No. 268 - The Carr Villa Crematorium Chapels at Launceston

A previous blog entry investigated the original Carr Villa funeral chapel and gatehouse built in 1905 at the time of the cemetery’s opening. [LINK HERE] This entry will focus on the Carr Villa crematorium chapels built in 1937 as well as other fascinating aspects of Launceston’s general cemetery.

The revival of interest in cremation in Europe and the United States began in the mid 19th century with the rise of large cities and increased health hazards associated with crowded cemeteries. It was not until 1884 that a British court ruled cremations to be a legal procedure. The first crematorium in Australia was built in 1925 at Rookwood cemetery, New South Wales.

In was inevitable that Launceston would follow this trend. In 1912 the ‘Cremation Society of Tasmania’ was formed and petitioned Launceston Council to build a crematorium at Carr Villa.(1) Although the council was prepared to make land available to the Society at Carr Villa, it was not prepared to provide financial support. Little progress was made until the 1930’s by which time the Council had developed its own plans for a crematorium with adjoining funerary chapels. The project was not without controversy. Between1934 and 1936 The Cremation Society, headed by R. Chambers Norman, demanded that a crematorium be privately built and operated and opposed the building of chapels that could also be used for ‘earth burials’.(2) The City Council was prepared to provide land for the Society on the condition that a crematoria be privately operated. Agreement could not be reached and the Council prevailed with the Mayor, Eric von Bibra, stating that the building would be “second to none in the Commonwealth, and far better than any private enterprise could give the public”.(3)

The Launceston Examiner reported on the project as construction began in 1937:

“The new building will occupy a site 90 feet wide by about 80 feet deep… there will be two chapels, one in each wing, but at first only one of these will be completed… At the back of the chapel which will measure 42 feet by 25 feet, will be a catafalque, on which the coffins will be placed during the funeral service. At the appropriate moment during the ceremony the coffin will sink out of sight into an ante-chamber, where it will be received on a bier on which it will be conveyed to the furnace…”

“The chapel will also be available for ordinary earth burials….vestries for the officiating clergy will be provided. A feature of the building will be the columbarium, in the form of an open-air colonnade along the front of the building, in which provision will be made for storing of the urns containing the ashes of persons who have been cremated…. The building will be constructed of brick in Gothic style, the windows and other ornamentation being designed in artificial stone. The roof will be of tiles”. (4)

The building was designed by the Launceston City Engineers Department and has the distinction of being the first municipally operated crematorium in Australia. The crematorium and chapel were completed in January 1939 but there was no official opening ceremony. However, from June 1939, the public were invited to view the chapel and crematoria facilities by “application to the officer in charge”. (5)

The first official cremation took place on Saturday 25 February 1939. This was for John Arnott (Jock) Stenhouse, a Scottish piano tuner who had migrated to Tasmania in 1922.(6)

Aside from the crematorium building and chapels there are a number of interesting aspects of Carr Villa that I came across when researching the construction of the funeral chapels. These include the practice of commemorating Mothers’ Day as Carr Villa and the development of the Carr Villa War Cemetery. These two aspects are described through newspaper reports found below:

Mother’s Day – Wide Observance Crowds at Carr Villa (May 1937)

“A preponderance of white flowers, well-attended church services, and crowded Carr Villa trams and 'buses were signs of the remarkably wide observance of Mother's Day in Launceston yesterday. Year by year the solemnity of the day has grown until now the wearing of a white flower, almost universal though it is, is the least of the forms of observance. To thousands the day would snot be properly celebrated with out a pilgrimage to Carr Villa to pay tribute to mothers who have passed away, or without taking a sincere part in the special church services.

Preachers spoke to full congregations yesterday and officials of the municipal tramways found that a duplicated tram service to Carr Villa, augmented with 'buses, still meant that the vehicles were crowded. At the cemetery the crowds arriving by tram and 'bus joined many more brought by motor, and made what officials believe is the largest crowd ever seen at Carr Villa on Mother's Day. Many of the graves were remarkable for their floral displays, but even on I the humblest, there were eloquent signs that mothers long dead were not forgotten”.

