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Volume 2 (2009)

Shortland and Tararu Cemeteries of Thames

by Margaret Nankivell

At the time of gold discovery in August 1867, inland traders, Maori and Pakeha, were transporting on the river, and ships' masters plied the area seeking kauri timbers and gum. Soon the principal towns of the area, including Grahamstown and Shortland, were united to form the Borough of Thames. By mid-1 868 the population of the goldfields was estimated to be around 18,000 people with numbers drifting downwards according to gold yields, reaching around 6,000 when mining 'fell apart' by the First World War (Isdale 1967: 72 & 36). Graharnstown mining folk and their families tended to use the Tararu cemetery for their place of burial and the more central Shortland settlement, the Shortland cemetery. Local Ngati Maru Maori involvement in mining life seemed limited to negotiations with settlers and the Crown over land leases; tribal life - and burial - were generally apart from European settlement. The aim of this project is to examine remaining gravestones in both the Tararu and Shortland cemeteries between 1867 and 1926 with the primary focus on the goldmining period 1867 to 1914.

Photo A.

In Memory of
who died 15 June 1870
aged 58 years
also MARY
widow of the late
Patrick Carmody...
Click to enlarge the photograph.
Photo B

Hugh Hill,
died 1886, aged 39 years
Click to enlarge the photograph.


No cemetery records exist before 1870. Mr Lawrence Costello, has one of the oldest headstones. (Photo A.)

A study of the Shortland cemetery records for 1870 indicated that of the 117 recorded deaths, 20 men and 14 women died between the ages of 18 and 40 years; no population figures could be found for the number of 'diggers' who passed through Thames. Mine workers' deaths, however, were prevalent - from silicosis, the result of lung exposure to quartz dust, and deaths from mine accidents, including gas explosions, such as that of Hugh Hill, whose wife, Emma chose a marble cross, (also recording the deaths of their five children), with the symbol Jesus, Saviour of Man. Others who died of mine injuries and accidents were Charles McKeown, Thomas Casley and James Williams.

Later, in 1914, well after the first gold rush, the NZ Yearbook (1915: 163) still recorded that New Zealand-wide, workers' goldmining deaths were second only to those manual workers involved in 'agricultural and pastoral' occupations.

Children, with their early deaths, were the major casualty; grave markers throughout both cemeteries bear witness.

The Shortland cemetery 1870 survey shows that 41 children under one year (not including stillbirths) died out of 117 total-population deaths in Thames. No statistics could be found to place that high mortality rate in a national context, except that in the same 1870 year, according to the New Zealand Official Year-Book (1915: 171), 43 deaths of infants less than one year old, per 100 live births, were recorded nationwide.

The Hope family lost three children in three years from 1876 to 1879.

William and Alice Paltridge lost three children.

Thomas and Elizabeth Robinson lost three boys in 1875, 1884 and 1886. "One by one they crossed the river."

The Anglican Minister, the Reverend Lush, (1975: 138) writing in his journal in August 1873, mourns the deaths of children - 21 of the last 27 burials he had attended - and later his own daughter, Margaret Edith Lush who died of scarlet fever in 1876.

Christina Annie Sullivan, aged 14 at her death in 1896, was given a headstone with a pall drapery symbolizing 'clothed in the righteousness of Christ' and roses to remind us of the 'joys of paradise' (Photo I) (Seaton 204: 4 & 13) and we are asked to pray for her soul.

In the early goldrush years, in addition to general infectious diseases, pregnancy and the perinatal period were hazardous times for women as well as their babies. The Shortland records of 1870 indicate that 11 women under 35 years died that year, which had reduced in 1880 and l881 to four and six deaths respectively - hopefully due to a reduction in puerperal sepsis. Stillbirths are seldom mentioned in records; only Mary Ann Way and her (probably) stillborn daughter were identified on a gravestone - the mourning figure, and the poignant, grieving, 'a wife and child in sweet repose'.

The Role of Women.

At the end of the nineteenth century, women in New Zealand had on one hand gained the right to vote but on the other, the ideology of "The Cult of Domesticity and Pure Womanhood" (Olssen and Levesque 1978: 6) established home-making and motherhood - and the guardian of society's morals - as the only career choice for women (Olssen 1: 259). Thames, a 'frontier' society, generally reflected the invisibility of women in public life, unless they were unmarried.

