There are as many as 740 cemeteries and grave sites as well as 250 lone or station burial sites recorded in South Australia. All of them provide valuable sources of information on the political, social and religious changes which have occurred in South Australia during the last 175 years. The most obvious information which can be gained from headstones is the person's name, age, date and place of death. Other information often available is the cause of death, occupation, names of parents and last but not least the name of the mason who produced the stone.
Headstones can also give information about the person's religion and the architectural and decorative styles common at that time. Epitaphs on headstones can show the prevailing attitude to death and often tells us something of the community attitude as well.
Mrs Doig worked for many years
South Australian cemeteries bear mute witness to the deaths in childbirth of many women. Although medical help may have been available in Adelaide, or some of the other major settlements, it was certainly not available to women in the north of the colony or in recently settled areas.
wife of John H. Trevorrow of this place (Blinman)
and fourth daughter of Captain J.O. Anthony of Cornwall.
South Australian cemeteries provide information about children and infants drowned, burned or lost in the bush. The Burra cemetery has a tombstone which reads, 'died of circumcision' and another 'Murdered by a German'. Other stones tell the story of miners who died underground or bushmen who perished from thirst.
House fires were very common with such materials as bags, newspapers and pine being used in its construction. Dried out by the sun outside and the heat from the open fire inside, they were susceptible to the merest spark. Many a child lost its life because of it. At the Beltana cemetery is a headstone which provides evidence of such a tragic event when Anna Johnston, aged 32, and her four children perished on 15 December 1881. One observation of any cemetery is the high infant mortality rate.
Cemeteries can also reflect the attitude of the times on certain social, religious, economic or political issues. Both the Farina and Marree cemeteries are divided into sections for Aborigines, Afghans and whites.
Headstones can provide information on the educational standards of the time. It is not uncommon to find stones with glaring spelling mistakes. Inscriptions are also found in different languages such as German, Chinese, Greek, Arabic and many other languages. The quality of the stone, and the material it is made of, often says something about the economic condition of the person buried or their relatives.
In a response to the increased use of cemetery records and its importance to family and other historians, Flinders Ranges Research has during the last 20 years made an effort to photograph as many headstones as possible from hundreds of burial sites.
Unfortunately no one cemetery record is or will remain complete. The main reasons being, the angle of the sun at the time of photographing, broken or disintegrated headstones, overgrown stones, chemical weathering of the stone or its inscription, reflection, especially from black marble stones and newly added headstones after the initial record was made. The worst of all reasons being the senseless vandalism which regularly affect some cemeteries.
Luckily several councils have started to look after their cemeteries a little better. Some have even gone to the extent of putting up small plagues on known graves which had no previous headstones which adds a great deal to the records.
View list of cemeteries