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THE FORGOTTEN DEAD., Auckland Star, Volume XL, Issue 179, 29 July 1909
THE FORGOTTEN DEAD.
a CEJorrEKr of ruixs. - okex- vaults _4>td beoken ::/_ ~ - goffents." Neglected, desolated, and devastated, the Symonds-streefc Cemetery, situated almost in the heart of the city, and the resting place of some of New Zealand's greatest pioneers, soldiers -and leaders, is a disgrace to Auckland. Overhead towers the Grafton bridge, in course of construction at a eo?t of some £35,000, standing as a monument to the progressiveness of the city, and the belief of its citizens in the developments of the future. Below, on either side, are the shattered, tottering monuments of a forgotten past; grim relics, marking the graves of Xew Zealand's first legislators, governors, clergy and ■many of the heroes who lost their lives in the wars of this country's history. Along Symonds-street the City Council is erecting a very handsome stone wall, surmounted by an iron railing, giving quite an air of respectability to that part of the cemetery situated on the eastern side cf the road. But within all is utter chaos, ruin, and disorder. Fallen headstones lie flat on the graves of those whose memories they are supposed to perpetuate. Pome have fallen across the unkept paths, and have been thrown aside, or piled one against the other in heaps. Others are broken, or lost in the mass of undergrowth. Ninety per cent of the graves have not known the touch of a caring hand for years. Fallen trees lie across the railings, which, in thp majority of cases are in a state of sad disrepair, or have almost entirely disappeared. Of regular paths there are comparatively none, and numerous tracks lead in all directions over neglected graves and fallen tombstones. A great mass of tangled undergrowth abounds everywhere, hiding graves, and broken stonee and railings. The scene is such as one might expect to find in some ruined and long-forgotten city, but certainly not in the heart of Auckland. The constructive works in connection with the new Grafton bridge cf course led to the removal of a number of bodies, and the moving of the headetones, but the state of disorder referred to is to be found in every part of the cemetery on the eastern side of SymondsEtreet: and the grave-yard, which should be a pla-ee of historic interest, is an unkempt wilderness. DOWN AMONG THE DEAD. Following the many crosscuts, which lead in and out amongst the neglected graves, one who is curious may find much that is of sad, though oft-times gruesome, interest. By parting the undergrowth and scraping away the moss, it is possible to ascertain the resting places of men whose names were once honoured and respected—men who figured prominently in the history of this country, and who deserve to be remembered accordingly. Here and there it is quite impossible to read the names upon the moss-eaten stones, but "Knight of the Legion of Honour," " X.C.8.," and other titles can he made out upon what were once handsome monuments, but are now mos3 covered and broken stones. Those, who in the early days' of Auckland, erected what were no doubt intended, for family vaults, have fared, no tetter. The -writer, in an exploration tour, came across what had. tonce been f- beautifully built vault, but the signs of neglect were just as evident here as elsewhere. The inscription. showed that the bodies below were ttiose of tm.an and wife, who in their lifetime bore one of the best known names in Auckland to-day, and that they were 30 years ago residents. Proceeding to the rear of the vault, the heavy iron door was found to be ajar. Jnside were two coffins, raised slightly off the floor. That containing the remains of the •woman was small, but it is evident that the husband in life must have been a giant of a man, and his coffin ■was three times the size of the other. The lid of the smaller coffin had been taken off, and' was lying corner-wise acros3 the framework. The screws had evidently been taken out, and it appeared as if vandalism might possibly ■have been the object of some person ■who ■had -previously found his way into the vault. Within the -wooden coffin, however, there -was a second coffin madeof lead. At the head "there was a glass aperture, not "unlike a small porthole, ■and through this, with the aid of a light, it was possible to view the gruesome remains of all that the leaden ca-skefc held. The air within the vault ■was dark, odorous, and 'heavy, and water dripped from the brick walls overhead. All the tinsel and mountings seemed to have been stripped from both coffins, and