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Rookwood Cemetery’s Notable ‘Residents’


Death knows no social distinction. Here you will find some fascinating Ausralians who all share their last resting place – Rookwood.

Several of the ‘residents’ have short films devised and produced by Warren Fahey with video creative work by Mic Gruchy.






Louisa Lawson


There is little doubt 19th century Australia, particularly the bush, was a challengingly hard, often desolate place for a woman, however, the woman in this story is a testament to the power of determination.

Louisa Albury was the second daughter in a family of ten girls and two boys. She was born at Guntawang Station, near Gulgong, NSW, on February 17, 1848.

As society decreed, her schooling came second to her home duties, especially caring for her younger siblings. Louisa took refuge in singing opera.

With the discovery of gold her family kept a general store at Gulgong and it was here the passing miners heard Louisa’s singing and suggested starting a fund so she could travel to London for a music education. Her parents would not agree to let her go – a matter of great disappointment for the aspiring singer.

In 1866, in love and eager to escape the drudgery of home-life, she married handyman and gold digger, Norwegian-born Niels Larsen. They joined the Weddin Mountain gold rush and later selected forty acres at Eurunderee.  In the fashion of the times, they anglicised their surname to Lawson.

Between 1867 and 1877 Louisa bore five children including her first-born and destined-to-be-famous son, the poet and writer Henry Lawson.

By 1883 the marriage had broken-down and Louisa left her husband and moved the four children to Sydney. She did sewing, washing and took in boarders to supplement the irregular child support payments of her estranged husband, and, through diligence managed to save enough to purchase, in 1887, the ailing monthly newspaper the Republican. She and Henry edited and wrote most of the copy.

The following year Louisa started Dawn, a magazine that ‘would publicise women’s wrongs, fight their battles and sue for their suffrage’. Along with household advice, fashion, poetry, a short story the feisty monthly reported on current affairs that affected women. Dawn was an immediate commercial success. That same year her husband died and left enough money for her to buy a professional printing plant. By the following year, she was employing ten women, including four female printers.

Louisa Lawson was no armchair propagandist. In editorials she presented feminist arguments for opening the legal profession to women, appointing them as prison warders, factory inspectors and magistrates, and giving hospital appointments to female doctors.

She continued to publish Dawn for 17 years.

In May 1889 Louisa launched the campaign for female suffrage announcing the formation of the ‘Dawn Club’ declaring “who ordained that men only should make the laws which both women and men must obey.”

At the Dawn Club women met regularly to discuss ‘every question of life, work and reform’ and through Dawn she created the public knowledge of women’s affairs which helped to move opinion towards enfranchising women in NSW in 1902.

Louisa will also be remembered as her son’s first publisher. Printing a limited run of Henry’s ‘Short Stories In Prose and Verse’, which was sold at 1/-.

Louisa died in the Hospital for the Insane, Gladesville, on 12 August 1920 at age 72, two years earlier than her illustrious son. She had been living alone before being admitted in 1918, her memory failing but still strong willed. She was buried alongside her father and mother in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery.

In Henry Lawson’s outback stories and poems women were regularly portrayed as hardworking, resourceful, kindly and long-suffering – perhaps inspired by his mother’s life.

Although she is remembered as the mother of a famous son her legacy of social reform, especially for women, changed Australia forever.




The first David Jones store, George St. Sydney


Australia’s merchant retail history was set into motion by two remarkable men and their families – David Jones and Anthony Hordern.

David Jones, a Welsh-born immigrant, born 1793, arrived in Australia in 1825 and set out to establish a general retail business “on the principles of the respectable wholesale London firms” where he had trained as a grocer and retail manager.

In 1838 he opened a ‘large and commodious premises’ on the corner of George and Bathurst streets offering Sydney “the best and most exclusive goods” and “stock that embraces the everyday wants of mankind at large.” David Jones, or DJs as it became affectionately known, is Australia’s first department store – it grew to 36 stores nationally. The Jones family retained an active role in the store for well over a century.

Apart from his family, David Jones’ main interests were business, religion, he was a Deacon of the Pitt Street Congregational Church for over 35 years, and civic office where he became a member of the first Sydney City Council in 1842 and, in 1856, a member of the NSW Legislative Council.

David Jones, with its motto of ‘There’s no other store like David Jones’, is the oldest continuously operating department store in the world still trading under its original name.





Anthony Hordern

Anthony Hordern’s Emporium


Anthony Hordern arrived in Sydney from England in 1823 and, with his wife, opened a drapery store the same year. It grew to become one of the largest family owned department stores in the world.

It’s Haymarket store, established by Hordern’s sons, Lebbeus and Anthony, was opened in 1844 and known as the Palace Emporium.  The company was built on the founder’s claim to sell everything ‘from a needle to an anchor’ – and it did!

In 1901, the year of Australia’s Federation, the grand building was destroyed by fire and, in 1905, under the direction of Samuel Hordern, rebuilt even grander as the ‘New Palace Emporium’. With over 52 acres of retail space housed in one of Sydney’s most spectacular buildings the main store was truly a retail wonderland. In 1880 The Bulletin Magazine described the Hordern family as – ‘Fairly ruling the retail trade of the metropolis and the colony at large’.

The company’s motto ‘While I Live I’ll Grow’ was depicted by a sturdy oak tree and emblazoned on its buildings and advertisements.

Anthony Hordern’s inspiring retail legacy continued in the founder’s family’s hands for over a century.

The changing face of retailing saw the flagship store close in 1980 to make way for the World Square skyscraper. Sydney had lost a major part of its retail, social and architectural heritage.

The founders and families of Anthony Hordern and David Jones are buried at Rookwood Cemetery.






Quong Tart


Here is the intriguing story of one of Australia’s most famous adopted sons. Around four percent of Australians identify as having Chinese ancestry and in spite of cultural transition barriers, especially language and a historical xenophobia, they have become a vibrant part of the Australian story.

Although the first officially documented Chinese immigrant was Mak Sai Ying in 1818 – he achieved notoriety as the publican of The Lion tavern in Parramatta – it was Mei Quong Tart who helped to dramatically change the image of the celestials in colonial Sydney.

Quong Tart was born in 1850 in the Guangdong Province village of Shandi. He travelled to Australia with his uncle, accompanying Chinese labourers bound for the southern New South Wales ‘New Gold Mountain’. He stayed with a kindly Scottish mine and store owner, Thomas Forsyth, from who he learnt his love of all things Scottish. The young Quong Tart was such a quick learner even his accent was Scottish. He was next taken in by the wealthy family of Robert Simpson who encouraged him as a ’proper English gentleman’.

By the age of 21 Quong Tart had amassed a small fortune from gold claims and in 1871 he repaid his good fortune by becoming a naturalised British citizen.

In 1881 he returned to China, established trading relations and returned to open a network of highly successful silk stores and tea shops, the first tea rooms in Sydney. On his return from China, wearing his trademark kilt, he announced to the newspapers, ‘Ma Foot is on ma native heath, ma name is now McTart’.

Quong Tart’s six tea rooms at the Royal Arcade, Haymarket, Moore Park Zoo, George Street, Sydney Arcade and King Street were famous throughout Australia but it was his Elite Hall in the Queen Victoria building where his most successful enterprise flourished. With seating for over 600 it became Sydney’s society meeting place. Opened in 1898 the Elite housed restaurants, tea rooms, exhibition area and a stage for concerts and ceremonies.

Quong Tart was a much-admired Sydney identity, highly respected for his business acumen and philanthropy and loved for his kindness and eccentricity. The Daily Telegraph of 1897 observed he was “as well known as the Governor himself’ and ‘quite as popular among the classes.’

Mei Quong Tart died of pleurisy at his Ashfield Mansion, ‘Gallop House’ in July 1903, aged 53 years.

His funeral saw thousands of Sydneysiders line the streets to pay their respects to this remarkable man. Two hundred men escorted his coffin from his home to the mortuary railway station.

He is buried in the Chinese section of Rookwood Cemetery.




John Fairfax



As a young country, moving from its convict settlement origins to new nineteenth century respectability, newspapers played a vital role in our search for national identity. A young Englishman was to play the leading role.

John Fairfax arrived in Sydney on 26 September 1838 with his family – and five pounds in his pocket – and valuable experience from working with London’s Morning Chronicle, the very same newspaper where Charles Dickens was to work a short time later.

In 1841, in partnership with journalist Charles Kemp, he purchased the Sydney Herald, a newspaper established by three journalists who had worked at the colony’s first newspaper, The Sydney Gazette. Fairfax, although employed as a journalist at the Australian Subscription Library, was readily available to assist with mechanical typesetting and management of the Sydney Herald after hours, often retiring to bed at four am. The owner of the newspaper, being impressed with Fairfax’s industrious nature and knowledge of printing, eventually offered to sell the business to him.

