The cemetery at Nambucca Heads was in general use from about 1900. The earliest remaining headstone is that of Charles Vaughan, cedar cutter, who died on the 18th of May that year. In fact there was likely other graves of earlier times as the application to the Department of Lands lists the dedication date at 13th January 1888. The trustees were appointed from locals Messrs Davis, Gordon, Eichmann, Ling, Clough, Cox and Graham. The process of permission was still underway in 1904 but no doubt the community had need of a common burial ground and its use began before full approval. The design for the cemetery has portions for different religions, probably based on congregations at the time, with the largest for the Church of England, next Roman Catholic then progressively down to the smallest area labelled "Jews". There is a square labelled "General" in the eastern corner and over time, whether by design or chance, this has become the Indigenous burial ground.
Of course residents and visitors regularly passed away long before the general cemetery was available and apart from burials on private grounds, which were often later relocated to the cemetery, there were several places where graves accumulated in Nambucca Heads. On the corner of Parkes Street and Shelly Beach Road is what is now known as the Pioneer Cemetery. Its use began circa 1888 and it has been referred to as The Heads Cemetery, Flagstaff Hill and Pilot Hill in various newspaper references. There are at least fifteen graves. There are also reports of other graves further along Beilby's Beach and in bush areas which are thought to be of shipwreck victims. The outlook from this area of the sea and sand is an apt resting place for those who worked and travelled on the oceans.
Many of the graves on Pilot Hill do not have headstones. If it originally served for drowned sailors and shipwreck victims it is likely only wooden crosses would have identified them and these have long since disintegrated. Research by the late Mrs E Dorrough recorded the oldest person buried there as thirty-six years of age and there are several graves of infant children. Almost sixty percent of all deaths on the Nambucca between 1856 and 1899 were, sadly, those under the age of fifteen years.
Marmaduke England, a pioneer of Valla, buried his beloved daughter Emily there when she passed away from a long illness in 1896 at the age of twenty-one. In Marmaduke's diaries he bleakly records Emily's illness and the remedies and doctors he sought as far away as the Bellinger and the Macleay. He eventually took her to Sydney by steamer for treatment at the Prince Alfred Hospital and returned alone to the Nambucca. His diary records the receipt of "very bad news about Emmy" in a telegram and with all hope lost he brought her home to die. Her grave bears a large marble headstone similar to Marmaduke's own at the Nambucca cemetery.
Rotary Lookout is not far from the Pioneer cemetery and originally held the flagstaff used to signal ships. Buried there is Pilot Whaites first wife Alice who died in 1883 aged just 36. There is also a memorial to the sailor Charles Brodie. He was a native of Scotland and drowned in the Nambucca River in 1890 at the age of thirty. His body was not recovered and the stone was erected by shipmates and friends.
Perhaps the sorrow of the relatives is best described by the inscription on Lyle Grant's headstone at Pioneer cemetery which says, "As the ivy clings to the oak, shall our memories cling to thee."
The Headland Museum is planning a guided tour of the Nambucca cemetery. If you would like to participate please email firstname.lastname@example.org or through the museum Facebook page.
This article referenced "Stories behind the Stones" by Beverly Gibbs and the records of the Nambucca Headland museum.