Southern Cemetery

18 South Road, Dunedin

  • Southern Cemetery, Dunedin.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Heather Bauchop.
  • Southern Cemetery, Dunedin. Morgue. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Stewart Harvey. Taken By: Stewart Harvey. Date: 30/11/2005.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1
List Number 7657 Date Entered 30th June 2006


Extent of List Entry

The registration includes the Cemetery Reserve (as described in SO 17946, and part legal road (South Road), the morgue, grave monuments, and fixtures thereon.

City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Secs 32 and 33 Blk I Town of Dunedin as shown in SO 17946, and part legal road (South Road), Local Purposes (Cemetery) Reserve (NZ Gazette 1986 p. 5080), Otago Land District


The Southern Cemetery, located at the southern extremity of Dunedin's Town Belt, is one of the most significant nineteenth century cemeteries in New Zealand. The cemetery was established in 1857 by the Municipal Corporation of Dunedin. The cemetery incorporates many of the fashionable contemporary ideas of cemetery design then current in Britain, where overcrowded urban churchyards were giving place to spacious landscaped cemeteries set on the edges of towns. In these new burial places all classes of society could bury their dead, regardless of religious creed, in a setting designed for the moral improvement of the living.

The registration includes Southern Cemetery and adjacent morgue, on South Road, located at the Southern end of the city and the Town Belt of Dunedin. The Southern Cemetery covers an area of 5.7613 hectares and contains approximately 23,000 burials, many of which have headstones memorialising the lives of past members of the community of Dunedin and the surrounding districts.

The Southern Cemetery is an important early example of a large public cemetery divided into denominational portions, landscaped and planted according to the ideology of mid-nineteenth century cemetery design. Today, with its attractive decayed monuments and wooded landscapes, the cemetery is an attractive and important component of the city's celebrated Victorian townscape. The cemetery is of local, regional and national heritage importance as a place with strong association with significant people and events, and possesses great significance for the city of Dunedin, the Otago region and the country as a whole.

The Southern Cemetery is currently managed by Dunedin City Council (DCC), under the care of the Parks and Recreation Department, with advice from The Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust of New Zealand (HCCTNZ).

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Southern Cemetery is of outstanding historical significance. It is an excellent example of the way New Zealanders adopted and modified the model of the large landscaped public cemeteries that replaced overcrowded churchyard burial grounds in Britain during the nineteenth century. The Southern Cemetery is a particularly early example of the new large cemeteries which were developed away from the centres of settlements, and demonstrates the principal characteristics of the movement with its mixed formal and picturesque layout, well chosen siting, ornamental plantings and handsome grave monuments. It also reflects changing attitudes and tastes in memorialisation over the past 150 years.

The Cemetery also reveals patterns of immigration and human settlement in the region, as well as aspects of maritime history, overseas military actions, epidemics and other health matters, natural disasters and tragedies such as mining accidents and shipwrecks. The Cemetery provides an historical record of significant events in the life of the city and its inhabitants, as well as events of greater importance to New Zealand history, including the Otago gold rush of the 1860s.

The Cemetery has strong architectural significance as a designed cultural landscape which acts as a repository of nineteenth century monumental arts. The Morgue is an architecturally significant building in itself, being a rare example of its type as well as forming the greatest single architectural component of the cemetery landscape. The Southern Cemetery is an integral component of Dunedin's Victorian townscape.

The Southern Cemetery has archaeological significance. Past attitudes to death and changes in taste are revealed through the headstones and grave monuments, as are cultural beliefs about death, and associated symbolism. While the burials themselves have archaeological values, which could reveal information about the lives of those buried (including age, ethnicity, general health and the like), deliberate archaeological investigation is not expected or encouraged.

The funerary monuments and grave surrounds of the Southern Cemetery give it a high degree of technological value. They provide information about construction techniques, unusual craft skills and types of expertise which are no longer widely practised due to changes in taste and technological advances. These particularly include iron working and elaborate stonemasonry. The monuments demonstrate a high degree of technical accomplishment, reflecting the skills of the artisans who created them.

