Through 150 Years

Chapter 2.  Appointment of Trustees  
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In "Cemeteries: Our Heritage" it is pointed out that during the 1850s, cemeteries were “…developed in association with particular churches or as a result of public meetings of concerned citizens…”.[1]  The appointment of public men to act as Trustees to represent the Crown was both practical and unique.  To directly appoint government officials as Trustees would have placed unreasonable demand on the resources of the Government and was impractical in the 1850’s when the disposal of the dead was still considered a function of the church.  Nor was it necessary.  Bar a few isolated instances, the appointment of public men by each religious denomination has proved successful.


Little information is available for the period April 1853 to May 1854 leading up to the appointment of men of standing to represent the religious denominations in the Brighton district and why it took so long.  One possibility is that the Stipendiary Magistrate for the County of Bourke may have called a public meeting as was the case with St. Kilda Cemetery,[2] but no such notice has been found for Brighton.  Suffice to say, Archibald McMillan played a central role during this period and appears to have taken a leading role in the establishment of the cemetery.  A native of Greenock, near Glasgow, Scotland, McMillan migrated in October 1839 on board the David Clark as an assisted immigrant  with his wife Katherine née McTaggert (d 1880) and large family.  He found work as a stonemasons labourer and learnt farming part-time, saving enough money to purchase 42 acres at the end of Kooyong Road where he went on to become a resourceful and well respected farmer as one of a few to make a living from the land within Dendy’s Estate.[3] 

A public meeting was held at the Little Brighton Hotel on 29 May 1854 to appoint trustees of the “Elsternwick New Cemetery” as it was described.  The Argus newspaper went on to write; 

…It is to be hoped that no time will be lost in carrying out so desirable an object as the completion of the necessary arrangements, in order to make the cemetery available for the inhabitants of this neighbourhood as soon as practicable.[4]

In December 1853, McMillan wrote to the Colonial Secretary possibly seeking what further steps were required to expedite proceedings.  It took over eight months before the following reply was received;

Colonial Secretary’s Office

Melbourne, 31st August 1854





With reference to your letter of the 19th December last respecting the Cemetery at Brighton situate to the East of Elsternwick, Parish of Prahran, I have the honor [sic] to inform you that it will be necessary in the first instance to submit the names of such gentlemen as may be willing to act as Trustees for the approval of the Lieutenant Governor, in conformity with the Act Legislative Council clause 2 of 19th Victoria No 12.


2.  His Excellency would wish when approving of the Trustees, that each Religious Denomination should be represented by them.


I have the honor [sic] to be,


Your most obedient Servant

                J Moore


(above) Family Vault to Archibald McMillan at Melbourne General Cemetery (2000)

The first meeting of the Trust was held on 13 September 1854 at McMillan’s home Clonaig - 230 North Road, East Brighton.  The first entry reads: 

At a meeting held on the 13th Sept 1854 at Mr Archibald McMillan's in conformity to a letter received by him from the Colonial Secretary, of 31st Augst 1854. [x]


Mr C Stone acting as Chairman.  It was proposed and seconded that Mr Simmonds be appointed Secretary, and the following Gentlemen were unanimously chosen as Trustees for the different denominations worshipping in Brighton:


Mr McMillan for the Presbyterians

Mr Henry O'Neill Catholics

Mr Henry Mortimer Blanche Church of England

Mr C Stone for the Wesleyans Methodists

Mr J Brewer the Baptists and

Mr J Simmonds the Independents 


[x] who agreed to act as their Secretary and was requested to write to the Colonial Secretary acquainting him of the result of this meeting, which he did the following day.[6]

These men - Messrs McMillan (Presbyterian), Henry O’Neill (Roman Catholic), Henry Blanche (Church of England), Charles Stone (q.v.) (Methodist), John Brewer (Baptist) and John Simmonds (Independent) - were all prominent persons in the history of the Brighton district.[7]  But as events were to turn out, it would test the resolve and patience of the most prominent of men before the Brighton General Cemetery was established.

(above) Clonaig - 230 North Road, East Brighton (1999)

[1] Cemeteries: Our Heritage (ed. Celestina Sagazio) p13.

[2] The Melbourne Morning Herald 27 December 1854 p1.

[3] A History of Brighton (Bate) p51-52, 109 & 111-112.

[4] The Argus 29 May 1854 p5

[5] Letter held in the office of the BGC Trust. © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[6] Brighton General Cemetery Trustee Minutes Book "A" p1.  © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[7] The first Trustee to represent the Jewish denomination was Phillip Blashki (elected 16 September 1908).

© 2004.  Extracts taken from sources held by the Brighton General Cemetery Trust is copyright material.  Permission to reproduce must first be obtained from the Trustees.

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Last Updated: 02-Dec-2018 11:40.