THE Richmond River Historical Society often receives requests for information on the resting place of people said to have been buried at or near Lismore.
They become confused when told there are a large number of cemeteries in the district, including four major ones in Lismore.
Many of the early burials occurred before there was a gazetted cemetery.
In the days before refrigeration and resident clergy, people were simply buried where they died – often near a track or riverbank. A wooden cross or a few large stones probably marked the grave, but over the years these were often dislodged or removed.
Old diaries or newspapers sometimes give us a clue, but in most cases burial places have long since been forgotten.
Stations and small settlements usually had a burial plot and some of these have been noted by researchers. Of course, some of the deaths were never registered or, if they were, it might be at a place miles from where the death occurred. People took months to travel overland looking for timber or new pastures.
If someone died on one of these journeys the person was simply buried and perhaps it would be months before a registration was made, assuming someone remembered to do so. Early registrations were made at Grafton, Brisbane, or even Sydney.
Even when settlements were established travel between these was difficult so small burial grounds were scattered all over the district. Some of these still have the occasional burial if a family has lived in the area for generations.
Some of these places are Rous, Tintenbar, Tucki, Wollongbar and Gundurimba – not to be confused with the more recent memorial park at South Gundurimba.
There was once a cemetery at Wyrallah, but when a new road was made surviving headstones were taken to Tucki. There are also many small cemeteries still being used such as Clunes and Dunoon. The cemetery at Alstonville has had resurgence in recent years as the population of this area increased rapidly.
In Lismore it is said that the first burial place was somewhere near the old gasworks in Molesworth Street.
The first main cemetery was at North Lismore, and the first known burial there was that of George Lumley, who died in 1860.
His death was registered at Tabulam, which was the first registration office in this area. Later Ballina (as Richmond River), Casino and Lismore were registration offices.
Many of the early burials were made without the benefit of clergy. However, some church records list burials, as well as births and marriages, which do not appear in official registers.
The original settlement at Lismore was at North Lismore, with Lismore Station on the eastern side of the river and Tunstall Station where South Lismore is now situated.
The location of the cemetery at North Lismore was probably therefore logical at the time. However, with the rapid growth of the township of Lismore on the eastern side of the river, calls were made for a new cemetery.
The result was the establishment of Barham Street Cemetery and the first burial there was as early as 1884. In later years this was to become known as the Catholic Cemetery and a larger area now known as the East Lismore Cemetery was gazetted. The first burial there was in 1908.
Undertakers and church authorities were responsible for keeping records of these early burials. Local government authorities did not take over the management of cemeteries in NSW until the 1960s.
Because of this many records have been lost and it is difficult to locate a burial site if there is no surviving headstone. The North Lismore and Barham Street cemeteries are now memorial parks, as is the original cemetery at Ballina.
Many of the burials have been indexed by historical and family history societies from surviving records. Some of these indexes are available from the relevant society in published form. Both the Lismore City Council and Richmond River Historical Society have Internet sites with cumulated indexes for many local cemeteries.