During a visit to Croydon last year, my husband and I spent time exploring the historic Croydon Cemetery. Gazetted as a cemetery in 1889, the heritage-listed Croydon Cemetery is the only one of ten cemeteries in the district still in use today.

Croydon is a former gold mining town in the heart of northwest Queensland’s Gulf Savannah region. It’s the administrative centre of the Croydon Shire. By road, Croydon is 524 kilometres southwest of Cairns, about 700 kilometres northwest of Townsville and roughly halfway between Georgetown and Normanton.

The story of the Croydon Cemetery mirrors that of Croydon itself – its establishment, rapid expansion and eventual decline, the people’s religious and ethnic backgrounds, living conditions, life expectancy and causes of death – from the mid-1880s to the present day.

NOTE: A list of references I used in preparing this story is found at the end of the post. Specific references are numbered and noted throughout the text by brackets: [X].

 

Croydon’s establishment and rapid expansion

Among the original inhabitants of the Croydon district were the Tagalaka people. In 1881, European settlers, brothers Alexander and William Chalmers (W.C.) Brown, and their father, took up a large pastoral run they called Croydon Downs Station (after Croydon, England, their birthplace). In October 1885, W.C. Brown and two brothers named Aldridge (contractors working for W.C. Brown), and allegedly another contractor named Tom McEvoy, discovered gold on the property. [1]

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Cairn, Centenary Park, Croydon – the supposed site of the first gold found at Croydon. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

On 18 January 1886, the Queensland Government proclaimed the Croydon goldfield a payable proposition and hundreds of prospectors and their families flocked to the area. Within a year of the original discovery, the population of the district had grown to about 2000.

At the peak of the gold rush (1887), the district’s population was officially about 6500 and unofficially about 8000. But, by the 1890s, Croydon’s population had decreased, and remained between 3000 and 4000 until the decline began in the early 1900s. [2] Today, according to 2016 Australian census data, Croydon has a population of 258 people. [3]

The Croydon Goldfield. Map.
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The Croydon Goldfield. Map source: Frew, J. (1981). Queensland Post Offices 1842-1980 and Receiving Offices 1869-1927 / Joan Frew, p. 71.

 

Early in 1886, John Sircom surveyed the township. The Croydon post office opened on 20 March 1886. A telegraph office opened July 4, 1887 and a combined post and telegraph office was formed that same day. [4] A rudimentary hospital opened in 1886. [5]

The town of Croydon was gazetted on 21 February 1888. It is listed in Pugh’s Almanac and Queensland Directory for the first time in 1889. According to the listing, by then the township had a population of 5000 and increasing.[6]

The Normanton to Croydon railway line opened in 1891. The line passed through mining communities Golden Gate and True Blue, northwest of Croydon, before reaching Croydon. The coming of the railway was a lifeline, breaking down much of Croydon’s isolation.

The municipality of Croydon, and its administrative body, the Croydon Divisional Board, was established in 1892. In 1907, the divisional board was replaced by the Croydon Shire Council, which remains the district’s local government administrative body today. [7]

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c. 1900. Crowd outside the Town Hall, Croydon. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.

 

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Croydon Town Hall today. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

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Croydon Shire Council building today. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

Croydon’s cemeteries

In 1886, John Sircom also surveyed the district’s first cemetery, which later became known as the Old Croydon Cemetery. At the time, it already contained several graves. The Old Croydon Cemetery was declared a cemetery reserve (R18) on 25 August 1888.

In September 1888 Mr W A Irwin surveyed a second cemetery, reserve (R16), on Julia Creek Road, which was to become the town’s main cemetery. The “new” Croydon Cemetery was gazetted in 1889.

The first documented burial in the Croydon Cemetery was that of F W Kennedy, on 6 January 1889. His grave is not marked. The first marked grave in the cemetery was most likely that of William Pascoe, who died on 19 July 1889.

According to information provided at the Croydon Museum, the local authorities were slow to act with the result that perhaps only 60% of deaths in the Croydon district between 1885 and January 1889 were recorded properly. Like that of F W Kennedy, many a grave during this period was not marked.

Apparently, at one time, there were four undertakers operating at Croydon. One was Mr N Montgomery, another Mr Andrew Richardson, yet another Mr Thomas Reynolds. They were never short of work. The old-timers used to say, “When one hearse was going to the cemetery another was coming back, and they [the undertakers] sometimes worked into the night!”

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Two of Croydon’s locally-made coffins, made by Thomas Reynolds around 1900. “Thankfully, they were never used.” (Croydon Museum). Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

During Croydon’s heyday, graveyards were built wherever convenient. All larger outlying settlements had one. The Croydon district is known to have 10 cemeteries and many lone graves. Besides the heritage-listed Croydon Cemetery, three other historic cemeteries in the district (Station Creek, Tabletop and Old Croydon cemeteries) are listed in the Queensland Heritage Register.

Living conditions on the Croydon goldfield

Death was no stranger to people living in the Australian colonies in the late 1800s and early 1900s, no more so than for the folk who made their home on the Croydon goldfield. In Croydon’s boom years (mid-late 1880s), living conditions in and around Croydon were typically harsh and crude, residents having to cope with questionable water supplies, poor sanitation, inadequate diet and limited medical facilities.