the silver name plates (presuming there were such at one time) -were missing. Of the evidences of wtorldly pomp, there mained nothing, and the vault was cold, wet, bare and uncanny. A little further on was another vault, the Testing place of a man, who, 28 years ago, occupied a very prominent place in the business-life of Auckland. The monument which surmounts it is, or, rather, was, a particularly handBorne one. To-day the great iron lock hangs - broken and useless, and those -who are morbidly curious may enter. There is no need to go to the trouble Of springing open the iron door, however, fof a great hole in the earth a,t the side lof the vault gives a view which is sufficient, and with the aid of a match the floor can be seen strewn with bottles, while in the foulsome darkness can be heard the scurrying of rats. FOKGOTTEN HEROES. That section, of the cemetery directly facing Symonds-street is the only part of the graveyard betokening any signs of care and attention worth speaking of, and the reason of this is not far to seek. A 'bent old man of 70, dressed in a semi-military uniform, works amongst the graves. "Say, are you the caretaker?" was asked of him. "No, I'm not," was the reply; "but when the ..weather is fine I spend all the time I can looking after these little plots. 1 won't be nere for much longer though, and when I'm gone I don't know who will bother about them. These are the graves of my officers and messmates — there are 60 of them altogether. See," said the old man, wanning to his storr, "here is the grave of my old commanding officer, Colonel Austin, who -svas shot dead in action at Itangiriri, near Mercer. This is the resting-place of Captain Mercer, after whom the town of Mercer ; is called. He was killed the same morning, and ail these graves mark the fburial ground of the 60 officers and men whf> fell at Eangiriri that day. This little stone, as you see, is in memory of a trave midshipmite of 19 who -was the first man to fall in that mad storming of the Siaori stronghold, and that vacant space, -where the mounds are overgrown, »ad on -wM<3i those toys are playing, contains the graves of nearly 50 of my jfld comrades, all killed in the came fight. ghero /ga; heioes man of
memory. Here also, alongside Of Colonel Austin's grave, lies buried Commodore Burnett, a Companion of the Order of the Bath, and a Knight of the Legion of Honour, as the inscription, on the headstone shows. He was commander in charge of the Australian station, and he it was who ran his ship Orpheus on to a sandbank on the Manukau bar, and perished with nearly all his men. Ay, sir," ne added, "I'm not the caretaker, and I'm not paid for the little I do in keeping in order the graves of my old comrades; hut when I'm gone \ I'm afraid they will be as neglected and forgotten as the others which surround them," and Sergt. V. Williams, veteran soldier of the King, returned to his work amongst the little green mounds. THE FIRST GOVERNORS. Close to where the Grafton bridge takes its first mighty span across the Cemetery Gully lies the body of the first Governor of "New Zealand, Governor Hobson. Near hi 3 resting-place is that of the first Lieutenant-Governor of the northern province, Major-General Dean Pitt. A little further over is a headstone marking the burial ground of the first minister of St. Paul's, the Rev. John Churton. Another monument betokens that of the late Judge Maning, and yet another that of one of New Zealand's first Chief Justices, Mr. Sydney Stephen, who died half a century ago. The graves of Major-General Dean Pitt and the Rev. Churton show some evidence of attention, but that of Governor Hobson is uncared for and falling fast into disrepair. The stonework is cracking up. and empty beer bottles and rubbish surround it.. The grave of the late Mr. Justice Stephen was intended to have been marked for many years to come by a handsome headstone and an iron railing, tout the railing has been broken away, and a heavily worn track passes over the downtrodden grave of the late Chief Justice. Speaking in public some time ago, his Excellency Lord Plunket made a special plea that the graves <*f Governor Hofoson and others of >*ncktand's first citizens should not b» allowed to fall into a state of neglect and disrepair, and it is indeed evident that it is high time some action was taken to make the Symonds-street cemetery a place of interest, where the graves of the dead may be remembered and honoured, and not utterly forgotten.
THE FORGOTTEN DEAD., Auckland Star, Volume XL, Issue 179, 29 July 1909
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