The Southern Cemetery possesses high aesthetic value arising from the combination of handsome funerary monuments, a calm and melancholy air of decay, ornamental and wild indigenous and introduced plantings, winding paths, its picturesque situation in the Town Belt and views over the city and harbour. Such a combination is rare in New Zealand, and is largely due to the fact that the cemetery was planned according to nineteenth century ideals of picturesque cemetery design. Although many monuments are in a state of decay, this contributes to the romantic atmosphere and aesthetic value of the cemetery. The picturesque setting of the cemetery has been enhanced by tree planting in the 1970s, although this has created some management problems.

The Southern Cemetery is of particular cultural significance with the denominational divisions providing insight into the nature of past communities. The cemetery is important to many community groups, for example, the cemetery has importance for the region's Chinese population, as it contains a section of nineteenth and early twentieth century Chinese burials, which are an important memorial to the Asian migrants who were attracted to Otago in search of gold. The Jewish section provides information on the nature of the important Jewish community in nineteenth and early twentieth century Dunedin. The Cemetery is of cultural and spiritual significance to Maori, as it contains Maori burials, including those of Taranaki Maori prisoners of war. The Scottish heritage of many of the region's descendants is also reflected in the cemetery.

For many the Cemetery also provides a genealogical link between present and past communities. This link is being increasingly recognized with the growing popularity of New Zealand history in general, and the researching of family histories in particular.

Though now closed, the Southern Cemetery has traditional significance as a place for the burial of the dead. Cemeteries differ to many other historic places in that they almost always fulfil their original purpose. The Southern Cemetery has been a place where the dead rest and the living remember them, for the past 150 years. Closely related to this is the spiritual significance of the place, being so intimately related to religion and mortality, which gives the cemetery strong symbolic and commemorative value.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

The Southern Cemetery reflects both important and representative aspects of New Zealand history. It reflects nineteenth century philosophy and ideas of cemetery design and placement, as well as the memorialisation of the dead.

The inscriptions on the grave monuments and memorials provide insight into New Zealand's history. The inscriptions on the headstones tell of important events and people, as well as representing the passage of life and death common to all.

The genealogical information is invaluable in telling family, local and national histories. The religious divisions speak of the important communities of the past, and the key place faith held in the hearts of the people.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

The Cemetery is historically significant at local and national levels for its strong associations with a number of individuals and families important in the settlement of Dunedin and the Otago region. Those buried in the Cemetery include many instrumental and influential in the establishment and development of the city and the region, including Captain William Cargill and Johnny Jones. The Cemetery is just as significant for representing a cross-section of society, not merely for its association with the city elite, and acts as a microcosm of colonial New Zealand society. Burials include people from the military, the judiciary, merchants, teachers, doctors, engineers, architects, the working classes, as well as paupers and prisoners of war in unmarked graves.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history:

The Cemetery has great potential to provide knowledge of New Zealand history at local and regional and national levels. As a microcosm of the community which created it, the Southern Cemetery reflects the tastes, religious beliefs, and attitudes toward race, class, gender held by nineteenth century New Zealanders through their monuments, inscriptions, carved symbols, symbolic and ornamental plantings and layout. For example, the sectarian divisions of the Southern Cemetery reflect the importance of religious identity in nineteenth century New Zealand. Its evolution over time means that the Southern Cemetery reflects the development of these attitudes over time, from the 1860s to recent decades.

(d) The importance of the place to the tangata whenua:

The Cemetery is of cultural and spiritual significance to Maori, as it contains Maori burials, including those of Taranaki Maori prisoners of war. The Taranaki people have formed a close link with the Ngai Tahu community at Otakou.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place:

Public esteem is reflected in public outcry over instances of vandalism, in efforts to document the inscriptions on headstones, in the voluntary maintenance carried out by individuals and community groups, and in public interest in cemetery tours organised by the Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust of New Zealand. It is also valued as a pleasant and contemplative place for a walk, as part of the wider Town Belt.

(f) The potential of the place for public education:

The Southern Cemetery has considerable potential for public education. The inscriptions on the headstones provide considerable biographical information about these people, their occupations, ethnicity, and in some cases, the manner of their deaths. This genealogical and biographical information is of great historical significance. In some cases they may be the only surviving record of the life of an individual, particularly for burials prior to the compulsory registration of births, deaths and marriages in 1875.

The HCCTNZ run tours of the cemetery, and publish a weekly column on significant individuals and stories associated with the Cemetery in the Otago Daily Times.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

The layout of the Cemetery is an excellent example of nineteenth century public cemetery design.

