Grafton – Weiley’s Market Hotel

The first hotel built opposite the Market Reserve was erected by Mrs.E White in 1875. It was built of local brick. It was enlarged over the years and continued to be run by various members of the White family. This hotel did extensive trade including with the traveling troupers, circus entertainers and quack doctors that practiced their trade in the Market Reserve in the evenings.

In 1899 the Market Hotel was taken over by William J Weiley, formerly of the Willow Tree Hotel (Grafton) and the Globe Hotel (South Grafton). Extensive improvements were made and another storey was added in 1901, making it one of the finest hotels in the city.

On the night of 27 May 1908, the hotel was destroyed by fire, along with several other shops in this part of Prince Street. A full account was given in the local newspapers. From what can be gathered, the fire broke out unaccountably about the centre of Mr. McCann’s Trade Palace, next door to Weiley’s Hotel. When the fire alarm was given the fire had a firm hold. The tolling of the fire bell and the glare of the flames soon indicated the precise locality of the outbreak, and in a short time, hundreds of people were on the scene.

By this time it could be seen that the store where the fire originated was doomed and its contents also, for it was a seething mass of flames, leaping through the roof and windows. Though this building was of wood, those adjacent were partly of brick, and this offered some resistance to the devouring element.

For a while, the brick wall of the two-storeyed Market Hotel prevented the spread of the fire, but eventually, the intense heat allowed the flames to catch the eaves and ignited the woodwork of the roof. From this point the fire worked downwards, first consuming what was combustible on the top floor and then making its way to the lower.

Meanwhile, many willing hands were busy removing the stock and furniture to a place of safety in the Market Reserve, and a considerable portion was got out before the workers were driven back by heat and flames.

The fire brigade, who were promptly on the spot rendered great service. A hose was attached to the newly laid water mains in Prince Street and from that point, two continuous streams of water poured onto the flames. Special attention was directed to prevent the destruction of Hockey’s Boot manufacturing building. The contents of the building were removed but with the strenuous efforts of the firemen, the building was saved.

On the Pound Street side, the fire-engine was set to work, and there is no doubt the continuous streams of water there saved the adjacent buildings of E G Powell. Had this building been destroyed the fire must have destroyed several more buildings in that street.

Within two days of these business premises being destroyed, temporary work places had been established to other parts of the city. W J Weiley applied to the Grafton Municipal Council for permission to erect temporary bar and parlours on the Market Reserve.

Within a few weeks, W J Weiley had F W C Schaeffer, the well- known local architect, draw up plans for a new hotel. Work was started immediately and by May the following year, the new building had just about been completed.

Mackey Archives - Local History

The new building was of two storey, extending nearly 77 feet on Pound Street and 75 feet on Prince Street. A spacious and ornamental balcony of 12 feet wide extended along the whole frontage. It contained forty rooms including a bar, billiard room, dining room, a number of ground floor parlours, upstairs a drawing room and bedrooms, bathrooms, and storerooms. On the Prince Street side is a tobacconist shop and hairdressing salon. A two storey wing of bedrooms extended from the rear of the hairdressing salon, parallel with the Pound Street wing, and in the yard centre formed by these buildings is an underground tank with a holding capacity of 9000 gallons of water.

The building was of brick throughout, the front with its high parapet wall being re-enforced with cement. The interior was plastered, with all ceilings of various Wunderlich designs.

The woodwork of the main bar is French Polished Queensland Maple with panelling of Silky Oak.

The contractor was Hamlet Hann with Herman Schaeffer a sub-contractor for the gas fittings and plumbing.

The new hotel was opened in June 1909 in readiness for the unveiling of the new Jubilee Town Clock.

For over a century this hotel has stood the test of time and has always been a favourite of Graftonian’s as well as visitors.

During World War I and II on the battle fields of Europe and the Pacific, many young Clarence Valley soldiers’ parting words to their mates were, “See you at Weiley’s”.

Although no longer a hotel the building remains the same. The main bar area has been repurposed as a restaurant and continues to serve as a meeting place for many in this city.


Pound Street side Weiley’s Hotel-2018


Grafton – Headstones in the Villiers Street Cemetery -1

In a former blog, I wrote about the history of the Villiers Street Cemetery, Grafton here.

Most family historians love cemeteries. They love them more if they can find a headstone concerning a family member.

I love the old Villiers Street Cemetery, Grafton, although I have no family members buried there.

Over forty years I have spent countless hours transcribing, photographing and researching those that are buried there. It is estimated there are more than six thousand burials in that cemetery over a period of more than 150 years. When I transcribed the surviving headstones and burial markers in 1986 there were nearly four thousand. That leaves many graves without a marker of any kind.

Originally there would have been a small wooden cross to mark the church burial, but over time these would have disintegrated. If the family could not afford a more permanent headstone to mark the grave then many years later it cannot be identified.

Sometimes headstones were erected, but for some reason, they did not survive. They may have been of poor quality stone and are now so weathered they cannot be read. Other headstones may have fallen and were broken. Over many years the fragments were lost.

Headstones tell stories. They can tell you much about the people whose grave they mark.

  1. Surname and Christian names
  2. Maiden name
  3. Ideals/Hopes/Fears
  4. Relatives
  5. Place of birth
  6. Place of death
  7. How died
  8. Relationships/Friends/Workmates
  9. Religion
  10. Occupation
  11. Sports/Hobbies
  12. Nationality
  13. Financial Status/Social position
  14. How long in Australia/Town
  15. Lodge Membership
  16. War Service
  17. Travel
  18. Photographs
  19. Stonemason

Headstones can be a wonderful source of information, but they do not tell the whole story and you need to gather as much information as you can from various sources to get a better understanding.

The Oldest Burial in the Villiers Street Cemetery?

For example, the following headstone shows the oldest dates of death in this cemetery.

