Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Death in the Victorian Era part 6: The Graveyard Walker

Death in the Victorian Era part 6: 
The Graveyard Walker

 The Victorian Era influence of Cemetery design is still felt in Australia today. Our cemeteries here are usually very large, ornate garden styles cemeteries. In South Australia one only has to look at Centennial Park, Smithfield Memorial Park and West Terrace Cemetery to see the influence I am referring too.
 In South Australia’s early days it was common for burials to happen in Church Graveyards, and it was the same in Victorian Era England, the only problem for the English in the last century was, that they had so many deaths, and so few areas set aside for the dead, that graveyards soon became overcrowded.
 Coffins could be stacked on top of each other in 20 foot deep pits, with the top coffin only inches from the surface. Some graves would be dug up, the corpse dismembered, the coffin smashed for firewood to be sold to paupers, and the newly dead, buried in their place. Often the rotting bones and flesh would be sprawled about the cemetery, attracting dogs and rats and other scavengers.

An English Surgeon named George Walker took up residence in Drury Lane at the start of the Victorian Era, and it was through his campaigning that the English public came to realise the their poor treatment of the dead, and the neglect of the cemeteries was contributing to their poor health and the spread of disease.
 Walker’s campaign gained ground in 1839 with the publishing of his “Gatherings in Graveyards” pamphlet which emphasised the problem of the gas emanating from the rotting corpses. The trapped cadaverous vapours would often cause coffins to explode, this was particularly bad for coffins in above ground vaults, or ones exposed to the ground surface, spreading their foul stench and associated disease into the air.
 (It was common in the Victorian era for cemetery workers to drill holes in coffins to stop them expanding and exploding).

 It was because of his influence that many of the Victorian Era graveyards were closed, and new designs, based on the French Pere-la-Chaise Cemetery were adopted through-out England. These cemeteries would be built outside the larger cities and included long tree-lined avenues, ornate iron work and ornate headstones.
 They were a park and memorial place all in one, Walker’s influence back then, can probably be attributed to our own Australian garden cemeteries today.

NEXT WEEK: Death in the Victorian Era part 7: Cemetery Design and Symbolism

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Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Death in the Victorian Era part 5: Victorian Funeral Etiquette

Death in the Victorian Era part 5: 
Victorian Funeral Etiquette

Outside of our Indigenous past, Australia’s settlement saw people emigrate from across the globe (it wasn’t just Europeans but also Chinese, Afghani’s, Indians and many more nationalities that came to the great southern lands). With this influx of new people, came difference in religious doctrines, beliefs, customs and practices involving death and funerals.
 Our main influence though, in the Victorian Era at least, was always that of our British rulers. We followed much of their traditions, although, we adapted them for our own climate, and over time, became much more relaxed than the English about rules and regulations.
 The British, Victorian Era influence is still felt today in how we present and design our cemeteries, and much of the culture, stigma’s and formalities that surround death and burials.
 The following is an example of Victorian Era etiquette regarding funerals.

 Management of a funeral would fall upon the most competent family member or friend, who isn’t overwhelmed by the death, failing this, the funeral details would be seen to by the families local Priest, and if he was not available, an undertaker.
The expense of the funeral should reflect the wealth and social standing of the deceased person. The funeral however should avoid becoming opulent and gaudy, and retain a sense of sorrowfulness for the loss of the loved one.

 Invitations are acceptable for those who may not be aware of the death, or who live far away. The invitations should be sent via private messenger and should include the location the procession is to leave from, and where the burial will take place. Etiquette dictates that the private messenger will acquire carriages for all invited, and that all invited in this manner MUST attend the funeral.
 Family are to be the first to view the deceased remains, invited guests are to follow, but must not be present  1 hour before the funeral start – in the one hour period before the funeral start, and after the family has finished, the guest may view the body of the  deceased at their discretion.
 It is customary that a person, usually an immediate friend of the family, but not a family member, to act as an usher, receiving guests and showing them to their seats.
Upon entry of the house of mourning, gentlemen must remove their hats, and not place them upon their heads again whilst inside the house.
 It is also extremely rude to laugh, talk loudly or expect to talk to the immediate family at the funeral. All animosities with the deceased should be put aside and forgotten.
 After the remembrance of the deceased, the Priest, Clergyman, Undertaker or person proceeding the funeral will enter the first carriage, with the coffin being entered behind in the hearse, the six pallbearers will walk, 3 aside of the hearse (or in some cases in a carriage in front of the hearse).
 The carriage directly behind the hearse should contain the immediate family of the deceased, followed by other family members.
 Whilst the body of the deceased is being carried by the pallbearers, and whilst the funeral procession passes them ALL guests, male and female should uncover and bow their heads as a mark of respect.
 In some quarters, it is common that, before the funeral procession leaves to the cemetery, mourners are allowed a chance to lay on the coffin, white flowers or blossoms on a married person. If the deceased was of the Navy or military (sometimes the Police Force) a sash, sword, flag or some other memorial adornment may be laid upon the coffin at this point.
 At the cemetery, the Clergymen (person proceeding the funeral) enters the cemetery first and precedes the mourners to the grave-site. Followed by the pallbearer’s with the coffin, once the mourners have gathered, the pallbearers will lower the deceased into their final resting place. The Clergyman will recite the final prayers, and the mourners will depart to their homes.

The people of Australia have settled upon no prescribed periods for the wearing of mourning. Some wear them long after their hearts have ceased to mourn. Where there is profound grief, no rules are needed, but where the sorrow is not so great, there is need of observance of fixed periods for wearing mourning. Australian etiquette Melbourne: People's Publishing Co., 1886.

NEXT WEEK: Death in the Victorian Era part 6: The Graveyard Walker

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