The monuments in the Southern Cemetery show outstanding technical accomplishment. The funerary monuments include fine examples of monumental masonry in a diverse range of styles representative of the taste of New Zealanders from the mid nineteenth to the early twentieth century. These range from simple upright slabs to elaborate columns and obelisks, many of which are fenced by attractive cast iron enclosures. Materials include granite, marble, Oamaru limestone and Port Chalmers breccia. Rare examples include cast iron and terracotta monuments.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place:

The symbolic and commemorative values of the Southern Cemetery are special for the descendants of those individuals buried there. Although burials no longer take place there, it is a place for remembrance for family members.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places:

While cemeteries themselves are not rare, the Southern Cemetery, as the second oldest main centre public cemetery, is an important survivor of that period. As it is set in its original curtilage, and has not been modified (as has happened in Bolton Street Memorial Park and the Symonds Street Cemeteries) its rarity will increase over time. The Morgue is thought to be the only purpose built morgue in the country built adjoining the cemetery reserve.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:

The Southern Cemetery is a historic landscape in its own right. The Cemetery's mix of grave monuments and surrounds, mature plantings and the former morgue form an important cultural landscape, expressing the nineteenth and twentieth century commemoration of the dead. It is also part of the wider townscape of Dunedin. The Cemetery sits on a prominent hillside site, at the southern edge of the Town Belt. As such it is part of a landscape feature that stretches through the city all the way to the Northern Cemetery.


Additional informationopen/close

Notable Features

The elements of the cemetery are: The Morgue; the graves of notable individuals; the Maori Burials associated with the 1860s wars in Taranaki; the original plantings and layout, including denominational divisions and unmarked burials such as the paupers section; and notable grave monuments.

More than a collection of individual graves, however, the cemetery is significant as a whole landscape.

Historical Narrative

Dunedin's Southern Cemetery, originally reserved in 1857 under the Cemeteries Ordinance (1856) is located on a rise at the southern end of the Town Belt, on sloping land over looking the city. The first burial was in March 1858. The cemetery is important as an intact mid nineteenth century cemetery demonstrating the principles of cemetery design of that period, and as a vital element in the culture and histories of the communities of those interred there. The cemetery is divided into four distinct denominational areas, with divisions for the General Section, Church of England, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and Jewish burials. A fifth area for Chinese burials was created later. The cemetery was closed for burials in 1980, with over 23,000 burials recorded.

The Creation of the Southern Cemetery

Dunedin's first cemetery was a reserve of approximately six hectares in Arthur Street. This received its first interment in 1846, and was in use until the opening of its replacement, the Southern Cemetery, in 1858.

Dunedin's first Town Board met on 27 August 1855, and comprised John Jones, James Kilgour, James Macandrew, John Hyde Harris, William (W. H.) Cutten, and John McGlashan. Among the items in their administrative portfolio was the management of the town's cemetery (Arthur Street), which was considered by then to be unsatisfactory on visual and sanitary grounds.

In 1856, the Otago Witness recorded that at its sitting on 18 March 1856 the Provincial Council passed the following resolution:

to discontinue interments in the present cemetery and to have a cemetery at Little Paisley.

In January 1857, the Town Board met to view the proposed site for the cemetery at Little Paisley (named for the small community of six weavers who resided there) and recommended that a reserve of 10 acres be set aside for the new cemetery. The site chosen for the Southern Cemetery was on a steep hillside overlooking Otago Harbour at the southern end the Town Belt.

Six months later, the Town Board recommended to the Superintendent to reserve and appropriate two pieces of land under the Cemeteries Ordinance, 1856, namely:

a piece of land (about 31 acres) being part of the Town Belt, situated at the entrance to the NE Valley (North Cemetery) and a piece of land (about 28 acres) at Little Paisley (South Cemetery). Communications of the said Board and sketches of the ground may be seen at the Superintendent's Office.

(signed) John Logan, 12 June 1857.

After the reservation of land the first indication that work was to begin on the Southern Cemetery came with the announcement from the Town Board on 31 October 1857 that:

five acres, being the portion of land agreed upon for a cemetery at Little Paisley, be forthwith fenced with a split fence; that the Church of England be charged with the proportion of the cost of fencing for the land set aside for that body...