Few fields have so many and so severely disastrous drawbacks to their initial development as Croydon. We are likely to find ourselves in very great straits for water unless rain falls shortly. … The wells are giving out to the continuous drain for horses and domestic purposes, and the quality of the water is very indifferent; in fact, a number of serious cases of sickness are attributed to this cause. … The health of the community is very indifferent; the temporary hospital is full, and, despite the exertions of Mr Maclure to keep it clear, instalments of fever-stricken, sun-stricken, emaciated patients fill the beds. [8]

At first, the new settlers built their houses, shops, hotels and other public buildings (such as the temporary hospital) of easily transported, termite-resistant galvanized iron. They may have been quick and easy and cheap to construct, but these buildings were cold in winter and like ovens during the hot weather (which lasted up to ten months of the year in that part of Queensland). [9]

c. 1886. Group of men outside the Queensland National Bank building, Croydon. State Library of Queensland.
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c. 1886. Group of men outside the Queensland National Bank building, Croydon. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.

 

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c. 1890. Croydon Bakery owned by J. O’Donohue. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.

 

Chinese immigrant Thomas (“Tommy”) Bing Chew came to Croydon from Maytown, near Cooktown, in the 1880s, in search of gold. He built this house for his family in Croydon’s so-called “Chinatown”. The extended Bing Chew family continued to live in this house through to the 1980s.

Former Bing Chew family home, now located at the Croydon Mining Museum.
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Former Bing Chew family home, now located at the Croydon Mining Museum. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

Life expectancy then and now

Life expectancy for people living on the Croydon goldfield in its boom years was much less than it is for Australians today. For the period 1881-1890, the average life expectancy at birth for males born in Australia was 47.2 years and for females 50.8 years. [10] In Australia today, life expectancy at birth is 80.9 years for males and 85.0 years for females (2017-2019 figures). [11] That’s a difference of more than 30 years for both males and females!

Not surprisingly, as I wandered through the Croydon Cemetery, I found just one historic marked grave where the deceased lived beyond 60 years. (Of course, there may have been others, but this is the only one I came across.) Any person over 60 was considered “old” at the time.

Croydon Cemetery: Grave and headstone of Catherine Eckford, died 1909.
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Grave and headstone of Catherine Eckford, who died in 1909. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

Mrs Catherine Eckford, 68, died on 21 June 1909. A newspaper report at the time described her as “a very old resident of the Gulf”. She lived first at Normanton, then Croydon, where she spent the last 20 years of her life. She left a husband and grown-up family of four, including a daughter who had moved to Brisbane. A large number attended her funeral, which took place in the afternoon of the day of her death. [12]

As I later discovered, it was not uncommon at the time for a person to die and be buried on the same day.

Croydon Cemetery: The haves and have-nots

Some of the historic graves in the Croydon Cemetery have headstones, many do not. The headstones are mostly plain upright polished granite or marble slabs with semi-circular, rounded, or pointed-arched shaped tops, inscribed with raised lead lettering displaying the deceased person’s name, family relationships, age, date of death, and a simple epitaph.

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Some of the graves in the Croydon Cemetery have headstones; many do not. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

Croydon Cemetery, Queensland.
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Many graves in the Croydon Cemetery do not have headstones. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

Many of the historic headstones and the few large three-dimensional monuments in the Croydon Cemetery were made by Townsville based stonemasons Melrose and Fenwick. Other stonemasons whose work is represented in the cemetery are John Howard Simmons of Brisbane, John Petrie of Brisbane and Ernest Greenway of Ipswich.

Some parents too poor to afford headstones marked their child’s grave with the iron bedstead where their little one breathed his or her last. Other poor parents marked their child’s grave with a little religious ornament.

Croydon Cemetery: A child's grave marked by a rusting iron cot.
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A child’s grave marked by a rusting iron cot. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

A large number of the historic graves in the Croydon Cemetery have only a cast iron grave marker. The now rusting markers are shaped like an old-fashioned key head and bear a letter and a number.

Croydon Cemetery: Close-up of one of the earliest graves in Section C of the cemetery.
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Close-up of marker (C 14), grave of Rev Albert Edward Wood, who died in 1889. This was one of the earliest graves I came across. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

We noticed that many of the graves in the cemetery bore at least one seashell, typically a conch shell. The seashell was a popular grave ornament in the 1800s and early 1900s. Various religious meanings are attributed to the conch shell, including a promise of eternal life, resurrection, and a safe journey to the next life. 

A small number of historic graves in the cemetery have “modern” memorials added by descendants of the deceased. The grave of Minnie Ah Sing is one example. Irish-born Minnie (formerly Mary Black) married Chinese man Jimmy Ah Sing and (according to Minnie’s death record), the couple had three children. Minnie died in the Croydon Hospital on 27 September 1892 of “catarrhal pneumonia”. Minnie was just 25 years old.

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The grave of Minnie Ah Sing, who died in 1892. The memorial stone is a recent addition. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

Croydon Cemetery: Religious and ethnic backgrounds on show

The Croydon Cemetery is divided into four sections (A-D). The division is based on religion and race. Religious and racial segregation, even of the dead, was not uncommon in Australia in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Section A (Anglican) is the largest of the four sections. Most of those buried there were Anglicans. However, it also includes spouses of other Christian denominations (or of none), who chose to be buried with their wife or husband or were buried in the same grave out of sympathy. Sometimes a whole family was buried together in the same grave.

Section B was set aside for Catholic burials. Most graves in Section B are those of Irish-born residents of Croydon or their descendants. The Catholic and Protestant sections are separated by the main roadway that runs through the cemetery. It provides a clear division between early Catholic and Protestant graves!

Section C was reserved for burials of those who identified with Methodist, Presbyterian, Wesleyan or Calvinist expressions of the Protestant Christian faith.

