By Michaela Ann Cameron


I am immensely pleased to announce that I have received a $66,290 Arts and Cultural grant from the NSW Government through Create NSW. 

The grant will be used to produce a collection of biographical essays for the St. John’s Cemetery Project (SJCP) website on notable “Old Parramattans” buried at St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta: Australia’s oldest surviving European cemetery (est. 1790).

St. John's Cemetery Project, Michaela Ann Cameron, Judith Dunn, Geoff Lee, Jennifer Follers, Friends of St. John's Cemetery Parramatta, Parramatta History, Parramatta Heritage, Australian History, oldest cemetery Australia
Left to right: Dr. Michaela Ann Cameron, Founder and Director of the St. John’s Cemetery Project, Dr. Geoff Lee, MP for Parramatta, Judith Dunn OAM, Chair of the Friends of St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta, and Jennifer Follers, Secretary and Head of Maintenance, Friends of St. John’s Cemetery, at the graves of the Shying family on 6 March 2019.

But don’t expect all the people featured in the essays to be ‘notable’ in the traditional sense of the word! This is by no means a collection of essays on white male elites exclusively. First Peoples will be represented in these stories and there will be convicts galore with all the juicy details of their dastardly deeds. The collection will also highlight individuals associated with the nearby Parramatta Female Factories, Wesleyans, master builders, women and children and, yes, the odd colonial elite — even then, as readers will discover, the colony being what it was, the most debonair, respectable gent was often hiding a dark side!

St. John's Cemetery Parramatta, St. John's Cemetery Project, The Gateway to Old Parramatta, Australian History
St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta: “The Gateway to Old Parramatta.”

I’m sure a cursory glance at what is in store is quite enough to reveal why The St. John’s Cemetery Project and, indeed, the cemetery itself is what I have dubbed ‘The Gateway to Old Parramatta.’ Telling the stories of those buried at St. John’s allows us to shine a light on so many of Parramatta’s major heritage sites; the world heritage listed Parramatta Park’s Government House and Dairy Cottage, the nationally listed Parramatta Female Factory, the old colonial hospital site at the Parramatta Justice Precinct, the Wentworth Atelier, and Centenary Square. And all of these heritage sites and more are just minutes away from the cemetery on foot — a fact that should well and truly put Parramatta on the map as a major heritage tourism destination.

WHAT DOES THIS CREATE NSW FUNDING MEAN TO SJCP?

“Old Parramattans” builds on the collection of “St. John’s First Fleeters” already published on the SJCP, which was supported by funds totalling $7000 from the Royal Australian Historical Society Small Heritage Grant via funds allocated from the Office of Environment and Heritage and the City of Parramatta’s Cultural Heritage and Stories Fund in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Obviously being on a much larger scale, the $66,290 grant from Create NSW makes it possible to deliver my entire original vision of a fully functional biographical database for the cemetery. But my original vision was also for a project that was collaborative; one that would attract numerous historians so they could apply their expertise and contribute original, peer-reviewed research on Old Parramattans in a free, open access arena for the widest possible public audience. As a grant that exists to ‘support professional arts and cultural workers,’ this Create NSW grant is providing me with the means to assemble those experts at a time when these kinds of opportunities are all too scarce, so we are all extremely grateful.

St. John's Cemetery, Parramatta, cemetery, burial records, history, Australian History, St. John's Cemetery Project
American and Australasian Photographic Company, “St John’s Cemetery, Parramatta, around July 1870,” (1870). Courtesy of Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums.

The expert contributors assembled thus far have ties to universities across New South Wales and diverse research interests that will undoubtedly lead to a variety of perspectives on Parramatta’s colonial history. (Browse the current list of contributors here, but note that the list is still growing).

Together the contributors will use their expertise in a wide range of fields to draw out new information on St. John’s “Old Parramattans” and place those individual stories in the broader historical context to demonstrate the cemetery’s importance—not just on the local level but also on the state, national, and international levels. These biographical essays may therefore tell readers everything there is to know on a biographical subject; alternatively, they may delve deeply into one previously overlooked aspect of the subject’s life and use it as a platform from which they can explore a topic of broader historical significance.

The project will also be taking on an intern to assist with the database content development. Priority will be given to a local History student attending one of the Parramatta-based universities and will be an excellent opportunity for a junior historian to develop research skills and their academic C.V. while volunteering on a real public history project.

A COMMUNITY-ENGAGED PROJECT

When I founded the SJCP in July 2015, the ultimate aim was to make high quality content demonstrating the significance of the cemetery easily accessible and freely available to the public. My philosophy was that engaging and educating the public on the significance of a heritage site is the best way to garner the community support that is always necessary to conserve heritage.

P_20190306_102534_vHDR_AutoAs such, SJCP is a proud supporter of the local community organisation which formed in late June 2016: the Friends of St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta. The Friends are a dedicated group of volunteers whose purpose is to manage and conserve the cemetery for future generations. It is my hope that the biographical essays funded by Create NSW will help to raise the profile of this extremely worthy heritage site by educating the public and fostering greater community support for the Friends’ ongoing conservation work.

There are many ways the Friends can benefit from your help; you can become a member of the organisation, volunteer at working bees, or make a donation. Right now, the Friends are organising a Conservation Management Plan, after which their campaign for the National Heritage Listing of the cemetery can begin in earnest.