SHANNON,Headstone,1986,Grafton,Headstone Photograph



To the memory of

Charles McAlister Shannon

Died 27 Sept 1846

Aged 61 years


Elizabeth Shannon

Died 2nd Feb 1864

Aged 75 years


James Walter Shannon

Died 3rd May 1853

Aged 19 years

This headstone is believed to have been erected by the Shannon family after Elizabeth Shannon’s death in 1864. If you take the information on this headstone at face value you would be misled.

This cemetery was not in use when Charles McAlister Shannon died on 27 September 1846, aged 61 years.

The early  Church of England burial register states that he was ” Captain Charles McAlister Shannon of Moleville on the Clarence River, who died on 20 September 1846 and was buried on 23 September 1846. He was aged 60 years, and at that time was a Superintendent (of the station). He was late of Levenstrath, Argyleshire, Scotland.” (Moleville was a Station on the Clarence River about 15 Kilometres above Grafton).

The family moved after Charles McAlister Shannon’s death.

James Walter Shannon, died 3 May 1853 aged 19 years.

The Church of England burial Register states” James Walter Shannon of Geergaroo, aged 18 years. Died 2 May 1853 and buried 3 May 1853 a gentleman.” (Geergaroo, was a Station about ten kilometres south-west of Grafton.) He was buried by Rev Arthur E Selwyn and WCB Wilson, Clerk of Petty Sessions, Grafton. The Villiers Street Cemetery was not open at this time.( Note the different spelling of “Geergaroo” in the death notice below.)

Elizabeth Shannon, died 2 February 1864 aged 75 years. As the Villiers Street Cemetery, opened in 1859, it is most likely that she was buried in this cemetery, with the other burials being added to the headstone for memorial sake.

There are many sources which can help with further information including-

Death Certificates

After March 1856 all burials in the Clarence Valley were to be recorded with the Clerk of Petty Sessions, at the Grafton Court House.

Here is the reference for Elizabeth Shannon’s death at the Registrar of Births,Deaths & Marriages for NSW.


Retrieved 8 Aug 2018 from <>



SHANNON – On the 2nd February, at Gergorrow

Clarence River, Elizabeth, widow of the late

Charles M’Alister Shannon, Esq.


Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser (Grafton, NSW: 1859 – 1889), Tue 9 Feb 1864, p2 Family Notices
Retrieved 8 Aug 2018 from <>

Cemetery On-line Websites- Australian Cemeteries Index

Shannon Headstone

Headstone Photograph retrieved 8 August 2018 from

Local Government Records -Clarence Valley Council Website

Clarence Valley Council Cemetery Register Records retrieved 8 Aug 2018 from

Shannon 1

Shannon 2

Shannon 3

As you can see records do not always agree. You need to resolve this conflict in the records by consulting as many different sources as you can find and make an informed decision, of which of the records are most likely to be correct.

A headstone does not always tell you the correct story, so take care when using them as a source.

In this case, we have a headstone for three members of the Shannon family in the Grafton Villiers Street Cemetery, but they are not all buried there.




Grafton- History of the Villiers Street Cemetery

The first burial ground in Grafton or ‘The Settlement’ as it was known in the early 1840’s was a section of the ‘Church Reserve’ in what is now known as Fry street. The first burial in this cemetery was about 1843 and is believed to have been a young child. The second burial was in September 1844 of George Dixon. When the Church of England was built in 1854 it was built on a section of land on the river bank which had been purchased from the Crown by the Bishop of Newcastle. The Church Reserve in Fry Street was never used for its intended purpose. Although some form of memorial stones or crosses were probably placed on some of the approximately forty burials there, only one headstone remains on the site. See the story of this cemetery here

Cemetery Opened

The Grafton Cemetery in North Grafton was incorporated in the Grafton Town Plans in 1848 drawn up by W W Darke. It was located at the northern end of Villiers Street and was bounded by Villiers, Kirchner, Duke and Crown Streets. Due to the thick brush in that vicinity and sufficient space in the Church Reserve Burial Ground, it was over ten years before the first burial took place in the ‘new’ cemetery in 1859. An extract from the reminiscences of the late Allan Cameron:

” About Grafton Cemetery- Uncle Donald (Cameron) was the first buried, and Uncle Duncan, Donald Gillies, Alan McLean and myself dug the first grave. There was a young publican in Grafton present at the funeral, and that day three months (later) he was buried in the Church of England Portion. So these were the first funerals in the cemetery. His name was Reuben Pate. He went to the Casino races, got a chill, and that was the finish of him.”  (A headstone purchased by public subscription, stood over Pate’s grave for over a century before it fell and was broken into several pieces. No fragments of this headstone now survive.)

There were a number of burials in this cemetery between 1859 and 1870 according to the death registrations at the Grafton Court House.

In April 1870 a brief notice in the local paper The Clarence and Richmond Examiner read: “Crown Lands dedicated to Public Purposes…section 135, town of Grafton, 10 acres as a general cemetery…” Although a Municipal Cemetery, the plan drawn up, showed various sections for the various religious groups in the town, including Church of England, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Wesleyan, and Jewish. Each church was responsible for the clearing and management of each section of the cemetery. Various Church Trusts were set up to manage the cemetery.

The Presbyterian Church appointed a committee to collect subscriptions for the “clearing, stumping and fencing the Presbyterian Section of the cemetery, with a five feet paling fence on the street boundaries.”

Various dedication ceremonies may have taken place for all the denominations but the only one reported in the newspaper was for the Roman Catholic section. “The consecration ceremony was performed by the Bishop, assisted by the Very Reverend Dean Lynch, Vicar General, and the Rev M Keogan, in the presence of a large assemblage”. The Lands Department maps show the dedication as 15th July 1871, while the newspaper reports give the date as 9th July 1871.

Later further areas were dedicated for the Baptist, Salvation Army and Lutheran faiths.

It is likely that the early graves had wooden crosses and or picket fences erected over them, but these haven’t stood the test of time and disintegrated. All the headstones erected between 1860 and 1870 were of sandstone. These would have been purchased in Sydney and brought to Grafton by ship.