Section D (“Others”) was set aside for folk of religions other than Christian. Many of Croydon’s early Chinese settlers were buried there. Seventy-four (74) Chinese burials were registered at Croydon between 1889 and 1951, although there may be as many as 130 Chinese graves in the Croydon Cemetery. Exhumations have taken place on at least four occasions (two in 1907, one in 1909, nine in 1913 and one in 1915), with repatriation of the remains to China, the person’s ancestral homeland.

Croydon Cemetery: Tombstone marking the grave of an early Chinese settler
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Tombstone marking the grave of an early Chinese settler. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

During the mining boom, the Chinese population of Croydon reached around 300, which was the largest Chinese population in rural Queensland at that time. “Chinatown” (as it was called) developed on the northwest fringe of the town. There, the Chinese constructed a temple, built their houses and other distinctive facilities such as pig ovens. [13]

Croydon, Queensland: Site of the former Chinese Temple
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Remnants of the former Chinese Temple, Croydon. The Chinese Temple and Settlement Site at Croydon is now a protected site, and heritage-listed. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

Croydon, Queensland: Pig oven, Chinese Temple and Settlement Site
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Pig oven, Chinese Temple and Settlement Site, Croydon. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

After many difficult years during which immigrant Chinese men were banned from mining, many established market gardens and stores, and became productive business men and women. They intermarried successfully with European settlers or local indigenous folk and raised many children. As well as the Chinese, Malays, Arabs, Africans and others lived and died, and were buried, at Croydon.

Causes of death on the Croydon goldfield

The main causes of death in Australia in the late 1800s and early 1900s were infectious and parasitic diseases. [14] This was certainly the case on the Croydon goldfield. Even otherwise healthy young adults succumbed to diseases such as influenza, typhoid fever, and malaria. At Croydon, other causes of adult deaths were alcoholism and miners’ phthisis. Men died in mining accidents. I found examples of all of these during my visit to the Croydon Cemetery and during the research I carried out afterwards.

Deaths due to infectious and parasitic diseases

One stand-out grave in Section B of the cemetery is that of Eliza Day Treacy. Eliza, 19, of Golden Gate, died on 14 November 1895 of “typho malarial fever and exhaustion”. The stated cause of death indicates the doctor couldn’t determine whether Eliza’s death was due to typhoid fever or malarial fever. She probably had symptoms of both.

Croydon Cemetery: Grave and headstone of Eliza Day Treacy, died 1895
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Grave and headstone of Eliza Day Treacy, who died in 1895. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

At the time of her death, Eliza had been married for only 4 months. She was the much-loved wife of John Treacy, daughter of Catherine and the late Francis Campbell Bardsley, of Maytown (Palmer River), and stepdaughter of John McLean (Catherine’s second husband), of Belvue Station, Mitchell River. Eliza’s grieving family had a large and beautiful white marble monument erected over her grave. Today, sadly, it is broken in two, with the top section (a cross) lying on the ground in the grave enclosure. One stanza of its epitaph reads:

Weep not for me my husband dear,
I am not dead but sleeping here.
My pains are gone my grave you see,
Therefore prepare to follow me.

Another grave I noticed, in Section C of the cemetery, is that of Jessie Agnes Ross. Jessie, a music teacher of Edith Street, Croydon, died on 11 March 1901 of “Asiatic influenza, nervous prostration and hyperpyrexia collapse”. She was 23 years old and unmarried. Jessie’s father was a local grazier and the family had lived in the Croydon district for 20 years. A minister of the Wesleyan Methodist Church conducted Jessie’s funeral on 12 March 1901.

Croydon Cemetery: Grave and headstone of Jessie Agnes Ross, died 1901
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Grave and headstone of Jessie Agnes Ross, who died in 1901. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

The epitaph on Jessie’s memorial headstone reads:

The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.

One of the most striking graves in Section B of the cemetery is that of Rev Father Charles Benedict O’Gorman, of the Catholic Order of Saint Augustine (OSA). It features a large plot, about 3 metres square, enclosed by sandstone kerbing and a fancy wrought-iron fence, and a large white marble monument at the head of the plot. I think its size and extravagance (when compared with other memorials in the cemetery) reflects the high esteem in which the deceased Catholic cleric was held by his parishioners. (It was made by Melrose and Fenwick, of Townsville.)

Croydon Cemetery: Grave of Rev Charles Benedict O'Gorman OSA, died 1900
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The striking grave of Rev Charles Benedict O’Gorman OSA, who died in 1900. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

Croydon Cemetery: Closeup of memorial monument on the grave of Rev Charles Benedict O'Gorman OSA, died 1900
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Close-up view, memorial monument on the grave of Rev Charles Benedict O’Gorman OSA, who died in 1900. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

Rev Father O’Gorman contracted malarial fever and, after an illness lasting several weeks, died at Croydon on 10 December 1900. He was 31. Irish-born Rev O’Gorman came to Australia 1895, taking charge of the far north Queensland Catholic parish of Normanton in April 1896. Rev O’Gorman was known for his kind, patient yet buoyant disposition. It was said of him, “No priest was ever better loved by his people or more respected by members of all denominations than the reverend gentleman.” [15]

One very early grave I came across, in Section C of the cemetery, was that of another reverend gentleman, Rev Albert Edward Wood, a minister of the Primitive Methodist Church. Mr Wood, 23, died on 23 November 1889 after succumbing to typhoid fever.

