Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Who was really the first to be buried at Waikumete?

On 19 March 2011, the Friends of Waikumete with Auckland Council will be commemorating the 125th anniversary of the first burial at Waikumete Cemetery. One of their members found reference on a headstone in the Non-Conformist section that Florence Lena Bell, young daughter of Edmund and Jessie Bell, was buried 19 March 1886. Edmund Bell was a noted Auckland architect who designed, among other buildings, the Baptist Tabernacle on Queen Street.

I'd promised the Friends of Waikumete that I'd put up a mention of their special day on the blog. But then ... I had a nagging doubt, and decided to do some research into this.

What struck me was a difference in timing. While yes, Florence Bell was buried somewhere on 19 March 1886, at the age of just 14 months, and the Waikumete Database shows her as occupying Plot 1, Row 1 of the Non-Conformist block A, all other burials at the cemetery start from 17 April 1886. In fact, Florence was the only one of 15 deaths between 2 March and 16 March (when she died) which I've been able to identify who was apparently buried at the brand new cemetery, a clear four weeks ahead of anyone else in Auckland.
When I consulted the Waikumete Books at the Auckland Research Centre at the Central Library today, the mystery for me deepened.

According to the book for the Non-Conformist area, Area A, Row 1, Plot 1 -- is vacant. Next to Plot 1, the bell family occupy Plots 2-4, with the following transcription from the cemetery's burial records:

BELL Edmund, Adult, 5.7.1917, Plot 2
BELL Walter Oliphant, 23.11.1948, Plot 2/4
BELL Edmund Herbert, 22 yrs, 23.11.1899, Plot 3
BELL Jessie, Adult, 19.6.1911, Plot 4

The earliest headstone recorded appears to be that for Edmund Herbert Bell, who died in late 1899, so the headstone probably dates from 1900-1901. The following comes from the ARC's Waikumete books:

EDMUND HERBERT, the beloved son of Emund and Jessie BELL, born at Toronto, Canada 13th April 1877 died at Auckland 21st November 1899
Also their beloved infant daughter FLORENCE LENA
born 4th January 1885 died 16th March 1896 [sic - should be 1886]
And JESSIE ALICE died at Toronto, Canada 2nd February 1876 aged 6 months 23 days
Short of obtaining Florence Lena Bell's death certificate, which may show where she was buried, it looks as if the Bell family used the headstone for their son Edmund Herbert to serve as a memorial to their other departed children, Jessie Alice and Florence Lena. Florence Lena Bell may not be buried at Waikumete after all -- or, perhaps, not on 19 March 1886. After all, George Boyd, the noted owner of the Newton Pottery Works, died 10 March 1886, was buried with wife number 1 at Symonds Street Cemetery that month, only to be disinterred and removed to Waikumete by wife number 2 in November 1887.

George Boyd's grave at Waikumete, October 2010.

If Florence Lena Bell wasn't the first burial -- who was?

The Auckland Star of 17 April 1886 was quite clear on who that was.

The first interment in the new public cemetery at Waikomiti took place this afternoon, the body being that of a child, whose parents named Dye reside in Symonds-street. The funeral, instead of going by rail, went in vehicles by road, the cost, we are informed, being a few shillings less than if the railway had been used. The road to the cemetery was found to be very good condition, metalled all the way, and the time occupied either way was one hour and twenty minutes. Rev C M Nelson read the burial service, and the funeral arrangements were in charge of Mr Geo. H Leaning. Burials were allowed in Symonds-street Cemeteries up till Thursday last [15 April], so that the new Cemetery was required on the first day after the old ones were closed. The burial today was in the public division of the Cemetery.

The trouble with this -- I couldn't find anyone named Dye, dying in 1886, buried at Waikumete, nor living on Symonds-street at that time. But this piece had such detail. If it was merely a three-to-five line throwaway report deep in the local news column of the paper, perhaps it could be disregarded as an error on some reporter's part. The only lead I had was that Rev. Charles M Nelson, MA, was in charge of St Paul's Anglican Church in Auckland at the time, so this kiddy's family were likely to be Anglican. A trawl through the Anglican book of the Waikumete set at the ARC, though, proved fruitless.