The earlier burials in each section seem to have been rather hap-hazard and in general, were in family groups. Most of the headstones faced due east, however, I did find two headstones, with foot-stones, facing west. I can offer no explanation except perhaps the symbolism as the setting of the sun setting in the west signifies the end of life of the day the headstone facing west signifies the end of the life of the body.

In the early 1870’s George Cook opened a quarry on his land at Whiteman Creek. This was a sandstone quarry and the stone was brought by barges pulled by boats from Moleville to Grafton for the building of the new premises for the Grafton Post Office and Commercial Banking Company of Sydney and the Bank of New South Wales. These were built by William Kinnear. William Coulter a Master Stonemason came to Grafton to work on these buildings.

In 1876 Coulter with partner James Keen opened a ‘Cemetery Works’ and stone yard in Pound Street, Grafton, next to the Commercial Hotel(now the Clock Tower Hotel). It is very likely that Coulter worked some of the local sandstone in his monumental works although no stones bear his name.

Some of the large sandstone and marble monuments came from the large Sydney firms. An extract from the Clarence and Richmond Examiner- “an obelisk of white marble, is placed in the north Grafton Presbyterian Cemetery over the grave of the late Mr. Angus Cameron of Argyle Villa. The inscription is inlaid metal letters, and the work is an ornament to the cemetery in which it stands. The erection was carried out by Mr. Coulter of Pound Street…the monument was supplied by Messrs Hanson and Lewis of Sydney from their stock and the works in execution and design do them every credit.”

Mackey Archives - Local History

General View of Section of Villiers Street Cemetery Grafton – 2018 – Copyright

By the mid-1870’s with the Denominational Trusts administrating the cemeteries, the burials became more ordered in the form of rows. The plans of plotting of such burials are reputed to have been kept in a grave diggers hut in the cemetery ground. This hut was destroyed by fire in the late 1920’s, including any records of the burial plots, which might have been kept. One firm of Undertakers which served the district over three generations had a tremendous oral history to the burial of many people, especially where there were no headstones. Much of this was lost on the death of the last member of the firm.

In 1922 the Church of England section of the cemetery had new work completed with the erection of a new fence and a gatehouse, after the style of the English Lytch-gate. However, this building is much larger allowing for a vehicle to pass through. Whereas in the English villages the Lytch-gate afforded a place for the pallbearers to rest the coffin, while they awaited the mourners to catch-up before moving to the burial place in the churchyard, the Grafton gate-house may have afforded a resting place for the hearse in the shade while the mourners in carts and buggies could suitably hitch the horses and the pedestrian mourners to catch-up with the burial party before moving into the cemetery. There are no chapter houses or chapels in the Grafton Cemetery, nor is there a Cemetery Office.



Gatehouse Grafton Villiers Street Cemetery


In 1928 the state government amended regulations for the management of cemeteries in New South Wales and the cemetery church Trusts of the various denominations were required to keep better records of the burials.

Like everywhere else in the state the numerous church trusts for the Grafton cemetery found it difficult due to lack of funds and authority to keep the cemeteries in good order and it was left to families who had people buried in the cemetery to keep the graves weed and grass free.

Throughout the 1930’s to 1960’s there were numerous campaigns with letters to the press urging the State government to put all cemeteries in the hands of the local councils and allow them to levy in the city rates for funds to keep the cemeteries in good order.

Cemetery Closure

That finally happened in 1964, but it wasn’t until 1968 that it was gazetted and Cemetery Trusts were dissolved and local government authorities were made responsible for all cemeteries and burial grounds in their area. Cemetery Trusts were to hand over all records of burials in their cemeteries. In most cases, these records were very basic and not complete. Few maps of actual burials survived.

Due to the poor state of the Villiers Street Cemetery at the time, from major flooding in 1967 as well as years of neglect, the Grafton Municipal Council closed the site for burials.

A new burial site was opened on flood free land outside town limits and is known as the Clarence Lawn Cemetery.

The Council called on the community to supply any information on burials in the Villiers Street Cemetery to help them with the documentation of this large and century old city cemetery.

Although the Council has continued to seek information, many gaps remain in their records.


Family Historians looking for burials in this cemetery will find the following resources useful.

  1. Clarence Valley Council Cemetery Register at

The Council Office also hold ‘constructed’ maps of burials compiled from a number of sources to assist people to locate graves.

2. Cemeteries Australia Index at

3. Newspaper references at

Grafton- Market Square

When the first plans of Grafton were drawn up in 1848, this area was set aside as a Market Reserve, where farmers were to bring their produce for sale.

The land was never used for this purpose and for many years the Grafton Council leased it for the grazing of cattle, particularly to William Noud, a blacksmith, who resided on the block and to Mrs White the proprietor of the Market Hotel, which was on opposite side of Pound Street..

In 1884 when the Grafton Municipal Council was looking for a suitable source for town water, a bore was drilled in the reserve to a depth of more than 200 feet, but when hard shale was struck the operation was abandoned and the shaft was partially filled in. A pump was later attached for stock water and gardening purposes.

This land was also used as an area where circus and other traveling troupers exhibited their daring deeds. It was also the scene for many a fiery political meeting.

Before the turn of the Nineteenth Century,  trees were planted along Prince Street and those at the edge of the reserve sheltered many horses as their owners shopped in the nearby establishments.

About 1908 a drinking fountain was erected on the corner near the street and reticulated water was laid to help with the dust problem in the streets. The water came from a bore in Fisher Park and was pumped to an overhead tank. It was this scheme that helped save many businesses in the fire of May 1908, when the Market Hotel burned down. At the time the hotel proprietor was Mr. W J Weiley. Many of Mr. Weiley’s possessions were rescued and moved to the Reserve. After the fire, he applied to the Courts and Municipal Council to erect a temporary hotel bar and parlours on the Market Reserve so he could continue to carry on business. This was granted.

In 1908 a portion of the Reserve was dedicated as a site for the Grafton Fire Station. By 1911 a fully equipped fire station under the control of State Fire Commissioners had been completed and the city was very proud of its achievement. However, there was a problem. There were no horses on site to pull the fire engine. This was soon remedied when generous city residents stabled two fine draught horses nearby, for the use of the fire brigade in times of need.

