Through 150 Years

Chapter 3.  Establishment - 1853 to 1855  
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Much work of importance had to be completed before the cemetery was open to the public.  Some tempestuous months lay ahead.  What should have been a period of attending to straight-forward issues, became one of frustration and delays in dealing with the tortoise-like officialdom of the Colonial Office that surely tested the patience of the Trustees. 

The first issue was the appointment of the Trustees by the Executive Council of Lieutenant-Governor Sir Charles Hotham (Melbourne General Cemetery).[1]  Until these appointments were made official, the Trustees were not legally authorised to make decisions.  On 14 September 1854, Simmonds wrote to the Colonial Secretary advising the names of the men elected by each of the denominations.[2]  No reply was forthcoming and the Secretary again wrote on 12 October only to be told “…that the subject has been submitted for the approval of his Excellency, which, when I have obtained, it shall be made known to you without delay”.[3]  Frustrated by the lack of action, Simmonds visited the Colonial Office late October and was promised by J. Moore (Assistant Colonial Secretary) that the information would be sent in less than a week.[4]  Having still not received confirmation, the Secretary again wrote on 5 December and finally later that month, the appointments were gazetted on 29 December 1854.[5]

The second issue related to procuring the necessary funds to enable the Trust to prepare the land, the most important being fencing of the area set aside by the Government in 1853.  No other issue in the early days of the cemetery tested the resolve of the Trustees.  Soon after the official appointment of the Trustees, Simmonds wrote to the Colonial Secretary on 9 January 1855 asking to be issued the land grant and for advice on how to obtain funds for fencing the area.[6]  Not surprisingly, no reply had been received when the Trust again met on 20 February.  It is worth printing in full the letter sent to the Colonial Secretary as it shows the depth of the Trustees’ vexation: 

Brighton Febr 20th 1855

 The Honorable [sic] the Colonial Secretary




With due respect to you and the Office you hold, In the names of the Trustees appointed by his Excellency Sir Charles Hotham for the management of the Brighton Cemetery, respectfully but firmly to remonstrate against the neglect shewn to our communications of the 9th of January and the 7th of February wherein we asked for instructions respecting the mode in which we were to proceed whether to call for Tenders for fencing in the ground or any other mode the Government may approve of, Authorising said Trustees to draw on the Government Treasury for funds to pay their portion [share?] of fencing in the ground granted for the Cemetery.


As we have not received an answer to either of our two last communications we hope you will do us the honor [sic] to answer this and give us the required information.


And remain your Obedient Servant

        John Simmonds

                Secretary to the Trustees[7] 

Finally, a response was received on 4 March 1855 that went a great deal to clarify the process of applying for funds.  The essence of the reply was that the Surveyor-General would shortly mark out the boundaries, and the Trust could proceed to take possession of the land before the Grant issues were drawn up.  In fact, the land Grant was not issued until 1868.  In regards to fencing, the Trustees were advised to prepare an estimate of the expense and then to apply for the amount from the Executive Council.[8]  No mention was made of the amount voted by the Legislative Council for cemetery purposes or what portion the Trust could expect to receive.

The Trustees lost no time in seeking tenders for fencing 20 acres[9] of the land similar to the Melbourne General Cemetery and for the construction of an office for the Trustees and cottage for the Sexton and Keeper.[10]  Later that month, advertisements appeared in both The Argus and The Melbourne Morning Herald:[11] 


The successful tenders were awarded to a Mr Hewit for fencing at a cost of £875; and Messrs Dingle and Worboys for the Office and Cottage at £800.[12]  All that was now required was for the Trust to apply to the Colonial Secretary for the amount and payment would be forthcoming… 

Brighton April 12th 1855


The Honorable [sic]

the Colonial Secretary




The undersigned Gentlemen (Trustees of the Brighton General Cemetery) beg most respectfully to make application for the Grant of two thousand five hundred Pounds 2500£ for carrying out the objects for which they were put in trust.  They require the above sum for:


Fencing in the Ground about 20 Acres

Building Lodge and Trustees Office

Making the walks [?] and other necessary work in the Cemetery Ground

Preliminary expenses in Furnishing

Trustees and Secretarys [sic] office

Stationery and Printing and for incidental and other necessary expenses.