John Fairfax believed strongly in the newspaper’s integrity of editorial management “being conducted upon principles of candour, honesty and honour. We have no wish to mislead; no interest to gratify by unsparing abuse, or indiscriminate approbation.”

In the first few years the partners had to do almost everything themselves: reporting, editing, leader writing as well as all the mechanical work of producing the paper.

In 1853, at the beginning of the gold rush mania, Fairfax bought Kemp out and changed the banner to the distinctive Sydney Morning Herald. It became the first newspaper in the colonies to be printed by steam press.

His two sons, Charles and James joined the company and the firm became John Fairfax & Sons. The Fairfax publishing dynasty had commenced. It continued to control the business for almost 150 years.

Although extremely powerful in colonial affairs John Fairfax was considered an exemplary citizen. He was a director of several major colonial businesses including the Australian Mutual Provident Society and the Australian Gaslight Company. He was elected a member of the Legislative Council in 1870 – The Honourable John Fairfax M.L.C.

Deeply religious he was instrumental in the founding of the Pitt Street Congregational Church. He continued to serve the church as a Deacon.

The “Herald” was part of him. In his heart it ranked next to the Bible. Once he told a young member of his staff: “To learn what great things God has done for mankind in the past, read your Bible; and to learn what He permits to be done today, read the ‘Herald.

John Fairfax died June both 1877 aged 73 years. His legacy is published daily. He is buried in the Congregational section of Rookwood Cemetery.


Syd Illustrated News and Agriculturalist and Grazier 23 June 1877


THE death of the Hon. John Fairfax, M.L.C., senior proprietor of the Sydney Morning Herald, took place on Saturday, the 16th instant, at his residence, a few miles from the city. The deceased gentleman had been ailing for some time, so that his demise was not entirely unexpected; but when the announcement was made that he had passed away from amongst us a very general feeling of regret pervaded all classes and sections of the community, for his personal worth, liberality, and benevolent disposition had won him many sincere friends. The late Mr. Fairfax was, by virtue of his position as chief proprietor and manager of the Sydney Morning Herald, prominently identified with the history of New South Wales for very many years, and his death may be regarded as the removal from our midst of another of the landmarks of the colony. Though honoUrably identified with some of our most deserving public and charitable institutions, Mr. Fairfax was not in any marked sense a public man. He did not seek the distinctions (enviable or otherwise) of public life, nor did he permit himself to become involved in the struggles and distractions of politics. He was emphatically and essentially a journalist, and devoted himself with great perseverance and concentrated purpose to the conduct of his business. The management of a daily journal is at the best of times most arduous, and requires unceasing attention; but in its initiatory stages and early years it requires not only the managing and business faculty to help it to surmount the troubles which always beset the path of journalism, but it requires the possession of these qualities in such an intensified form that they may be more fitly termed genius than mere ability. It was in these respects that the late Mr. Fairfax achieved his greatest triumphs, and the colossal business he has left behind him will ever remain a monument of his skill and tact as a journalist. More than any other man who has ever had connection with the journalism of New South Wales did he deserve the character of a liberal employer ; for he made it a rule to give the highest rates of remuneration to all who were in his service—a fact which can be borne grateful testimony to alike by the literary and the mechanical staff of the vast establishment over which he presided for so many years. Although a portion of the working classes of this community have asserted and believed that the policy of the Herald is inimical to their interests, the deceased gentleman had practically demonstrated his appreciation of labour by paying the highest rates to his various employees that have ever been paid in this colony. For the last two or three years, owing to his declining health, the practical management of the Herald devolved upon Mr. Fairfax’s sons, who have exhibited the same liberality and vigour in the conduct of that journal, of which they have been part proprietors since the retirement of Mr. C. Kemp, who was a co-partner with the late Mr. John Fairfax till 1853, when the connexion was dissolved. The following episode in the career of the late Mr. Fairfax is peculiarly interesting at this juncture, as showing the circumstances which led him to make New South Wales his home and the metal of which a true colonist should be made.

“Mr. Fairfax became a colonist, as so many others have done, under the pressure of adversity. As the proprietor of a newspaper in one of the midland towns of England, he was irritated by what he considered a gross case of tyranny on the part of a public official, and inserted an article in which that indignation was freely expressed. This, of course, was to risk an action for libel, which duly followed. Though he won the action, the costs were too many for him, and the immediate result was financial ruin. But in truth the ruin was one of the kindest strokes of fortune. Mr. Fairfax was not the man to be broken down by one disaster, and though Leamington was no longer a place where he could hope to retrieve his fortunes, he had heard of Australia, and, gathering his household goods around him, he set sail for New South Wales, and arrived in Sydney September 26, 1838, with a young family, and with only five pounds in his pocket. No one knew better than he how to sympathise with the heart of a stranger in a strange land, and as many a one now living can tell, he showed that sympathy in the most practical manner by the help he gave to others who wanted a start. He had no sooner landed than he set about to hunt for employment, and though a little discouraged at first, he found some casual work to get along with. Sydney was a very different place then to what it is now. But a good workman who understood his business and was not afraid of work could not be long before he made somebody or other feel his value. Although compelled to exercise extreme frugality, he managed to get along till he secured an appointment as librarian to the Australian Subscription Library, whose quarters were then in Bridge- street. With his industrious habits and his determination to push ahead, he was not contented merely with the employment of his office hours, and he used to set up type and render other assistance to the then proprietor of the Sydney Herald. His aid was so valuable that it was more and more tasked, and after a good many negotiations, which commenced with the request that he would take the practical management, the proprietor proposed to sell him the paper. This was that tide in his affairs which led to fortune—a tide that often comes to those who know how to wait for it, and to seize it when it comes. The offer was accepted, and the late Mr. Charles Kemp, who was then a reporter on the journal, was associated with him in the purchase, and the partnership was a thoroughly hearty and amicable one on both sides. For the next five years the two proprietors worked indomitably, though often in the greatest straits for want of means. But by dint of good management, and assistance from friends, whose services were warmly appreciated, the partners managed to weather the critical difficulty of starting without capital, and discharged all the obligations they had contracted. All the burden of the mechanical department of the establishment rested with Mr. Fairfax, and for years together—except on Saturday nights—his bed never knew him till three or four o’clock in the morning. He had got his foot on the bottom rung of the ladder and was steadily rising, and he knew and felt it, but never did man toil more fairly and honestly to make the ascent. It was not by accident or by luck that he rose, but by sheer hard work.”

The funeral of the deceased gentleman took place on Tuesday afternoon, and was numerously attended by the leading members of all ranks and sections of society. A very impressive funeral ceremony was held in the Congregational Church, Pitt-street, after which the cortege proceeded to the cemetery at Rookwood, where the remains were deposited. The deceased was 73 years old.


Illustrated Sydney  News 8 july 1882

The late John A. Fairfax, Esq.

New South Wales has lost a man of promise in John A. Fairfax, who was justly regarded by those who knew him as one who was truly a representative of the best and brightest type of our native- born Australian. With all the free grace and manly vigour of frame fostered by a glorious climate, he yet possessed the nobler virtues and higher intellectual attributes which we are proud to associate with the old land of freedom from whence we spring. He was indeed one of whom it might have been predicted, from his early promise, that a great, useful public career lay before him—a finished oarsman and practised athlete, excelling in every manly exercise, his nature was yet so evenly balanced that he never suffered his mental faculties to remain fallow at the expense of his physical, but cultivated both to their mutual growth in every lovable and admirable attribute. Many may have known poor “Jack Fairfax” only as a genial, open-hearted, expert puller, a merry, bright-hearted, kindly comrade, ever eager to promote manly honest sport; but there are many who knew him as the ardent high-souled patriot, the man of large perceptions and keen, shrewd intuitions—as one who had an honourable ambition of writing his name in his country’s history, and had he lived there can be little doubt but that he would have made his already honoured name even still more honourable and noteworthy. He was the eldest grandson of the Hon. John Fairfax, and son of Charles Fairfax, who built up the Sydney Morning Herald, and his brightest ambition was to prove himself a worthy possessor of the name he bore, and his proudest title was that he was a native born Australian. After his early school-days he read for some time with the Rev. J. Fraser, of Woollahra. At one time he was on the regular staff of the Sydney Echo, and haying learned shorthand he subsequently attained a remarkable proficiency in this art, being highly complimented on his success by Pitman, of London, under whom he practised for a period of twelve months. Some idea may be gained of his industry and the bent of his mind, when it is mentioned that during his recent tour in Europe and America he made it his special business to inspect and thoroughly describe every new invention, institution, or application of man’s government or ingenuity that he thought could, by its introduction, in any degree improve the beloved city of his birth. His notes and compilations comprise no less than 8,000 pages of close shorthand, equal to 30,000 columns of ordinary printed matter, and all having reference to improvements, plans for the public good, and schemes of progress in which he contemplated taking an active share had he lived. Some idea of these may be gathered from the following extract, from one of his latest letters from Europe, comparing our metropolis with some of the large European cities. He says, “I am willing to admit that several of our public buildings have few superiors in any town I have seen, but where is there a town in Europe or America of the size of Sydney that has not a grand hotel of possibly 300 rooms, three or four morning papers, a railway to the water’s edge, a library of thousands of volumes, a water supply that can be relied on, a sewage scheme that does not poison the people, or fine open spaces where the people can breathe fresh, pure, and wholesome air. I am far from despondent of Sydney being yet the worthy capital of a great country, but we live too much for to-day, forgetful of the greater requirements of the future.” All his desire was to see his native land and fellow Australians become worthy of its mighty future and alive to their great destiny, and in losing him we have lost one whose life would have proved a ceaseless career of usefulness and good to all. It is said that women doctors are increasing in numbers in Russia, where women doctors are now officially engaged in teaching medicine to women.

