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On Walkabout At: The Pennyweight Flat Cemetery In Castlemaine, Victoria

Basic Information

  • Name: Pennyweight Flat Cemetery
  • Where: Castlemaine, Australia
  • Admission: Free
  • More Info: OnMyDoorStep.com.au

Narrative

Continuing with my Halloween inspired series of postings the next cemetery I decided to write about was the small Pennyweight Flat Cemetery located outside of the historic Australian city of Castlemaine:

The Pennyweight Flat Cemetery is a surviving example of cemeteries that were hastily established during Victoria’s Gold Rush period.  The name Pennyweight is a tribute to the founders of this cemetery since it means a small amount of gold and that is all that was found on this hill thus making it the perfect location for a cemetery.  The bodies at this cemetery were buried between 1852-1857 during the height of the Mt. Alexander Gold Rush that ended up forming the city of Castlemaine.  Many of the people buried here died from contaminated drinking water, poor diet, accidents, and disease which were frequent problems at these hastily established mining camps. The miners needed some place to bury their dead and since this small hill outside of town had no gold to be found they figured this would be a great place to put a cemetery where no one in the future would disturb it:

These early prospectors were correct because even today no one bothers this cemetery that is located on top of a small hill on the outskirts of Castlemaine:


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The cemetery today is nearly completely surrounded by farm paddocks and it appears that the sheep are probably allowed to graze on the cemetery’s ground in order to keep the weeds down:

As I walked into the cemetery I found it was in pretty bad shape with the majority of the graves being eroded, crumbled, or unreadable:

The small cemetery is covered with a cluster of grey-box gum trees that were supposedly planted on the hill when the cemetery was first founded:

Due to the difficulty of digging into the rocky hill many of the graves were dug at a very shallow depth.  This caused the cemetery to stink to the point that people below the hill began to complain about the stench of rotting corpses drifting towards their homes.  Possibly to help alleviate the stench some of the graves had rocks piled on top of them:

Due to the stench burials were stopped at Pennyweight Flat Cemetery in 1857.  In total it is believed that over 200 bodies were buried here before the cemetery closed and began its long decay into the state that it is in today:

Probably due to the rough state the cemetery is in, the city of Castlemaine has put up this marker to commemorate all the early Victorians who are buried on this hill:

Easily the saddest part of the cemetery is the fact so many kids are buried here:

It is said that most of the 200 bodies at the cemetery are of children and this has often caused the cemetery to also be called the Pennyweight Flat Children’s Cemetery. By looking at the few readable headstones that remain, I was able to confirm that most of the graves were for young children:

This makes sense considering the poor hygienic conditions that would have existed at the time that would have caused many young children with weak immune systems to die from disease:

 Conclusion

Overall the Pennyweight Flat Cemetery is interesting to visit and given its current state of disrepair it is also a bit spooky.  However, for most people visiting the goldfields of Victoria a visit to a cemetery is probably not high on the priority list.  However, for people like myself that like to get a deeper understanding of what life was like for the prospectors, this cemetery is a living reminder of the sadness that many of them must have experienced after losing their children.  Fortunately today the efforts of these early Australians have been built upon to where death from childhood illness is very uncommon in Australia and the country in fact has one of the highest life expectancies in the world.

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