Cemetery: Pioneer Memorial Park
Pioneer Memorial Park is a heritage listed landmark of NSW, where memorials of early pioneers and prominent citizens of the colony of New South Wales still stand today.
Created in 1976 through the dedicated effort of Fred W. Read and fellow Botany Cemetery Trustees, Pioneer Memorial Park has 746 surviving memorials of the many that were transported from the early burial grounds of Sydney in 1901.
As a bicentennial project in 1986, with the Trust’s permission and gratitude, the Cape Banks Family History Society transcribed the headstones and produced the publication Pioneer Memorial Park at Botany Cemetery which conveys, as accurately as possible, details of the individuals and families currently memorialised in Pioneer Park.
“The memorials in Pioneer Memorial Park were relocated from two of Sydney’s oldest cemeteries, Town Hall Cemetery and the Sydney Burial Ground, also known as Sandhills or Devonshire Street Ground Cemetery.”
Prior to 1792 there was no regulation of burial or records or of burial ground set apart for interment. This was changed in 1792 with the establishment of a site which first was known as the Old Burying Ground, then for a period the Cathedral Close and later the Town Hall Cemetery. This cemetery stood in George Street between the present St Andrew’s Cathedral and Sydney Town Hall and was the only burial ground for Sydney’s original settlers from 1792 until 1819.
“Ceasing operation in 1820 the old cemetery in the centre of Town remained decaying until town councillors decided in 1868 to erect a Town Hall on the site.”
Before construction of the Town Hall commenced, any remains that had not already been relocated, were exhumed from Town Hall Cemetery and re-interred in Rookwood, then known as Haslams Creek.
In 1819 The Sydney Burial Ground, also known as Sandhills Cemetery or Old Devonshire Ground Cemetery was created. It operated until 1868. During this fifty-year period approximately 5,000 memorial stones, ranging from markers to lavish ornate monuments were erected. Burials continued in family plots until 1888.
In 1901, to make way for Sydney’s Central Railway Station, the NSW Government invited descendants of those interred in the Old Burial Ground, to relocate the monuments and remains, at government expense, to a number of Sydney cemeteries: Rookwood, Camperdown, South Head, Waverly, Gore Hill and Bunnerong.
The majority of the monuments, including some of those of Sydney’s earliest settlers, which had fortunately been relocated by their families from Town Hall Cemetery to the Old Burial Ground in the 1820’s, were taken to 25 acres known as Bunnerong Cemetery which was in the custody of the Botany Cemetery Trust.
The details of the original 2285 headstones at Bunnerong Cemetery were transcribed in 1969-71 and published in 1973, in Gravestone Inscriptions NSW Volume 1, Sydney Burial Ground by K.A. Johnson and M.R. Sainty.
Unfortunately, most of these headstones, which for many years were of historical interest to researchers, genealogists and families, failed to survive time, exposure and the government’s forgotten promise for funds for maintenance and provision of a garden park like setting.
In 1972 Botany Cemetery Trust was given permission to re-use Bunnerong Cemetery for current burials. At that time a part of the land, now known as Pioneer Memorial Park was set aside for the re-erection and display of the headstones that were still legible and salvageable or specimens of monumental art. Joining the efforts of the Trustees, and in particular Trustee Frederick William Read who was responsible for the design and construction of Pioneer Park, were relatives of the deceased who paid to have inscriptions re-engraved and the stones repaired ensuring their preservation for future generations.
We invite school excursions and the public to visit Pioneer Memorial Park, which honours and pays tribute to the memory of many who contributed to the foundation and development of the Sydney colony.
A major First Fleet memorial in the Pioneer Memorial Park was opened on the 13th May, 2016.
This memorial is a significant acknowledgment of the First Fleet and will help to promote an increased public awareness of our First Settlers. It is hoped that it will become a valuable educational tool for the younger generation to learn about the First Fleet.
The Memorial will include a walled garden 23m long featuring 15 display panels and some monuments. The display panels are granite with a black insert which is engraved with information on both sides.
The information that will be displayed on the panels includes names of all who sailed on the ships, and a short story of each of the 12 First Fleeters who were reinterred at what today is known as Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park. Other stories include information on Arthur Phillip, HMS Sirius and its Anchor and Reverend Richard Johnson.
The 12 First Fleeters honoured there are: Isaac ARCHER, Sarah BURDO/ARCHER, Frances DAVIS/MINTZ, Elizabeth EVANS/VANDERCOM, Mary MARSHALL Snr, John NICHOLS, Thomas PRIOR, Hannah SMITH/PUGH, James SQUIRE, John TRACE, William TYRRILL and Robert WATSON.