were buried in the cemetery between September 1792 and September 1820. Another 90 names have been flagged as possible burials in the cemetery; research to date has been unable to confirm in which cemetery these burials occurred, but they fall within the timeframe of when the cemetery was active.

The inventory was painstakingly extracted from St Phillip’s Parish Registers (the only parish at Sydney during this period) and then cross referenced with other primary and secondary sources, including contemporary diaries, newspaper reports, and the Thomas D. Mutch Index to NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages 1787-1956.

The inventory is presented in three main sections according to burial status. First up is a list of names of those who were buried in the cemetery (burial), the majority of which probably never had a headstone. A small percentage of graves had headstones, some of which were recorded in one form or another for posterity. These persons are confirmed burials in the cemetery. This is the second section (headstone), starting on page 64. Finally, there are a number of deceased persons falling within the timeframe of when the cemetery was active, but the historical record is either too vague or not there to confirm with any certainty whether they were actually buried in the cemetery. These are flagged as possible burials, starting on page 71. The first three burials that took place in 1819 at the new cemetery (while the original cemetery was still open) are also identified at the end of the spreadsheet.

Within each section, the inventory is in alphabetical order by surname, and adopts the spelling and burial dates as shown in the St Phillip’s Parish Registers. Each entry records the name, date of burial and age at time of death (where available).

The type and clarity of the information recorded in St Phillip’s registers varies from year to year. For example, sometimes the age at time of death is noted, sometimes not. And there are some significant gaps in the registers. The records were poorly maintained between October 1800 when the Reverend Richard Johnson departed for England and when his successor, the Reverend William Cowper, arrived in the colony in August 1809.

The process of cross-referencing the parish registers with other sources identified a number of burials not recorded in the parish registers. Several of the names recorded by headstone transcriptions in contemporary diaries and later newspaper reports did not appear in the parish registers. A small number of Jewish burials did not appear in the parish registers.

Sixty three names can be connected to documentary or material evidence of a headstone. On these figures, less that 3% of the burials were marked by a headstone. This figure is no doubt conservative (vandalism of the cemetery was rife following its closure in 1820) but it supports the picture painted by contemporary descriptions of the cemetery; the vast majority of graves were unmarked.

Research revealed variations in the spelling of names, and conflicting dates of burial and ages. These variations are noted in the index. Other information, such as date of death (as opposed to burial date), social status of the individual at time of death (convict, free, soldier), and details of any headstone transcriptions, was collated where available. All this additional information has been recorded in the final column of the consolidated list of burials and references provided so that researchers can go back to the original sources. Every effort has been made to identify and eliminate duplicate burials due to variations in the spelling of names, but some duplicate listings may remain.

The Inventory of Burials in the Old Sydney Burial Ground, 1792-1819, has been provided to assist family historians with their research. Please note that the City of Sydney does not hold any original records relating to the Old Sydney Burial Ground and cannot undertake historical research on individuals buried in the cemetery. The St Phillip’s Parish Registers can be consulted at the State Library of New South Wales and the Society of Australian Genealogists, as well as at regional repositories around New South Wales that hold the Archives Resources Kit produced by State Records.

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