To prepare the site, the Town Board called for tenders from contractors to erect 26 chains of split fencing at Little Paisley and "from parties willing to cut down and burn off about four and a half acres of flax at Little Paisley." After these necessary preparations the Southern Cemetery opened on 1 April 1858. The earliest recorded burial is that on the tombstone of "David Fourth Son of John McGibbon died 20 March 1858 aged 6 years 4 months."

Sextons were employed in the Southern Cemetery to act as live-in, on-site caretakers and to attend to duties associated with burial records, grave-digging and filling, grave and cemetery maintenance and general upkeep. John Barr was the first to hold the position in the Southern Cemetery. He was provided with accommodation on site, in a brick cottage located on the main roadway just beyond the Main South Road entrance, it is not recorded whether this was the purpose built sexton's cottage. Sexton's cottages were small yet substantial, designed primarily as residences for the sextons. They offered a waiting area and facilities for the transaction of business in relation to the purchase and location of plots, and shelter in inclement weather.

Structure of the Cemetery

The structure of the cemetery was clearly defined in the Town Board's Rules and Regulations, which noted that the Town Board of Dunedin would have entire control and management of the Cemetery. The cemetery was divided into three classes:

Class I: being ground of which perpetual and exclusive right may be acquired with the privilege of enclosing the ground and of erecting headstones and other monuments there. These lots shall be sold for £3.

Class II: being ground for which perpetual and exclusive rights may be acquired but the purchaser shall not have the right to enclose the same or to erect a monument thereon, other than a flat stone laid horizontally with an inscription or marked out by corner stones with initials and figures. The price of each lot shall be £1/ 5 shillings.

Class III: being a considerable portion of ground which has been set aside for the interment of such persons as are not purchasers or have acquired a right to private ground. On ground of this class no monuments or memorials what ever shall be allowed.

Fees for digging the grave, burial, and dressing the ground were graded according to age of the deceased and class of the plot.

The layout and ornamentation of the Southern Cemetery was heavily influenced by developments in cemetery design which occurred in early nineteenth century Britain. The repulsive and overcrowded state of parish churchyards prompted the construction of public cemeteries in Britain in the first half of the nineteenth century. These new cemeteries were planned along the principles of picturesque cemetery design established by the creation of Pere Lachaise cemetery outside Paris in 1804. The first of the modern cemeteries, it was based upon picturesque landscape design, with many varied botanical plantings, winding paths and pretty views forming the setting for the family or individual monument, creating a place for melancholy remembrance and morally beneficial recreation. In Britain such ideas were disseminated through works such as John Claudius Loudon's Laying Out Planting and Managing Cemeteries (1843). Tempering the picturesque with a more formal tone, Loudon advocated heavily planted and attractive landscapes for cemeteries, as he believed that the cemetery should be more than just a place of interment. It could be a place of instruction and education in many and varied disciplines including architecture, sculpture, botany "a scene calculated to improve the morals and taste, and by its botanical riches to cultivate the intellect". Places to visit, cemeteries were now located outside towns, losing their association with the church.

In laying out the Southern Cemetery nineteenth century Dunedinites certainly had many of the modern ideas of cemetery design in mind. This is reflected by their promotion of the picturesque properties of the cemetery, its views to the city and harbour, its siting away from town, and its value as a place of recreation and reflection.

The experience of Scotland is particularly relevant to the creation of the cemeteries of Victorian Dunedin. Glasgow's Southern Necropolis opened for burial in 1841. It was heavily ornamented with a typical mixture of plants including traditional cemetery evergreens such as holly, yew, cypress and cedar, as well as deciduous trees such as walnut, chestnut, cherry, and elm. The picturesque nature of the Necropolis landscape was enhanced by the construction of a lodge in 1848, designed in a neo-Roman style. Edinburgh's Southern Cemetery opened May 1847. The advantages of the cemetery as listed by the Directors included its picturesque situation and views, proximity to the city, convenience of access, peaceful seclusion, the highest attainable security and all within the reach of all classes of the community. The Directors offered a sliding scale of fees and a general section for public use, which meant all classes could avail themselves of plots. There were also similar developments in England, including the creation of Highgate and Kensal Green cemeteries in London. They contained a wide range of eclectic memorials based on ancient architectural forms and Victorian sentimentalism including Egyptian buildings, obelisks, statuary, angels and urns set among wooded landscapes, and were designed to encourage contemplative reflection and moral improvement. Dunedin's Southern Cemetery is an outstanding colonial interpretation of these large landscaped cemeteries of the old country.