New additions were added in 1923 including a high- class recreation room for the on-call and off-duty firemen. Although new amenities, fire trucks and, equipment have been added over the years the fire station building has changed little over the years and can be seen on the Reserve today.

Mackey Archives -Local History

Fire Station, Grafton

The Grafton Ambulance Society had been formed in 1892. In 1911 a new horse-drawn ambulance was housed at the hospital. In 1923 the Grafton Ambulance acquired their first motorized vehicle and a new brick garage to house it was built next to the Fire Station on the Market Reserve. (Site was to the right of the picket fence in above photograph). A new ambulance was purchased in 1927. However, it became obvious that the small garage was becoming inadequate and in 1929 a block of land on the corner of Fry and Prince Street was gazetted for the purpose of a new Ambulance Station. The new premises were built in 1936.

In 1930-1932 rail embankments were built on the northern side of the Reserve to carry the rail lines leading to the rail and road bridge which was opened in 1932.

Later the Grafton Municipal Council resumed and purchased adjoining lands and the whole area was turned into parklands and renamed Market square. Trees were planted and formal gardens constructed.

In recent years Market Square has been the venue for many community functions and activities from political and protest rallies and Carols by Candlelight, to the Jacaranda Festival ceremony of the crowning of the Jacaranda Queen. This takes place in early November under the flood lit Jacaranda Trees.

Mackey Archives -Local History

Market Square on a Sunday morning in Winter

Grafton – The Saraton Theatre

The ‘silent movies’ were brought to Grafton in the mid-1920’s when H Smythe used the Fitzroy Theatre under the banner of Picture Pops.

(This building was later known as “The Trocadero”. It stood where the Westlawn Finance building is today)

The first purpose-built theatre in the area was the Prince Edward Theatre, which was built in South Grafton and opened in October 1925 for Carl Schwinghammer, a very enterprising businessman of that municipality.

Soon afterward, T J Dorgan who had the Star Court Theatre in Lismore announced he was to open his Dorgan Kinema in Clarence Hall in Prince Street before the end of the year. (Clarence Hall is now the Wesleyan Church).

The Notaras Brothers were Greek immigrants who had arrived on the Clarence River in 1908. They built up several businesses in Grafton area. These enterprising young men took over the Picture Pops from Smythe and expanded and up dated the program with not only the latest movies but other world-class feature acts. It continued under the name of the Fitzroy Theatre.

In September 1925  they announced they were building a new ‘State of the Art’ theatre in Prince Street (opposite Market Square), not only to rival Dorgan’s Star Court in Lismore, but it would be the largest and best-equipped theatre on the North Coast.

Notaras’s new theatre in Prince Street rose quickly and a competition was held among the Fitzroy Theatre patrons for a suitable name for the new theatre. Several people proposed the name “Saraton’ which is the name ‘Notaras’ spelled backward. This was chosen as the winning entry, and the entries proposing this name were put into a hat and Mrs. C Ryder of Grafton was drawn out as the winner.

The Saraton with three shops in front occupied a frontage of 25 metres to Prince Street with a depth of over 50 metres. The main entrance had a spacious vestibule, at the back of which were two wide doors giving access to the downstairs spring cushioned seats for over 700 persons. A wide reinforced concrete stairway led up to a foyer of 15 metres by 3 metres which opened to a large gallery seating over 400 persons comfortably. Electric light together with the latest fittings made it a real show case of architectural and decorative splendour.

The Saraton Theatre opened on 17 July 1926 to great excitement and fanfare to a record crowd. A special feature film named “Grafton at Work and Play” was commissioned by the Notaras family for the opening night.

The Notaras family very generously made the new theatre available to many community groups from St Celia’s Choir, Grafton Schools P and C, and Grafton Hospital to the Grafton Philharmonic Society for fund raising and benefit concerts.


Immediately Dorgan proposed plans for another new theatre on the corner of Pound and Queen Street. His Garden Theatre was opened on 11 April 1927.

However, the Great Depression was just beginning to be felt but Dorgan expanded operations by leasing the Saraton and Prince Edward Theatres allowing their owners to concentrate on other business interests.

In November 1929 Dorgan brought the ‘Talkies’ to Grafton and installed the latest sound equipment in the theatres. Matinees were added to the programs and were enhanced by the best artists in the entertainment world.

During World War II all the news was brought up and close and personal on the big screens by Newsreels shown in the theatres,

T J Dorgan died in 1944, but his company remained one of Australia’s leading theatre businesses and was managed by Fred Kehoe from 1934 to 1963.

With the trends of the time of ‘Drive-In’ theatres and television in nearly every home, the movie theatres suffered greatly and patronage dwindled.

In the 1990’s the Prince Edward Theatre burned down and the Garden Theatre was sold off. Only the Saraton soldiered on.

After some unfortunate fires, the Saraton had to close. However instead of selling off the theatre and land in 2008 members of the Notaras family decided to invest heavily in the complete restoration, updating and extension of the theatre complex to make it the leading one in country  New South Wales.

After some delays, the complex was finally opened in September 2010 and exceeded all expectations of the record crowd. The original film ‘Grafton at Work and Play’ was a feature for the grand reopening of the complex.

In April 2011 it was awarded the top National Trust Award for the restoration.

The Saraton continues to play a big part in entertainment for the Grafton patrons, not only for the latest movie releases, but world-class live shows, and concerts.

Grafton- History of Fry Street Burial Ground

When the settlement on the Clarence River was established in 1839, no one could own land. It was all vested in the Crown, and people could only occupy with a license, which had to be renewed annually.

When people died whether from accidental death or by natural causes, they were buried wherever a hole could be dug to lay them to rest, whether a family member or employee or mate. We know there were several people buried in this manner on the banks of the Clarence River, and indeed in the area, which is now Grafton. Their burial was often not reported or recorded, and after a time the grave site became unknown.