Special thanks to Dr. Geoff Lee for visiting the cemetery this morning to learn more about how St. John’s Cemetery Project will use these funds and how all of this aligns with the Friends’ aims for the conservation of the cemetery itself. And a big thank you to Judith Dunn and Jennifer Follers for taking the time to talk about the Friends, and also Brian Wickham, Friends of St. John’s Cemetery General Committee Member; your efforts in caring for the cemetery generally and in the lead up to Dr. Lee’s visit this morning specifically are greatly appreciated.

I can’t wait to start sharing the biographies of these “Old Parramattans” with all of you over the funded period (2019–January 2021). Stay tuned to the SJCP social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) to read the latest biographies written by the SJCP’s ever-growing stellar lineup of historians the second they hit the website!

St. John's Cemetery Project, St. John's Cemetery, Parramatta, History, Heritage, Australian History,
Australia’s oldest surviving European cemetery; the historic St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta, 6 March 2019.

By Michaela Ann Cameron


St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta never ceases to surprise the avid researcher…

As Judith Dunn asserts, the headstones and burial records associated with St. John’s reveal that Old Parramatta was a much more ethnically diverse place than commonly thought. Today, St. John’s is “Anglican,” but this was not always the case; originally this was a non-denominational cemetery. So while we, of course, find plenty of British Anglican people among the cemetery’s permanent citizens, we also find Chinese, Indian, Muslim, Jewish, African American, German, Dutch, and French people here as well, to name a few. To this multicultural list, it seems we can now add the Romani (Roma): a nomadic people thought to have originated in Northern India and migrated to Europe where they are now predominantly located.

Over the past couple of months, our volunteer research assistant Suzannah Gaulke has been busy transcribing and compiling lists of Female Factory women and children who died in the Factory and were buried in the parish of St. John’s.

thumb_IMG_4713_1024
The small building to the left of the big blue doors was the “dead house” at the Parramatta Female Factory. Photo: Michaela Ann Cameron (2014)

Sometimes, the old-fashioned and scrawly or faded handwriting in the burial records is just a bit too hard to read, or the spelling just a tad too “creative” to work out the name and more than one pair of eyes is needed. The name “Sovole” was one of those ones we both thought seemed a bit questionable, so I took a look at the original record for the thirteen-month-old baby boy who died at the Factory in May 1832 and realised the name was actually “Lovell.”

Having solved the mystery of the surname, I added his full name “Nathaniel Lovell” to the list, feeling that the little fellow finally had a digital memorial now, if not one of stone, and assumed that would be the end of it. Indeed, Nathaniel Lovell’s name had been one of hundreds I looked at and edited that night. I subsequently worked on completely unrelated historical research for my PhD thesis over the next couple of days, pushing the little boy’s name further and further from my mind.

Just three days later, though, I happened to be on a city-bound train scrolling through my Twitter feed (which, ordinarily, I have no time to do) and near the very top of my feed was the following tweet:

I was immediately drawn in by the prospect of reading a biography about the statistically less common case of a Romani “beggar woman” who became a convict and was incarcerated at the Parramatta Female Factory in North Parramatta’s Fleet Street Heritage Precinct. So I clicked and started reading it on my iPhone. As I read this beautiful piece of thorough research about Sapy Lovell by blogger Cherryseed who, it turns out, was writing about her own convict ancestor, the name “Lovell” began to faintly tinkle “Lovell…Lovell” in my mind before crescendoing into a rambunctiously ringing bell: I am reading about that little boy’s mother!

The timing of it was pretty unbelievable…It almost felt like the Lovells were having a little family reunion in my head.

By the time I reached the end of the piece, I learnt that poor Sapy was a “repeat offender” and, thus, a regular inmate at the Parramatta Female Factory. I also learnt that Sapy’s baby Nathaniel was likely the son of Lewis Boswell, also a Romani convict based at Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks who had been transported per Surrey (1823), and that Nathaniel had been born in the Female Factory as well as died there. But that was not all: Sapy’s elder son, Louis Lovell, who was born in a workhouse gaol in England, had also died at the Factory soon after he and Sapy had arrived in the colony on board the convict transport ship Louisa (1827).

notice-december-1827
Government Notice,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803 – 1842), Friday 7 December 1827, p.1

In my excitement, I reached out to Cherryseed and asked her permission to provide a link to her lovely piece about Sapy on the little boys’ “profile pages” as well as Lewis Boswell’s biography on Nathaniel’s profile on The St. John’s Cemetery Project database, and she graciously obliged, happy in the knowledge that these babies who didn’t stand a chance in the colony were being recognised on our website.

We do not know where Sapy was laid to rest, but at least now we know that her two little boys, Louis and Nathaniel, who belonged to a nomadic people and yet were doomed to spend their whole existence incarcerated, lie somewhere in this cemetery in unmarked graves. And though they were merely 15 months and 13 months old when they passed away, as far as our current research indicates at least, they are the sole representatives of the Romani people at St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta and a pathway into the bigger life story of a beggar woman transported for the theft of a spoon.


zymvzm1v

Be sure to read the whole story “Beggar Woman: Sapy Lovell,” and all about Nathaniel’s father, “Thief – Lewis Boswell.

While you’re there, check out the rest of Cherryseed‘s visually and textually stunning blog Tinker-Tailor-Soldier-Sailor.

In memory of Louis Lovell (1826–1828) and Nathaniel Lovell (1831–1832).