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More than famous men and women: Sites for student investigation and analysis. Connecting Cemeteries and Monuments to the classroom . Why investigate cemeteries?. As time passes our old cemeteries become . less a landscape for mourning and remembrance by loved ones.

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Why investigate cemeteries?

As time passes our old cemeteries become

  • less a landscape for mourning and remembrance by loved ones
  • more a source of curiosity,
  • more a quiet or contemplative environment,
  • and more an invaluable source of evidence of the way past generations lived and often died.

When combined with paper and electronic sources, the historic cemetery opens up to students a direct and accessible link to a significant proportion of the past population, the ordinary as well as the elite, allowing unique opportunities to investigate many different aspects of their lives and their deaths.

Investigations into data from cemetery memorials can uncover tragic events

Electronic archives allow classroom access to searchable original and secondary sources.

  • Secondary sources:
  • Te Ara
  • Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
  • Google maps
  • Heritage trails
  • City Council archives
  • Primary sources:
  • Images from Timeframes website
  • Newspaper stories from     Papers past website ( as below)
Cemetery information can be applied to various scales of historical research

Jewish Portion Dunedin Southern Cemetery

  • Student investigations can centre on
  • an individual or family,
  • a particular suburb,
  • a specific migrant group,
  • a specific town or district,
  • a city or region or
  • even the nation as a whole.

Mark & Sarah Cohen Plot 88

Septimus Myers Plot 110




Maurice Joel, Plot 144







The Theomins Plot 124





BendixHallenstein & Willi Fells Plot 140

Jewish section Map reproduced from Ockwell, N. (Ed.). (1985). Southern Cemetery Dunedin. Vol 5. Jewish and Chinese Portion. Prepared for the New Zealand Society of Genealogists.


At the Anderson’s Bay CemeteryFinding first settlers from the first ships to the colony 1848 -1852

Student work cards – Cut out fold in half and give one to each group

Block 105 Plot 63 (Anderson)

Block 4 Plot 31 (Patrick)

An example of the student cards. Teachers print onto light card, cut out, and fold along each card along the dotted line. Put in a box and take to the cemetery. Student groups “dig” for a grave, locate using a cemetery map, record details and investigate using local resources.





Cemeteries offer opportunities for demographic studies of historical groups

At the cemetery:In depth investigation SouthernCemetery

Memorial information offers opportunities for student inquiry into wider social and living conditions during the later 19th and early 20th centuries.

Area 1: Student recording sheet – page 2

Block 6P Plot 27 - 28

One of the most obvious inquiries is to have students gather mortality data (names, ages, and date of deaths) from the epitaph information.

Details from the epitaph such as an accident, a person’s occupation, or war involvement



Data plotted into age bands by decade and time by decade reveals information about life expectancy in New Zealand colonial society and allows for interesting follow-up investigations .

Cemeteries offer opportunities for demographic studies of historical groups
  • Occasionally students will encounter headstones such as these pictured.
  • Cause of death is usually not recorded on headstones unless that death was accidental.

Erected to the Memory ofWilliam Sutherland

Died 6thApril 1871

Aged 6 years and 8 monthsDavidina Sutherland

Died 6thApril 1871

Aged 5 years 6 monthsJohn Sutherland

Died 6thApril 1871

Aged 3 years 4 monthsHenrietta Margaret Sutherland

Died 21stApril 1871

Aged 1 year

John Sutherland Died 15th July 1905 Aged 76 years

Ann wife of aboveDied 30th Oct 1911

Aged 76 years

  • Encourage students to investigate….
  • Water supply and links to typhoid
  • Effluent and garbage disposal
  • Methods of cooking and food storage
  • Establishment of medical services
  • Child care and immunisation
Timeline illustrating conditions & changesthat impacted on high mortality rates in colonial New Zealand

Decade = 1850’s Dunedin

Cemeteries transmit symbolic and literal statements about past cultures, identity and place and these can be investigated

Headstones in the Chinese section of Dunedin’s Southern Cemetery tell of many Chinese sojourner gold seekers who came to Otago and who endured incredible hardship and cultural and physical isolation.

Most of these headstones now provide the only record that exists today of men from PoonYue province in Southern China who were never able to return to their families and homelands.

When combined with Genealogy Society transcripts and translations the data from these headstones tell a unique demographic story. The story can be rounded out with original resources and secondary resources many of which are available online.

Cemeteries transmit symbolic and literal statements about past cultures, identity and place

• The disaster recorded here opens our eyes today to the realities and the hazards involved in the social and working conditions at the time.