One of the claims made by the English “Radical Dress Society” for Lady Haberton’s reform dress is that this costume reduces the weight of women’s clothing at least one-half. Two costumes designed by this society took the silver medal at the Brighton Exhibition ; both were made with the divided skirt that characterises the Haberton reform dress.  

Newcastle Morning Herald. and Miner’s Advocate 14 Feb 1941

John Fairfax Helped to Mould Young Colony’s Future

IN A COUNTRY so young as Australia few enterprises have tile distinction of an unbroken family connection exceed ing 100 years. In the newspaper world at large the distinction is even rarer. Indeed, in “The Story of John Fairfax,” published this month to commemorate the centenary of the Fairfax proprietary of “The Sydney Morning Herald,” it is claimed: “So far as is known, there is no other instance in the records of journalism of so long a period of direct personal control by members of one family.” The name of Fairfax. especially the name of the dynamic John Fairfax, will live in Australian journalism. He put all he had -physical, mental and material – into his craft. It was not surprising that he expected the same energy in the men under him. So (when an old hand asked for a holiday) he looked amazed: “What? A holiday! I thought holidays belonged to schoolboys. Go and rest, and when you are rested get to work again.” For all that, he was a fair employer. In the difficult days of the ‘4O’s, when, it was stated, one adult male in 12 was a bankrupt. he asked his men to accept it wage cut of 6/ a week. They were dissatisfied. “Some were old, some inexperienced, but they all worked like ‘Trojans and most of them drank like fishes. John spoke to them as man to man, as a printer among printers. He proposed that at the end of each week, all of them, including himself, should draw their wages pro rata, according to receipts and expenditure. The men accepted. The depression grew worse, but when other printers received only 25/ and less a week Fairfax’s men still drew £2/2/. The men were paid, but often Fairfax and his partner went short. That was typical of the spirit he put into his calling. The “Herald” was part of him. In his heart it ranked next to the Bible. Once he told a young member of his staff: “To learn what great things God has done for mankind in the past, read your Bible; and to learn what he permits to be done to-day, read the ‘Herald.'”






If there is one name synonymous with the development of early Australian stage humour it would be that of Harry van-der Sluys, although he was better known as Roy Rene or by the simple monicker of ‘Mo’.

Born in Adelaide in 1891 into a Dutch-Jewish Australian family his career spanned over fifty years as a star of vaudeville, theatre, film and radio.

At ten years of age Harry won a singing competition at the Adelaide market, and in 1905 appeared professionally in the hit pantomime, Sinbad the Sailor, at the Theatre Royal. Soon after he joined the Tivoli circuit in a singing and dancing act.

He adopted the stage name of ‘Roy Rene’ in 1910, inspired by a famous French clown. Roy Rene’s distinctive stage black and white face make-up, along with his large soulful brown eyes, became his trademark. He was destined to become one of the world’s greatest clowns.

In 1914 he moved to Sydney and joined Bain’s Princess Theatre at Railway Square and then Fuller’s National Theatre. He was a master of comedy and song, often on the edge of risqué, yet, off stage, he was a devoted family man. In 1929 he married comedienne and singer Sadie Gale, often touring and recording together.

In 1916 Roy Rene teamed up with another Jewish comedian and singer, Nat Phillips, and together they performed as Stiffy and Mo. They were an instant success, renowned for their larrikin and somewhat bawdy humour, they smashed theatre box office records wherever they played.

Throughout the twenties and thirties Roy Rene toured Australia and New Zealand extensively, especially for the Tivoli Circuit, performing comedy, straight theatre and variety shows.

In 1934 film director Ken G. Hall cast him as the lead in Cinesound’s Strike Me Lucky, a feature movie – the title originating from Mo’s best known expression. Many of Mo’s expressions became popular slang including ‘You beaut!’ ‘’Strewth!’!’ and ‘Fair shake of the sav’

Roy Rene’s character, the unsuccessfully posh, top-hatted ‘Mo of McCackie Mansion’, jumped from the stage in 1946 to become a radio favourite  with ‘McCackie Moments’ and, later, as ‘Professor McCackie’ in ‘It Pays to be Ignorant’.

Harry van-der Sluys died of heart failure in  November 1954 at his Kensington, Sydney, home. He was 63 years of age. He left a legacy of laughter. The annual Mo Award for excellence in Australian Performance is named in his memory.

He is buried in the Jewish section of Rookwood Cemetery.




Peter Dawson (Sam Hood SLNSW)


This is the story of Peter Dawson, the youngest of nine children born to a South Australian ironworker and plumber; who rose to the world stage as the highest-selling male recording artist in the world.

Born in Adelaide, 1882, he began singing at a very early age. By age 8 he was singing in church choirs, at 17 with the Adelaide Garden’s Orchestra and, in the same year commenced vocal lessons with C. J. Stevens.

In 1900 he was soloist in Handel’s Messiah at the Adelaide Town Hall. Stevens, realising his student possessed a unique voice, encouraged him to go to London. In 1902 Dawson left to study with the eminent baritone Professor Kantorez.

Joining popular opera singer Madame Albani he performed at the Crystal Palace, Alexandra Palace and Queen’s Hall, followed by successful tours of England and the continent.

With his remarkably fluent and technically adroit vocal skills Dawson next joined the English Opera at the Covent Gardens. His stage career was set.

Peter Dawson’s recording career covered an extraordinary sixty years – unique in spanning technological changes from the 2 minute cylinder to the Long Play record. His first recordings, in 1904, were wax cylinders for the Edison Bell company and, two year’s later, he was signed to an exclusive contract with the Gramophone Company, the predecessor of HMV/EMI.

His total record sales exceeded 13 million with some 3500 titles in various catalogues. There was a time when most households in England and Australia had at least one Peter Dawson recording, if not dozens. There were so many songs he invented pseudonyms for his various styles including Frank Danby for light songs, Will Strong for music hall ditties, Hector Grant for Scottish songs and so on. His recording output knew no bounds.

By 1908 Peter Dawson was principle baritone in the highly regarded Chappell Ballad concerts and, in the following year, returned to Australia to join the Amy Castles company of singers for a six month national tour, followed by Australian and New Zealand touring for his own company of performers.

With the outbreak of war in 1914 he returned to England to perform for wartime charities and the troops – ever keen to hear his renditions of Arm, Arm, Ye Brave, On The Road To Mandalay,  Roses of Picardy, and his own patriotic composition V For Victory.

His reputation was now such that he was considered the finest baritone of the day. He was to the ballad what Melba was to opera.

It was then back to Australia where he enlisted and ‘Private Dawson’ performed morale-building concerts across Australia.

In 1931, after topping the bill at the London Palladium, he toured Australia with renowned pianist Mark Hambourg. This was his most successful tour both artistically and financially.

Dawson was also a successful songwriter composing in his own name and, more often than not, under pseudonyms as J. P. McCall, Peter Allison, Denton Toms, Charles Weller, Arnold Flint, Gilbert Mundy, Geoffrey Baxter and two female personas, Alison Miller and Evelyn Byrd.

There are so many songs associated with Peter Dawson. His distinctive vocal timbre and perfect diction brought life to Gilbert and Sullivan, Wagner and his personal favourite, Handel, especially The Messiah. His classic performances of popular hits Boots, The Floral Dance, Off to Philadelphia and I Am A Roamer prompted the 1984 Guinness Book of Recorded Sound to list him in the top ten singers on disc of all time, alongside such luminaries as Elvis Presley and Enrico Caruso.

Peter Dawson returned time and again to tour his native Australia and was here at the outbreak of WW2. He joined the war effort by broadcasting, recording and performing for recruiting drives and at army camps with troop concert parties.

