No. 236 - The former Funeral Chapel at Carr Villa

At the entrance to Carr Villa Cemetery in Launceston is a building that has the appearance of a church that has been converted into an enormous gatehouse. This was Carr Villa’s original funeral chapel. Horse drawn hearses would pull into the building and a funeral service would be held with mourners ranged along the seating on either side of the roadway.

Carr Villa cemetery was officially opened for burials on 1 August 1905. The land on which it was developed was previously the site of a ladies boarding school run by the wife of John Knight. In the 1820’s Knight had been granted 200 acres of land by the crown. In the 1880’s it was acquired by the Launceston Town Council which earmarked it as the city's new cemetery. Overcrowding at smaller cemeteries in the town gave rise to an urgent need for a new cemetery on the outskirts of Launceston. However there was some opposition to Carr Villa becoming a cemetery site due to its distance from the town and the lack of public transport to Kings Meadows. By the turn of the century opposition was overcome and planning for the cemetery began.

I have used a lengthy and fascinating article from Launceston’s Daily Telegraph which tells of Carr Villa’s establishment and first burial. It is written in an inimitable style that offers a unique window into the cemetery and many aspects the burial industry at the beginning of the 20th century. It was published in August 1905 after the cemetery had opened for its first interment:

Carr Villa Cemetery - Launceston's New Burial Ground

“Out past the scattered tenements of King’s Meadows, and not far distant from where the golfers have their rendezvous, is Launceston's newest and latest necropolis. About three miles from the city, a newly gravelled track cuts off at right angles to the main road. On both sides, a clean palinged fence marks its boundaries, and above, a distance. Following up this roadway, one comes to a red brick dwelling, with up-to-date roofing of Marseilles terra cotta tiles. Behind, and to the left, rises a church-like building, with pretty red-tiled tower, and large imposing entrances or archways. One half of the wide cleared ground all round is glowing with the emerald green of a sprouting crop of oats; whilst the other part is divided by many pathways into numerous plots or divisions, each being marked by a small red peg.

This is Carr Villa Cemetery. It cannot he said that Launceston is by any means lacking in a sufficiency of burial grounds. In the words of the boarding-house lady, 'everybody can have ample accommodation, and all classes are provided far.'

Almost opposite the General Hospital, and right in view of the patients who happen to be convalescing on the verandahs, when the days are sunny, is the General Cemetery, in upper Charles-street. In High Street, is the Presbyterian Cemetery; at Glen Dhu is that set apart for Roman Catholics; while members of the Church of England are provided for in Cypress Street, off the Elphin-road. In Pedder-street, Galvin Town, is the little-known cemetery for members of the Society of Friends, or 'Quakers' ; and at Invermay the scattered adherents of Judaism have their burial ground. Carr Villa Cemetery is the latest addition to the list. An area of 21 acres has been enclosed. Here, people of all creeds may find a last resting place. Four or five acres are set apart for adherents of the Roman Catholic Church; and the same area has been allotted to members of the Church of England. The remainder is open for other faiths. In this, people of any religion may be deposited, but so far, it is understood, the Free Churches have not come to any arrangement regarding the cutting up of their portion into divisions for the different denominations. They may decide that between themselves.

Thirteen acres, as already mentioned, are sprouting with oats ; for the City Council, apparently, does not in tend to let the grass grow under its feet. While the ground is waiting to be occupied, it will bring forth a crop of oats. This will mean revenue for the Council, and, at the same time, will save expense and labour in keeping the ground 'clean.' Seven acres are already laid out in plots, intersected by gravelled pathways. Each is 16ft wide, and the space allotted for each burial is 8ft by 4ft. When a 'Daily Telegraph' reporter visited the cemetery yesterday, he found many men at work. There were painters putting the finishing touches to the mortuary chapel; bricklayers building up the pillars for the large iron gates, which are to swing at the entrance to the cemetery; while other men were forming and gravelling path ways or planting trees and shrubs….

The mortuary chapel, already referred to, is a handsome red brick building of somewhat striking architecture. Surmounted by a pretty tower, at first sight it has the appearance of a miniature church, but when viewed inside, it is vastly different. A high, open archway is at each end, and right through is a gravelled pathway to allow of a hearse being driven in, its exit being at the other end. Stained wood seating accommodation runs along both sides, while a classic touch is added to the interior by the ornate supports of the ceiling, which are of blackwood and oregon. There is a room in which the clergymen may robe, and a waiting room for ladies — which touch of up-to-dateness by no means detracts from the handsomeness of the building….

Close to the cemetery's entrance is the red- brick dwelling of the care taker and grave digger, Mr H. J. Stebbings*. Here, that telephone line ends, and while the reporter was noting things the bell tinkled. 'That's the first time it's rung,' said Mr Stebbings, taking up the receiver. 'It hasn't been here long.' 'Hello! Yes, this is Carr Villa Cemetery. Oh, yes, we're alright. Yes, I can hear you. What's that? Is the line working well? Of course it is! Alright! Good-bye.' 'That's the undertaker,' explained 'Mr Stebbings, as he hung up the receiver. 'He wants to know if the telephone's working alright.' That undertaker is keenly interested in Carr Villa Cemetery, for he has business as well as telephonic connection with it.