Croydon Cemetery: Headstone on the grave of Rev Albert Edward Wood, died 1889
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Headstone on the grave of Rev Albert Edward Wood, who died in1889. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

Mr Wood came to Australia to from England in November 1888, just 12 months before his untimely death. He spent 10 months training on the Rockhampton Circuit, before being appointed to oversee the work of the Primitive Methodist Church at Croydon. Just weeks after coming to Croydon, he contracted typhoid fever. Rev Wood’s condition deteriorated quickly, complications set in and, after battling the illness for 10 days, he died of intestinal haemorrhage and exhaustion. [16]

Rev Wood’s death was a big blow to the nascent Primitive Methodist Church at Croydon. After his passing, it took some time for the church to find a replacement for the hapless young minister. [17] Members of the public, aware that Rev Wood had no relatives in Australia, funded the erection of the headstone on his grave. Its simple epitaph reads:

It is not farewell.
But just good night.
We shall meet again
In the morning light.

Other typhoid fever deaths

Besides the Rev Albert Wood, typhoid fever resulted in the untimely deaths of two other highly respected young men who had come to serve the people of Croydon in its early days. One was a schoolteacher, the other a doctor.

The first state school at Croydon opened on 7 July 1890, four years after the field was declared and the town surveyed. Mr James Scott was the first head teacher and enrolments totalled 213. Six years later, on 18 July 1896, a provisional school opened at Golden Gate, with an enrolment of 45. Mr Emil Ferdinand (“Gustav”) Wenck was the school’s first head teacher. [18]

Croydon, Queensland: c. 1893. Croydon State School.
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c. 1893. Croydon State School. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.

 

Tragically, Mr Wenck contracted typhoid fever and, after battling the illness for three weeks, died at Croydon on 19 August 1897. He was just 20 years of age, “a fine strapping fellow” and a great favourite among the residents of Golden Gate. [19]

On the day of Mr Wenck’s funeral, 20 August 1897, the school at Golden Gate was closed, as was the school at Croydon so the teachers there could attend the 11 o’clock service. The size of the funeral cortege, and the number of wreaths and flowers on the coffin, testified to the respect in which Mr Wenck was held. [20]

Croydon Cemetery: Gravestone of Mr Ferdinand Emil "Gustav" Wenck, died 1897.
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One of the most unusual monuments in the Croydon Cemetery, a modern one, honours the memory of Emil Ferdinand (“Gustav”) Wenck, who died at Croydon on 19 August 1897. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

Dr Fritz William Webb came to Croydon in 1903 as the medical officer of the Croydon District Hospital and friendly societies and Government medical officer. He had been there just nine months when, in the course of his duties, he contracted typhoid fever. He was confined to bed for 3-4 weeks but returned to work as soon as he felt well enough. Unfortunately, he suffered a relapse and had to be readmitted to hospital. He died three days later, on 19 March 1904. Dr Webb was 27 years old. [21]

Croydon, Queensland: Former Croydon Hospital.
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Undated. Former Croydon District Hospital. The female ward was built in 1892, the male ward in 1894. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.

 

A large number of Croydon residents attended Dr Webb’s funeral. In the short time he had been at Croydon, he endeared himself to the people of the district. The president of the hospital [board], in relation to Dr Webb’s untimely death, is reported as saying:

It is only known to a few how he [Dr Webb] had died a martyr to his duty, and while they all deeply deplored the death of such a fine young man, they could not help admitting his heroic self-sacrifice in placing the interests of his patients before his own health, and going to his death because of his high sense of duty. He was an ornament to his profession. Rich and poor were treated alike. In him they had lost a good doctor, and all Croydon sorrowed for the loss of a man who was such a credit to the community. [22]

Dr Webb’s mortal remains were buried in the Croydon Cemetery (Section A), far away from his family and birthplace (Sydney, New South Wales). Born into a well-to-do Sydney family (his father was Mr F W Webb, Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales), the bright young doctor completed his medical training in Sydney before coming to Croydon. [23] He was not married.

Croydon Cemetery: Grave of Dr Fritz William Webb, died 1904
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Grave and headstone of Dr Fritz William Webb, who died at Croydon in 1904. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

Deaths due to alcoholism

Over-consumption of alcohol resulted in alcoholism – both acute and chronic – and led to a number of untimely deaths on the Croydon goldfield. As early as 1887, after a visit to Croydon, one commentator wrote:

Of all the places that I have been in, I have never seen a place like this for drunkenness. If you go to town of a night, I can assure you it is no uncommon sight to see a dozen or so lying on the footpaths insensible, and on one Sunday morning I counted twenty-six lying drunk in the street…It is not one day but every day that this occurs. [24]

In fact, two months after these comments were published, a Croydon miner, Tom Powell, died from the effects of continuous drinking after a successful crushing. [25]

By 1892, according to Pugh’s Almanac and Queensland Directory 1892, Croydon had a population of 5000 and 15 hotels. [26] Clearly, hard-working miners and other locals enjoyed a drink or two…or more!

c. 1893. Railway Hotel, Croydon, Queensland.
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c. 1893. Railway Hotel, Croydon. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.

 

Club Hotel, Croydon, Queensland. Built in 1887.
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Club Hotel, Croydon. Built in 1887. Today it’s the town’s only hotel and the only remaining hotel from Croydon’s boom years. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

Henry (“Harry”) Patrick Silva, 29, died and was buried at Croydon on 1 February 1893. According to his death record, Mr Silva died as the result of “acute alcoholism and cardiac arrest”. Mr Silva was the licensee of the “Towers Hotel”, Sircom Street, Croydon, one of Croydon’s 15 hotels listed in Pugh’s Almanac and Queensland Directory 1892. He left behind a wife of 5½ years, Annie (nee Carle), but no children. His grave is located in Section A of the Croydon Cemetery.