Peter Dawson always took delight in referring to himself as a ‘dinkium Aussie’. He certainly elevated three of our most Australian songs for it was Dawson who popularised both our unofficial national anthem ‘Waltzing Matilda’ (recorded in 1938) and our national anthem ‘Advance Australia Fair’ (recorded in 1927). In 2007 his 1931 recording of Along The Road To Gundagai was commemorated by the National Film & Sound Archive in its Sounds of Australia registry.

He had planned to retire after the war, but he claimed his tax bills were so gripping he had to keep singing and recording. He admitted to being a ‘hopeless businessman’ however his musical credentials were extremely rich.

Peter Dawson, one of the greatest singers of all time, died in his Sydney home 27th. September,1961. He is buried at Rookwood Cemetery along with his wife of 47 years.



Family vaults have been a feature of major cemeteries worldwide and Rookwood is no exception. They became extremely popular in the Victorian era. Looking like smartly maintained terraced streets, the vault section of Rookwood is designed to contain the remains of family members down through the ages. The story of James Wong Chuey

An obituary in The Argus (Melbourne) 13 Oct 1938 described him as Mr. James Wong Chuey, a leader of the Chinese community in Sydney, and the Grand Master of the Chinese Masonic Society of Australia, died on Tuesday night at his home at Cremorne. He was aged 76 years. Mr. Chuey, who was well known as a wool-broker some years ago, arrived in Australia when aged 16 years penniless and not knowing a word of English. He had a romantic rise to fortune and influence, and became the acknowledged leader of the Chinese community.

James Chuey was buried at Rookwood in 1938 however the family vault was not ready for occupation until 1942. The Narrandera Argus and Riverina Advertiser of Sept 1942 reported on the exhumation traditions and subsequent transfer of the coffin to the vault. In the presence of more than 200 mourners, the remains of the late James Wong Chuey were exhumed at Rookwood cemetery on Saturday last and transferred to a newly-constructed family vault. Chinese fireworks were exploded and joss sticks were burned to scare away and destroy the sins of the deceased. While a Chinese band played funeral music, a whole roasted pig, roast duck, and special Chinese foods were placed on a table outside the vault. Later the food was taken back to Sydney to be consumed by the mourners at a Masonic ceremony. Mr. Wong Chuey died in October, 1938, and, before his death, requested that his remains be exhumed and placed in the family vault when completed. Mr. Chuey was Grand President for Australasia of the Grand Lodge of Chinese Freemasons and was one of the largest wool buyers in Australia. He is survived by Mrs. Chuey. The service was conducted by the Rev. H. E. Felton. This was followed by a Masonic ceremony, conducted by the Grandmaster of the Chinese Freemasons, Mr. Yee Bing. Mr. J. Wong Chuey was formerly a resident of Junee, and frequently visited Narandera and other Riverina towns.




Wei Key Funeral – York St, 1892.


The following detailed account of a spectacular funeral in Sydney in 1892 was published in the Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton) 13 Sept 1892.

A spectacle of a unique character was presented i in Sydney last Monday, when the remains of a well-known Chinese merchant, Mr. Way Key, who died on the 15th of August, were embarked on the Tsinan to be conveyed to China. The deceased, who had been in the colony for 40 years, was generally esteemed in the Chinese community, and as a result be was accorded a gigantic funeral and, a most elaborate procession. About 2 o’clock a huge crowd of sightseers assembled near Way Key’s late residence, and thousands of persons lined the streets through which the cortege passed, every balcony and verandah being packed with eager onlookers.

The coffin, which was of polished cedar handsomely ‘ mounted in silver was placed on tressels in a back room, and the nearest relatives of the dead man mourned after the character of their countrymen. Mr. War Moo Way Key, a grandson of deceased, clad in a long holland gown something after the style of a ‘surplice,’ prostrated himself on his face and engaged in prayer for a long time prior to the procession. The other relatives in white gowns also made obeisance, and lighted candles were disposed about the room, while incense was burned on a brazier.

The Rev. Young Choy conducted the service in Chinese, and then the procession was formed. This consisted of a large number of banners, decidedly Chinese in appearance, with expressions of sympathy inscribed on them. They preceded the hearse, which was drawn by six horses, three mourning carriages’, half a dozen open carriages, and about 250 cabs following. A very large number of Chinese belonging to tho Dwoong Goong faction, of which Mr. Way Key was a member, marched in the procession, as well as the relatives of deceased, clad in white robes and there were also present representatives from the seven other different Chinese factions in’ Sydney.

First in the procession came a man scattering slips of paper representing money, for the purpose of clearing the deceased’s passage to heaven. A number of  mutes succeeded; then followed the Balmain Premier Brass Band, which played the dead march en route to the China steamer’s wharf.

Following the band came two men carrying a light banner made of crape and silk, with characters inscribed on it containing information as to Mr. Way Key’s name, age, and rank. Half a dozen banners were carried by different chinamen, all these being presents of friends, their design showing the esteem in which deceased was held, and containing expressions of sympathy. Many of these banners were very elaborate, not a few of them ‘ having carved and moulded figures attached. Two men then bore a small table, on which was deposited a holy candle, which a friend had sent as a mark of sympathy, and a joss was conspicuous on the altar. Following this came two intimate friends of the late Mr. Way Key, who carried a table with burning incense upon it, the object of this being to light the way of deceased in his passage to heaven. An oil painting of the dead man was carried behind by two men, and after a banner came a man with a large fan in his hand, the idea being that deceased should be fanned and kept cool on his journey to the other world. A large canopy, in the shape of a shield, symbolical of peace, happiness, mid rest, was prominently displayed. This was followed by a carriage completely covered in flowers and wreaths. The design was very artistic. A large cupola being surmounted by a crown, white flowers being the most numerous. The floral design was contributed by the leading Chinese residents of Sydney, and attracted a great deal of attention. After this came the hearse, mourning coaches, and other vehicles with a second the Naval Volunteer Artillery-brass band.

The spectacle was an exceedingly imposing one. and was certainly the largest funeral of the sort ever seen in Australia, it being estimated that no less than 3000 Chinamen took part in it, in addition to representative citizens. The procession was more than a mlle long, and it took upwards of two hours for it to reach Smith’s wharf, where the Tsinan lay. On reaching the place of embarkation’ the coffin was taken out of the hearse into the shed, and a complicated ceremony was gone through. The body was placed beside a table with a portrait of deceased in a prominent position. The table was laden with sucking pigs, a sheep, rice, spirits, fruit, food, and confections, with which the spirit of the departed is supposed to regale himself on his journey to the other world.


Mary Sterio – Queen of the Australian Gypsies.

One of the more unusual burial sections of Rookwood Cemetery is reserved for members of Australia’s gypsy community. It is estimated that over 100 Romani gypsy convicts were transported to NSW. The first being the appropriately named, Lazarus Scamp, who arrived on the Scarborough ’in 1790. He had been sentenced in Hampshire in 1788 for stealing a sheep. Other gypsies came as free settlers. In 1947 the death of the Gypsy Queen, Mary Sterio, was conducted according to gypsy tradition. The Sydney Morning Herald 16 July 1947 reported: ‘Amid ceaseless chatter, accompanied by the traditional pouring of wine on the coffin and the throwing of silver coins in the grave, the queen of the gypsy Sterio tribe, Mrs. Mary Sterio, was buried at Rookwood yesterday. The body of the queen, who died on July 6 at the age of 75, had lain in state at a city funeral parlour for eight days in a specially-made cedar casket, gold-painted and adorned with silver-coloured designs. The Orthodox service was conducted in Greek by the Rev. John Evanglinides. and was understood by only a few of the gypsies. After the short service the gypsies crammed into three cars, and, led by the brass band playing Handel’s Dead March in Saul, the cortege wended its way slowly to Crown Street, where the band temporarily left the proceedings.

Two of the gypsies’ cars, one with engine trouble and another with a flat tyre, were left at the starting point. At Rookwood Cemetery the band resumed its place at the head of the procession. As the coffin was being lowered a woman member of the tribe poured a bottle of wine over it. At a given signal all the others flung silver coins, and several clambered down to kiss the coffin. John Sterio, elder son of the late queen, overcome with emotion, threw himself at the coffin. During the graveside service, several gypsies smoked cigarettes, and one gypsy woman smoked a pipe. All the dead woman’s jewellery and trinkets were placed in her coffin.’

Captain Moonlight – A Rookwood Bushranger Tale.