Later in the day, the reporter inquired of the undertaker the price of a decent funeral. 'Is it for yourself you want it,' queried the man of coffins, with funereal humour. Being assured that the information required was purely for professional purposes, the undertaker said: 'Well, the price of a funeral depends upon a good many things. There is the class of work put into the coffin, the quality of the shroud, or the style of the 'turnout' that you want. For instance, a shroud will cost anything from 2s 6d to £2 10s, and coffins vary in all styles and prices. We charge a man with means more than a poor man. Sometimes one who is poorly off will come to us to order a funeral outfit. We put everything in for him as low as possible.' 'Will the cost of a funeral be in creased by the interment taking place in Carr Villa Cemetery? Well, it's three miles from town, but it won't make any difference so far as we are concerned. I don't know what the other undertakers are going to do about it. We can't raise the price. Things are cut very fine in our line. Competition? Oh, yes! I can tell you there's not very much for us in the ordinary kind of funeral,' said the undertaker man, nodding his head emphatically. 'You see, the ministers are raising the price of a burial. Up till the present, Methodist, Presbyterian, and some other ministers have charged no fee; but now that they will have to go so far out, they are charging 10s to cover the cost of going there and back. The Church of England charges 8s, and the Roman Catholic £1, which also covers the cost of digging the grave. To take your pick of a cemetery lot will cost , you £2 10s; if you take what's offered, it will he £1 10s. And digging the grave will run away with 10s, in addition to which there is a ground fee of 16s to be paid. Yes, a burial's going to be an expensive item for some people!'

Carr Villa’s first burial - A pauper’s funeral

"Carr Villa Cemetery had its first occupant yesterday afternoon. – John Dooran, aged 79, who, during the past two years had acted as gate keeper at the Benevolent Depot, was put to rest in one of the little plots in the shadow of the green trees that sway close by.

No mourners wept for him; no eulogy was uttered in which all the good deeds that a generous imagination can conjure up are credited to the lifeless clay that the earth has claimed; no flowers, placed by gentle hands, gave up their perfume, emblematic of the soul that had passed away.

It was a glorious afternoon. Bright sunshine and blue sky; and the joyous call of the magpie in the trees made it almost springlike. Men are at work on the neatly marked off plots of ground — levelling them, or laying out pathways that will be well trodden by many feet in time to come. Up the roadway slowly comes a hearse, and then a cart containing, beside the driver, a black-garbed clergyman. The coffin, plainly made of blackened boards — rough but solid — is taken out, carried to the grave, and placed in the cavity. There were no chief mourners. There were the officiating clergy man, the undertaker, the grave-digger, three women who had come from their homes close by to satisfy their curiosity, and a small boy, sack in hand, who had been gathering dead timber in the bush, and who now slowly crept over the fence to discover the meaning or this strange and silent gathering.

Up in the distance rose the snow-clad summits of Mount Arthur and Mount Barrow. The minister bows his head in prayer. 'We therefore, commit this body to the ground— earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust!' Hurriedly the earth is piled upon the coffin, and its blackness is presently hidden. The brief ceremony is concluded, the pauper has been buried, and the hearse, accompanied by the cart containing the minister, hurries back to town. And that was the first burial in Carr Villa Cemetery".

The closure of Launceston’s old cemeteries:

To conclude, the following extract is taken from the Launceston Examiner published in 1905 explains the closure of Launceston’s cemeteries:

“Yesterday Carr Villa Cemetery was opened for interments. The city council, as a cemetery trust, has requested the Government not to close the cemeteries within the city until the end of the year. No doubt a notice to that effect will be gazetted three months from the end of the year. The closing of the cemeteries at the end of the year means that no burials will take place after wards, except as provided for by the Cemeteries Act, which prohibits any interment, except where there is an exclusive right of interment in say vault or enclosure in which the husband, wife, parent, child, brother, or sister of any deceased person is buried. In that case, for 20 years the Mayor, or whoever is discharging his duties in his absence, upon application and upon proof being given of the exclusive right mentioned, shall grant permission for the burial. The penalty for any burial, except at Carr Villa, under other circumstances after the end of this year is to be the forfeiture and payment of a sum of not less than £5 nor more than £50, which is to be paid to the trustees of the Carr Villa Cemetery, and to be applied by them as other penalties. Therefore practically all the existing cemeteries in the city are to be closed on December 31".

A second blog entry on Carr Villa cemetery will look at the establishment of two new funeral chapels and the crematoria in 1937.

* In The Daily Telegraph the caretakers name is incorrectly spelt on three occasions as Stebbings - the correct spelling is Stebbeings. The following link provides further information on Carr Villa's first caretaker Herbert Stebbeings -  HERE
Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Memorial Plaque of Engineer Charles St John David who developed the Carr Villa Cemetery

Photograph - Postcard - Entrance chapel and caretaker's cottage, Carr Villa cemetery, Launceston Source Libraries Tasmania Online Collection LPIC147-1-131


The Examiner, Wednesday 2 August 1905, page 7
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 2 August 1905, page 5


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