Headstone on the grave of Henry Patrick Silva, died 1893
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Headstone on the grave of Henry Patrick Silva, who died in 1893. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

But, for those who worked on the Croydon goldfield, much more insidious than alcoholism (which in most instances was self-inflicted) was the scourge of miners’ phthisis. 

Deaths due to miners’ phthisis

Little did they know it at the time, but miners working underground on the Croydon goldfield ran the risk of lung damage, and miners’ phthisis, as a result of inhaling the fine rock dust over long periods.

The dust in the mines at Croydon was worse than any other field in Australia, perhaps with the exception of Broken Hill. Young men have been known at the end of three or four years’ work underground to be complete wrecks with the end of their lives in sight. … There was little or no provision for safety precautions in those days, to protect the miners from the ravages of this dreaded disease. [27]

Miners’ phthisis is a form of silicosis, a chronic disease of the lungs, characterized by progressive fibroid changes in the lung tissue and pleura, accompanied by chronic catarrhal processes in the air cells and respiratory passages.

At Croydon, death due to miners’ phthisis was all too common, unfortunately. In early 1911, the Queensland Government set up a Miners’ Phthisis Commission, to investigate the matter in Queensland mines. Croydon was well-represented at the commission. [28] Indeed, the mining inspector based at Croydon at the time had previously reported 20 deaths due to miners’ phthisis in the seven years up to 1911, and 12 Croydon men still living with the disease. [29]

Charles Henry Taylor, aged 51, of Golden Gate, died of miners’ phthisis on 6 May 1911. His death record gave cause of death as “miners’ phthisis, pulmonary tuberculous and exhaustion”. Mr Taylor was a well-known mine manger and “old” resident of the Croydon goldfield. [30] An Englishman by birth, Mr Taylor had been in Australia for about 30 years. The deceased was buried in the Croydon Cemetery on 7 May 1911 according to the rites of the Church of England. He left behind a wife of 14 years and four surviving children (aged 20, 18, 16 and 13). His grave bears no headstone.

Mr Taylor was just one of the many Croydon deaths due to miners’ phthisis. There were so many more. At Croydon’s heritage-listed Chinese Temple and Settlement Site, I found the following monument, a memorial to Chung Lou But, a Chinese man who lived and worked at Croydon and died as a result of miners’ phthisis.

Chinese Temple and Settlement Site, Croydon: Memorial to Chung Lou But
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Memorial to Chung Lou But, Chinese Temple and Settlement Site, Croydon. Chung Lou But, 56, died of miners’ phthisis in 1907. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

Deaths due to mining accidents

On entering the Croydon Cemetery, I was drawn to a tall, imposing ochre-coloured sandstone monument. It stands out. Indeed, it looks somewhat out of place when compared with other headstones and monuments (or none) in the cemetery. It’s very grand – no doubt it was an expensive addition to its gravesite.

Croydon Cemetery: Large monument in memory of John Bell and infant James James Bell, Section A.
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Large memorial monument on a grave in Section A, Croydon Cemetery. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

The monument is in the form of a classical three-dimensional obelisk, the tapered shaft set on a slightly tapered square pedestal and stepped base. There’s a sculptured section between the shaft and the pedestal, and a beautiful marble plaque bearing the names of the deceased on the front of the pedestal. This kind of memorial was popular among the wealthy classes in the United Kingdom and Australia during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The monument is a memorial to two members of the Bell Family. Below the marble plaque, at the base of the pedestal, B-E-L-L appears in large, relief lettering. The inscription on the plaque reads: “In memory of John Bell who was killed in Gem G.M. Brother of G.D. Bell – and James Davis Aged 8 days Son of G.D. & S. Bell”. No dates of birth, or death, are given, so I set out to discover more about the deceased, John Bell and James Davis Bell, the two persons venerated by this huge monument.

Close-up of monument in memory of John Bell and infant James Davis Bell, Section A, Croydon Cemetery.
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Close-up of monument in memory to John Bell and infant James Davis Bell, Section A, Croydon Cemetery. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

First, I sought to find out about John Bell, and how and when he died. This is what I discovered.

John Bell died on 27 August 1889 after falling down an abandoned mine shaft at the Gem Lower 12-Mile mine. According to his death record, his death was caused “by shock”. It appears that brothers John Bell and George Davis Bell worked together at the mine.

I found this information about John Bell in the Queensland Mining Accidents Index [31]. In so doing, I discovered there were 205 recorded mining accidents at Croydon and, between 1886 and 1917, 34 accidental mining deaths. I was astounded at these numbers.

Of the 34 accidental mining deaths on the Croydon goldfield, the most common accidents resulting in death were a fall of earth or rocks onto the miner (11 deaths) and a miner falling into a shaft (nine deaths). Other common mining accidents resulting in death were explosions (five deaths) and falling off a ladder (two deaths).

c. 1890. Croydon King Mine, Croydon. Queensland State Archives.
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c. 1890. Croydon King Mine, Croydon. Photo source: Queensland State Archives. Public domain.

 

The first recorded accidental mining death on the Croydon goldfield was that of Arthur Smith. He died in an explosion in the London P C mine on 4 October 1886 when he drilled a misfire shot half an hour after lighting it. His injuries were so severe that decomposition had set in before he was brought to the hospital. The surgeon amputated his leg, but Mr Smith died immediately after regaining consciousness. [32]

Another accidental mining death in Croydon’s early days was that of Henry (“Harry”) Powell, 29. He died on 12 May 1889 (three months before John Bell). Mr Powell suffered severe abdominal injuries when earth and rocks fell on him when working off a shot. He died of acute peritonitis 23 hours after the accident. The deceased was interred the same day in Section C of the Croydon Cemetery. Mr Powell was single, an Englishman who had been in Australia about seven years. Perhaps this is why I didn’t come across his grave – it has no headstone.

