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Clunes Cemetery

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Cemetery Road North, Clunes VIC 3370

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  • Historic Cemetery
  • Gruesome history
  • Beautiful building
All cemeteries are macabre by nature, but this striking cemetery on the outskirts of Clunes has a particularly gruesome history.

The Clunes Cemetery is the site of a 1920's suicide of an almost theatrical nature. Matthew Birch, sexton at the Clunes Cemetery, was found dead in the yard of the cemetery lodge by his wife early one morning, his head completely blown off. Cause of death was determined to be a deliberate, self inflicted explosion of dynamite. Birch had wrapped a coat around his head before causing the explosion. Pieces of the head and brains were reportedly spattered about the trees and on a fence.

The following account was published in The Horsham Times on Friday 20th May 1921:

Head Blown Off
Early on Tuesday morning the dead body of Matthew Birch. sexton at the Clunes cemetery, was found in the yard. Shortly before six o'clock Mrs. Birch heard a loud noise, and on getting up to ascertain the cause found the body of her husband. who had been in the habit of sleeping out under the verandah, lying on the ground. She called her daughter and they summoned the neighbors and the police were sent for.

On an examation being made of the body it was found that the head had been completely blown off, apparently by dynamite, as some dynamite caps were found in a drawer near deceased's bed. Some matches were found near the body. On a table near the bed was found the following note: "I am tired and full up of this, and I am going to end it, for I cannot stand it any longer. I hope everyone will f'orgive me. Yours, M Birch. Bury me in that grave alongside M. Coombe." The latter was an old friend of deceased.

Later in the day a magisterial enquiry was held by the deputy coroner. Mrs. Birch gave evidence that deceased was 64 years of age. She last saw him alive about 9 o'clock on the previous night, when he seemed cheerful. He was suffering from miner's complaint, and had often said, "What 's the good of me living : can never get better." She was on good terms with her husband. 

Her daughter, Doris Birch gave corroborative evidence. 

Dr. K. A. Stephenson gave evidence that he had examined the body, and considered that death had been caused by some explosion. He had previously attended deceased at the hospital for tubereculosis of the lungs, known as miner's complaint. 

Const.S. Shields gave evidence regarding the finding of the body, and stated that apparently deceased had wrapt a coat around his head before causing the explosion as he had found pieces of the coat partly around the head and hanging on the trees near by. Pieces of the head and brains were spattered about the trees and on a fence.

The deputy coroner found that death had been caused by an explosion of a dynamite cap, and that the injuries were self-inflicted.

The grave of Matthew Birch can be found, as he had requested in his note, up the back left row of the cemetery alongside that of his old friend Matthew John Coombe, who had died three years before Birch's suicide. The only reference to Birch's grisly end on his tombstone are the words 'died tragically', which makes you pause and ponder what untold stories all the other graves may hold, despite their brief, impersonal engravings.

The Clunes Cemetery was established in 1861, is very well presented, and features a gorgeous historic building at its centre. Other notable features of the cemetery are several wooden grave markers (see also - Stuart Mill Cemetery for excellent and rare examples of late 19th century wooden grave architecture) and a few small graves up the back marked only by bare stones.


  • 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.


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