I have the honour to be

        your Mt [Most] Obedient Servant

                John Simmonds Secretary


[signed by all Trustees][13] 

…or so the Trustees had hoped.  Anxious to avoid a delay that characterised proceedings with the Colonial Office to date, Simmonds travelled into town soon after.  He met with the Assistant Colonial Secretary to discuss the application, but was told “…you have made bad calculations.  There was only two thousand Pounds voted for for [sic] the Cemeterys [sic]…you have not the slightest chance of getting it or one fourth of it this year”.[14] 

It quickly became apparent to Simmonds that something was wrong.  Quite wrong.  The Trustees believed that all expenses associated with the establishment of the cemetery would be advanced by the Treasury.  Such a view was hardly surprising.  The Melbourne General Cemetery was advanced £1,500 in 1854 when they had an opening balance of £744.[15]  But the Trust may have contributed to the misunderstanding by not seeking clarification from the Colonial Secretary, believing that clauses 4, 5, 6 and 13 of the relevant Act governing cemeteries - Act 17 Vic. No. 12 - entitled them to additional funds.[16]  For this lapse of judgement, the Trustees are not entirely to blame.  The Colonial Office was more intent with answering questions than providing information.  Besides, it was both proper and natural that the Trustees would look towards Melbourne General Cemetery for direction.  As a result, judgements were formed on the basis of government assistance. 

Somewhat frustrated and perplexed as to how the Government had a different interpretation of the Act in respect of advancing of monies, Simmonds sought political representation.  Without delay, he met firstly with Henry Chapman (1803-81)[17] and later Henry ‘Money’ Miller (Melbourne General Cemetery)[18] who both represented the Victorian Legislative Council seat of South Bourke.  Both promised to speak to the Colonial Secretary on the issue.[19]  On Tuesday 24 April in the Legislative Council, Chapman asked a question under notice as to whether the Government was prepared to pay any sum of money to the Trustees.  The Argus reported the Attorney-General’s reply who answered in the absence of the Colonial Secretary: 

The Attorney-General said that a sum of £2000 had been voted by the Council, to be advanced as a loan to the cemeteries, in sums not exactly specified.  A portion of that sum had already been appropriated, and the claim sent in by the trustees of the Brighton Cemetery would be considered with those of the various cemeteries throughout the colony.  The trustees of the Brighton Cemetery had, however, sent in a petition for £2500, being £500 in excess of the sum actually voted by the Council.[20] 

The following month, the Trust were advanced £400 “as a loan to be applied in fencing in the Cemetery”,[21] thus ending a difficult period albeit for the present time.  But by doing so without first seeking a revised estimate from the Trust, the Colonial Office weren’t helping matters.  Clearly, the system of government funding for cemeteries was being applied erroneously.  If the Trustees had known this in May 1854, would they have nominated to represent their respective denominations? 

Not being able to proceed with their original intentions, the Trustees had to rethink their plans.  The cottage and office was replaced with the construction of a “small room for the Sexton” made out of red gum timbers from within the cemetery.[22]  Tenders were also re-sought for a simple “post and rail fence”.[23]  All being alike, a vote was cast on 21 May 1855 and the successful tender was awarded to Mr Robert Williams for £1 per rod,[24] while the construction of the main entrance gates was given without tender to Mr Hewit for £18:10:0.[25]  Over budget and schedule, the fence and gates were completed around 15 August at a cost of £264:18:2.[26]  It must have been an immense relief to the Trustees that they finally had a fence.

(above) Advertisement calling on tenders for construction of an office and fencing

(© Copyright News Limited.  All rights reserved.  Reprinted by kind permission of News Limited)

The third issue that contributed to the delay of the opening of the cemetery to the public was finalising a number of important administrative tasks.  Chiefly amongst those were the approval of the Rules & Regulations and Scale of Charges.  In early March 1855, the Trust obtained copies of these documents from the Melbourne General Cemetery and copied them with minor alteration.  However, it appears it wasn’t until 9 July - when the fencing issue was resolved - that Simmonds submitted the Rules & Regulations to the Colonial Office for approval.[27]  On 17 August, after the Crown Solicitors had examined the Rules & Regulations, the Assistant Colonial Secretary brought to the attention of the Trustees three instances of the Regulations being “…in except of the powers given to the Trustees by the Act of Council”, and requesting to submit revised Regulations.[28]  These were Rule 7 which was rescinded - “The name, age, late place of residence, and probable cause of death, of the deceased, must be stated at the time of giving the order”; Rule 11 - the exception being the passage “…and a copy of every epitaph or inscription…”; and finally Rule 16 - being the inclusion of the reference to the 14th Section of the Act of Council.  Having duly done so, these were published in the Victorian Government Gazette on 21 September 1855, marking the official opening of the Brighton General Cemetery.[29] 

