The Cemetery

History

By Judith Dunn

Abstract: St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta is Australia’s oldest surviving European cemetery, established in January 1790. This essay outlines the site’s history from the first burial, of James Magee “convict’s child,” the gradual construction of the site’s features, including its convict-built wall and roofed lychgate, to the formation of the community organisation The Friends of St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta. more>>

Significance

By Judith Dunn

Abstract: Australia’s oldest surviving European cemetery was established in a former stock paddock on the outskirts of Parramatta as a general burial ground for all denominations in January 1790. Thenceforth it became the final resting place of over 50 First Fleeters, a multitude of convicts of the First, Second and Third Fleets, and other ships, numerous pioneers and colonial elites who were immortalised in place names in Parramatta and surrounds, women and children who died at the Parramatta Female Factory, orphans who passed away at the Orphan Schools at Parramatta and Liverpool, as well as patients from the nearby convict hospitals and various mental health institutions in the colony. From St. John’s headstones and associated records, we discover that Parramatta’s people were, from the outset, more religiously and ethnically diverse than the popular notion of a strictly ‘British’ colony would have us believe. But we also learn about their work trends, health and lifespan, who prospered and who lived in poverty, how they were living and how they were dying. In short, St John’s Cemetery, Parramatta encapsulates and reflects the character of the growing town of Parramatta, providing us with a real, detailed picture of what was going on in the area at a given time and, thus, makes this heritage site a place of great cultural significance with aesthetic, scientific, social and historic value for the past, present, and future. more>>