Two mining accidents at Croydon resulted in double fatalities. One occurred in 1893, the other in 1899.

Two men died and two others were injured in an explosion in the Douglas Block mine, Golden Gate on 10 March 1893. The explosion occurred when one of the men struck a charge that had previously misfired. Thomas Moohan and Lawrence Quigley died in the accident; John Fitzpatrick and Jerry Campbell were injured.

The men were brought to the surface as soon as possible, but Moon [sic.] died a few minutes afterwards. Quigley, Fitzpatrick, and Campbell were brought by train to the hospital, Quigley dying shortly after admission. He was literally torn to pieces, the only sound parts being his head and arms. The body of Moon [sic.] was brought into town from the Golden Gate in the evening, and he and Quigley were buried side by side, Father Landy officiating at the funeral, which was largely attended. [33]

Two men – Stephen Ayres and Thomas Close – died on 13 September 1899 in a “terrible accident” at the Croydon Consols mine, Golden Gate. They were killed when a rope snapped and the cage in which they were being lowered fell 264 feet (about 80 metres) into the mine below. Apparently, for Mr Close, a recent arrival from Charters Towers, this was his first shift at the mine. [34]

Besides mining accidents, other accidents on the Croydon goldfield resulted in fatalities.

I think Croydon in those early days must have been a dangerous place to live (as well as to work).

In 1894, a man named William Hall died after falling down an old shaft that was used as a cesspit at the True Blue mine site. [35] Mr Hall, 42, a “native of Cornwall” died on 2 May 1894 and was buried in the Anglican section of the Croydon Cemetery. His friends “on Croydon” commissioned and erected the memorial headstone on his grave.

Croydon Cemetery: Grave and headstone of William Hall, who died in 1894.
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Grave and headstone of William Hall, who died at Croydon in 1894. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

Infant and child deaths

Sadly, there are many infant and child graves in the historic Croydon Cemetery. You can’t miss them. They provide evidence of a high infant and child mortality rate on the Croydon goldfield in the early days. Perhaps it is not so surprising, though, as the infant mortality rate in Australia in the late 1800s and early 1900s was between 150 and 200 per 1000 births. [36] Today it is approximately 4 deaths per 1000 births. [37]

c. 1890. Mining family outside their mine, Croydon, Queensland. State Library of Queensland. Public domain.
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c. 1890. Mining family outside their mine, Croydon. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.

 

Some infants died immediately or just days after childbirth. Others died after contracting an infectious disease in their first of second year. Some child deaths were the result of accidents (such as drowning).

One of the first infant graves I noted during my visit to the Croydon Cemetery was that of James Davis Bell. The inscription on his memorial read “James Davis Aged 8 days Son of G.D. & S. Bell”. It gave no indication of James’ date of death, or any other details about him and his family.

This is what I later discovered. James Davis was the fifth child of George Davis Bell (a “Blacksmith”) and his wife Sarah (nee Sheridan). He was born at Golden Gate on 26 January 1901. The little fellow lived for just seven days (according to his death record), dying as a result of convulsions (seizures) on 2 February 1901.

Little James may have been the couple’s fifth child, but he was Sarah’s tenth! George Bell was Sarah’s second husband. Her first husband, Irish-born Lawrence Joseph Dowling, 53, died at Normanton on 15 December 1889. Dowling’s death record lists his profession/trade as “Licenced Victualler” and “alcoholism” as the cause of death. Sarah Sheridan married Lawrence Dowling at Emerald on 11 April 1880. The marriage resulted in five children, the fifth child born on 24 July 1890, seven months after Dowling’s death. Just over a year later, on 1 August 1891, with five children in tow, Sarah married George Bell.

George Davis Bell died at Cairns on 21 May 1919; he was 58. Sarah, an Irish-born immigrant like her first husband, outlived George by 14 years. She died in 1933 at her home on one of her Normanton properties, “Clarendon”, leaving behind many descendants in the Gulf. [38, 39]

Another infant’s grave I noticed, in Section C of the Croydon Cemetery, is that of Ernest George Scholefield. His grave’s simple headstone, with hand-painted lettering, is unique and therefore stands out.

Croydon Cemetery, Section C: Headstone marking the grave of infant Ernest George Scholefield, died 1893.
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Simple headstone marking the grave of infant Ernest George Scholefield, who died in 1893. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

Ernest George Scholefield, 9 months and 10 days old, died at Croydon on 27 September 1893 of “mobile bronchopneumonia and exhaustion”. His illness lasted 10 days. Ernest was the first and only child (at the time) of James Scholefield (“Engineer”) and his wife Kate Rebecca (nee Jelf). He was buried in the Croydon Cemetery on the same day he died, according to the rites of the Methodist Church. 

Some families had the misfortune of losing more than one child.

The Fern family was one; the Williams family another. James Fern lived for just 12 days (9 February 1907 – 21 February 1907). Phyllis Fern, James’ sister, died on 12 June 1907, aged two. Dorothy Francis Fern died on 23 April 1909, aged 15 years and 3 months. Dorothy, Phyllis and James were three of the children of James and Clara Fern.

James Benjamin Williams, publican, and his wife Mary (nee Willard) lost two sons, their deaths eight years apart. Their firstborn, Henry William Williams, born on 12 May 1889, died 14 hours after birth as the result of cyanosis (“patency of the ventricular opening”) and asphyxia. Their second son, William Henry Williams, drowned in the True Blue dam on 30 October 1897. He was six (6) years old. [40] The couple, it seems, had no more children.

