Adelaide's West Terrace Cemetery

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In the late nineteenth century considerable concern was expressed in the press and in Parliament regarding the deteriorating condition of the Cemetery and the problem of overcrowding. Leases were valid for 99 years and they still had many years to run before they expired and the ground could be reclaimed. The Government had a number of options, extending the present Cemetery beyond its current boundaries; developing a new cemetery or looking at alternative methods of disposal of the dead.

All three options were tried including that of seeking alternative methods to burial.

In December, 1890, the Hon. J.L.Parsons introduced into the House of Assembly a Cremation Bill to allow for the establishment of a crematorium. Public supported the measure and a petition was circulated and presented to Parliament. The Bill was debated in the Legislative Council in August the following year and received the Governor's assent on the 19th December, 1891.

Although the legislative framework was in place to allow cremation nothing was done to put it into effect. The Government supported the legislation but was unwilling to provide the finance with which to construct a crematorium. The initiative was left to the Adelaide Cremation Society. The Society promoted the idea of cremation and sought donations to build a crematorium., Robert Barr-Smith lent his support with a donation of a £1,OOO.

Difficulty was experienced in finding a suitable site for the crematorium, but finally the Government made available land on the northern boundary of the West Terrace Cemetery. A design by prominent Adelaide architect, A. Barham Black was chosen and construction commenced by Messrs. Isley and Co. The foundation stone was laid by the Premier, J.G.Jenkins on the 17th October, 1902. The building was handed over to the Government by the Cremation Society in early January, 1903.

The crematorium, the first in Australia until the Rookwood Crematorium was built in Sydney in 1925, consisted of a chapel 32 feet by 19 feet, and a furnace room 24 feet by 18 feet with a single cremation chamber and a chimney in the design of an Italianate bell-tower. The furnace and associated equipment was imported from England.

The first cremation took place on the 4th May, 1903, of Bushim Sikh

Cremations occured regularly thereafter but it appears that the concept never received wide public acceptance. Between 1903 and 1925 the greatest number of cremations in anyone year was only 30 while its total capacity was three cremations per day. This was probably due to a number of reasons. The Cemetery was extended and upgraded taking pressure off alternative methods having to be found; the Catholic Church did not approve of cremation; the higher cost of cremation compared with burial and most importantly the machinery rapidly became outdated and antiquated.

1930 there was considerable discussion regarding the future of the West Terrace Crematorium. Alderman J.R.Cain of the Adelaide City Council suggested that the City Council assume control as the Crematorium was unprofitable, was no longer efficient (more modern crematoria were oil fired rather than wood and coke fired) and had had to be closed for repairs and renovations. The Rev. L.W.Slade of Mallala described the Crematorium in a letter to the Editor of the Advertiser on the 12th November, 1930 as,

"a gloomy building in a deserted corner, rendered even less inviting by scraps of half-charred paper and other litter, the interior lighted by a badly smashed window, the bench for the cask reminding one of the counter of an abandoned shop, and worst feature of all, a sliding apparatus whose creaks and groans must harrow the hearts of mourners at such times."

The Rev. L.Lewis of Angaston in the Advertiser commented on the 14th November,

"The bareness of the interior, its general shabbiness, and crudity of arrangement, would dampen the ardor of any but a zealous cremationist."

However the Government decided to renovate (although not convert to oil firing) and reopen the Crematorium by the end of the year

In early 1938 the Cremation Society of Adelaide was re-established to erect a new modern crematorium near Adelaide This later became the Centennial Park Crematorium which was opened in 19 .Another crematorium was built at Enfield in 19

On the 1st November, 1959, the West Terrace Crematorium was closed and in 1969 the building was demolished.

The inscriptions are from the marble tablets that are located in the Crematorium reserve. There is a separate alphabetically arranged cremation register for the Crematorium. During the 56 years of operation 4766 cremations took place.

References: City of Adelaide, Municipal Year Book, 1966-67. Adelaide.

Nicol, Robert, "The Cremation Movement in Adelaide", Historical Society of South Australia Newsletter, No. 45, Oct. 1982, pp.15-18.

Newspapers:Advertiser

Observer

S.A. Archives: Newspaper Cutting Book, Vol 2, p.170

S.A.Parliamentary Paper 176/1890.

Extract from:
"Inscriptions from West Terrace Cemetery Vol. II"
© 1984 Andrew G Peake

 

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