• Imagine the difficulties experienced by the remaining dependents of the Molloy family that involved the loss of not one but three incomes.

Cemeteries offer insights into values and beliefs of historical groups through symbolism
Cemeteries offer insights into values and beliefs of historical groups through epitaphs and epithets


For of such is the kingdom of heaven.

The Resurrection

A few short years of evil past,We reach this happy shore,Where death divided friends at last,Shall meet to part no more.Oh may we stand before the lamb,When Earth and seas are fled,And hear the judge pronounce our nameWith blessings on our heads.

Mitchell Grave Northern Cemetery Dunedin

The Day of Judge-ment

Mortality of man

Mourn not for me my comrades dearI am not dead but sleeping hereMy end you know, my grave you seePrepare yourself to follow me. Northern Cemetery Dunedin

“The Spirit and the Bride say ‘come’. Rev 22:17

Passages from the bible are also common

With Jesus

Tally sheets show changing popularity of religious symbolism and epithets over time at Allanton Cemetery: Dunedin.
Cemeteries offer insights into values and beliefs of other ethnic groups
  • Jewish section
  • Chinese section
  • Orthodox Christians
Cemeteries offer insights into changing values
  • and beliefs of historical groups

Changes in monument styles may be used to infer meaning with respect to social and political structures.

Changes in memorials can be attributed to changing beliefs about memorialisation and a move towards a more egalitarian society that was apparent in New Zealand from the 1920s onwards.





… 1990s


… 1920s


Record the numbers of headstones in various shape categories and the dates by decade when first erected
Student investigations can be carried out on WW1 & 2 commemorations on cemetery memorials.

Coll Boyd McDonald (Cadet) killed when the training ship S.S. Aparima was torpedoed in the English Channel in 1917.

Ian Grant Killed on H.M.S Achilles during the battle with Graf Spee at the River Plate in 1939.

Trooper John Wood. Killed in action at Damascus 1917. Imperial Camel Corps.

Preston Logan Killed in action at Gallipoli, May 1915. Auckland Mounted Rifles.

Encourage students to explore the names on their school plaques, archways, and connect to local memorials and cemeteries

Lieutenant Preston Logan Auckland Mounted Rifles, N.Z.E.F. Died on the hospital ship Soudan and buried at sea, 22nd May 1915 aged 22. Commemorated on the Lone Pine memorial, Gallipoli Turkey.

Thomas DrydenBlock 151 Plot 1



Preston LoganBlock 141A Plot 11

OBHS Archway and trail at Northern Cemetery


Sydney DukeBlock 161 Plot 15





Francis DavisBlock 179 Plot 11





John GilksBlock 198 Plot 36





Thomas NesbittBlock 191A Plot 87


John Stewart ReidBlock 73 Plot 38



Arthur Earle CollieBlock 80 Plot 16

Gilbert WorsfoldThropBlock 181 Plot 6

Map of Dunedin’s Northern Cemetery sourced from:

Students can identify the type of stones used and record when they were first erected.

Limestone/ Sandstone





Concrete with marble or granite plaques


Battleship curves show changing popularity of stone types over time at Allanton Cemetery: Dunedin.

Natural stone with bronze plaque

Deed, Stephen. (Nov 2004). Unearthly landscapes: The development of the cemetery in nineteenth century New Zealand. A thesis submitted for a Master of Arts Degree, University of Otago.

Edgar, Philip G. (Dec 1995). Ideological choice in the gravestones of Dunedin's Southern Cemetery. A thesis submitted for a Master of Arts Degree, University of Otago.

Keister, Douglas. (2004) Stories in Stone: A field guide to cemetery symbolism and iconography. Utah. Gibbs Smith.

MacLean, Chris and Philips, Jock. (1990). The sorrow and the pride: New Zealand war memorials. Wellington. Historical Branch, Department of Internal Affairs. Government Printing Office.

Mytum, Harold. (2000). Analysing historic graveyards.Practical Handbook in Archaeology 15. York: Council for British Archaeology. Reprinted in 2008.

Sagazio, C. (Ed)(1992) Cemeteries: Our Heritage. National Trust of Australia (Victoria).

Sagazio, C. (Ed) (2003) Conserving our Cemeteries. National Trust of Australia (Victoria).


Acknowledgement: The Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust of New Zealand commissioned education resources for the use by teachers in New Zealand’s cemeteries. Teaching units and supporting resources are now available for download from the Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust (HCCTNZ) website at