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Pennyweight Flat Children's Cemetery

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Colles Road, Moonlight Flat VIC 3450

Features

  • Historic cemetery
  • Used for five years during the gold rush
  • Around 200 graves of young children
  • Picnic table
  • Information signs
The Pennyweight Flat Children's Cemetery in Moonlight Flat is a heartbreaking result of the awful living conditions in the diggings during the gold rush of the 1850s. Around 200 shallow graves, most marked only by small stone rings and piles, are scattered amongst the trees.

The site of the cemetery was named and chosen because only a pennyweight of gold was found there, so no gold would be sacrificed by using this location as a burial site.

A lack of clean drinking water along with accidents and diseases were the main causes of death for children living on the goldfields. The first recorded deaths on the Mount Alexander Diggings were of two small children, who perished of dysentery in November 1851.

There's a gravel parking area, accessed from Colles Road, from which you can follow a well formed gravel walking track a short way over to the cemetery. Also alongside the parking area is the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park.

A fascinating and attractive information sign stands beside the walking track to the cemetery right near the car park. Another older sign stands by the gate to the cemetery itself.

Also along the walking track you will find an interesting sculpture: a 6 x 3 metre abstracted version of a miner's cottage made from mattress wire, created by Frank Veldze.

There's a picnic table not far from the entrance to the cemetery.

While many graves are simply marked by stone arrangements, quite a few also have proper headstones with readable engravings.

The following text is displayed on an information sign at the Pennyweight Flat Children's Cemetery:

PENNYWEIGHT FLAT CEMETERY: 1852 - 1857

This site is a rare surviving example of a Gold Rush cemetery. Shortage of water, contaminated water, poor diet and frequent accidents took a heavy toll on those who flocked to the diggings in search of fortune.

Those children who accompanied their parents and babies born on the gold-fields were particularly vulnerable to the harsh conditions. Between 1852 - 57 about 200 bodies, including children and babies, were buried here at Pennyweight Flat on the fringe of the Mt Alexander gold workings.

A pennyweight is a very small measure of gold, no wealth was sacrificed by establishing the cemetery here. The site was so barren it would not be disturbed by fossickers or miners.

Today's peaceful landscape, including the grey-box trees which began to grow just after the cemetery's establishment looks very different from the swarming activity of what was once the richest alluvial (surface) gold-field in the world. So wealthy were the Mt Alexander diggings that stories of gold "there for the taking" spread round the world, prompting one of the great mass-migrations of the nineteenth century.

Often unrecorded and uncoffined, buried in shallow graves, these fossickers and their families represented the coming free Australia.

Remember them as you visit here and respect where they rest.

see also




DID YOU KNOW...

  • Many cemeteries in the goldfields were established in the early-mid 19th century. Walking through the historic cemeteries of the area is like taking a walk through time.
 

Comments

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Denis H McG Kirby
02/04/2018
I visited this cemetery around 1967. I was young and tough ( I thought ) and knew everything, but looking down at names scratched on a piece of slate brought a tear to my eye.
Today at 75 years of age, it's happened again.
I hope they are at peace.
Maureen Clifford
06/07/2019
The Children of the Goldfields .. Maureen Clifford © The ScribblyBark Poet

There's J.A .Hayes aged seven days and Brierley: Hugh James.
Just two out of two hundred dead, most graves here bear no names.
They're the children of the Goldfields - on God's Acre now they stay,
their little graves are shallow - barely two foot where they lay.
Their families are long gone now, lost in annals of time,
most never scraped a living out from digging in their mine.
The gold was sparse and hard to find, the ground rocky and hard
and many children's lives were lost, the price for every yard.

A scant acre of ground they spared, above the Pennyweight flats
so named because the gold yield there was sparse. Gold wasn't at
this place, they claimed a pennyweight of gold would not be found
though one acre of soil be dug. This place was barren ground.
They knew the miners would not dig to find the golden ore
in this desolate patch of ground - a cemetery they saw.
A place to bury their children, and some were young indeed
their little bodies planted in depressions like small seeds.

A pick and shovel could not break that hard rock littered soil.
Made barely an impression despite many hours of toil.
Above ground, stone mounds now defined each young child's resting place
with most lacking a headstone to even show a trace.
And down below this tragic, sad and isolated hill
were many excavations and people toiled until
each ounce of soil from round and square and wide holes deep and narrow
had been thoroughly cradle rocked then dumped into a barrow.

In 1857 the last small child was interred.
I thought I heard their voices but was only leaves that stirred.
Wind soughing through the eucalypts playing a mournful dirge
and none were there to hear it except me and my ears heard.
And when I closed my eyes, my mind's eye saw again this place
just as it was in 1855 - a baby's face
angelic in repose, with handmade lace around its brow
with blue veined eyelids closed in death - forgotten until now.

And once again I wept and shook, and beat my breast in vain.
And once again I felt despair and soul destroying pain.
How could that be? Surely it was an outpour of emotion
from one whose heart had just been touched by events set in motion;
too much heartache and sun, tiredness, imagination;
for I had never known this place so why such perturbation?
And as I walked 'tween sandstone mounds in Pennyweight Cemetery
my heart welled with such sadness. Not a happy place to be.

Those little scattered rock-piles left me with a sense of awe
I thought about the parents whose children had passed before
their time on earth had been fulfilled, these children of the fields
dying from typhoid, whooping cough, and frail small bodies yield.
There's J.A .Hayes aged seven days and Brierley: Hugh James
just two out of two hundred, for out here graves bear no names.
Their bodies rest at Pennyweight flats - and who pray mourns them now?
The children of the Goldfields, should be remembered somehow.
Goldfields Guide
07/07/2019
Thanks Maureen, your poem is absolutely beautiful!
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