Instead of the usual talk, our October 2022 Box Hill Historical Society meeting took the form of a tour of Box Hill Cemetery (map). After the tour I did a bit of exploring on my own.
This story starts in 1872 when twelve acres of reserve to the east of Box Hill was set aside for use as a cemetery. The first burial, of three week old Jessie Lavinia Smith, took place on 30 August 1873.
In 1886 land between the cemetery and the recently extended railway line from Box Hill to Lilydale was annexed as an extension to the cemetery. Then in 1935 a further twelve acres was purchased by the Box Hill Council, bringing the cemetery to its present size of ~12.5 hectares (30.8 acres).
Notable structures within the cemetery are the pavilion, built in 1923 to mark the cemetery’s 50th year, and the 1929 columbarium built as a repository for the cremated remains.
In total around 50,000 people are interred at Box Hill. Here are a few of them:
Three businessmen who cared about the less fortunate
The most notable grave is that of Sidney Myer, founder of the department store chain and one of my great heroes. He was born Simcha Baevski in present day Belarus in 1878, coming to Melbourne in 1890. He died suddenly on 5 September 1934, aged just 56.
The Argus summed him up thus: He [Sidney Myer] came to Australia unknown and almost penniless. His life has closed with his name and his deeds known far and wide and with the largest general store in the southern hemisphere as a monument to his business ability.
Business success led Myer to be one of Melbourne’s greatest benefactors and so it’s not too surprising that 100,000 people turned out for his funeral. Through the Myer Foundation his generosity continues to this day.
“I am not a politician; I do not seek publicity, nor have I any ulterior motive whatsoever, except my love for Australia and the Australian people.” – Sidney Myer
Why was he buried at Box Hill, rather than an arguably more prestigious place such as Melbourne General Cemetery, particularly since his home was in Toorak? Very possibly because Box Hill could offer such a large site. It’s also the grave site of his widow, Merlyn (1900-1982) and the ashes of his son Kenneth (1921-1992) and wife Yasuko who were killed in a light aircraft crash In Alaska.
A second prominent entrepreneur and philanthropist is William Angliss (1865-1957). He came to Australia in from England 1884, opened his own butchers shop in Carlton in 1886, then moved into exporting frozen meat. By the early 1930s it was claimed that his was the largest personally controlled meat enterprise in the British Empire.
After selling out to Vesteys in 1934 Angliss pursued other business interests and by 1950 was reputedly the wealthiest man in Australia. From 1912 to 1952, he was a member of the Legislative Council of Victoria, his contribution to public life being recognised by a knighthood in 1939.
Sir William died on 15 June 1957. In his will he left £1 million for the creation of two charitable funds: one in Victoria and one in Queensland, which are administered by the William Angliss Charitable Fund, and he is also commemorated by the William Angliss Institute located in the Melbourne CBD which provides training and vocational education in hospitality and tourism.
Robert Campbell Edwards
Robert Campbell Edwards was born in Ireland in 1862. His father died in a farm accident when he was eight months old. In 1877 his mother decided to follow other family members who had already emigrated to Australia and after a long and trying voyage they arrived in Melbourne in 1878. After working for a tea importer he decided to set up on his own. Over thirty years he built up a large real estate portfolio.
In 1895, perhaps remembering his family’s struggles, and being concerned about the number of homeless boys around Melbourne’s streets, Robert established the Burwood Boys’ Home for destitute boys. The home was founded on the principle that: ‘No truly destitute boy is to be refused admission or turned away.’
When the superintendent of the home objected to the policy of taking in completely desperate cases, Robert replied that this is exactly the sort of boy for which the Burwood Boys Home had been established. From 1972 the home took in girls, operating as the Burwood Children’s Home, closing in 1986 when such institutional care was no longer required. The concern for less fortunate continues under the Campbell Edwards Trust.
Now to the graves of two younger women.
Georgine Gadsden (1920-43) was the granddaughter of Jabez Gadsden, founder of the packaging company J.Gadsden Pty Ltd. Her father, Norman Gadsden, served with the Australian Flying Corps in WW1 before rejoining the family business. Her mother, Dorothy, was an operatic singer.
Aged just 23, Georgine met a tragic death on Mt Bogong, Victoria’s highest mountain (6,516 ft/1,986m). The Australian Alpine Club website tells her story, summarised here:
On August 2 1943, a party of three skiers (Georgine Gadsden, John McRae and Edward Welch) departed Bivouac Hut on the Staircase Spur (4,900ft/1,493m) bound for Summit Hut (6,410ft/ 1,954m) where they planned to spend the night, with the Cleve Cole Memorial Hut being their ultimate destination. Between them they carried sufficient food to last about five days Snow was falling but the party did not consider conditions unduly severe.
On August 5 it was still snowing but with a moderating wind a second group set off for the Summit Hut. Five hours after leaving the Bivouac Hut, they came across the three frozen bodies of the members of the first party lying in the snow, just 80 metres from the almost completely buried Summit Hut. Edward Welch was lying face down. About two metres further up the slope was John McRae’s body. Georgine Gadsden’s body was a further two metres up the slope.
The Gadsden Memorial marks the site of the tragedy.
Once you know this sad story you understand why Georgine’s grave, now ageing, is topped with two crossed skis.
Nellie Catherine Wales
And now for a mystery. This striking memorial commemorates Nellie Catherine Wales who died in 1948 aged 49. The rain-washed marble waterfall hides its 70+ years well.
The mystery: my Google and Trove searches didn’t produce any information about her, not even a death or funeral notice. Is there, as with Georgine Gadsden’s grave, a story to be told? All I have been able to find out is that Nellie was the daughter of Alexander Wright Wales (1859-1939) who from humble beginnings became a prosperous quarry owner and local politician. Later on, family money endowed Alexander Wright Wales scholarships at Scotch College. Nellie’s brother George (1885-1962) was Lord Mayor of Melbourne 1934-37.
E.J.B.Forrester and 66 others
And, lastly, war graves: within the cemetery there are 67 war graves. The headstone shown here is similar to those used in many Commonwealth war cemeteries.
If you’re interested in joining a future cemetery tour check out the Box Hill Historical Society web site