Remembering our pioneers at Branxholm
By Daisy Baker
August 07, 2019
After moving to Branxholm 28 years ago, Trevor Smith quickly became interested in the town’s striking cemetery, which presents itself to passersby travelling along the Tasman Highway.
It became apparent to Mr Smith that there were gaps in the Council’s burial records, some documents of which are believed to have been lost during the amalgamation of Scottsdale and Ringarooma councils.
Through countless hours of research over the past 14 years, Mr Smith has recorded the names of 325 people buried in the Branxholm Cemetery who do not have headstones and do not appear on the burial chart.
“All of the people buried here have value. It’s not that the unmarked ones are more important, it’s just that the whole recording of all those deceased is important,” Mr Smith said.
“We don’t want anyone to be forgotten about.
“They had value those people and to just bury them and forget about them doesn’t seem right – that’s the passion behind my research and it’s just grown from there.”
Mary Ann Auton was the first burial in Branxholm cemetery in 1892.
Mr Smith said her burial at Branxholm is a story that has been passed down through generations.
In the early 1880s, the Branxholm cemetery was marked out but not long after, a tin mining claim was placed on the land, which was overturned in early 1892.
“Mary Ann had a lingering illness and she knew she was going to die. The only burial option at that stage was the Catholic church but they weren’t Catholic and she didn’t want to be buried there,” Mr Smith explained.
“At that point, this was all forest and they cut a track into the middle of the cemetery reserve, cleared a small area and buried Mary Ann.
“The dates we have match up with what is folklore among the Auton family.
“Two weeks later there was a story in the Examiner stating there was a working bee to clear the cemetery because until a few weeks prior, no one even knew where it was, which fits in with the rest of the story.”
Ms Auton’s is one of many stories captured in Mr Smith’s research on both Branxholm and Moorina cemeteries.
Branxholm resident Ken Nailer said Mr Smith’s dedication is admirable.
“Branxholm and the whole North-East is lucky to have someone like Trevor who is so dedicated to our cemetery and has given countless hours of his time to caring for it and researching its past.”
Mr Smith developed an interest in local history as a young boy growing up in the gold-mining town of Walhalla in Victoria.
“I was quite interested in early Walhalla history and gold mining and it’s sort of carried over from there,” he said.
“Here it was tin mining of course and a lot of the early people are recorded here in the cemetery so there is a connection with the pioneering families of the North-East.”
Mr Smith plans to give a copy of his research to the Dorset Council so they can provide details to people seeking more information about their family history.
“There is no real end point to the research, but you have to call it a day at some point so I’ve printed it all off.
“I’ve had a lot of help over the years from various people in the community who have generously shared their research with me so I have promised them a copy too.”
There is one loose end that Mr Smith would like to tie up however, which is locating a copy of the original burial map of Branxholm from the 1920s.
“In the 1920s there was a map which was adopted as the official cemetery map. It existed then and it would be lovely to get a copy of it,” he said.
“It was at a time when the cemetery was run by a trust. There was a permanent caretaker who worked here and the secretary recorded all the burials.
“Someone might have a copy of it privately and just assume that it’s common, that Council have it but if anyone thinks they have a copy, I would be very interested to see it.”
Throughout his time researching Branxholm and Moorina, Mr Smith came across records relevant to the Ringarooma cemetery which he also recorded.
These will now become his sole focus and he plans to record the full names, date of birth, age of death and parents of those buried in Ringarooma.
August is National Family History month and we’ll be featuring stories that shine a light on the fascinating past of local families over the coming weeks.