Those who have read more than a handful of my reviews will be aware of my predilection for visiting old cemeteries. This is not out of any sense of morbid curiosity but rather because of their value in getting to know a local area and its social history, in particular.
Weetangera Cemetery formerly backed onto Weetangera Methodist Church with both opening in 1873. The church, having fallen into disrepair, was demolished in 1955 and a stone cairn, just inside the entrance, itself flanked by two beautiful old cypress trees, now marks its former location.
The cemetery continued in use until 1964 though the majority of burials here occurred in the late 19th century. I also noted that a number of the headstones had been painted white. This reflects the more widespread 19th century custom of painting what were then otherwise plain sandstone headstones.
The thing that struck me most about the tidy little cemetery was that every second headstone marked the burial of a Southwell family member.
Thomas Southwell an immigrant from England in 1838, first introduced Methodism into the region in 1846 (over half a century before Canberra formally came into existence) when he opened his Ginninderra home for Bible readings and sermons before building a chapel and Sunday school at ‘Parkwood’, his then residence, in 1863 . In 1869 a small wooden slab Methodist church was established in what is today the inner-north Canberra suburb of Lyneham. This church was dismantled and moved to here in Weetangera in 1873 with the cemetery established in the same year, as mentioned earlier.
Of the forty-four recorded burials in the cemetery, twenty-one are of Southwell family members. Thomas himself was buried here, in the centre of the cemetery, in 1881.
Late 19th century urban cemeteries often feature a majority of child and infant burials. While there were a number of child burials in the Weetangera Cemetery the number was not in proportion to that of burials in urban cemeteries of the day. Typically in rural communities children, especially infants, were buried close to where families lived as opposed to in more distant cemeteries. As such, it comes as no surprise that eight infants from the Southwell family were buried in a small private cemetery at its Parkwood residence, rather than here at Weetangera.
Unlike private cemeteries set-up on large estates in the region, such as Duntroon and Lanyon, Weetangera was actually a public cemetery and the predominance of internments from a single family merely reflects the presence of a close-knit, relatively isolated family community.
The cemetery is located along William Hovell Drive, on a rise to the right (western side) a couple of hundred metres south of the intersection with Drake Brookman Drive . You can park along William Hovel Drive but be careful as this is a busy road and vehicles travel at high speed here – don’t make your visit to the cemetery permanent! Alternatively, do as I did and park in Mainoru Place across the road in the suburb of Hawker and walk across to the cemetery using the underpass to traverse William Hovell Drive. There were a couple of interesting pieces of graffiti on the underpass worthy a look when I visited – you never know what might be there when you visit.
Address: William Hovell Drive, Canberra
Directions: A couple of hundred metres south of the intersection with Drake Brookman Drive