City's history in danger of crumbling

03:12, May 20 2013
tdn grave stand
John Pickering talks about the restoration of graves at St Mary's.

Tucked away in St Mary's Cathedral cemetery, the gravestones of New Plymouth's founding fathers are crumbling away.

But keen genealogist John Pickering is on a mission to save them.

Mr Pickering has identified three graves as priority because of their sad state, as well as several other broken graves in need of repair work.

Mr Pickering estimates restoration for the whole cemetery will come to about $28,000, $10,000 of which he hopes will be contributed by families of those buried there that he has already tracked down.

The rest he plans to rustle up over the coming year, by applying for the $5000 New Plymouth District Council heritage protection fund, and ferreting out other relatives of the buried.

Taranaki Cathedral Dean Jamie Allen said the gravestones were included in a restoration of the cathedral and churchyard that had been under way for about three years.


He said the intention was to make the churchyard a beautiful asset to the city.

"The church yard is a vital part of the history of our city and holds some extremely significant graves but it is also a public space people walk through.

"We want it to be a stunning place for people to soak up the history."

He said the restoration included installing the Garden of Remembrance, a space of memorial and reflection where the community could lay cremated remains.

Anyone interested in donating to the restoration effort may contact the church office and mention the restoration project, Mr Allen said.

Repair work should be funded by relatives, but many of the stones are more than 100 years old and some of the buried were young children, making things difficult, Mr Pickering said.

"I've got my work cut out for me to find funding for this."

He said the council should consider helping out to maintain the city's first cemetery.

"This is our heritage, these are our founding fathers."

Stones had been damaged by vandals, or simply weakened and crumbled with age, he said.

"Goths had parties here and a few got damaged then, but since we've had the lights on at night there's been no vandalism."

Mr Pickering is brimming with stories about the names on the gravestones.

"There was one guy who fell into a vat of beer."

A stone near the church's entrance is that of a Mrs McKoy, one of the first women to make a cheese and export it, Mr Pickering said.

"A fleeing driver came in here and did a quick turn around and knocked off her stone.

"That's what I'm up against."

The neglected graves with priority are those of Hannah Maria Bishop, who died in 1860 aged 23, Ellen Grace Hollis, who died in 1861 aged 15, and Christobella Ann Single, who died in 1861 aged 9.

Hannah was the wife of Private James Bishop of the 65th regiment, while Ellen's father, Edwin Wise, was the first in the region to take out a patent to smelt ironsand.

Christobella's father held the position of Clerk of Works in the Royal Engineers during the war years.

One recently restored grave is that of the church's first vicar, the Rev William Bolland.

At 23, Mr Bolland led the construction of the church's oldest section, with rocks carried up from Kawaroa.

At 27, he was dead, probably from cholera, Mr Pickering said.

The gravestone alongside Mr Bolland's, recently restored with funding from Govett Quilliam, is that of Archdeacon Henry Govett, the church's second vicar who held the position of minister for about about 60 years.

"It's full of history, this place," Mr Pickering said.


Below is a list of the graves in need of repair work that have no known family members living:

William George Stockley, died 1887.

Thomas Broham, chief inspector of police, died 1900.

Richard Faulls, died 1844.

William Halse, died 1882, Harriet Halse, died 1861, age 4.

Dr George St George, surgeon, died 1898.

Captain Edward Morshead, died 1879.

George Tunnecliff, died 1912.

William King Wakefield, died 1862.

Taranaki Daily News