Sarah Gott was an esteemed teacher for 26 years, who held the position of First Assistant in the Tararu District School and died unmarried in 1901.(Photo C).

Susan Purnell was 'unremarkable' on a plain family headstone. She was the wife of a miner, and storekeeper in her own right and campaigned passionately, using her 'Twelve Reasons Why Women Should Vote' to urge women to exercise their first-time vote in November 1893 (Killip 1995: 58-59). (Photo D.)

Sister Jessie Linton, who died in November 1918, however, was given a splendid headstone and epitaph - 'In the service of humanity she found the inspiration of a noble life' - in gratitude for her nursing care in Thames during the influenza epidemic which killed 5,516 people nationwide in 1918. (Photo E). (New Zealand Official Yearbook 1926: 155).

Photo C:

In Loving Memory of
Who was for upwards of 26 years
First Assistant teacher in the
Tararu District School
Died May 6 1901.
Click to enlarge the photograph.
Photo D:

In Loving Memory of
Who passed away June 13th 1908
Aged 59 Years
Also his wife
passed away Oct 15th 1926
Also their two infant daughters.
Click to enlarge the photograph.
Photo E:

This Plot was Enclosed and Tablet Erected
By the People of Thames
In Grateful Remembrance of
After Untiring Devotion to Duty,
During the Epidemic of 1918,
She Fell Victim,
And Died 18th Nov. 1918.
Aged 30 Years.
In the Service of Humanity,
She found the inspiration of a noble life.
Click to enlarge the photograph.


Many of the gravestones in Tararu and Shortland do not record peoples' birthplaces. Most born outside New Zealand have their origins in Great Britain and present day Eire. For example, there was Cornishman Martin Hodge, and his wife.

Patrick Donnelly (Manager of the Golden Crown mine) and Catherine, his wife, were from Southern Ireland and have a gothic-shaped headstone, a suppliant figure clinging to the Cross and Roman Catholic R.I.P. (Requiescat in Pace).

Max Von Bernewitz was German-born, and Manager of the Moanataiari mine.

The Tararu sexton's records, randomly selected for 1879, also show death listings for males born in Denmark, Norway and the Cape Colony. Between 1874 and 1896 it seems, increasingly, that more people were actually born in New Zealand.

The Law, Education and Men of Status

Harry Kenrick, the highly-respected 'upright and fearless Magistrate and Warden' (Diamond Jubilee Souvenir 1927: 78) from 1879-1886, is honoured with a pedestal monument which stands apart in a prominent position in the Shortland Cemetery - 'he showed his faith by his works'. The renowned status of 'Keneriki' is also noted and remembered by local Maori.

A similar grand monument stands in the Tararu cemetery, witness to the status of James Adams, appointed first Headmaster of Thames High School in 1880. Just visible (indistinct in the photograph) is the crown above the epitaph which apparently has both Old and New Testament symbolism to honour the worthy (Seaton 2004: 15). His epitaph bears the legend 'scholar, gentleman, enthusiast, who loved knowledge and truth, and hated ignorance and cant'.

Thomas Radford J.P., Mayor of Thames 1893 - 1897. Manager of the Alburnia and Moanataiari Mines.

Robert Wilson was born in Scotland and was the Manager of the Thames Gas Company from 1972.

James McLean was the Manager of the Tararu Creek Gold Mining Company.

Location of Graves in the Shortland and Tararu Cemeteries

The exact location of graves in Thames can be found on the Thames Coromandel District Council searchable database

Burial Records

Twentymans Funeral Directors (established 1875) had all of their pre 1930s' records destroyed by fire. Sextons' records from both cemeteries are often illegible and incomplete and no records were kept before 1870. Many graves have never been marked or had wooden markers (especially the poor buried in 'public' plots). Headstones still present are often broken and/or have lettering indecipherable. Places of birth are often not mentioned on the headstone - although they may be identified on a sexton's record. If only existing headstone 'evidence' had been used it would be likely to present a very biased picture of the social structure of the community, since only people with means were able to purchase more permanent grave markers, and men with wealth and prestige in life were buried in a grander style with a more substantial and lasting monument.