James Nesbitt

Captain Moonlite’s Grave

Captain Moonlite

Andrew Scott, better known as ‘Captain Moonlite’, was one of Australia’s most colourful bushrangers. Originally from Ireland, by way of New Zealand, he arrived in Australia in the late 1860s. On 8 May 1869, Scott was accused of disguising himself and forcing Egerton bank agent Ludwig Julius Wilhelm Bruun, a young man whom he had befriended, to open the safe. Bruun described being “robbed by a fantastic black-crepe masked figure who forced him to sign a note absolving him of any role in the crime”. Scott denied being involved and, before relocating to Sydney, turned the police to Bruun. In New South Wales Scott appears to have had several skirmishes with the authorities and was sentenced to gaol in Maitland. He managed to escape and was recaptured and, although he still denied being involved with the Egerton robbery, was convicted to ten years hard labour at Pentridge. He only served two-thirds of this sentence and was released. On regaining freedom he met up with a former gaol mate, James Nesbitt, who is thought to be Scott’s lover. While it is difficult to verify this claim written evidence, personal letters etc suggest the two did indeed have a sexual relationship. Captain Moonlite’s next move was to form a gang which commenced its career near Mansfield, in Victoria. This was Kelly Gang territory and the two gangs were often confused. He next moved the gang to New South Wales where they terrorised communities and staged several successful bail ups. The gang was apprehended after bailing up the Wantabadgery Station near Wagga Wagga on 15 November 1879. Nesbitt was shot dead. According to newspaper reports at the time, Scott openly wept at the loss of his dearest and closest companion. As Nesbitt lay dying, ‘his leader wept over him like a child, laid his head upon his breast, and kissed him passionately’. Scott and another gang member, Thomas Rogan, were hanged together in Sydney at Darlinghurst gaol at 8 o’clock on 20 January 1880 and buried at Rookwood Cemetery..

Whilst awaiting his hanging Scott wrote a series of death-cell letters which were discovered by historian Garry Wotherspoon. Scott went to the gallows wearing a ring woven from a lock of Nesbitt’s hair on his finger and his final request was to be buried in the same grave as his constant companion, “My dying wish is to be buried beside my beloved James Nesbitt, the man with whom I was united by every tie which could bind human friendship, we were one in hopes, in heart and soul and this unity lasted until he died in my arms.” His request was not granted by the authorities of the time, but his remains were exhumed from Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney and reinterred at Gundagai next to Nesbitt’s grave in January 1995.

Mary Cooper’s Final Resting Place –  an example of a convict success.

Mary Cooper, nee Gough, was sentenced to seven years transportation in Dublin when she was about 23 years of age. We do not know of her crime however, considering the seven year sentence, it was likely to have been a petty one. Anne Carolan, writing in The Sleeping City, a book on Rookwood Cemetery, writes, ‘she arrived in Sydney on the Tellicherry in 1806 with her infant son, Thomas Smidmore. It is thought that Thomas ’s father may have been a member of the ship’s crew and that he had been conceived on the long journey to Australia.’

Mary must have behaved, or knew someone in a high place, possibly the father of her first-born son, for she was given her ticket-of-leave in 1811

In 1826 Mary married Thomas Cooper, a transported convict (arrive per Anne 11 in 1810), blacksmith and publican of The Farrier’s Arm Hotel. Cooper had been granted an absolute pardon despite being sentenced for life. Together they lived a successful life and are often referred to in Australian history as being part of ‘Australian convict royalty’.

Although she could not read or write, Mary was an astute businesswoman and, along with her husband, amassed a considerable real estate portfolio. When she died in 1842, her will detailed an estate worth over twenty-thousand pounds – a huge amount at that time.

Her obituary in the Australasian Chronicle Sat 18 Jun 1842, ‘On the 17th instant, at her residence in Sussex-street, Mrs Mary Cooper, relict of the late Mr. Thomas Cooper, of George-street, Sydney, aged fifty-three years, much lamented by her family and friends. She was a kind and affectionate parent, benevolent to the poor, and a friend to the orphan and helpless, by whom her loss will long be remembered’. Mary Cooper was buried at Devonshire Street Cemetery and her remains were removed to Rookwood Cemetery in 1901.

Thomas Smidmore – from convict’s child to founding city of Sydney councillor.

Thomas Smidmore, born at sea to 23 year old convict Mary Gough, arrived in Sydney with his mother in 1806. Young Thomas emerged to be one of early Sydney’s more famous residents. He eschewed his convict heritage to become a prominent member of Sydney society in the mid-19th century. One of his first business ventures was a Staffordshire pottery warehouse on George Street, which he ran in the 1820s and 30s. He later became a successful publican, becoming the licensee of the Crown and Thistle Hotel in George Street between 1833-1835, then, in 1837, Loggerheads on the corner of Clarence and Market Streets and from 1836 to 1842 he was the publican of the Union Inn in King Street. Smidmore became proprietor of the Australasian Chronicle, a twice-weekly newspaper, in June 1844. In about 1830 he built 12 terrace houses in Cumberland Street at The Rocks which passed to his wife on his death. In 1840 he bought Lot 1 of the East Balmain subdivision in Paul Street. In 1841 he held land in Frankfort and Sussex streets and in 1851 he was a freeholder of Bathurst Street East. In 1861, he had a residence called Silver Hill on Cook’s River Road. Smidmore Street in Marrickville was named for him. He was a member of the first City of Sydney Council in 1842. He died at St Peters on 7 January 1861, aged 54, and was buried in Devonshire Street Cemetery before being transferred to the family’s box tomb at the Old Catholic Mortuary at Rookwood.

 Rookwood’s first burial – a pauper’s grave.

The first burial at Haslem’s Creek Cemetery, which was eventually to become Rookwood Cemetery, was reported to have taken place in 1867, when John Whalan, an 18 year old pauper Irishman, was buried there on 5 January. In the early colony the cemetery became an import social barometer, a way of establishing a social registry. A large, possibly ostentatious funeral, large grave memorial and inscriptions were considered as trappings of success and wealth. Many families staged burials far beyond their financial means for fear of criticism. To die a pauper, dependent on the colony for burial was considered a terrible slur on the family let alone the departed. Pauper’s funeral typically used a plain pine coffin, sometimes roughly marked with a cross to distinguish whether the departed was a Roman Catholic or Protestant. Pauper graves were also situated in the least desirable part of the cemetery, devoid of garden care and subject to bad drainage. Befitting their lowly status the graves were unmarked, untended and no records kept. Such was the fate of young John Whalen.




Jack Bradshaw. Last of the Bushrangers




There were at least three bushrangers buried at Rookwood Cemetery: Jimmy Governor, Captain Moonlight and, self-proclaimed ‘last of the bushrangers, Jack Bradshaw. In fact Bradshaw earned a living selling his poetry and books by claiming he had met all the famed highwaymen including Mad Dan Morgan and Frank Gardener. He was a good yarn-teller.

Bradshaw was certainly a link with our bushranging days of Ben Hall, Fred ‘Thunderbolt’ Ward and the Kelly Gang in particular.  Bradshaw, who died penniless, was on friendly terms with most of the more prominent outlaws. He earned his own spurs as a bushranger by his sensational hold-up of the Quirindi Bank on June 1st, 1880, in company with one “Lovely” Riley.

In order to avoid any charge of robbery-under-arms, Bradshaw ‘ and ‘Lovely” Riley proposed to rob the bank without the use of firearms. Riley had caught a large tiger snake, with which the pair planned to approach the teller as he was counting notes. Bradshaw was to throw the snake on the counter before the start led official, while Riley was to grab the money and flee in the confusion. However, the snake was burned to cinders when the old garment in which it had coiled was accidentally thrown into the camp fire by Riley, who had brazenly pitched his camp near the bank. “Robbery-under arms” would have made a truly extraordinary charge.

In the evening of his days Bradshaw offered books on bushranging, written by him, for sale in Sydney Domain, and numerous letters from his pen dealing with historical anecdotes of the bushranging days were published in the “Labor Daily.” A fitting inscription for old Jack Brad

shaw’s last resting place is: —

“To the world he is no stranger,

I vow it’s true. I say

He was an old bushranger,

And the last one of his day.”

He was buried at Rookwood. No one attended the funeral however his books can still be found across Australia.

Captain Henderson and the Wreck of the Sydney Cove.



The World PIXs News Syd Jun1907


How many people of those who may have read the inscription on the old tombstone in the Rookwood Cemetery have paused to think whether there was anything of note attached to the name of Captain Gavin Hamilton or the ship he commanded, the Sydney Cove?

His name and his ship were associated with the very early days of New South Wales. Few there are, however, that know the story. The ship Sydney Cove, with a cargo merchandise, left Bengal on November 10, 1796, under the command of Captain Gavin Hamilton for Port Jackson

She struck bad weather almost from the beginning of the voyage, meeting strong gales and high seas. The seas were so fierce the mate was lost overboard and, with severe leakage, several of the lascar sailors died at their pumps from cold and exhaustion.

On February 8, 1797, during a perfect hurricane, the vessel was driven ashore on an island of the Furneaux Group, in Bass Straits, which is called Preservation Island to this day.

On the 27th of that month Captain Hamilton sent away the longboat in charge of Mr Hugh Thompson, the chief mate, and with him Mr W. Clark, assistant supercargo, three European seamen, and 12 lascars. Mr Thompson’s instructions were to make for Port Jackson, report the loss, and ask for assistance. The bad luck which had attended the ship continued ( with the boat until the morning of March 2, when it was thrown ashore and dashed to pieces.

