Milton’s Church of England Cemetery

Some 500m distance from the Anglican Church of St Peter and Paul in Milton is its long-forgotten historic cemetery at 10 Croobyar Rd. Although there are no longer any visible headstones, the people buried there are an important record of Milton’s early years.

Perhaps because the Church of England was in Milton’s Main St (now the Princes Highway) and it was thought inappropriate to have a graveyard around the church in such a public place, for 45 years parishioners were buried on land bought from Roger Seccombe on Croobyar Rd. By 1903 the church realised that several springs ran through the land (a common feature in this district), making it an unsuitable place to have a cemetery and, from 1903 on, burials took place at the new Sandridge Cemetery in Mollymook.

Sketch plan of the land sold by Roger Seccombe to the Church of England in 1863. (Source: LPI Book 86 No 474)

During the 44 years from 1859, parish records indicate around 170 people were buried in the cemetery with perhaps 30 or so headstones. Unfortunately there is no known graveyard plan and, as many people living in Milton during its early years were farm labourers, timber cutters, carters and general hands, graves would have been marked with timber crosses rather than expensive headstones.

A search through MUHS archives reveals some very interesting details about the cemetery from 1890 to the present day, including photos supplied by our members, a National Trust survey, newspaper reports, parish minutes and an archeological report.

  • 1890 – there is only one early photographic record of the cemetery. Milton Ulladulla Historical Society (MUHS) has a copy of a photograph sent to us in 1988 by a descendant of James McClelland of him standing next to the grave of his late wife Jane, who died at only 33 years old in December 1889. The photo may have been taken just after her large headstone was erected.

    James McClelland stands next to the grave of his late wife Jane in 1890. Photo sent to MUHS in 1988 by Noel McClelland

  • 1899 – unfortunately the cemetery being ‘out of sight’ from the local parishioners also meant that it was ‘out of mind’ and there are numerous newspaper reports from as early as 1899 that the cemetery was in a “scandalously neglected state“.

    Ulladulla and Milton Times 25 February 1899, Page 4 (Source: Trove)

  • 1901 – the neglect continued, prompting this headline piece in the Ulladulla and Milton Times on 31 August 1901, which is very direct about how the

    dilapidated fences, the broken and prostrate headstones and the rank and foul undergrowth gives it the appearance of an apparently forgotten generation“.

    Ulladulla and Milton Times August 31, 1901 (Source: Trove)

    Local church records from early 20th century are completely silent on the subject of the cemetery. In ‘The Milton Militant‘, published by the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in 1928 (an original is in MUHS archives) current Rector the Rev Sydney Turner records much of the church’s early history, including its building and development. He also acknowledges the many parishioners who contributed to the church’s management and services over the previous 68 years, but the cemetery is not mentioned.

  • 1974 – parish minutes record receiving a letter from the Milton Ulladulla Historical Society requesting that the remaining headstones in the Croobyar Rd cemetery be preserved by moving them to a memorial wall at Sandridge Cemetery in Mollymook. Rector David White writes to the Registrar regarding the matter but by December 1974, the parish still had not received a reply.

  • 1976 – The Parish of Milton wrote to MUHS expressing its approval of discussions with MUHS about the “need for repair, maintenance, restoration of many of the damaged and unprotected pioneer graves….Parish Council particularly approves the idea of removing the Church of England stones at Croobyar Rd and…asking (Shoalhaven) Council to have them installed in an appropriate Memorial wall at the Historic Milton Church“. Unfortunately Shoalhaven Council subsequently decided that it did not have the authority to maintain the cemeteries or remove the headstones to another site. Shoalhaven Council had assumed control of district cemeteries in 1967 but the Croobyar Rd cemetery had not been included and it anticipated that the work of relocating the headstones would be too expensive. (Source: Milton Ulladulla Express, undated clipping).

  • 1976 – headstones were no doubt being undermined by the spring water moving through the soil and, during the decades that followed, a combination of cattle roaming across the site plus infestations of blackberry and lantana meant that by the time members of Milton Ulladulla Historical Society took some photos in 1976, only about a dozen headstones are visible among the weeds.

    Croobyar Rd Anglican Pioneer Cemetery graves and headstones, 1976. Photo Mrs DV Collins

    These MUHS photographs show headstones and some remnants of grave fencing, both metal and timber.

