Monday, May 21, 2012
The Founders of the City Rest in Pieces
Bolton Street cemetery used to be a resting place for the living and the dead. When I began work in the early sixties in that great grey Government box of Bowen State Building, the cemetery was a lunchtime artery for us. With a bag of sandwiches in one hand and sometimes a bottle of bubbly in the other, we climbed through this gentle corridor of old waving macrocarpas and sat in the grass beside the overgrown and cracked marble gravestones, with their rusty iron or bleached wooden railings.
Did you know, someone once said, that these roses in the cemetery are unique? They were planted by the guy who designed the place.
I looked him up. A Scottish horticulturist, David Robertson. His grandson was J C Beaglehole, who did so much to save Old St Pauls.
But he couldn’t stop the march of progress. The artery was severed, concrete poured in the wound, and us office workers . . . well, we stayed in our offices or went down the wharf.
In 1967 they removed 3693 graves stealthily, the area cordoned off. Like thieves in the night.
One day, a friend murmured angrily, the earth will rise in retribution and shatter that motorfolly.
‘Keep Clear’ said the sign on the bolted white gate, beside old Dick Seddon, now perched up there with an excellent new view – of stolid Terrace skyscrapers. I ignored the sign, resentful that I should be deprived of my half-cemetery.
Get out! Screamed the fellow bearing down on me like Farmer McGregor with his rake after poor Peter Rabbit caught in the carrot patch.
Look, I said, standing my ground against this unidentified officious fellow, I never asked for the motorway.
Smart aleck, eh, he sneered. Can’t you read?
But he moved on, mumbling invective, and I sought out like a cat a suitable sunny hollow to doze in.
Thereafter I have crept back, circling the two huts, idling among our history, finding a sense of renewal in the ornate remanants of the 18 acres set aside in 1840 for a cemetery by the New Zealand Company’s plan, finding a sense of peace, birds chirping, a bumblebee burrowing into the blue rosemary flower, the motorway drills a muffled drone.
The half-cemetery throbs with our origins. Seddon insisted on being there, and the Time Service Observatory was demolished to make way for his plot and the lesser memorial to Harry Holland, an unlikely marble male nude gazing skywards. Below Harry is Marion Elizabeth Twentyman, who died on November 2nd, 1887, aged 15½ years.
‘Weep not,’ says her inscription, ‘she is not dead, but sleepeth.’
Only 1500 gravestones still enjoy their sleep, sacred to the memory of . . .
Gazing out at the motorway through the roses and the taupata is the Duff family plot, where Hannah, 19 months, Agnes, 8 Years, Margaret, 10, John 11, then Edith, 6, all died within 11 days at the end of 1876 from some forgotten epidemic.
Nearby are the Kilmisters, ‘Not gone from memory, not gone from love, but gone to his Father’s home above,’ a favourite inscription here.
Elizabeth and Francis Sidey enjoy ‘Peace, perfect peace,’ but their stone angel lies shattered like Ozymandias, king of kings.
The earthquake did that, said a voice behind me.
I wheeled like a startled cat.
Tom Edmunds, he explained. With a ‘u,’ not the baking powder Edmonds.
Yeh, that’s right, the earthquake in ’68. Then the vandals finished off her arms and head.
Tom Edmunds, sexton here since 1962, gets orders now from all which ways, from the Council, the Ministry of Works, the Fire Brigade, the Historic Places Trust, leave this alone, don’t touch that. He doesn’t know where he is. All he knows is, It’s hard work carting the mower across the motorway to do that little patch of cemetery on the other side.
Tattered green jersey, in his chipped hands a tattered old book, the original plan of the cemetery. It is really two, Sydney Street where we are, Bolton Street from that tree the other side of the motorway, in a line through it. This side was done A to K, the other side by numbers. No 56 is a Tilley!
That woman Margaret Alington from the Trust is writing a book on the cemetery.
Will it be a memorial service?
Consider the inscription beside the Beale family plot: ‘Like ivy on the withered oak when all things else decay our love for you will still keep green and never fade away.’
An excerpt from The Compleat Cityscapes - David McGill and Grant Tilly - Silver Owl Press