It was under these circumstances that they resolved to attempt to reach Port Jackson, and on March 15 they set out on one of the most remarkable journeys that has taken place in the history of this country.Those who know the country between Cape Howe and Port Hacking can perhaps imagine the difficulties which these poor wretches had to overcome. Rivers had to be crossed—for they dared not leave the coastline—their only food being shellfish and plants, which they boiled together in vessels they had saved from the boat. The natives were sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile. One month after they started on their dreary Journey nine of the party succumbed, the remainder had to leave them, as they were utterly unable to proceed further. On April 26 the little band, being now reduced to six. were attacked by about 100 armed natives, who approached making hideous noises and throwing spears, both Mr. Thompson and Mr. Clark being wounded. After a time the savage mob drew off, and the unhappy travellers continued their journey. On May 15 a small boat with a party of fishermen about 14 miles south of Botany Bay, discovered three half-starved men on the beach, being all that remained of the “boat’s crew of the Sydney Cove. These, who were Mr. Thompson, Mr. Clark, and one seaman, were brought to Sydney, and Governor John Hunter showed them every kindness which humanity could suggest. (Taken from the memories of Captain Watson 1907)

Captain Hamilton’s life is remembered at Rookwood Cemetery. His epitaph reads:

Here Lieth the Body


Commander of the late Ship Sydney Cove

Who departed this life Jan. 20, 1798.

Aged 38 years

















Peter Dodds McCormick was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and arrived in Sydney at the height of the early goldrush in 1855. He spent most of his working life employed by the NSW Education Department. In 1878 he was appointed to Dowling Plunkett Street School where he remained until 1885. A staunch Scottish Presbyterian he also became involved with the church’s Committee on Psalmody. As a composer he published around 30 patriotic and Scottish songs, some of which became very popular.

Advance Australia Fair, was first performed in public by Andrew Fairfax at the St. Andrew’s Day concert of the Highland Society on 30 November 1878. Advance Australia Fair gradually became popular although, of course, God Save The Queen was our national anthem. The Sydney Morning Herald described McCormick’s song as “bold and stirring, and the words “decidedly patriotic” – it was “likely to become a popular favourite”.

The song continually gained popularity and an amended version was sung by a choir of 10,000 at the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901. In 1907 the New South Wales Government awarded McCormick £100 for his patriotic composition which he registered for copyright in 1915. The song was performed by massed bands at the Federal capital celebrations in Canberra in 1927. One of the world’s great singers, Peter Dawson, recorded a version for worldwide release by HMV that same year. In 1984, after much debate and a referendum, it was formally declared as the Australian national anthem. Peter Dodds McCormick died in 1916 and is buried at Rookwood Cemetery.




Ms. Fuller












Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the famous Sherlock Holmes books has a link, if not tenuous, with Rookwood Cemetery. Doyle was one of the world’s most famous believers in Spiritualism, the semi religious international movement that believed the departed can sometimes communicate with the living through paranormal behaviour. Spiritualism became extremely popular throughout the world, including Australia, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was undoubtedly the most important counter-culture of the nineteenth century. Doyle wrote twenty books on the subject and became one of its most identifiable public faces. The Theosophical Society, and its branch, sometimes referred to as the Liberal Catholic Church (although nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church), was also a major influence in Australia.

Many Spiritualists were interred at Rookwood Cemetery however the most famous was the artist and Theosophist, Florence Fuller (born 1867). In 1906 Fuller’s portrait of feminist and theosophist Annie Besant was among the paintings exhibited at the West Australian Art Society’s annual exhibition. Around the same period, she painted other portraits of the movement’s leading figures, including Henry Steel Olcott and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. These representations departed from the academic portraiture in which Fuller had trained, as she incorporated practices of intuition and visualisation “inspired by Indian aesthetics as mediated by the Theosophical Society”.

In 1907, Besant became the president of the Theosophical Society globally, and set to work with a major expansion of the organisation’s headquarters at Adyar, in what was then, Madras. When it was announced that Besant would undertake a speaking tour of Australia in 1908, she was expected to stay with Fuller while in Perth. Some months later in 1908, Fuller left Western Australia and travelled to India, staying at the Theosophical Society headquarters at Adyar. Of her time in India, Fuller wrote: “I went in search not only of beauty, and light, and colour, and the picturesqueness in general, which delight the eye and emotions of all artists—but of something deeper—something less easily expressed. I spent two and a half years in a community that is quite unique—perhaps the most cosmopolitan settlement in the world—the headquarters of the Theosophical Society … Well, I painted there, of course, but my art was undergoing a change, and I felt that it could not satisfy me unless it became so much greater.”

Fuller’s time at Adyar was eventful. Rev. Leadbeater, an influential figure in both the Liberal Catholic Church and the Theosophists, arrived around the same time as Fuller, and soon afterward  “discovered” the person he believed would become a global teacher and orator, Krishnamurti (then in his teens). Fuller had a small studio built in the grounds, and painted. Her works from the period include a portrait of Leadbeater and Portrait of the Lord Buddha. Art Historian, Jenny McFarlane emphasises the significance of the latter work, pointing out that it is “strikingly modern” in comparison to all of Fuller’s other work, and more radical than compositions created by Grace Cossington Smith and Roland Wakelin, half a decade later. The painting owes much to theosophy’s emphasis on seeing the subject “through a psychic, visionary experience”.

The Theosophical Society remains an active international movement including its Australian branch.

Florence Fuller died in 1946 and is buried at Rookwood Cemetery.




Andrew Torning, Fireman

On the 16th of April 1900 the Sydney Morning Herald announced the death of Captain Andrew Torning, the man credited with founding the NSW Fire Brigade.

It will be learned with regret by a large number of friends that Captain Andrew Torning died at the

residence of his daughter at Manly on Friday last, the immediate cause of death being congestion of the lungs. The deceased, who at the time of his death was in his 86th year, had been a resident of Cowper-street, Waverley, for a number of years, and was well known as the founder of the old Royal Prince Alfred Volunteer Fire Brigade, No 1. It is now 45 years since he founded the old company which has since done much useful work in extinguishing fires in the city. He was the first president of the Volunteer Firemen’s Association, and was also the first representative of that body on the Metropolitan Fire Brigades Board in the years 1884-5.

The funeral, which took place at Rookwood yesterday, was thoroughly representative. The remains of the late captain were conveyed by steamer from Manly to Circular Quay, where they were met on arrival by representatives of the Volunteer Firemen’s Association. The body was carried on the deceased’s old pioneer engine. Upon  arrival at Rookwood the procession was joined by the

Volunteer firemen from the western suburbs and the Rookwood manual upon which the coffin was conveyed to the grave.

Andrew Torning arrived in the colony with his wife (Eliza) in 1842. Both were actors; however, Andrew also excelled as a set designer. In 1854, he took over the lease of the Victoria Theatre and in September of that year, purchased a fire engine for £250, with the intention of forming the first volunteer fire company in Sydney. The following month, the Company was formed with a roll of thirty-two men, which grew to about fifty in just a few weeks. The company was first located at the Victoria Theatre, before relocating to Australia’s oldest purpose-built fire station in Pitt Street, Haymarket (1857).

Torning was well-known for using a ‘speaking trumpet’ to command his fighters. This apparatus was the predecessor of the megaphone. On a visit to California in 1859 a specially designed memorial trumpet was presented to Andrew Torning ‘in acknowledgement for his service as Superintendent of the Australian Volunteer Fire Company No.1, Pitt Street, Haymarket, Sydney’ NSW. The speaking trumpet made in 1858 measures 39 cm high, made of solid sterling silver and decorated profusely at the top nearest the mouth piece and the remaining quarter of the main shaft and trumpet end. The decoration compromises Australian flora and fauna motifs including Kangaroos and Emus in native bush settings. The trumpet now resides in the Sydney Museum of Fire.





The history of the nation is written in its buildings, and the latter are in turn the lasting monument of the Master Builder.

Master Builder Robert Wall, who was 88 years of age at the time of his death in 1927, had attained interstate-wide prominence in the constructional field, in a career extending over many years of building practice, beginning in Sydney in 1887, his first work being a residence in the BouIevarde, Strathfleld, for Dr. George Sly.

The success of Robert Wall, in building construction soon spread, and during the year, 1888, he, amongst other work, constructed the overhead bridge at Homebush Railway Station, in conjunction with R. Tulloch and Co., with whom he erected the steel roofs, engine, and boiler houses at Cockatoo Island. The year 1889 saw several buildings arise, whilst in 1890 the principal works were the Infants’ School at Marrickville, and the Girls’ and Infants’ School at Burwood, for the Education Department of New South Wales. The Presbyterian Manse, at Ashfield, was built for C. H. Slatyer, Architect, in 1891, with other contracts; whilst in 1892 and 1893 various structures arose, including Mr. H. S. Bird’s residence at Strathfield.