Following contemporary practice in Britain, where the new public cemeteries were no longer exclusively Anglican and catered for all religious denominations, the Southern Cemetery featured four distinct religious denominational areas: Church of England, Presbyterian (General), Catholic, and Jewish, as well as an area for general burials. A fifth area for the burial of Chinese was created later with the influx of Chinese following the discovery of gold. S. H. Mirams prepared the earliest existing plan for the Cemetery. Each section had its own road access with entrances to the Jewish and Roman Catholic sections from Main South Road, with a second entrance to the Roman Catholic section and entrances to the Church of England and Presbyterian sections from Eglinton Road.

A designated area for paupers' graves was located in "free ground" within a large rectangular plot in the General Section. It is likely that this area contains the bodies of the prisoners who were part of Titokowaru's fighting force) who fought in the wars in South Taranaki in the 1860s. Convicted of high treason, the warriors were sentenced to hard labour in Dunedin Gaol. D. Harold suggests that of the eighteen prisoners recorded as dying during their incarceration, seventeen were buried in the Southern Cemetery. Based on information derived from a study of the 1872 and 1919 plans of the site, Harold suggests that a total of twelve Maori burials may be located in the "free ground", (including under paths) within the General Section and that five lie within the Catholic section.

The neglected appearance of the Cemetery soon gave cause for complaint. In 1864 the Otago Daily Times asked:

Who is responsible for the proper keeping of the ground set apart as a Roman Catholic cemetery? If so is there any person or body so responsible, the state of the ground is a disgrace to him or it. There is not a pretence of fencing: horses, cows, dogs, goats, can roam over the ground and the unfenced graves at will. Some of the grave mounds have almost been trampled out and on every hand there is gross defilement. The remains of burnt flax, left by the late accidental fire are rotting into noisomeness [sic]. And apparently there is no one with the will or the power to supply a remedy.

Newspaper articles such as this highlighted the major and long-standing dilemma for the Council regarding the Cemetery. Ultimate responsibility for the maintenance of plots at the Southern Cemetery (as in the Northern Cemetery) was with the families who had purchased them, yet the blame for the unkempt state was often laid on the Council. For a fee the Corporation entered into an agreement with the other party to "henceforth carry out for all time the proper upkeep of the grave". In 1902, a charge of £25 was levied, rising to £50 in 1948. However, few families took up the offer of perpetual maintenance which was offered by the Council, leading to future neglect as family members moved away or passed on.

The cemetery originally had two Sexton's Cottages. The sexton was the principal caretaker of the cemetery. The cottages were located close to the main entrance of the cemetery. The Anglican Sexton's cottage, built prior to 1902, was demolished sometime after the 1940s. The second Sexton's cotttage, erected by 1902, was demolished c.1987.

The Morgue

Early in the twentieth century the need arose for a new morgue for the city, following reports on the appalling conditions of Dunedin's morgue. Pressure was fuelled outbreaks of infectious diseases in Dunedin. Council asked the General Committee to prepare plans and specification for a morgue and on 11 June 1902, Council was informed that the Committee had appointed Messrs Lawson and Salmond to prepare plans for the erection of a public morgue. Constructed of brick in a gothic style on land immediately adjacent to the cemetery, major building work was completed on 10 February 1903.

The mortuary by-law passed by Dunedin City Council in 1902 defined a morgue, and determined the conditions of use. The morgue was in use for the next 46 years, with the last entry in the mortuary book dated February 1949. The building remained vacant until 1952. In 1985, in response to suggestions that it would be cheaper to demolish the morgue than pay for its maintenance (as had been done to the sexton's cottage), the New Zealand Historic Places Trust noted the building to be the only such monumental morgue of its kind in the country. Subsequent research suggests that it is the only known example in New Zealand of a morgue located in such close proximity to cemetery land. The morgue has changed little in appearance since it was completed in 1903.

In the 1970s, in an effort to make the cemetery more park-like and less visible from the city, the Council initiated a major beautification scheme, planting small deciduous seedlings on approximately 150 gravesites during the 1970s. Now mature, these trees enhance the picturesque quality of the landscape, but have become the cause of structural damage to monuments caused by tree trunks and spreading roots. Also during this time the Council removed and either sold off or dumped a considerable amount of ironwork from grave surrounds.