In the early years of settlement from 1839 through the early 1840’s there was not a large number of people settled in this part of the river, but with the passage of time many more settlers arrived to set up businesses in this ‘settlement’ on both sides of the river. Although there were scattered buildings throughout the area, small clusters of buildings could be found on both sides of the river. On the north side, one such cluster was where we find the end of Prince Street. Joseph Sharp had an inn and store, another was near the mouth of Alumny Creek where Thomas Hewitt had also established an inn and store. Settlers with the trades of shoemaker, butcher, and blacksmith had established businesses nearby. Thomas Hewitt had taken out a Government license on a large section of land west of Alumny Creek and Joseph Sharp had a large section east of Alumny Creek.


By early 1844 the community on the north side of the river was growing quickly and when there were deaths, they saw the need for a specific place for burials. Although we have found no specific record of any discussion within the community about the most suitable place it is quite evident that some thought had taken place about the site, which is on a higher section of land away from the main settlement, but within a suitable distance from the main Richmond River Road, which we now know as Turf Street. This became known as ‘the burial ground’ to the early European Pioneers of the valley. After the Municipal Cemetery opened in Villiers Street, it became known as the ‘old burial ground’ and now in modern times, ‘the Fry Street Burial Ground’. There was also an early burial ground on the south side of the river for those who died there.

There is little formal documentation of this burial ground in the historical records, although it is known to have served the community for about 14 years.

It’s management such as it was, was ad hoc, as it was never formally gazetted as a burial ground or cemetery, no church or denomination took responsibility for it, nor was it consecrated, or trustees appointed for its care and management.


Fry Street Burial Ground-2010

Although the Anglican, known as the Church of England at the time, and the Presbyterian ministers, resident at North and South Grafton, officiated at some of the burial services, it was normal for the ‘dead of all denominations to be interred indiscriminately’. No formal plan or register of burials was kept, although the original Church of England parish register of the Clarence River District, kept by Rev John McConnell, records the burial of ‘George Dixon’ on 27 September 1844, believed to be one of the first burials in this burial ground. However, between clergy appointments and during absences from the settlement of the clergy, burials recorded in the register were poorly maintained.

The inadequacy of the parish records can be clearly seen, in that there were no deaths recorded between 1846 and 1850, although inquest records suggest there were deaths in the area. Although some parish records from the Church of England have survived, those for the Presbyterian faith have not, and nor have any of the Roman Catholic burials.

The inadequacies of incomplete or non-existent burial records was addressed in March 1856, when civil registration of deaths was introduced in the state of New South Wales. The other sources for records concerning deaths on the Clarence River at the time were the incomplete inquest records of the Colonial Secretary’s Office and the newspapers of the date, namely The Sydney Morning Herald and the Maitland Mercury, both of which had correspondents on the river. Another source used although it may have not have been completely reliable was the memoirs of some of the early settlers such as Thomas George Hewitt.


In 1848, Surveyor William Wedge Darke was sent by Governor Fitzroy to lay out a town plan for Grafton, the settlement on the Clarence, which he had named a couple of years before, after the Duke of Grafton. During his survey, Darke noted the burial site on his map and as it was the European custom to have graveyards in church grounds, he included the land around and adjacent to these burials, as a ‘Church Reserve’. No doubt, expecting that at some time in the near future that the Crown would award the area to a church, possibly to the State Church, the Church of England. However, when the first land sales were held in Grafton, of the fertile river bank, along Victoria Street, the Bishop of Newcastle, applied for a church and school grant on the river bank. As the settlement grew the community continued to use the Fry Street site as a communal burial ground.

Meanwhile in Sydney and other large towns within the state, these communal grounds were becoming a problem in many ways, so after the General Cemetery Bill Select Committee Report of 1845, the Government decreed that a section of land be set apart for a planned cemetery with denominational sections for each major faith and a general section for all others.

Consequently when Darke laid out the plan of Grafton he included a Cemetery area out at the end of Villiers Street on the edge of the town. However, it should be noted that at this time (1848-1849), this area was covered with thick ‘brush’ of trees, vines, and undergrowth, although Joseph Sharp had started to clear the adjacent area for a ‘boiling-down works’ and farming. The community still used their former chosen site for burials.

Throughout the early 1850’s the government surveyors were kept busy surveying and preparing several sections of the valley including the town, for land sales, and the population of the town of Grafton and farming communities along the river at Clarenza and Ulmarra grew significantly. Consequently, more burials were taking place in Grafton and the surrounding area.

In 1856 government surveyor W A B Greaves was carrying out surveys in many places in Grafton in preparation for Land Sales. In his detailed survey plan of this section of the town, (where the communal burial ground was situated), he carefully plotted each of the graves and sited them on his plans. This accurate survey with plotted grave sites was invaluable to the community more than 150 years.

From March 1856 with the Civil registration of burials, we have an official record of people buried at North and South Grafton, as the case maybe. It should be noted there were also communal burial grounds at South Grafton in this early settlement phase.

During 1858-1859 there were a number of infant children in Grafton who died of Whooping Cough. A larger number of adult burials were taking place too.

Although we have found no written record, it was becoming clear to the local authorities, that they were running out of space in the ‘burial ground’. Richard Ball an early settler had settled and then purchased much of the land surrounding the burial ground so it couldn’t really be expanded.

In 1858 the citizens of Grafton had petitioned the Government to become a Municipality, which was formally gazetted on 20 July 1859. However, even before the official gazetting the citizens who had been elected as Aldermen in the first Borough Council had been approached by citizens to have something done about the burial ground crisis and it was decided that the cemetery area set aside by Darke in 1848, should be opened without delay, with each designated section for the major faiths, to be cleared and fenced.

Consequently, the first burial in the Villiers Street Cemetery took place in June 1859 in the Presbyterian Section, followed a few days later by the first Church of England burial. From that time, all burials in North Grafton were supposed to take place in the Municipal Cemetery, and in the main they did, despite many problems.

However, there is evidence that there were exceptions, which will be revealed later in the story.