Unlike the Rules & Regulations, the Scale of Charges did not mirror those of the Melbourne General Cemetery and suggests a degree of sympathy towards the young and growing locality of Brighton.  This was evident in the differences between the two.  Still born children were charged 1s less; while a separate charge was applied for the interment of a child under the age of 12 months; and significantly, no charges were levied for permission to erect a headstone over a gravesite. 

Equally important was the preparation of maps.  Two sets were required.  The first was a general map of the cemetery showing each denomination that was placed on a notice board erected near the main entrance gate.[30]  Separate maps of each denomination were also produced after the Trustees realised that a general map would not be sufficient to satisfy Rule 15 of the Rules & Regulations that provided for a plan of the Cemetery showing the location and availability of each gravesite to be open for inspection by the public.  These denominational maps could be inspected for 1s.  Two copies were made for the use by both the Secretary and Sexton out of necessity due to the business of the cemetery being conducted at Simmonds’ address at Brighton and the Sexton working from the cemetery. 

For so significant a task as laying out the denominational areas and main roads, there is little mention.  Two excerpts from the Trustee Minutes provide the strongest indication that the Surveyor’s Office carried out both tasks: 

The Secretary was also instructed to provide a General Map on a large scale of the Cemetery ground from the tracing sent from the Colonial Office...[31]


The Secretary wrote to Mr Foot to be informed if the Government supplied any other Maps of the ground than the Tracing sent him and received the following answer.




In answer to your letter I beg in reply to say that it is not usual for the Surveyor General to send anything but tracings but there is a map at the General Surveyors [sic] Office which a Private Surveyor could inspect and take a Copy from.


I remain Your Obt [Obedient] Servant

       H B Foot[32]

The serpentine roadways and formal symmetrical layout of the paths indicates some influence of the picturesque Victorian garden cemetery in the romantic style introduced by Albert Purchas (Boroondara Cemetery) who in 1852 laid out the grounds of the Melbourne General Cemetery.[33]

Staff appointments was not an area that the Trustees took too much time to consider.  Neither the positions of Secretary nor Sexton were advertised.  The temporary appointment of John Simmonds as Secretary in September 1854, even though serving as a Trustee for the Independent denomination was made permanent and he served with distinction through a very difficult period until his death in March 1860 aged 66.  Salary was fixed at £200 per annum paid quarterly, with an additional 2½ per cent on all outlays connected with the Cemetery as Surveyor to the Trust.[34]  However, this was before the Trustees realised the limited amount of funding available from the government.  Or underestimated the number of interments that would take place.  Or both.  On 28 June 1855, well before the first interment had taken place, Chairman O’Neill suggested that Simmonds’ salary be reduced and after a discussion, 

The Secretary offered to perform the duties of his office for this year ending the 31st December [1855] for 150£.  And it was finaly [sic] agreed that he be paid fifty Pounds to the 30 of June.  And the remaining 100£ on the 1st January 1856 if so much money is in the hands of the Trustees at that time.  If not only 50£.[35] 

The appointment of John McMillan (1821-75), third son of Archibald, as Sexton to dig the graves and undertake general labourer tasks was not finalised until 2 August 1855 - a little less than two months prior to the official opening of the cemetery.[36]  Salary was set at £2 per week to be paid monthly commencing Monday 6 August.[37]  This left very little time to prepare the land.  The original intention was to appoint both a Sexton and Keeper with a salary of £100 per annum plus “…a home to live in and provided with wood and water”,[38] but as has been explained, the lack of funds soon forced the Trust to revise the original plans and the position of Keeper was not filled.  In contrast, death was providing staff at the Melbourne General Cemetery a rather generous salary.  For the year ending 1854, as Secretary and Surveyor Albert Purchas received £450, while both the Keeper and Sexton were paid £3 each per week.[39] 

The decision to appoint McMillan as Sexton was made at the next Trustee meeting following the interment of a poor man; 


Brighton July 3 1855

 This is to Certify that John Alexander was buried in the Cemetery at Brighton by the Consent of two of the Trustees (Mr H O'Neill & Mr McMillan) And on their representation that he was a Poor Man no charge was made.  The place of interment will be marked on the map when prepared.