The cemetery was closed in 1980 and is estimated to hold over 23,000 burials. Today, the Southern Cemetery is closed for disposal of human remains, other than for the placement of ashes in established family plots.

Physical Description

The Southern Cemetery possesses a calm and melancholy air imparted by its mix of mature plantings and decaying Victorian and early twentieth century monuments. Plantings include original nineteenth and early twentieth century ornamental plantings, remnants of native bush, wildings from the adjacent Town Belt and many trees planted in the 1970s. Its heavily wooded nature, attractive mortuary monuments and excellent views over the city and harbour combine to give the cemetery high aesthetic value. The layout of the cemetery combines the characteristics of the picturesque and formal schools of cemetery design current in nineteenth century Britain and America with sweeping drives, walks and carefully laid out plots. Like the Northern Cemetery, it was laid out in a grid pattern modified to suit the topography of its site, although the design of each cemetery is quite distinct.

The Southern Cemetery is located on a rise at the southern end of the Town Belt, on sloping land bounded by the Main South Road (south) and Eglinton Road (west), overlooking the southern end of The Oval Playing Fields and across to Otago Harbour. The cemetery reserve is 5.7613 hectares in area and roughly triangular in shape and generally slopes down from Eglinton Road to South Road. The Cemetery has ornamental iron gates at the entry from South Road into the Jewish section. Tubular steel boom gates are located across the main vehicular entrance. A hawthorn hedge forms part of the boundary treatment along Eglinton Road in the Cemetery.

The Southern Cemetery is divided into denominational sections, each one formerly managed by a denominational trust. Each section is planned according to various mixes of formal and picturesque design, with plots generally arranged in a grid pattern of rectangular beds. A hedged circular area lies at the intersection of the two major paths in the General Section and graves around Bishop Moran's Tomb in the Catholic Section are arranged in a circular pattern, which has the tomb at its centre.

The present cultural landscape of the Southern Cemetery is the result of nearly 150 years of human manipulation of the natural environment. Historic fabric includes buildings, monuments, roadways and paths, fences and gates, ornamental plantings.


There are very few NZHPT registered burial places, such as cemeteries, churchyards and graveyards: they are underrepresented on the NZHPT Register.

There are 6 urupa registered as wahi tapu; and three as historic places (Te Nakahi Parahi and Urupa, Waipawa, is Category I).

The Chinese graves at Lawrence Cemetery are registered as an historic area.

There are 3 cemetery chapels, and one crematorium registered (of these the Karori Cemetery Chapel and Crematorium is Category I).

There is one cemetery vestry building registered at Temuka (Category II).

There is one set of cemetery gates registered at Havelock North (Category II).

There are 6 churches and their associated graveyards/ churchyards/ cemeteries registered (all but one Category I).

There are 2 sexton's cottages/buildings registered (Ashburton and Dunedin's Northern Cemetery, both Category II).

One Presbyterian Cemetery is registered (Parewanui, Category II).

There are 2 mausoleums registered (Truby King Mausoleum is Category I).

There is one tomb registered (Larnach's Tomb, Northern Cemetery, Dunedin, Category I)

The registered churchyards represent the continuity of traditional British burial practices in New Zealand during the first half of the nineteenth century, rather than the adoption and adaptation of the model of the large modern public cemetery of the second half of the century. There are no cemeteries registered that represent the development of the nineteenth century principles of cemetery design.

It is useful to compare the Southern Cemetery with other main centre nineteenth century cemeteries to place it in context and gain a better idea of its comparative significance.

Main Centre Cemeteries

Auckland Cemeteries

The Symond Street Cemeteries in Auckland were administered as five separate cemeteries, with five separate boards of trustees from the 1840s until 1909. The cemeteries were the Anglican Cemetery (1842), the Jewish Cemetery (1843), the Catholic Cemetery (1852), the Presbyterian Cemetery (1869) and the Wesleyan Cemetery (c.1872). The Cemeteries were closed in 1886, but there were still one or two burials in pre-purchased plots there in the 1940s. Like the Bolton Street Cemetery, it was partially destroyed in the 1960s by the construction of the inner city motorway.

