Many early settlers, convicts, church leaders and others are buried in and under Hobart. (ABC News: Andy Cunningham)
Ever heard the saying ‘if you get a cold shiver down your spine, you could be standing on someone’s grave’?
- Hobart is Australia’s second oldest city, and heritage officers say there are lots of secret burial sites hidden from the naked eye
- Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch both have ancestors buried in Hobart
- Indigenous historians say there are also many Aboriginal gravesites around Tasmania that are unknown to the public
If you live in Hobart, that could be the case.
Buried beneath Hobart’s schools, churches and some private dwellings are thousands of convicts, Indigenous Tasmanians and early settlers.
The city is home to numerous gravesites where church leaders, notorious bushrangers and even an ancestor of media mogul Rupert Murdoch lie.
One Curious Hobart reader asked the ABC where some of the city’s earliest gravesites can be found and who might be buried there.
According to the Hobart City Council’s senior cultural heritage officer Brendan Lennard, there are many secret burial sites hidden from the naked eye; so you never know when you may be standing on someone’s grave.
And believe it or not, some of those graves have been known to move.
“Most got turned into parks or schools,” Mr Lennard said.
“There are a few out in New Town and up at Hill Street in West Hobart that actually had subdivisions and residential houses [and] estates built on them.
“Every so often, when people are digging in the garden, they come across fragments of coffins or human remains occasionally. It’s quite interesting.”
St David’s Park
Tucked away in a small pocket of Hobart’s CBD, St David’s Park is Tasmania’s oldest gravesite.
Established in 1804, the park was used as a burial ground for many early settlers who arrived on Van Diemen’s Land and served as a general burial ground for the public.
The graves at the cemetery at St David’s Park were removed but the gravestones were salvaged and placed on the walls surrounding Hobart’s Supreme Court. (ABC News: Andy Cunningham)
Tasmania’s first Lieutenant-Governor David Collins is buried in the park, along with dozens from the First Fleet and other prominent Tasmanians.
“There are other governors buried here, early port officials, early government officials, chief secretaries … there are probably around 1,000 people buried here,” Mr Lennard said.
Notable Tasmanians buried there include maritime surveyor Thomas Burnett and his family; mariner, explorer and port official James Kelly; and the man who inspired the name for the east coast town of Bicheno, public secretary James Bicheno.
Former public secretary James Bicheno, who inspired the name of the east coast town of Bicheno, is still buried in Hobart along with many famous and infamous Tasmanians. (ABC News: Andy Cunningham)
The cemetery closed in 1872 following the last burial and eventually the park fell into a state of disrepair with graves hidden by overgrown vegetation by the turn of the 20th century.
Nearly a century later, the Hobart City Council reopened the site as a public park and the old gravestones were placed on the walls surrounding Hobart’s Supreme Court to keep the memories of the dead living on.
But the park’s ghoulish history has become a little too detectable at times and the graves have been known to move, according to Mr Lennard.
“Every so often, depending on the conditions, sometimes you see the undulations in the park, in the grass, where the coffins have collapsed,” he said.
“Sometimes if they had a brick vault, the brick vault might have collapsed and so the soil has actually dipped in.
“I always tell people if you’re coming into St David’s Park, don’t jump up and down because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Campbell Street Primary School
Hidden from the unsuspecting children who attend Campbell Street Primary School, near Hobart’s CBD, are about 5,000 convicts buried beneath the grounds.
The only evidence of what lies below is a plaque erected by Hobart historian Brian Rieusset 19 years ago.
More than 5,000 graves of convicts lie beneath Campbell Street Primary School which was once used as an air raid shelter in WWII. (ABC News: Andy Cunningham)
Mr Rieusset said the site was formerly known as the Holy Trinity burial ground and was used for convicts who died at the Campbell Street Convict Penitentiary, located just a few hundred metres down the road.
“With more convicts arriving they needed somewhere to bury convicts away from the general population, so they set up the Campbell Street burial ground just for the convicts,” he said.
Mr Rieusset believes there were less than 20 bodies exhumed and moved to the Cornelian Bay Cemetery, three years before the school was built in 1926.
Many records were lost during the process, including those of Phillip Palmer who was the main chaplain at Trinity Church and Convict Penitentiary.