The Carr Villa War Graves Cemetery:

A report in the Examiner in December 1942 outlines the establishment of the ‘War Graves’ section at the cemetery:

"A section of Carr Villa is to be set aside as a special war cemetery for men of the armed services and women of the auxiliary services whose deaths occur while on duty. It will be one of 122 war cemeteries in Australia which are being provided by the directorate of graves registration. The part of the Carr Villa Cemetery to be taken over by the directorate has not yet been finally decided, but the matter is expected to be settled within the next few weeks”. (8)

A further report in 1946 describes the conclusion of the project:

“Members of the Army War Graves Maintenance Unit in Launceston have done a remarkably good job in carving from bushland behind Carr Villa the Launceston War Cemetery. A little more than three years ago the area was scrub covered clay bank. It was cleared, levelled and the clay covered with hundreds of loads of sand.

Now spacious, well-kept lawns surround the flagstaff around the case of which are troughs in which relatives of soldiers place flowers. Gardens are still being prepared. The cemetery conforms in layout to most war cemeteries in Australia and the Pacific Islands. It will be taken over and cared for shortly by the Imperial War Graves Commission…. One of the little-known jobs of the war graves maintenance unit has been the repair and, in many cases, the concreting of the graves of ex-servicemen of world war 1, in all parts of Northern Tasmania. It has been a long job. Small church and village cemeteries have been searched for servicemen’s graves and their locations recorded so that they may be kept in repair”.

The first funerals in the new war graves cemetery were victims of a plane crash in Northern Tasmania. These were two members of the RAAF, an instructor and a pilot trainee. (10)

The Carr Villa Crematorium and Chapels are striking buildings but represent an aspect of Launceston's history which may be considered morbid by some. However, this may be a reflection of modern attitudes to death as earlier generations regarded Carr Villa to be a living and beautiful place to visit. Its buildings, monuments and gardens are still a tangible and fascinating connection to the world of our ancestors.

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Carr Villa in the 1940's Source Queen Victoria Museum QVM:1983:P:0239

The interior of one of the chapel. Source- Queen Victoria Museum QVM:1983:P:0242

(1) The Mercury, Thursday 25 July 1912, page 4
(2) The Examiner, Friday 25 September 1936, page 8
(3) The Mercury, Tuesday 29 September 1936, page 5
(4) The Examiner, Tuesday 17 August 1937, page 8
(5) The Examiner, Saturday 10 June 1939, page 6
(6) The Examiner, Monday 27 February 1939, page 6
(7) The Examiner, Monday 10 May 1937, page 6
(8) The Examiner, Wednesday 16 December 1942, page 4
(9)  The Examiner, Friday 25 October 1946, page 4
(10) The Mercury, Monday 14 June 1943, page 2


The Mercury, Thursday 25 July 1912, page 4 
The Daily Telegraph, Friday 4 April 1913, page 2
The Examiner, Friday 26 June 1931, page 12
The Examiner, Tuesday 27 March 1934, page 6
The Examiner, Friday 25 September 1936, page 8
The Mercury, Tuesday 29 September 1936, page 5
The Examiner, Monday 10 May 1937, page 6
The Examiner, Tuesday 17 August 1937, page 8
The Examiner, Monday 27 February 1939, page 6
The Examiner, Monday 27 February 1939, page 6 (Obituary)
The Examiner, Saturday 10 June 1939, page 6
The Advocate, Thursday 2 May 1940, page 6
The Examiner, Wednesday 16 December 1942, page 4
The Mercury, Monday 14 June 1943, page 2
The Examiner, Wednesday 16 June 1943, page 5
The Examiner, Friday 25 October 1946, page 4
The Examiner, Tuesday 24 January 1950, page 3  (accessed 23/10/18)


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