The land at Waikumete Cemetery in Auckland, was reserved between 1876 and 1881. It was officially opened in 1886. From 1908 it served as the main cemetery for the Auckland Region. An undated layout plan shows it was divided into denominational areas, and included an area for soldiers burials, and a crematorium plot. The cemetery buildings include a crematorium (the first built in 1922, demolished 1969, the second built 1953), Mortuary Chapel (1886), a Jewish Prayer House (1990) and two Sexton's Houses. Like Dunedin's public cemeteries, Waikumete is on a sloping site with several gullies. It is the largest cemetery in New Zealand, and the second the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. The cemetery is still open.

Wellington Cemeteries

Bolton Street Cemetery (Bolton Street Memorial Park) in Wellington opened as a single, shared cemetery for non-Catholics on the edge of the town in 1840, although it was soon divided into sectarian divisions and subsumed by urban growth. It was closed for burials in 1892. The site today is regarded as a significant heritage item, not only because it represented a liberal concept for the fledgling colony but also for the public support which was galvanized in the 1960s when a proposal to direct Wellington's motorway through the cemetery necessitated the relocation of almost 4,000 burials.

Karori Cemetery in Wellington was established in 1891, and is New Zealand's second largest burial ground. It was the final resting place of about 80,000 people. By the 1950s it had nearly reached maximum capacity, and was replaced as Wellington's main cemetery by Makara Cemetery. The only plots available now at Karori Cemetery are pre-purchased ash or family plots, and children's plots.

Christchurch Cemeteries

The three oldest Christchurch cemeteries are the Barbadoes Street Cemetery, Rutherford Street (Woolston) Cemetery, and Addington Cemetery. Christchurch's first public cemetery was Linwood Cemetery, established in 1884.

The Barbadoes Street Cemetery (c.1845) was laid out on a survey plan within a few months of the arrival of the First Four Ships' immigrants. On the eastern side of the street was the Anglican portion; on the west side the smaller Catholic and Dissenters cemetery. There was a sharp internal segregation as to where people belonging to various denominations might be buried, with some families opting for the Addington Cemetery which was managed by the Presbyterian Church, but which did not discriminate on religious grounds. From 1885 only close relatives of those already buried in the cemetery could be laid to rest there. The last burial took place in 1973.

Rutherford Street (Woolston) Cemetery had its first burial in 1852, and was originally maintained by St John's Church. The Cemetery is now closed, and is being developed as an historic park.

The Presbyterian Church first set up the Addington Cemetery in 1858. It is a small cemetery set in the midst of a residential area. Although it was owned by the church it was de facto the first public cemetery in Christchurch, and was advertised as open to members of any religious community, and to the performance of any religious service at the burial "not contrary to public decency and good order." There was no denominational segregation. By the 1890s the cemetery was largely full, but burials continued until 1980, when it was officially closed.

Linwood Cemetery was established in 1884, with the first interment July of that year. It was sited on the outskirts of town for sanitary reasons. It contains around 6,500 burials, arranged in denominational divisions. It contains a monument to those individuals who were disinterred from the Jewish Cemetery on Hereford Street and reburied at the Jewish section in Linwood. Linwood also has a significant number of war graves from 1914-1918, and from 1939-1945. The layout is said to be fairly typical of Victorian and Edwardian cemeteries, with a set grid pattern for burial plots and paths, despite the undulating land. The orderliness was a move away from 'pleasure garden' cemeteries, and towards more structured plantings. The plantings have tended to be on the edge of the cemetery. The conservation plan identifies it as similar to Waikumete Cemetery as a municipal cemetery where virtually all locals were buried.


The Southern Cemetery is the earliest public cemetery remaining in Dunedin. Compared to cemeteries of a similar date and size in New Zealand, the Southern Cemetery is outstanding as one of the most significant mid-nineteenth century cemeteries in the country. It is the second earliest main centre public cemetery, only the Symonds Street Cemeteries in Auckland were earlier.