Religious Denominations

In Thames there are no churchyard burial grounds and furthermore the Shortland and Tararu cemeteries carry no denominational divisions. Christian symbols are present on many intact gravestones. As Graham said (198 1 : 126) 'bigotry, conflict and sectarian strife' were not unheard of in settler society but generally religious tolerance prevailed and there can be no obvious contrary evidence to be found in these Thames' graveyards or documented history.
The Ngati Maru chief, Hoterini Taipari generously gifted land for church buildings. All the major denominations were strongly represented in Thames (Graham 1981 : 127). The New Zealand Census records for the years 1874-1891 and the randomly- selected Tararu sexton's cemetery record for the year 1898, all reflect the diversity of Christian denominations in Thames; of the sexton's documented 29 deaths, there were 4 Roman Catholics, 12 Episcopalians (Anglican), 3 Methodists, 2 Primitive Methodists, 1 Salvation Army, 1 Baptist, 5 Presbyterians and 1 Plymouth Brother.

Statistics from the Census of New Zealand

from Killip, R. (1995). To Find a Fortune: Women of the Thames Goldfield, 1867 - 1893.
Wellington: Victoria University of Wellington, pp.89-90.

Birth Places of the People of Thames (1874- 1886)

Religion of the Population of Thames (1874 - 1891)


Ell, G. (1995). Goldrush. Auckland: The Bush Press.

Warn, J. (1981). 'Settler Society' in Oliver, W. (ed.). The Oxford Histoy of New Zealand, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, pp. 112-139.

Isdale, A. (1967). History of 'The River Thames' New Zealand. Manurewa: County Chronicle Press Ltd.

Killip, R. (1995). To Find a Fortune: Women of the Thames Goldfield, 1867 - 1893. Wellington: Women's Studies, Victoria University of Wellington.

Moller, D. (1 996). Confronting Death: Values, Institutions and Human Mortality. New York: Oxford University Press.

Olssen, E., and Levesque, A. (1978). 'Towards a History of the European Family in New Zealand' in Koopman-Boyden, P. (ed.). Families in New Zealand Society, Wellington: Methuen Publications Ltd., pp. 1-25.

Olssen, E. (1981). 'Towards a New Society' in Oliver, W. (ed.). The Oxford History of New Zealand, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, pp. 250-277.

Parsons, T. (2002). 'An Outline of the Social System' in Calhoun, C., Gerteis, J., Moody, J., Pfaff, S., Schmidt, K., and Virk, I. (eds.). Classical Sociological Theory, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., pp. 366-385.

Seaton, L. (2004). Messages in Stone: A Guide to the Meanings of the Symbols on Headstones. Christchurch: South Canterbury Museum.

Thames Coromandel District Council, Burial records, Shortland Cemetery, Thames, Burial Register, 5 August 1883 - 5 November 1917

Thames Cormandel District Council, Burial records, Shortland Cemetery, Thames, Burial Register, 14 November 1917 - 28 May l981.

Thames Coromandel District Council, Burial records, Shortland Cemetery, Thames, Secretary's Book, 1869 - 1883.

Thames Coromandel District Council, Burial records, Shortland Cemetery, Thames, Sexton's Books, 2 Januury 1869 - 24 September 1896 and 8 October 1896 - 17 October 1936.

Thames Coromandel District Council, Tararu Cemetery Thames, Burial records, 23 January 1884 - 25 March 1982.

Thames Cormandel District Council, Tararu Cemetery Thames, Register of Sale and Transfer of land, No. I - 762.

Thames Coromandel District Council, Tararu Cemetery Thames, Cemetery Book, 1873 - 1911.

The Thames Journal of Vicesimus Lush 1868-82 (1975). Drumrnond, A. (ed.). Christchurch: Pegasus Press.

The Government of New Zealand (1915). The New Zealand Official Year Book, 1915. Wellington: Government Printer.

The Government of New Zealand (1926). The New Zealand Official Year Book, 1926, Wellington: Government Printer.

Walter, T. (1999). On Bereavement: The Culture of Grief Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Weston, F. (1927). Thames Golflelds: A History from Pre-Proclamation Times to 1927. Thames: Office of the 'Thames Star'.

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