In 1894 the Orient Steamship Company’s large cargo shed at Circular Quay was built for the Public Works Department, as well as the steam laundry of the Presbyterian Ladies’

College at Croydon. The following five years saw much work carried out, including the Court House, Warren; Camperdown and Petersham Post Offices, additions to the Coast Hospital, Rookwood Asylum, Darlinghurst Courthouse, and the Australian Museum, for the Government Architect, as well as warehouses (York Street) for J. C. Ludowici and Sons, Ltd.

The year 1899 saw some large works, such as the Co-operative Wool and Produce Company’s store, Pyrmont.

To the credit of the late Robert Wall and his sons, to whom he relinquished his place in the business, carried on the work of building Sydney, resulting in some of the city’s and State’s finest structures.

In the years 1901, 1902 and 1903 Goulburn Technical College was built, as well as alterations to the roof of Queen Victoria Markets, Sydney, and to Wills Tobacco Factory, Lewis and Loney’s factory at Redfern, stores in Sussex-street, and business premises at 380 George street for Architects Slatyer and Cosh. Business premises were also built about this time for James Sandy and Co. Ltd.,. George street, John Lawler, Sussex Street, Hannam& Co. Ltd., Castlereagh Street, and W. E. irk. George Street. In the years 1904, 1905  and 1906 there arose Dalgety and Company’s wool and grain stores and Oswald Watt’s homestead at Camden, business premises for Wyatt Estate; premises at Broadway, Glebe, to be occupied by Grace Bros., and alterations to the Bank of Australasia (George Street); whilst in 6 alterations and additions were made to

head office of the Commercial Bank, Barrack Street. Later significant works by the company included Culwulla Chambers (the pioneer skyscraper of Sydney). Usher’s Hotel, the Government Saving’s Bank on the southern side of Martin Place, the distinctive Blashki Building, Dalgety’s Stores, the South British Insurance Company’s structure and Murray’s of Parramatta.

It is an extraordinary legacy and tribute to the master builder. Robert Wall is buried at Rookwood Cemetery.





Dr. William Bland

William Bland’s name is associated with the developing stage of the Colony of New South Wales yet he himself arrived here as a transported convict. The following account of his imprisonment and sentence comes from the Register for 1843, the following brief notice of Dr. Bland, published in that journal under the title of ‘Heads of the People.

William Bland is a native of London, and the son of a medical practitioner of late celebrity in that city. Having undergone the necessary preparation, the subject of our notice entered the Royal Navy as a surgeon, which position be held for some time, till sailing up the Persian Gulf, a quarrel ensued between him and the purser of the ship. The latter challenged Mr. Bland — they fought, and the purser fell at the first shot.

Bland’s second in this affair was Mr. Randall, the first lieutenant of the ship. They were both tried at Calcutta — found guilty of manslaughter; Bland was sentenced to transportation for seven years, and Randall for eight. In terms of this sentence, Mr. Bland arrived in New South Wales in the year 1814, but was shortly after emancipated, and resumed the practice of his profession.

On the 24th September, 1818, Mr. Bland was brought to trial on a charge of libelling Governor Macquarie by the composition and publishing of various letters and poems, contained in a manuscript book dropped on the Parramatta Road, and thence brought to light. The information contained several accounts, upon two of which — one a copy of verses signed ‘Lavater’, and the other an anonymous letter signed ‘The Fanner’ — the prisoner was convicted, and sentenced to be imprisoned for twelve calendar months; to pay a fine of £50, and to give security for his good behaviour for two years after himself in £200, and two sureties in £100 each; and to remain imprisoned till the fulfilment of the sentence.

The Register went on to say it had not been able to ascertain what was the nature of these libels however, mockery of the Governor was considered a sensitive issue.  If we may give credit to the Sydney Gazette of the time, they ‘were conceived in malignity, and brought forth in the blackest ingratitude;’ but as the Gazette was then under a Government censorship, little importance is to be attached to this opinion, or to the ‘ agitated feelings’ of the writer, when he had the misfortune to listen to their recital in Court. At any rate Mr. Bland underwent the full term of his imprisonment in Parramatta gaol for the offence.

Dr. Bland went on to become well-respected in medicine, education, politics, and tireless work and support for benevolent institutions of the colony, and privately be was always ready to assist, both with his purse and advice, all whom solicited him.

On his death in 1868 his remains were buried at Rookwood Cemetery.




Sydney Mail. 25 July 1868  Dr. William Bland, one of the few remaining old colonists, passed away on Tuesday morning, at ten minutes to 1 o’clock. The deceased gentleman had been ailing for some time, but was not confined to his room more than a week, his last visit to a patient having been made on the 14th instant. Had he lived to the 6th of November next he would have completed his 79th year.

After serving his sentence as a convict Mr. Bland returned to his medical practice.

In June, 1843, he was elected one of the members of the Legislative Council for the City of Sydney, but has not been more than a few days present in his place, in consequence of ill health.

‘Mr. Bland writes with fluency, and is a close reasoner, but in his attempts, hitherto, at public speaking he has altogether failed. Mr. Bland enjoys a reputation for benevolence, particularly in connexion with his profession, which few men, if any in the colony, possess in an equal degree.

‘ We believe he has never withheld his purse or advice, when either was wanted in aid of any philanthropic enterprise, and his private benefactions have been equally numerous.’

The funeral of Dr. Bland, whose death, in his 79th year, occurred on Tuesday morning last, took place on Thursday afternoon, and was attended by a large number of old colonists and gentlemen occupying official and influential positions in society. Among those who paid this last tribute of respect to the deceased gentleman were the Bishop of Sydney, the Venerable Archdeacon M’encore (of the Roman Catholic Church), the Chief Justice, the Hon. Henry Parkes, Colonial Secretary; the Rev. Dr. Lang, M.L.A. and a large number of other gentlemen. The cortege moved from the residence of the deceased gentleman, in College street, at 2 o’clock, and proceeded slowly to St. James’s Church, in which Dr. Bland was a regular worshipper. Immediately behind the hearse, on foot, were Messrs. W. T. Pinhey, W. S. Bell, J. Gumer, R. W. Robberds, and G. Cox, as chief mourners. Then followed several mourning; coaches, the first of which was occupied by the deceased gentleman’s domestics, who had been many years in his service. Then followed a long line of carriages. Upon the arrival of the hearse in King street the procession stopped, and the body was carried into St James’s Church, where the first portion of the Service for the Burial of the Dead was read by the Bishop of Sydney, assisted by the Rev. W. C. B. Cave and the Rev: C. H. Rich. A very large number of persons were present during the service, which the doleful sound of the tolling bell rendered exceedingly solemn and impressive. At the termination of the ceremony the body was again removed to the hearse, and the mourners having regained their carriages, the procession moved down King-street to George- street, and along that street to Botany-street, and thence up to the new Mortuary station, which was used for the first time on this occasion. A large concourse of people had assembled at, and in the vicinity of, the mortuary station, to witness the arrival and departure of the funeral cortege. The utmost decorum prevailed; and after the gentlemen who had formed part of the procession had taken their seats in the railway carriages, a number of ladies were also admitted into the carriages, and were conveyed to the Necropolis, which was reached about 4 o’clock. On arrival at the receiving-house at the Necropolis the coffin was removed from the carriage, and a procession was formed to the grave, where the remainder of the burial service was impressively read by the Bishop assisted by his attendant clergymen. After taking a last look into the narrow grave that contained all that was mortal of the venerable man who had passed away, the mourners, among whom were many whose hoary heads indicated that the morning and noonday of their fives had passed, slowly left the ground. Thus terminated the burial of one, whose efforts to secure civil and religious liberty for the people, and whose labours and liberality in the cause of charity and benevolence, will cause his name to be hdd in high esteem for very many years to come.




Davenport Brothers

The Davenport Magic Box











Ira Davenport and Houdini










One of the most fascinating burials at Rookwood occurred in 1877 when one half of the internationally famous magic and spiritualism duo, The Davenport Brothers, died in Sydney in the middle of their Australian tour.

Americans, Ira and his younger brother, William Davenport, toured the world giving demonstrations of alleged spirit phenomena. They first came to attention in 1854, less than a decade after spiritualism took off across the world. Their act was often ‘investigated’, declared fraudulent, yet they continued to amaze the ‘true believers’, including the British writer and spiritualist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The Davenports’ most famous effect was the box illusion. The brothers were tied inside a box which contained musical instruments. Once the box was closed, the instruments would sound. Upon opening the box, the brothers were tied in the positions in which they had started the illusion. Those who witnessed the effect were made to believe supernatural forces had caused the trick to work.