The Southern Cemetery represents a particularly significant period in Dunedin's development, where the burgeoning population (and therefore also the death rate), required additional burial space. The design and placement of the large public cemetery on a prominent scenic site, with its denominational divisions represents traditional nineteenth century thinking on cemetery design. In comparison with the early cemeteries in Auckland and Wellington (particularly Symond Street Cemeteries and Bolton Street Cemetery), the Southern Cemetery is especially significant in retaining its original curtilage and form. The Cemetery also dates from the period at which memorial design reached its peak (identified in the Waikumete Cemetery Conservation Plan as c.1880-c.1900). In Dunedin there are monuments that pre-date this period, and which are outstanding examples of the stonemason's art.

The Southern Cemetery was open for burials from 1857-1980, a period of one hundred and twenty three years, making it one of the longest operating urban centre public cemetery in the country. As such it holds a special place in the history of cemeteries in New Zealand.

Current physical condition

The Southern Cemetery retains its historic boundaries, with no alienation of land for other purposes. Despite the loss of both sexton's cottages, the Southern Cemetery remains largely intact. Integrity has been slightly diminished by past removal of broken parts of monuments and enclosures but remains high. The historic layout of the Cemetery remains largely intact although obscured to some extent by tree and shrub growth.

Few changes appear to have been made to the Cemetery once it had been laid out, but as room for new graves diminished, burials were made under pathways and sometimes over existing graves. This means that the Cemetery retains its original layout and grave arrangement, based on a typical mid-nineteenth century mix of picturesque and formal cemetery design.

Following the closure of the Southern Cemetery, the role of the sexton became redundant. The Anglican sexton's cottage was demolished c.1947, and other cottage was demolished by the Dunedin City Council c.1987.

Many trees planted on graves in the 1970s have grown to the point where they are threatening the historic fabric of the place. The Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust of New Zealand (HCCTNZ) has remedied this to a large degree, however, through the removal of many wildings and problem trees.

The condition of the funerary monuments, enclosures and cemetery structures varies from excellent to poor. Some have suffered from erosion or have been displaced by the growth of tree trunks and root systems. Others have been the victims of vandalism, resulting in many displaced and broken headstones. Unfortunately many broken pieces of monuments and sections of grave surrounds have been removed from the cemeteries in past 'clean-ups', and very little in the way of historic grave ornaments such as vases and immortelles survives.

The cemeteries are managed by the Dunedin City Council with assistance from the HCCTNZ and other community groups. From 1 July 2002 to 30 June 2004 the Southern Cemetery was subject to Contract No.2348 for Grounds Maintenance of Cemeteries Central along with Dunedin's Northern Cemetery. While routine maintenance tasks such as lawn mowing and weeding cause little problem in terms of conservation there are some areas for concern. Recent works to marble monuments in the Southern Cemetery has included the use of harsh abrasive cleaning methods which have damaged items of heritage significance. For instance, marble monuments with lead lettering have been treated in such a way that in many instances the lead in the inscriptions has been entirely removed.

Completion Date

15th March 2006

Report Written By

Stephen Deed and Heather Bauchop

Dunedin City Council

Dunedin City Council, Building Records

Plan of the Southern Cemetery, 1872, S. H. Mirams, DCC 1996/20.

Harold, 2000

D. Harold, Maori Prisoners of War in Dunedin 1869-72: Deaths, Burials and Survivors, Hexagon, Dunedin, 2000.

Otago Provincial Government Gazette

Otago Provincial Government Gazette

March 30 1858 : Rules and regulations made in pursuance of Section V, Cemeteries Ordinance 1856 for Management of the Dunedin South Cemetery.

Conservation Plan

Conservation Plan

Chris and Margaret Betteridge, 'Final Draft Conservation Management Plan for the Northern & Southern Cemeteries, Dunedin, New Zealand.' MUSEcape Pty Ltd for The Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust of New Zealand, 25 December 2005; Conservation Plan Addington Cemetery: For Christchurch City Council, Draft - Version 2, Opus International Consultants, 2005.

Conservation Plan Linwood Cemetery For Christchurch City Council - Draft for Comment, Opus International Consultants, October 2005; Four Decades Conservation, Karori Cemetery Conservation Plan, Prepared for the Wellington City Council, 2003.

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region Office.


The boundary is that of the Cemetery Reserve SO 17946, which is bounded by Eglinton Road on the west, the Town Belt on the north. The registration includes an unformed part of South Road (on which the former morgue stands), following the concrete wall on South Road at the south and east. The boundary then follows the cemetery reserve adjacent to residences between South Road and Eglinton Road.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.