Croydon Cemetery: Headstone marking the graves of two children of the Williams Family, H W Williams (died 1889) and W H Williams (died 1897).
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Headstone marking the graves of two children of the Williams Family, H W Williams (died 1889) and W H Williams (died 1897). Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

The inscription on the headstone of the Williams’ graves reads:

Safe from corroding care
Safe from the world’s temptations
Sin cannot harm us there.

 

Recent burials

Despite its heritage-listing, Croydon Cemetery is still in use today. However, the burials are no longer assigned to Sections A-D. I photographed the following grave at the town end of the cemetery, the section formerly reserved for Anglican burials. Its polished granite headstone is distinctly different from any of those on the historic graves. The grave also has a tiled grave cover.

Croydon Cemetery: Headstone marking the graves of Marjorie Ellen Diehm (died 1995) and Ernest Wheeler Diehm (died 1998).
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Croydon Cemetery: Headstone marking the graves of Marjorie Ellen Diehm (died 1995) and Ernest Wheeler Diehm (died 1998). Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

The grave is that of former Croydon residents, Marjorie Ellen Diehm (1925-1995) and her husband Ernest Wheeler Diehm (1915-1998). Note that Marjorie was 70 years old; Ernest was 82 years old.

Marjorie’s mother, Minnie Bing Chew, is also buried in the Croydon Cemetery. Minnie (an Aboriginal woman) married Thomas (“Tommy”) Bing Chew (a Chinese immigrant) in 1909. The couple had several children although not all survived to adulthood. Tommy returned to China when he was 70, and never returned. Minnie stayed behind and had at least one more child (Norma Beatrice Bing Chew). Norma’s father was thought to be Edward Ah Foo. [41] Minnie Bing Chew died at Croydon Hospital on 11 July 1951. She was 65 or thereabouts. A number of Minnie’s descendants still live in the Croydon district, including Wayne Bing Chew, a member of the Croydon Shire Council.

The graves of Marjorie Ellen Diehm and Minnie Bing Chew show clearly a continuous line connecting Croydon’s present-day citizens, North Queensland’s original inhabitants and immigrants who settled in the district in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

These two provide just one example. I’m sure, if I had time and opportunity, I would find many more such connections at the Croydon Cemetery.

I’m so glad my husband and I took the time to visit the cemetery. I learnt so much more about Croydon’s past, and its people, as a result of this visit and the research I felt compelled to do afterwards.

 

EPILOGUE

Outside St Margaret’s Anglican Church, Croydon, one cannot help but notice the church bell and tower. Both have been brought here from other local church sites. The bell came from the former St John’s Anglican Church, Golden Gate, and the tower from the former St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, Croydon. 

St Margaret's Anglican Church, Croydon, Queensland.
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St Margaret’s Anglican Church, Croydon. The bell tower is a prominent feature. Today, the building is used by Anglican, Catholic and Uniting Church denominations of the Christian Church. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

Church bell, outside St Margaret's Anglican Church, Croydon, Queensland
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Church bell and tower, outside St Margaret’s Anglican Church, Croydon. Photo source: Salecich collection 2020.

 

We can only guess as to how many times over the years that bell has rung out, signalling the death of a person in the Croydon district.

It was the English writer, poet and cleric John Donne (1572-1631) who came up with the phrase “for whom the bell tolls” to describe one’s impending death. Donne was well-acquainted with pain and suffering. He was Dean, St Paul’s Cathedral, London, at the time of the Great Plague, which killed 40,000 people alone in its last wave. In all one-third of the population of London died. Donne, too, fell ill. He was convinced he had the plague and was dying. It was during this time that he wrote about the bell(s), which he thought his friends were ringing to signal his death. Of course, they weren’t, and Donne recovered. [42]

A visit to a cemetery forces one to re-examine one’s life and accept the certainly of one’s own death. John Donne struggled to accept the inevitability of death. Perhaps you do too.

So, to conclude, I leave you with the following words taken from John Donne’s final sermon, Death’s Duel, an address that was considered his own funeral sermon! By this stage of his life, Donne had come to terms with his impending death. He died about five weeks after delivering the much-acclaimed sermon. [43]

Our critical day is not the very day of our death, but the whole course of our life. I thank him that prays for me when the bell tolls, but I thank him much more that catechises me, or preaches to me, or instructs me how to live.

 

REFERENCES

Click here for details of references I used in preparing this story.

 

MAIN SOURCES OF INFORMATION

Queensland Government. Queensland Heritage Register. (20 January 2016). Croydon Cemetery. Online: Retrieved on 14 April 2021 from https://apps.des.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602376

Queensland Government. Family History Research Service: Historic births, deaths and marriages (website). Online: https://www.familyhistory.bdm.qld.gov.au/

 