“His remains were there and they were removed from Cornelian Bay but no record was ever kept of where they are,” Mr Rieusset said.
“Same with his headstone — it’s probably buried under a footpath, we don’t know.”
St John’s Park
Beneath the grounds of the old Church of England Cemetery lie 400 children buried in unmarked graves.
The children were from early settler, convict and Aboriginal families, as well orphanages.
Unmarked graves at St Johns Park contain the remains of many children and Aboriginal families. (ABC News: Selina Ross)
Military men and their families were also buried here.
Other occupants include co-founder of The Mercury newspaper and former politician John Davies, and the great-grandfather of media tycoon Kerry Packer.
Twenty-five years after the last burial, St John’s Park headstones were relocated to Hobart’s main cemetery at Cornelian Bay.
Cornelian Bay Cemetery
Formerly an old farm on the banks of the River Derwent, the Cornelian Bay Cemetery was officially opened in 1872 after concerns were raised about the poor condition of the old church burial grounds in Hobart’s CBD.
A major benefit of the cemetery’s location was no infrastructure could be built around it, preventing it from becoming yet another area prone to plague.
The cemetery has become the final resting place for many famous Tasmanians, including the founder of IXL Jams, Henry Jones, notorious bushranger Martin Cash, John Blundstone of Blundstone Boots and Tattersalls founder George Adams.
Many famous and infamous Tasmanians are still buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery. (Cate Grant: ABC News)
Much like the colonial gravesites found across Van Diemen’s Land, there are many Aboriginal gravesites unknown to the public.
Aboriginal historian Dr Greg Lehman said Indigenous gravesites could be found across Tasmania.
Wybalenna on Flinders Island is the largest Aboriginal burial ground, where 200 Indigenous people were laid to rest including Aboriginal leader and resistance fighter Manalargenna.
“During the Black War when there were a lot of massacres happening, there were mass gravesites and disposal of Aboriginal bodies occurring,” Dr Lehman said.
“At the end of the Black War when Aboriginal people were exiled to Wybalenna on Flinders Island, which is an early example of permanent offshore detention, there was a gravesite set up there.”
According to Dr Lehman, the traditional culture of Aboriginal burials varied on the geographical locations of tribes on the island.
“People in the south-east of Tasmania cremated the dead and their remains were placed in shrines made of bark,” Dr Lehman explained.
“On the west coast for example, remains were buried in graves along with ceremonial objects.
“In other places, the bones of the dead were placed in hollow trees which served as coffins.”
Wybalenna chapel, which was built in 1838, with the Aboriginal graveyard in the background. (Supplied: Gregory P Lehman)
But the history of Aboriginal burials has a chequered past, with many bodies of the dead being exhumed for scientific or research purposes.
Dr Lehman says scientists saw Aboriginal people as the “missing link” between old and modern civilisation, and there was a strong market for specimens in European scientific institutions.
“Because this group of people were seen to be primitive and so isolated and the numbers were dwindling, the value of anatomical specimens or skeletal specimens of Tasmanian [Aboriginal people] just went through the roof,” he said.
“Wherever there were known graves of Tasmanian Aboriginal people, those graves were commonly robbed.”
One of the most famous Aboriginal Tasmanians was female guerilla fighter and diplomat Truganini.
This portrait of Truganini as a young woman was completed in 1831. (Supplied: The British Museum)
Truganini was buried in the factory grounds in 1876, but records show her body was controversially exhumed by the Royal Society of Tasmania just two years later and eventually placed on display.
Her skeleton was exhibited at the colonial exhibition in Melbourne in the late 1800s and was later bought back to Hobart and displayed at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.
Public pressure forced the museum to relinquish her skeleton, which was later cremated and scattered in the D’Entrecasteux Channel at the request of the Indigenous community.
The repatriation of Truganini’s remains later sparked the beginning of many more ancestral remains being returned to Tasmania.
With so many historical gravesites lurking beneath many of Hobart’s buildings and parks to this very day, you should think twice when taking a stroll through the city, because you never know who you may be walking over.
Do you have a question about Hobart or elsewhere in Tasmania?
You can suggest something for us to investigate by filling out the information below.
Go on, be Curious!