As far as it is known there were no erected headstones in the Fry Street Burial Ground at that time.

The ‘old burial ground’ in Fry Street had never been fenced. Mrs. Rose Selwyn, the wife of the Rev A E Selwyn, the church of Anglican minister, noted such on arrival in Grafton in February 1853, and through the 1860’s and 1870’s Grafton Borough Council was petitioned several times to fence the ‘old burial ground’. It was also stated that it was overgrown and that horses, cattle, and other domestic animals were allowed to roam freely over the graves. However, this was still Crown Land and the citizens were reminded by the Council there was nothing they could do about the matter. It should be noted that the Municipal Cemetery was also overgrown, and religious sections were still unfenced or the fences which had been built were in disrepair, and much comment was made in the press of the day of the ‘disgraceful state’ of the town’s cemetery.

It is obvious that many citizens still held the ‘old burial ground’ in Fry Street as a sacred place, and wanted to keep it so, despite there being no church or mortuary chapel nearby.

In 1876 the Lutheran Church in Oliver Street, Grafton, was opened and the congregation thought they would be able to use the old Fry Street Burial Ground for burials. However, this was not allowed and they had to use the General Section of the Villiers Street Cemetery, or as many death certificates attest, there were many buried in the Church of England section of the cemetery. The Lutheran Church later applied for and was granted a portion in the Villiers Street Cemetery for Lutheran burials.

Throughout many towns in New South Wales by 1880, the site and use of former burial grounds were becoming an issue, particularly in Sydney, Newcastle, Bathurst and Port Macquarie, where towns had grown significantly in population, and burial practices had to be legislated for. This took place in 1880 and was gazetted in 1881. It then became a criminal offense for a minister of religion, government officer or indeed anyone to carry out a burial within the boundaries of the town without a specific license to do so, particularly in any area not in the legal Municipal Cemetery. This included churchyards. Under this new Act, the burial grounds situated on Crown Land were still under the Crown Lands Department but could be converted to Reserves for the Preservation of Graves.

The citizens of Grafton applied for this option for the ‘old burial ground’ in Fry Street, with the additional condition that the land is vested in the Municipal Council. This was gazetted in 1881.

With the site of the Fry Street Burial Ground being vested in the Grafton Municipal Council, at long last, the citizens thought they would have their dearest wish met. That was the fencing, care, and maintenance of the graves. However, the Council considered it would be a burden on the civic purse to have to take on the maintenance of this site and voted to partly fence and lease the property to the adjacent land owners, which they did. The property continued to be leased for over forty years for the pasturing of stock.

From time to time, approaches were made by elderly citizens or their families to have the ‘old Fry Street Burial Ground’, cleared, fenced and made into a suitable memorial to the early pioneers, but nothing was done.

In January 1927 the Grafton City Council received a letter again drawing the attention of the state of the ‘old graveyard’. It stated that the small area ‘held the remains of about fifty Grafton pioneers’, but at that time the area was used to grow pumpkins and was used as a sandpit. The Council was again asked to consider it being made into a Memorial.

On investigation, Council found that the sandpit was actually on the adjacent reserve, named as a Church Reserve on the map and the area was still under the control of the Lands Department.

The following year plans and works concerning the Grafton Bridge took up much of the Council’s time. Plans were proposed and accepted that sand and soil from the Fry Street Reserve should be used within the city limits for the proposed railway embankments. One would presume with the sanction of the Lands Department.

Many elderly citizens recalled how many tons of soil were dug from the reserve area for the embankments, which left the natural waterway open to severe water damage and erosion. For many years it was a swampy reedy area, which collected stagnate water, breeding mosquitoes. When the Council was looking for a site to a rubbish dump in the 1960’s this site was chosen and the whole reserve was filled and then covered with soil.

It should be stressed that it was the surrounding reserve area which was used, not the small burial ground, which sat on the Fry Street corner of the reserve. At that time the Council a full reclamation of the whole site as a reclaimed open space and it was formally gazetted as a passive Rest Park and named it Pioneer Park in recognition of the original purpose of the portion of the park.

Throughout the ensuing years, it was used in keeping with this purpose for community activities.


Fry Street Burial Ground 1963-2009

Extract from  In Memoriam- Fry Street Pioneer Burial Ground, Grafton 1844-1868, Nola Mackey,2010, ISBN 978-1-875840-68-7pp 7-10.Publication available at Clarence Regional and Grafton Library.

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Grafton Marking Time – The Grafton Clock Tower

The story below is another extract from one of my local history booklets “As Time Goes By-Grafton’s Fascination with Time-Pieces”,which I wrote and published in 2009, for our Sesqui-Centenary Celebrations of Local Government. This booklet has long been out of print, and I am now sharing some extracts on my blog.

In 1908 the Grafton Municipal Council was making preparations to celebrate their Jubilee and so a special committee was to set up to organize and overseer the celebrations.

The Mayor encouraged the citizens to suggest a suitable memorial to the occasion. It was finally announced a Town Clock Tower would be constructed as the memorial. At the March Council meeting it was voted after much discussion that £400 should be expended from Council funds on the Jubilee Celebrations. The major part was to be for the erection of a suitable Clock Tower for the city and also for the publication of a booklet on the history and progress of the Municipality. The other proposed functions would be funded by a subscription collection.

It is not known if local architects forwarded proposed designs for the tower, but at the end of April Mr E C Norrie, a local architect, presented to the Council a plan for a Clock Tower submitted to him by Mr S M Becher, a Sydney Architect. Sherard Michael Becher, born 1883, Grafton, was the second son of Richard Fane and Louisa Becher (nee Paton). Richard Fane Becher was the Baptist Minister at Grafton for many years. Sherard attended the Grafton Public School before the family moved to Sydney. He became an architect in Sydney, but continued to be interested in Grafton’s affairs. He acted as his own Clerk of Works and made several trips to Grafton to supervise the project.

