Back Creek Cemetery, Carpenter Street,
Quarry Hill, Bendigo, Victoria 3550.
ROBERT O'HARA BURKE , LEADER
WILLIAM JOHN WILLS
Thomas Pope Besnard was a childhood friend of Burke's and sexton of the local Back Creek Cemetery. He pushed to raise the money for a monument. Every one was asked to pay a shilling – no person could pay more and therefore no body could claim to have given more than anybody else. Adam Duncan designed the monument - a Corinthian column mounted on a foundation stone and topped with a Grecian urn draped with the Union Jack. The stone was quarried from New Chum Mine.
Besnard selected a site for the monument in the cemetery which was on a grass knoll well clear of any other graves. It was to be landscaped and have path and garden beds that provided dignified access. Stawell inspected and approved the site.
The foundation block was laid on the 20th August 1862 – exactly two years after the Expedition left Melbourne. The council declared a half day holiday and a procession left the Town Hall and marched to the cemetery. 8000 people gathered at the cemetery and another 4000 lined the route. John King was unable to attend due to ill health.
The foundation stone was laid by Charles Burrows, Chairman of the Municipality of Bendigo. The address he gave, along with the diaries of members of the expedition, the Sandhurst Almanac, the Bendigo Advertiser, the Bendigo Independent Evening News, photographs of the deceased, photographs of Public Buildings in Bendigo, a Sydney half sovereign and all the silver coins of the Realm were wrapped in a Union Jack and placed in a niche in the foundation stone.
It was another 15 months before the column was erected on the foundation stone and Besnard openly criticised the Memorial Committee for their lack of action.
The Bendigo Advertiser was disappointed at the location of the monument preferring a more central location and in 1893 an attempt was made to move the monument to Rosalind Park. On the 19th May 1893, Mr Minto, the City Surveyor reported that it would cost £25. Nothing became of this attempted move, but there have been three further attempts at moving the memorial.
In 1940 the land around the memorial was sold off as grave sites and the paths and garden beds disappeared and now graves crowd right up to the base of the monument.
Monday 14 July 1862, page 5.
The Ill-fated Burke
Yesterday Sir W Stawell visited the Back Creek Cemetery, and passed some time in going over the grounds.
Mr Besnard, the sexton, drew his attention to a proposed monument to Burke, the site for which has been given by the trustees. The design is a Corinthian column, surmounted with an urn partially covered by the Union Jack. The column will be twenty-two feet high, and will cost £100 to erect. The base will be devoted to momentoes of Burke, Wills, and Gray. The Chief Justice expressed himself highly pleased with the design, and subscribed liberally towards its completion.
Wednesday 6 August 1862, page 5.
The Burke & Wills Monument
We are much pleased to learn that the movement set on foot a few days ago, by Mr Besnard, for subscriptions to erect a memorial to Burke and his brave companions, has so well succeeded as to determine the laying of the foundation stone on the 20th instant. The ceremony will be performed by Mr Robert Burrowes, chairman of the municipality, and though rather premature to furnish a list of the public bodies invited to attend, we understand every arrangement is being made for so worthy an object. King (solo survivor) has written to the chairman to say, 'Nothing but illness will prevent his being present on the interesting, but to him, melancholy occasion.'
Friday 22 August 1862, page 6.
Memorial of the Exploring Expedition
The ceremony of inaugurating the monument to be raised at the Back Creek Cemetery, to the memory of Burke and his brave associates in the ill-fated Exploration Expedition, was more successful than could have been anticipated. The day was remarkably fine, and this of itself may have contributed very much to the large attendance and to the imposing procession. But we give the thousands who were present credit for having been actuated by a far deeper and nobler consideration. We may try to vulgarize ourselves as much as possible, to persuade ourselves that we have no higher aspirations than to get money by all means, and to accustom ourselves to sneer at everything sentimental, but underneath all this veneer we me convinced there lies a large stratum of nobler feelings. The ceremony yesterday was a convincing proof that in this community, dull and prosaic as it is, exist a warm admiration and a kindling sympathy for deeds of heroism.
The erection of this monument, we may say, is the work of private respect and friendship. Tho idea, originated with Mr Besnard, of the cemetery, who was acquainted with Mr Burke and his family, and he has received cordial o j operation in carrying it out. The monument will be simple and unpretending but it will sufficiently indicate the appreciation of services and of heroism recognised wherever the tale is told, The success that attended yesterday's proceedings must have been very gratifying to those who have carried on the movement in the face of considerable opposition.
See also the Age, Friday, 22 August 1862, page 4.
The Burke and Wills Monument in Bendigo has been entered on the Register of the National Estate as being important for its association with historical events and developments associated with exploration in the early days of Colony of Victoria. Two conifers remain from the original group sent by Mueller of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens to develop the garden layout on the knoll. These two trees are listed as Significant Trees by City of Greater Bendigo.
Legal status: Indicative property. Data provided to or obtained by the Heritage Division has been entered into the database. However, a formal nomination has not been made and the Department has not prepared all the data necessary for a nomination.
Place ID: 100457
Place File No: 2/06/200/0057
Victorian Heritage Register citation: H1814
The Bendigo Cemetery is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register due to its architectural, historical, aesthetic, and scientific (botanical) significance to the State of Victoria.
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