Where are we working?

St. John’s Anglican Cemetery Milton

St. John’s Anglican Cemetery was established on Back Road, Milton, in 1860 (although there may have been a few informal burials there earlier), but the focus of local settlement shifted to the present main road during the gold rush years, and the local secular Fairfax Cemetery became more popular. The last known burial at the St. John’s Cemetery was in 1926, and it was formally closed in 1971. After many years of neglect, a local community group (Tokomairiro Project 60, or TP60) was formed to restore the cemetery, and this group approached Hallie Buckley and Peter Petchey for help.

Some of the visible headstones at St John’s, Milton, with sheep being used to keep the grass short. This area was not excavated in the project, which focussed on the unmarked areas of the burial ground. Photo: Peter Petchey

The cemetery consisted of a fenced area with a scattering of old gravestones and a holly tree. Long grass was periodically kept down using sheep as lawn mowers. We carried out a three week excavation there in December 2016, and found that the burials extended out from the modern fence-line into the neighbouring field: 16 graves were found on the ‘wrong side’ of the fence. As a result of our work the Anglican Church (who own the cemetery) are presently investigating re-fencing the cemetery along the correct boundaries.

Ardrossan Street and Gabriel Street Cemeteries, Lawrence

Lawrence was the seat of one of Otago’s main goldrushes, after Gabriel Reid found gold in Gabriel’s Gully in May 1861. Lawrence was also the location of a Chinese goldfields settlement, which grew up after Chinese miners began to arrive in Otago from 1866. We are investigating two cemeteries in Lawrence: the ‘old’ cemetery on Ardrossan Street, and the ‘new’ cemetery on Gabriel Street.

The Ardrossan Street old cemetery before excavation began. Now private land, it was overgrown and had been used for livestock. 

The Ardrossan Street cemetery was only in use in the early to mid-1860s, and was closed in 1866. The Borough Council then sought permission from the families of those who were buried there to move the bodies to the ‘new’ cemetery on Gabriel Street, and local lore was that all but one graves were moved. The land was later sold into private ownership. The site is a broad grassy ridge sloping down towards the town, with a gully on either side, with mature trees in these gullies. We spent three weeks in April 2018 excavating the top of the ridge, and quickly found that the local stories that most burials had been moved were not true: to date we have found 8 burials, all of whom were still there. We aim to return in early 2019 to continue excavation.

The Gabriel Street Cemetery was opened in 1866, and is still in use. We are concentrating on the southern end of the cemetery, where Chinese and ‘paupers’ are known to have been buried. This area is grassy, with some large mature oak trees and scattered gravestones. We started excavations here in April 2018, but have so far only investigated three graves due to very wet ground conditions. We hope to return in early 2019 (if it ever stops raining).

The ‘new’ cemetery on Gabriel Street. The Chinese and Paupers area lies in the low ground to the right of this photo. 

We are also investigating the possibility of carrying out similar research in other goldfields locations in Otago and further afield. Discussions are ongoing…