 Witnessed John Simmonds Secretary.[40]

This suggests that it was McMillan who dug the first grave.  The site of this ‘illegal’ interment was probably marked on the tracing paper supplied by the Surveyor’s Office while the denominational maps were being prepared, but today its location remains a mystery. 

By the end of September 1855, the hard work over the previous twelve months of establishing the cemetery was complete.  The Trustees were gazetted, the land fenced, a small room for the Sexton erected, and the administrative tasks finalised.  But its immediate future depended on whether the inhabitants of the area would choose to be buried in an isolated location away from the main town of Brighton in an under prepared cemetery without a residence for the Sexton to provide security, when alternatives existed to be interred closer at one of the two churchyard cemeteries.

(above) Rules & Regulations booklet printed in 1859.

(Reproduced with courtesy of Brighton Historical Society Inc)

(above) Map of the cemetery from the Rules & Regulations booklet printed in 1859.  Note the area set aside  for "Jews" wasn't used until 1909.

(Reproduced with courtesy of Brighton Historical Society Inc)


[1] ADB Vol 4 1851-1890.

[2] BGCTM Book "A" p2 & 3.

[3] BGCTM Book "A" p3.

[4] BGCTM Book "A" p4.

[5] Victorian Government Gazette 29 December 1854 p3098.

[6] BGCTM Book "A" p6.

[7] BGCTM Book "A" p7.

[8] BGCTM Book "A" p8 & 9.

[9] The other 9 acres was the “Outer Reserve Area” and was not included in the original tender.

[10] BGCTM Book "A" p10 & 11.  Plans for the Office and Cottage were prepared by the Secretary, John Simmonds.

[11] The Melbourne Morning Herald 22 March 1855 p1, 23 March 1855 p3, 4 April 1855 p3, 5 April 1855 p3, 7 April 1855 p3, 11 April 1855 p5, and 12 April 1855 p5.

[12] BGCTM Book "A" p13.

[13] BGCTM Book "A" p14.  A breakdown of the amount, which calculates more than the £2,500 sought:


Fencing of 20 acres


Erection of Office and Cottage


Salaries to the Secretary and Sexton


Clearing of the land




Stationery and printing






[14] BGCTM Book "A" p15.  © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[15] Victoria Government Gazette 6 February 1855 p309.

[16] BGCTM Book "A" p29a.  © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[17] ADB Vol 3 1851-1890.  Elected in February 1855 and described by Melbourne Punch as “a conceited, pedantic bore”.

[18] ADB Vol 5 1851-1890.  Father of Septimus Miller (1854-1925) whose Gothic style mausoleum is by far the most recognised at the Brighton General Cemetery.

[19] BGCTM Book "A" p15.   © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[20] The Argus 25 April 1855 p4.

[21] BGCTM Book "A" p17.  © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[22] BGCTM Book "A" p24.  Constructed around September-October 1855.  © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[23] BGCTM Book "A" p18.  © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[24] BGCTM Book "A" p19.  Williams later applied for an advance of £55 and an additional 10 days to complete the contract.  © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[25] BGCTM Book "A" p20.  © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[26] BGCTM Book "A" p22 & p34.  © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[27] BGCTM Book "A" p21.  © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[28] BGCTM Book "A" p22, 22a & 23.  © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[29] Victorian Government Gazette 21 September 1855 p2390-92.

[30] BGCTM Book "A" p22 & 22a.  © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[31] BGCTM Book "A" p20a.  © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[32] BGCTM Book "A" p21.   © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[33] Cemeteries: Our Heritage (ed. Celestina Sagazio) p50.

[34] BGCTM Book "A" p13 & 18.  © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[35] BGCTM Book "A" p20.  © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[36] Information on John McMillan provided by Kaye O’Reilly and:

[37] BGCTM Book "A" p22.  © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[38] BGCTM Book "A" p13.  © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

[39] Victoria Government Gazette 6 February 1855 p309.

[40] BGCTM Book "A" p20a.  Index of Birth, Deaths and Marriages (1836-88) for Victoria lists a John Alexander died 1855, aged 21 years old, born London, parents unknown (Reg Num 4040).    © Brighton General Cemetery Trust.

© 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 11:44.