Within a few days of receiving the plans, the Council had called tenders for the building of the Clock Tower at the intersection of Pound and Prince Streets. At the following Council meeting in mid May, the tender of J J Bender of £144 was accepted. However a special meeting was called within a week to discuss matters, as Bender had withdrawn his tender. The tender of Jacob Walter for £188 was then decided upon. Jacob Walter, the son of Franz and Sophia Walter, was born in Grafton in 1865. He worked with his father and brother as a bricklayer. He married Ellen Rosanna Franey in 1893. He died in Grafton in 1945.

At a Council Meeting in May, 1909,Ald Maxted moved that provisions be made for the laying of the Foundation Stone for the Clock Tower, and Mr Becher was quickly contacted. Mr Becher hurried to Grafton by the steamer, Kyogle and arrived early on Monday 7th June. At the special meeting with the Council on Friday 11th June,

Mr Beecher expressed the opinion it was too late to have an official laying of a foundation stone, but he suggested a brass plaque suitably inscribed to be attached to the completed tower, and that he was prepared to present such a plaque. His offer was accepted by Council. Mr Becher returned to Sydney by the Noorebar the next morning.

With these matters settled Jacob Walter then prepared to erect the tower,and brought loads of bricks from Palmers brickworks at the top end of Prince Street and started work. However these activities caused two sensational incidents, which were later reported in the local press.

“The stack of bricks and brickworks at the centre of the junction of Prince and Pound Streets, where the Jubilee Clock Tower is in course of erection, were responsible yesterday for two accidents, at least so it is alleged.

At about 8 am Mr Peter Cumming, baker, was getting into his cart after delivering some bread in Pound Street, when his horse shied at the bricks, and bolting across the road at full speed, brought the cart in violet collision with a tree, a sandstone gutter-bridge (both in front of Mr T Willan’s Freemason’s hotel,)and one of the verandah posts. The final impact was so great as to snap both shafts from the cart and, with these dangling from either side, the horse dashed madly along prince Street, in a northerly direction, but was fortunately stopped, and brought back unhurt. The body of the cart was left, loaded with bread and surrounded by glass-wreckage from the hotel verandah-lamp, on the footpath, whence, later on, it was removed. We learn with pleasure, that Mr Cumming escaped without injury.

The second accident occurred at about 5 pm. It appears that Mr and Mrs Stephen Schafer, formerly of the Royal hotel, South Grafton, were driving in a sulky from the Grafton railway station and were about entering Prince Street from Pound Street when the pony shied at the brickwork and, swerving suddenly into Prince Street, up-set Mr Schafer, who was driving, clean out onto the road. Mr Schafer fell face downwards, severely injuring his nose, and as the reins fell with him the uncontrolled pony bolted, and as it did so, a wheel of the sulky passed over Mr Schafer’s right hip and waist. The objective of the pony appeared to be the river, and Mrs Schafer, who had retained her seat in the trap, must have had a most unenviable time as the a frighted animal careered with the helpless lady to apparently certain death, or severe injury at least. Shopkeepers, their assistants and customers rushed out to witness the rapidly approaching catastrophe, and in a moment each side of the street was lined with horror-strickened people, some yelling bootless instructions to Mrs Schafer. Mr Rowley Smith was riding up Prince Street with a parcel of account books under his arm, when the runaway dashed past him. Instantly he dropped the books on the road and galloped in hot pursuit. The pony with the sulky was turning in towards the ‘Argus’ where Sergeant Dean was standing. The intrepid officer made a grab for the reins, but his effort had the good effect of causing the pony to swerve shortly towards the middle of the street, in doing so, the trailing reins touched the wheel and were promptly whisked right into Mrs Schafer’s hand, and the cool lady was actually pulling the runaway in when Mr Smith galloped alongside and seized its head. That settled everything. The people from the shops went back, and Mrs Schafer, escorted by Mr Smith, still holding the pony’s head and riding alongside, drove rapidly back to pick up her husband. Meanwhile Mr Schafer had been carried into Mr Weiley’s Market Hotel, where he received every possible attention, and from there he was afterwards taken home. It is hoped that his injuries will not prove serious.”

Mr Becher acted as his own Clerk of Works and returned to Grafton by the Kyogle on 5 July, 1909. He stated that the brickwork would be finished by the 8th July and that the clock mechanism would leave Sydney on the Saturday for installation the following week by Mr Otto Fuch. Mr Fuch had already installed the clock faces in the tower..When he installed the clock faces he wrote the date on the back of each , 29 June 1909. By co-incident in 1959, when the Municipal Council was having new clock faces installed and maintenance done on the clock in preparation for the Centennial Celebrations the day this work was carried out was on 29 June. No-one knew of this coincidence until after the job was complete and the pencil inscriptions on the old clock faces was noticed.

The names of the former Mayors of the Municipality were inscribed on marble tablets on the tower. This was brought up to date in in recent years.

Mr Becher presented a brass plate for the Clock Tower, on which ‘Erected July 20, 1909, to commemorate the Jubilee of the Incorporation of the City of Grafton. This also bears the names of the Mayor, Town Clerk, and Mr Becher.

The Tower rises to a height of 42 feet from ground level. It is on a solid concrete foundation 18 inches thick, set on 6 inches of sand placed in the bottom of the trench. In excavating for the foundation the Council’s large drain was met with only 15 inches below the surface. This was a nasty obstacle, and had to be over come by throwing a semi-circular arch over the whole width of the drain. The concrete was mixed and laid in one batch , thus ensuring a perfect foundation. The Tower is built of brick, with the exterior of Sydney open kiln facing bricks. At the base is an ornamental drinking fountain, while segmental arches, span the openings above, between the piers. Above these, on two sides, two marble tablets have been fixed, to take the names of past Mayors of the Municipality, with the dates of their holding office. Above the clock, cement cornices surround the parapet, formed by inverted arches, whilst at the summit of each pier is a round terminal.

The clock is lighted with four wrought iron bracket lights fixed in the centre of each pier. Originally these were gas, and were able to be lifted or lowered for the purposes of repair and cleaning. They were later replaced by fixed electric ones.