SPECIFIC REFERENCES

  1. Lees, William. (1899). The goldfields of Queensland: 1858-1899. Brisbane, Australia: Outridge Printing. Online: Retrieved on 15 April 2021 from https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:319356
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics (23 October 2017). Croydon (State Suburb). 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 27 January 2021.
  3. Laurie, A. (1951). ‘History of the Croydon Goldfield’. Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, 4 (4), 524-534. Online: Retrieved on 7 April 2021 from https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:212772
  4. Frew, J. (1981). Queensland Post Offices 1842-1980 and Receiving Offices 1869-1927 / Joan Frew. Online: Retrieved on 18 June 2020 from http://onesearch.slq.qld.gov.au/permalink/f/1oppkg1/slq_alma21111644200002061
  5. Laurie, A. (1951). History of the Croydon Goldfield. Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, 4 (4), 524-534. Online: Retrieved on 7 April 2021 from https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:212772
  6. Pugh, Theophills P. (1889). Pugh’s Almanac and Queensland Directory. Online: Text Queensland. Retrieved on 23 May 2021 from https://www.textqueensland.com.au/item/journal/0160cca6b04fa1813b06a708bcfed30e
  7. Laurie, A. (1951). History of the Croydon Goldfield. Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, 4 (4), 524-534. Online: Retrieved on 7 April 2021 from https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:212772
  8. CROYDON MINING NEWS. (1886, November 5). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 3. Retrieved May 25, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4492665
  9. Laurie, A. (1951). History of the Croydon Goldfield. Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, 4 (4), 524-534. Online: Retrieved on 7 April 2021 from https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:212772
  10. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2011). Australian Social Trends March 2011 Catalogue 4102.0: ‘Life expectancy trends – Australia’. Online: Retrieved on 11 April 2021 from https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features10Mar+2011
  11. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2020). Life tables 2017-2019. Online: Retrieved on 21 May 2021 from https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/population/life-tables/2017-2019
  12. BEAUDESERT, June 21. (1909, June 22). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 2. Retrieved January 29, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article19609962
  13. Queensland Government. Queensland Heritage Register. (20 January 2016). Chinese Temple and Settlement Site. Online: Retrieved on 23 May 2021 from https://apps.des.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602079
  14. Taylor, Richard, Lewis, Milton, & Powles, John. (1998). The Australian mortality decline: all-cause mortality 1788–1990. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 22(1), 27-36. Online: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1467-842X.1998.tb01141.x
  15. Rev. Father O’Gorman, O.S.A. (1901, January 5). The Catholic Press (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1942), p. 18. Retrieved January 10, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104421755
  16. PRIMITIVE METHODIST CHURCH. (1890, January 29). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 5. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3506869
  17. Ibid.
  18. Laurie, A. (1951). History of the Croydon Goldfield. Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, 4 (4), 524-534. Online: Retrieved on 7 April 2021 from https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:212772
  19. DEATH OF MR. GUSTAV WENCK. (1897, September 11). Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908), p. 5. Retrieved January 29, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article125038063
  20. Ibid.
  21. PERSONAL. (1904, March 22). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 5. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article19271659
  22. A Martyr to Duty. (1904, April 20). The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912), p. 993. Retrieved January 10, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163987027
  23. Ibid.
  24. THE CROYDON. (1887, June 14). Gympie Times and Mary River Mining Gazette (Qld. : 1868 – 1919), p. 3. Retrieved May 25, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article168903036
  25. THE CROYDON GOLDFIELD. (1887, August 27). The Capricornian (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1875 – 1929), p. 8. Retrieved May 25, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article65743794
  26. Pugh, Theophills P. (1892). Pugh’s Almanac and Queensland Directory. Online: Text Queensland. Retrieved on 23 May 2021 from https://www.textqueensland.com.au/item/journal/40ba9a3828c2f362388df9e8be579976
  27. Laurie, A. (1951). History of the Croydon Goldfield. Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, 4 (4), 524-534. Online: Retrieved on 7 April 2021 from https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:212772
  28. MINERS’ PHTHISIS. (1911, February 14). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 3. Retrieved May 25, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article19672173
  29. Miners’ Consumption. (1910, November 15). The Evening Telegraph (Charters Towers, Qld. : 1901 – 1921), p. 2. Retrieved May 25, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212839028
  30. Told by Telegraph (1911, May 9). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved May 25, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article39884358
  31. State Library of Queensland (SLQ). Queensland mining accidents index. Online: Accessed on 25 May 2021.
  32. Croydon. (1886, October 7). Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs General Advertiser (Qld. : 1875 – 1902), p. 3. Retrieved May 25, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article217702714
  33. TERRIBLE MINING ACCIDENT. (1893, March 11). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 5. Retrieved May 25, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3556779
  34. FATAL ACCIDENT AT CROYDON. (1899, November 20). The North Queensland Register (Townsville, Qld. : 1892 – 1905), p. 13. Retrieved May 25, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article83146334
  35. CROYDON. (1894, May 5). Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908), p. 5. Retrieved January 29, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article123751982
  36. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2011). Australian Social Trends March 2011 Catalogue 4102.0: ‘Life expectancy trends – Australia’. Online: Retrieved on 11 April 2021 from https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features10Mar+2011
  37. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2020). Life tables 2017-2019. Online: Retrieved on 21 May 2021 from https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/population/life-tables/2017-2019
  38. Death of Mr. G. D. Bell. (1919, May 22). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved May 20, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article40317279
  39. MAREEBA NOTES. (1933, June 2). Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1907 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved May 21, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article61722796
  40. TELEGRAMS. (1897, November 1). The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), p. 5. Retrieved April 9, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172382051
  41. Croydon Police Letterbooks 1925-1964. (Online). Retrieved on 1 May 2021 from http://www.cifhs.com/qldrecords/qldcroydon.html
  42. Yancey, P. (2001). Soul survivor: How my faith survived the church. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
  43. Ibid.


 

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For whom the bell tolls: Croydon Cemetery via @jsalecich
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5 Comments on For whom the bell tolls: Croydon Cemetery

    • Dear Marjory. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my story about the Croydon Cemetery, and for providing feedback. I’m so pleased to learn that you found it so interesting. Kind regards, Judy.

  1. WOW. So much!
    I was surprised how many people gathered at the hall?
    And saddened by the sadness of life on the goldfields
    Thank You, Judith

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