On William’s death, after a long illness, his wife visited the stone mason at Rookwood and asked that a drawing of the spiritualist’s box be included on the memorial stone. Fearing the Church of England Trust, who had final say on all drawings and inscriptions, he refused and referred the widow back to the Trust. The Trust refused so Mrs Davenport took the matter to the Colonial Secretary. It created a major scandal and was even discussed in State Parliament.

According to the magician Harry Houdini, year’s later, Ira confessed to him that he and his brother had faked their “spirit” phenomena. Houdini in his book A Magician Amongst the Spirits (1924) also reproduced a letter from Ira claiming “we never in public affirmed our belief in spiritualism.”. When Houdini eventually toured Australia he visited Rookwood Cemetery to pay his respects to William Davenport and his pioneering magic.






Sweet Nell

Nellie Stewart

Nellie Stewart, born Sydney 1858, was one of Australia’s most popular music hall and theatre singers and universally referred to as ‘Our Nell’ and ‘Sweet Nell’. Born into a theatrical family, Stewart began acting as a child. As a young woman, she built a career playing in operetta and Gilbert and Sullivan operas

n 1902, Stewart had one of her greatest successes in the title role in Sweet Nell of Old Drury, and found another success at the end of the decade in Sweet Kitty Bellairs. After this, she continued to perform in both comedy and drama, and worked in theatre management, through the 1920s.

Stewart held a place by herself on the Australian stage. Beautiful in face and figure, full of vivacity, a natural actress, she had also an excellent soprano voice which she lost in middle life probably from over-working it. She took her art seriously, lived carefully and never lost her figure. She had unusual success at playing “younger” parts late in life. She had great versatility, and after being for many years at the head of her profession in Australia in light opera, she was able, after the loss of her voice, to take leading parts in non-musical comedy and drama. Though not judged a great actress, she was an effective one in both emotional and comic parts. Her autobiography displays a woman of charming character, kindly, appreciative of the good work of others, and free from the petty jealousies often associated with stage life. She had the admiration, affection and respect of Australian playgoers, both men and women, for 50 years. (Wikipedia)

Nellie’s starring roles included Sweet Kitty Bellairs, Mabel in Pirates of Penzance, Phyllis in Iolanthe, Yum-Yum in The Mikado, Marguerite in Goundod’s Faust, the title role in Princess Ida, Gianetta in The Gondaliers and Elsie in The Yeoman of the Guard, Rosette in Mam’zelle Nitouche and the title role in La Cigale. Stewart was to take leading roles in 35 comic operas. When the Duke and Duchess of York came to Australia to open the first federal parliament, Stewart sang the ode “Australia” at the beginning of the musical programme. In February 1902 she had one of the greatest parts in her career, Nell Gwynne in Sweet Nell of Old Drury. Other comedy parts followed in Mice and Men and Zaza. It was in the last play that Stewart reached her largest salary, £80 a week.

Stewart died, aged 72, on 21 June 1931 at her Mosman residence in Sydney. Her illness was reported as short and the result of heart trouble and pleurisy. Crowds gathered in Sydney for her funeral on 24 June 1931. People lined the streets and thronged around St. James’ Church, where the first of a number of services was held. Stewart’s remains were cremated at Rookwood Necropolis in Sydney after another service, and her ashes were taken to Melbourne.





Amongst the one million burials at Rookwood are many individualistic characters. Many were synonymous with Sydney’s wilder side, and the somewhat eccentric bohemian, Bea Miles, stands high in the list.

Bea Miles died in 1973 yet stories about her still circle today and older Australians will usually remember her affectionately, especially her unusual habits concerning and sometimes terrorising public transport. She was notorious for jumping in taxis and getting rides around town and refusing to pay. Taxi drivers either dreaded her, tolerated, or drove away in fear.

Bea was fairly easy to spot, a short, tanned woman, rotund and more than a little worn around the edge. She usually wore a trademark tennis sun visor. Others will recall she often wore a chalkboard notice strapped to her chest – advertising that she would recite a Shakespearean sonnet for a shilling. On a tram or bus she would eyeball a likely customer and start sprucing. God forbid if the customer ignored her or refused to pay. All hell would break loose with yelling and bad language until the driver stopped the tram or bus and ejected her.

In 1955, she famously took a taxi from Sydney to Perth and back. While she was known for her ability to quote any passage from Shakespeare in exchange for a taxi ride, Ms Miles had to fork out ₤600 for her transcontinental journey.

When her health began to fail her, she stopped living on the streets and moved into a nursing home, dying nine years later from cancer, aged 71. She was buried at Rookwood Cemetery.



For many years Sydneysiders were curious about a building erected by colonial wheelwright and publican, Robert John Hancock. Built in the 1830s it was well-known by the 1840s as ‘Hancock’s Tower. It stood a short distance, behind a row of steps, from Christ Church near Bay street, Broadway in what is now referred to as Sydney’s downtown. The tower was, as our illustration shows, a rather queer building, and many stories used to be in circulation regarding its use. The most general story, perhaps, was that which attributed the erection of the tower to the intention of its builder to have a place in which to imprison his, reputedly, demented wife. Hancock himself was a tall, thin, wiry man, and his tower was probably only the result of a whim. The Sydney Truth 1925 commented, almost every man has a hobby – dogs, chrysanthemums, postage stamps, &c, and Hancock’s hobby most likely was his queer tower, and his enjoyment was in hearing the explanations which curious people gave for its construction.

He had the unenviable credit of being an encourager of petty theft, not for the sake of gain, but for the sole love of the thing, as the odds and ends purchased were not converted into coin, at least in his lifetime. He would take any article of household use over his counter, give the same, and then add the purchase to a heap in a shed or in the back yard.

Another ‘eccentricity’ with which he was debited was this: Bay-street shopkeepers would arise only to find their window shutters and doors smeared over with paint, their names obliterated, and

obscene epithets inserted. It was well known that Hancock and his ‘push’ were the delinquents, but no amount of enquiry could sheet the charge home, simply because the shopkeepers  and others annoyed were afraid of the after consequences.

But the fact is that Hancock was a shrewd, hard-working wheelwright, who had his ‘smithy’ at the intersection of George and Market Streets. Hancock was so firm a believer in the adage that ‘an Englishman’s house is his castle’, that, having made considerable money at his trade, he built a watchtower as part of his residence to scare away would-be thieves. In the courtyard between the Tower and the Inn in front, he had a large stone statue erected, with flower-beds and trellises filling the surrounding yard. Hancock was known to entertain his guests in the tower, proudly showing off his view of Sydney that few other would ever see. The tower was demolished in 1894.

At the time of his death, in 1876, Robert Hancock’s wealth was estimated at anything between £50,000 and £100,000. Mr. Hancock’s appearance was not prepossessing. He was one-eyed or cross-eyed, of sinister appearance, and perfectly indifferent to soap and water. Filthy in person, he was filthy of tongue and mind; his life, as far as can be gathered, was one continued record of evil deeds and evil doings. He was aged 73. Old Chum, writing in the Truth, described him as a ‘gentle man, indifferent to soap and water.’   On his death he was buried at Rookwood Cemetery.



Robert John Hancock arrived in the colony in the early 1830s. He proved to be a confusing character, eccentric, and successful businessman, succeeding with a fair wind or foul. He was most noted as the landlord to the ‘Lady of the Lake’, Bay-street, on the corner of Greek-street, an establishment used as a rendezvous for larrikins of the lowest and foulest type, thieves, outlaws, and vagabonds generally.

He was eccentric and suspicious, and not above doing a little business ‘on the cross.’ The females frequenting the ‘Lady’ were of the ‘haybag’ type, much addicted to gin and rum and general filth. The landlord of the ‘Lady of the Lake’ was not, as may be guessed, an Adonis, yet he found favour in the sight of ladies of a certain stamp, and was known to keep more than ‘one establishment.’

The death of Robert Hancock was the occasion of a great ‘wake,’ an orgy, in fact. Although the late Mr. George Read, the Governor of Darlinghurst Gaol, was executor of the will, he does not appear to have immediately come upon the scene. Hancock’s housekeeper had the body lying in state on the tap-room table of the hotel. Lights burned at the head and feet, and a general invitation to all and sundry to come and drink to the welfare of the departed in the other world. The housekeeper did not then know the contents of Bobby Hancock’s ‘last will and testament,’ or she might not have been so enthusiastic. He treated her very shabbily.

The invitation to ‘liquor up’ was generally accepted. Bay-street and the streets adjoining held high revel and Robert Hancock, not popular in life, proved popular in death. All things, however, have an end and Hancock’s ‘wake’ was ended by Undertaker Walter Dixon carting the remains of the dead satyr to Rookwood Cemetery for burial.



Jack Lang was known as ‘The Big Fella’. He was a staunch Labor man and is best remembered for his tough measures during the Great Depression, including closing the banks.