Volume 6 (2022)
THE OLD GOLDMINERS' CEMETERY (1867 - 1870)
Jellicoe Crescent, Thames.
By Kae Lewis
One of the oldest European cemeteries in Thames is the Old Goldminers' Cemetery in Jellicoe Crescent which was once on the outskirts of the gold-mining settlement of Shortland. It was built on one of the wahi tapu associated with the Te Kauaeranga Pa. Today the old cemetery is open grass, with most of the gravestones gone. Many of them would have been wooden crosses dating from 1868-70, when Thames was a thriving goldfield.
On 23 January 1869, The Reverend Vicesimus Lush mentions in his diary:
'Waiting in the cemetery for a funeral, I looked over the few head stones? (wood) erected there..'
He does not mention the location of this cemetery but even as late as 1869, there were mainly wooden crosses in the Thames cemeteries. There are only two graves left there today. One has an iron rail fence around it with two large Phoenix palm trees growing within it and damaging it. The other has a stone with the inscription now worn off.
These graves were recorded by Nicholas Twohill in his 2001 article and also by volunteers from the NZ Society of Genealogists:
An iron fence surrounded a marble obelisk, in memory of: William James WARREN aged 2, died 1869 Alice COLEMAN, aged 50, died 1869 Alice WARREN, aged 1, died 1870.
William James Warren died at Karaka Creek on 3rd October 1868. The cause of death was concussion of the brain. His father was James Warren, miner of Karaka Creek.
Alice Coleman died on the 14 October 1869 at Karaka Creek of dysentery. The informant was James Warren, miner of Karaka Creek, her son-in-law. James Warren married Annie Coleman in 1865 and he first took out a Miner's Right on 10 June 1868, followed by another on 27th Aug 1868 and 6 Sept 1869, all at Karaka Creek, Thames.
Alice Coleman died aged 1 in October 1870 of diarrhea. The informant was James Warren, miner of Grahamstown.
The sandstone headstone commemorates:
A small group of headstones were in the cemetery up until the 1950s (Alistair Isdale, personal communication). These were later stacked in a corner of the cemetery before disappearing entirely. Part of the cemetery has more recently been built on.
An account by Theophilus Cooper describes the scene as he attempted to carry on the service for John Willis on December 17 1867:
'John Willis, the poor man who was sadly mutilated by the horses on the 14th December, has after dreadful suffering, passed from the excitement and turmoil of this strange place to another and, I trust, a better world. His remains were taken in a van this evening to the burial-ground, by his mates, who, to their praise, paid every attention to him in his sufferings; but, having dug the grave, they, as did also the widow, expressed great dissatisfaction in having to bury a fellow creature in such a place. The soil (an improper term to use) was nearly a mass of shells, and as fast as the grave was dug, it filled with water. A general feeling of indignation was manifested by the people around. The Warden was sent for, and when he arrived, he told the widow of the deceased man that, if she wished it, the body should be sent to Auckland and be buried in consecrated ground. In the meantime, he and Mr Mitchell would endeavour to obtain subscriptions to defray the expenses. The body was then taken back to the dead-house.'
This explains why the cemetery was abandoned. However the evidence of the several gravestones remaining indicate that it was still in use as late as 1870. By 1870, burials were taking place in what is today called the Shortland cemetery.
Thames Star 29 September 1953 page 5:
OLD MAORI CEMETERY ALSO USED BY EUROPEANS