    Headstone of Thomas Surfleet Kendall, died 1886. Croobyar Rd Anglican Pioneer Cemetery Milton. Photo MUHS

    Croobyar Rd Anglican Pioneer Cemetery Milton, looking west, 1976. Photo MUHS

    Croobyar Rd Anglican Pioneer Cemetery Milton looking west, showing headstones for Thomas Surfleet Kendall, the Buchan children George and Rita, and also William Cashman. NOTE that the cross that topped Kendall’s headstone (visible in the photo above) had been stood up to photograph it. Photo MUHS

    Headstone of Harriet Summers died 1879. Croobyar Rd Anglican Pioneer Cemetery 1976. Photo MUHS

    Croobyar Rd Anglican Pioneer Cemetery Milton, view to north, 1976. Photo was captioned ‘General view of waterlogged paddock’. Photo MUHS

  • 1977 – minutes of the Parish Council of the Church of St Peter and St Paul (in MUHS archives) show that the Church was already considering either developing the land itself, or selling the cemetery site to developers:

    Croobyar Cemetery

    Discussion with the Deputy Town planner reveal that the Council would be happy if Croobyar Cemetery acre were developed. It would necessitate removal of the Gravestones and probably a garden on the used section of the Cemetery; The building of an access road and three building blocks. The stones could be erected in a Memorial wall at Milton Church…

    We would have to think carefully about whether it is worth while our doing the development ourselves or simply sell the acre to a Development Company. The Council zoning is ‘Township’. The Dept of Health have to inspect the site to approve any action firstly; The Historical Society have not succeeded in their representation to Council.

    We should take our own action now.

  • 1982 – MUHS received a letter from Mrs Cameron, a visitor to Milton, who wrote about visiting the cemetery and her concern on seeing

    lots of abandoned gravestones being over run by blackberries and grass and walked on by cattle“.

  • 1984 – local historian Mrs Nancy Tilton wrote a booklet called ‘Headstone Transcriptions – Early Shoalhaven Shoalhaven Burial Grounds‘. She recorded 18 headstones and two footstones in the Milton Church of England Cemetery. (Letters and numbers that were difficult to decipher are in brackets, or ??).

    1. SUMMERS Harriet. Born Maidstone, Kent, Eng. died 22nd Aug, 1879, age 65
    2. SPOONER, Edward Burnside.
    3. HART Richard Murfitt. Died 7th Nov, 1864, in his 34th year leaving a widow and 5 children
    4. NICHOLLS William. Died 15th Nov., 186 (3 or 8), age 49. Missed by wife and friends
    5. A.M. 1866 (footstone)
    6. B.M 1873 (footstone)
    7. WAREHAM Louise. Died June, 1876, age 9 years; WAREHAM Edw. Y Hastings. Died June 1876, age 16 years; WAREHAM Margaret Wason Agnes. Died May, 1876, age (1 or 4 )3
    8. CASHMAN William. Killed by fall from a horse on Shoalhaven Rd, 28th July, 1885, age 41. Erected by members of Lodge 1611 G.U.O Oddfellows
    9. ALLEN John. 30th July, 1890, age 92
    10. HOBBS Edith Maud. Died 2nd May, 1874, age 8 mths and 20 days,
    11. KENDALL Florence Emeline. Died 6th June, 1876, age 4 years. KENDALL Augustine Sylvester. Died 7th July, 1878, age 3 yrs. KENDALL Percy Eliot. Died 28th Dec., 1876, age 8 mths. Children and T.R. and M. Kendall
    12. BUCHAN George A. Died 5th May, 1889, age 3 yrs and 9 mths. BUCHAN Rita. Died 4th April, 1892, age 2 yrs
    13. KENDALL Thomas Surfleet. Died at Whoppindally 4th Feb 1866 age 25, eldest son of T.R. and M.A Kendall
    14. RUSSELL Robert Wilkinson. Died 26th June, 1883, age 2 yrs and 5 mths
    15. AFFLICK Ann. Wife of ??, Died 21st October 1889, age 58
    16. PENNEY Elizabeth. Wife of Cornelius Died 28th November 1879, age 25
    17. LAWRENCE Martha. Died 20th April, 1884, age (4 or 5)
    18. FRASER William. C.P.S Milton, formerly of Port Macquarie, died 23rd March, 1884. Erected by his surviving sisters and brother
    19. McCLELLAND Jane. Wife of James McClelland, died at Woodstock, Milton 18th dec., 1889, age 33
    20. MILLARD Harding Albert. Died (9) march 1878, age 1 yr 6 mths. MILLARD Allen. Died 11th June 1878. MILLARD Amy Died ?? 1878. Children of Henry and Margaret Millard.
  • 1986 – the National Trust made a survey of the cemetery while it was still owned by the Church. We have a copy of the sketch plan in the MUHS archives:

    The survey shows only 10 headstones in four rows on the plan, plus some railings and footstones – 1 headstone in Row 1 (on this plan, the right hand or western side), 4 in Row 2, 3 in Row 3 and 2 in Row 4

  • 1987 – the Church of Saints Peter and Paul Milton finally received approval from the Church to sell the 4,000sqm cemetery site to private owners. The sale deed contains a covenant that the new owners “will not pull down or permit to be pulled down or removed any of the gravestones presently upon the land herby conveyed and will maintain them in a satisfactory state“. However this covenant is later found to not be properly drafted or legally binding.