One thing I love about local history research is that sometimes, just at the right moment, the right person walks up in the middle of a problem and says hi. In this case today, that was Ray Turner, of the Auckland branch of the NZ Society of Genealogists. I looked up at him, and said, "I have a problem here." I showed him the Star article, explained what I was looking into, and tonight he emailed the answer to me, on consulting a wonderful index the NZSG have done of the Waikumete Books.

The child's family name wasn't Dye, it was Tye; he was William Appleby Tye, found in Waikumete Book No. 8.
51735 No Stone
(Burial Book) WILLIAM APPLEBY TYE 8 months informant Albert Tye
buried 17 April 1886
(BDM) William Appleby TYE (1886) Plot 1
The Tye family were probably the same ones who had lost another kiddy, according to the Library's online databases -- Clara at 14 months, in 1881, when they were living at Abercrombie (now St Paul) Street, close to the Symonds Street ridge. Clara was buried at Symonds Street Cemetery, Anglican section.

So, as I said earlier, unless Florence Lena Bell's death certificate says she was buried at Waikumete Cemetery, then the commemoration on 19 March this year may be at the wrong time, and focussed on the wrong gravesite. [Update 18 March 2011 - Florence Bell's burial confirmed by death registration. See this post.]

I should see if I can locate young William Appleby Tye's gravesite, Public Burial A, Row 1, Plot 1, just in behind the Jewish section, next to the servicemen's area -- unmarked with no stone. To give him some flowers on 17 April, poor wee mite. If anyone wants to come out there with me then, you'd be welcome. Send me an email:

Update, 9 March 2010. The latest newsletter for the Friends of Waikumete is out, and they are sticking to the date of 19 March as the first burial., giving William Aplley Tye only the privilege of the first burial in the cemtery's public section. Not what the Star (above) reported. Hopefully, they also obtain the detath certificate for Florence Lena Bell to check their research, because somehow, they say they have an IGI reference giving Florence's send name as "Sera" or "Serra". This is very odd -- as Florence's death notice, placed in the newspaper by her family, as well as the BDM database, both give her middle name as "Lena". Even the early 1900s gravestone has "Lena." Hopefully, if "Sera" is an error (and the IGI is a transcription database only, not primary documentation), this isn't repeated in school pupils' projects from now on.


  1. Great research Lisa. The thing is there is always that question "Why?" It's our curiosity that drives us to look just that bit deeper into something. This is really well written, you certainly done the research and it's now placed the answer right there with solid evidence. Wish I could be there with you to put some flowers of the little fella's grave. Died far too young. Way to go!

  2. Noeline Erceg, Friends of WaikumeteFebruary 26, 2011 at 2:12 PM

    On March 18,1886, Edmund Bell purchased four plots at the cost of 6 pounds. Florence had died on March 16 and was buried on March 19, 1886. That was one of the proof factors. Yes, we will endeaver to re check what proof we have. We hope former Friends of Waikumete did their homework well.
    Yes, I will come and put flowers on William Tye's grave on 17 April.

  3. Hi Noelene,

    Thanks for commenting on this. The death certificate for Florence might determine for certain where she was buried, as I mentioned above. The plots must be part of "Area 2" at £1 10s each, according to the draft Waikumete Cemetery bylaws, 10 April 1886, if the Bell family purchased four -- why, though, is Plot 1 listed as "vacant" in the Waikumete books compiled by the NZSG?. Also -- why, if she is buried there, are there no other apparent burials before her, from 3 March, or after her until 17 April? Strange, also, that nothing seems to have been mentioned in the papers of the time.

    One thing about little Florence, she has certainly left behind some mysteries. Thanks for offering to come along on 17 April to William Tye's grave.

  4. Apologies, Noeline -- just noticed I spelled your name incorrectly!