The clock was made by Messrs Angus & Coote, of George Street Sydney. It has four dials, and has special devices for winding and setting the works. The idea of having a clock tower to commemorate the incorporation of the city of Grafton met with a mixed reception. Still, the tower was erected.

Prince Street,Grafton

There were many who criticized the structure and claimed the clock would have been more serviceable had it been a ‘striker’. Some were so incensed that they took up their pen and wrote to the press.

To the Editor of the Argus

Sir- For twenty seven years I have lived in Grafton, and I take great interest in the memorial which is being erected at the intersection of Prince and Pound Streets. I think the Borough Council were taking a rise out of us poor fools when they palmed this concern on us as a memento of Jubilee enthusiasm and as a token of progression. One of my customers from ‘out back’ wanted to know ‘whaf-for’ the Council was building another water tank . I told him ’twas to water the streets from the top of the tower, as it saved the man from carrying the street watering apparatus about in the wheel barrow . ‘Ah’ said he , ‘then I suppose those holes are for the cove to stick the water pipe through’.

The Clock Tower was unveiled on the 20th July 1909 with great pomp and ceremony

The Mayor explained the significance of the tower, in that it marked the passing of the old, and introduced the new ways for progress in the city. He stated it was built from a design prepared by Mr S M Becher, architect, (Sydney), the contractor who erected it being Mr Jacob Walter, of Grafton. He stated that both the architect and the builder were natives of Grafton, the former being a son of the late Rev B F Becher, formerly baptist minister here. The erection of the Clock Tower cost about £300.

The special decorations for the occasion, included banners on each side of the Tower. The south face had the words, ‘Grafton Jubilee’; the north ‘1859-1909’; the east, ‘Advance Grafton’, and the west had a Royal Crown

The Mayor went on to describe the clock-tower itself. It was also stated that the whole concern was a creditable ornament to the city, and its significance as a memorial of the time should prove a perpetual education to visitors , and an incentive to the civic fathers to never cease endeavouring to advance Grafton.

Although with time people got used to the Tower itself, the clock was another matter, as it didn’t prove to be a reliable time piece.

A letter, perhaps with ‘tongue-in-cheek’, to the local newspaper a couple of months later reveals what some thought about the situation.


A story with a full 100 per cent of truth is going the rounds at the

expense of the horologe that adorns the municipal monument at the Prince-Pound Streets intersection. A visitor from up Richmond way who has toured a considerable portion of the North, sauntered along one morning, and scrutinising the face of the timepiece that is visible from the direction of host Weiley’s, thought he must have overslept himself or that Grafton was a little more ahead of its time than many gave it credit for. Hauling out his key-less lever, he noticed a wide discrepancy between Richmond River standard time and Grafton. Proceeding further up the street, he was astounded on beholding the Eastern face of that modern ‘timekeeper’ that he must have been travelling at the rate of something like 7minutes 27 seconds per yard. In order to become enlightened on the system of time gauging in Grafton, he inquired of a well-known frequenter of the Market Square how meal hours, knock-off time, hotel closing , and train departures were ascertained in the Queen City. He was solemnly informed that the clock was representative of the Labour Party, and only worked eight hours per day. He was advised also to have a look at the Northern and Western sides of the four faced machine that is supposed to provide Grafton folk with the correct time of day. Whether our visitor was more impressed by the influence credited to the Labour Party or to the quadruple method of measuring time by Grafton’s Jubilee Clock, has not transpired. Notes of his trip hither will probably contain the suggestion for the enlightenment of visitors that the several faces of this time-piece might be surmounted with an inscription indicating that Russian, Japanese, American and North Pole standard times are respectively represented on the several faces of the monumental clock.

The Grafton City Council finally resorted to having local watchmakers take care of the clockworks and coax the town clock to do it’s intended duty. So there were periods of time when the four clock faces worked in unison and the business people of Prince and Pound Streets felt confident to regulate their business hours by the Jubilee Town Clock, and all was right with the world.

One such businessman was W J Weiley of the Market Hotel, later just known as ‘Weileys’. He could observe the Pound Street ,eastern face from his bedroom window and rose early each day, by the clock to attend to the early delivery of goods, such as coal, beer, meat and vegetables and other sundry things.

One morning he rose as usual by the town clock, but was soon fretting as all the deliveries of goods seem to be much later than usual, and he finally remonstrated with a delivery man about the need for punctuality. Of course the delivery man was quite taken back that Mr Weiley should address him so, and advised him that he was very punctual. Mr Weiley then pointed to the time on the Town Clock, and was promptly told that the Town Clock was in fact an hour fast, and that some errant young louts must of changed the time as a prank. Mr Weiley was most vocal about the situation until he found the culprit was close at hand, and actually lived in his household. It was quite some time before he could really trust the Town Clock again, and on those occasions when it was fast or slow, no matter for what reason, he closely questioned his household over the matter.

Over the years there have been times when the Town Clock would be fast or slow and for a while the business people would put up with the inconvenience, while they waited for the City Council to call in the local watchmaker to attend to the maintenance. However if the Council took it’s time over the matter, they might be reminded by a newspaper article or by a ABC newsreader. On one such occasion Rupert Winwood-Smith was reading the news for the ABC. In those days the news bulletins were hand written or were typed, often on ancient typewriters, and so the print was not always clear. In the news Winwood- Smith stated that the ‘Town Clerk’ was late at the time of the last Municipal Council Meeting and was still running late at the time of the meeting held the previous night. It was reported it was most inconvenient to the businesses and citizens and called on the Councillors to act, and do something about this situation. Mr Wilfred Sheather was the ‘Town Clerk’ at the time and was most aggrieved as he was always very punctual in all matters. Of course the word ‘clerk’ should have been read as ‘clock’ as it was the ‘Town Clock’ which was the offending party, certainly not Mr Sheather.

In 1953, this great icon was decorated with flags and bunting as well as a huge crown, for the street parade in celebration of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In recent years it wears a splendid crown of lights each year for the Jacaranda Festival.

Clock Tower