  • 1988-95 – the cemetery’s new owners cleared the blackberry and rubbish that had accumulated from many years of local neighbours using the site as a de facto tip, laid two remaining headstones facedown and covered them over and also planted a large number of trees around the perimeter of the 4,000sqm site. When some descendants of pioneers buried in the cemetery saw the cleared site they became very angry, and several letters were published in local papers alleging that there had been “destruction and removal of graves from the Croobyar Rd Cemetery” by current owners. (Letter to the Editor Milton Ulladulla Express 22 February 1995) and local TV station WINTV showed a news item about the cemetery repeating claims that the owners had removed all the headstones.

  • 1996 – the cemetery’s owners built a stone memorial on the Croobyar Rd frontage, featuring plaques listing the names of people buried in the cemetery, plus three new granite headstones in honour of the Goodsell pioneers buried in the cemetery (Henry and Lucy Goodsell, and their daughter Elizabeth Penney née Goodsell).

    Some descendants were still unhappy after the construction of the memorial and contacted Channel 9’s ‘A Current Affair‘ (MUHS holds a DVD copy of the segment) which filmed one of its ‘expose all’ programs, accusing the owners of clearing the cemetery and removing headstones and blamed the Church, the National Trust, the Heritage Council and Shoalhaven City Council for allowing the destruction.

  • 2008 – the cemetery’s owners submitted a plan to Shoalhaven Council to build a house on the land. Numerous objections were received, many of them from descendants of those buried in the cemetery who were concerned that any development might damage graves. As the original historical outline of the cemetery had been lost, there was some confusion about exactly where on the 4,000sqm site the burials were located. Accordingly, in 2009 Shoalhaven City Council directed the cemetery’s owners to conduct a full archeological assessment of the site, including by excavation.

  • 2011 – after a long wait for permits and approvals, in early 2011 archeologist Ted Higginbotham scraped 30-40cm off the entire 4,000sqm, except around the root zone area of established trees. The excavation revealed buried headstones and footstones and gravecuts. (An outline of an area dug for a grave can be identified by the different colour of the soil that is used as backfill after burial). The excavation proved conclusively that all burials were contained within the 1,300sqm eastern portion of the site.

    Higginbotham detected:

    • 62 grave cuts. The burials were arranged in four north-south rows, with each grave facing east (as is customary in cemeteries). Row 1 (western side) had 14 grave cuts, Row 2 – 25, Row 3 – 12, and Row 4 – 8 or 9. Many of the graves may have had more than one individual, especially when several children were buried from the same family. There were very few grave cuts in the southern end of the cemetery (closest to Croobyar Rd).
    • 9 headstones with two accompanying footings. The headstone inscriptions indicated the graves of William Fraser, William Nicholls, Robert and Edward Cork, Charles Afflick and his wife Ann, Jane McClelland, Jesse Poole, plus two headstones placed face downwards believed to be those of Henry and Lucy Goodsell (the owners stated that they had buried these two headstones face down to protect the inscriptions).
    • post holes indicating a timber post and rail fence along the western boundary.
    • deep wheel ruts running across the site allegedly caused by a concrete truck delivering concrete for a new build on the Princes Highway (without the cemetery owners’ permission). The ruts ran across the top of several headstones that had been buried face-up, which were now badly broken, probably caused by the weight of the truck.

    Higginbotham notes that:

    Although a row of eight gravestones were located in Row 2 during the excavation, only one in this row was visible in the 1976 photographs and on the National Trust sketch plan from 1986. This means that seven of these gravestones were no longer standing by 1986, the date of the National Trust survey.

    The archeological evidence and the owners’ account reveals that many headstones (at least 7 in one row) were already buried by 1986, before the church sold the land. This is confirmed by the National Trust sketch plan and the historical photograph. It is also confirmed by the fact that none of these stones is buried face down to protect the inscriptions. Higginbotham’s report states “These stones have been taken from their footings, swivelled round by 180 degrees, then laid down flat, face up, over the graves. Others have been taken from their footings, dragged to the foot of the burial and then laid down flat, but face up.

    Cemetery photographs taken by Ted Higginbotham during 2011 excavation:

    Individual headstones some with legible inscriptions:Jane McClelland headstone (top section), Jane McClelland headstone (bottom section), Charles and Ann Afflick headstone (top section), Charles and Ann Afflick headstone (bottom section), William Fraser headstone, William Nicholls headstone, Robert Cork headstone, Jesse Francis Poole headstone.

  • 2016 – the cemetery site, still undeveloped, is sold to new owners

  • 2019 – Shoalhaven City Council approved a DA to subdivide the site into four lots, with the original cemetery lot  reserved. Under the approved heritage management plan, the cemetery is private land but the owners must protect the below ground relics (burials and headstones), repurpose the ‘intrusive element’ of the stone memorial by covering it with creeping fig, remove the three granite headstones made in the 1990s and install new signage interpreting the cemetery site for descendants and visitors.