Kumara Cemetery, Kumara, West Coast

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Location: Greenstone Road, Kumara, Westland District, West Coastmap
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Kumara Cemetery Gates.

On a hill above the Kumara township, Kumara Cemetery is on the west side of historic Greenstone Road which, from a short distance past the cemetery gates is no longer open to the public. Coordinates: -42.64646, 171.17220

Kumara The grand finale of gold rushes in West Canterbury (West Coast) began in Greenstone, taking place in July 1876 and then spread south around Kumara at Taramakau, Dillmans and Larrikans with other smaller named areas. Kumara township grew rapidly as the main centre for these alluvial gold fields. The tramline from Greymouth to Paroa was extended to Kumara in 1877 and by October of that year, the population was 4,220.There were about fifty hotels, billiard rooms, dance halls and two banks. A Catholic Convent with a School were established by 1877. Nearby Dillman's had six hotels, four butchers, and a bakery. On the gold fields, because there was a significant gravel layer above the gold, hydraulic sluicing was the only feasible way to recover the coarse gold. During the next 20 years huge water races (the town water supply coming from the Government water-race) and sludge channels were constructed, and much of the country behind Kumara was sluiced away into the Taramakau River. Mining declined in the late 1890s.

Cemetery Grave Plan.

History of the Cemetery In July 1877 a meeting was held in the Kumara Public Hall to takes steps to have a fenced cemetery established for Kumara. Mr P Dungan, a Member of the Provincial Council, spoke of "sad and dreadful ocurrences" having happened in Kumara which emphasised the fact that the people had nowhere to bury their dead. Although the Waste Lands Board had set aside a piece of land and the County Chief Surveyor had been authorised to attend to it, the matter had been neglected. Inhabitants of the young town were having to travel miles to the Stafford Cemetery, William Kiely and Patrick Kelly being taken there for burial in July 1877. The Kumara Cemetery was gazetted in September 1877.

First Burial
According to two newspaper articles, one in 1888 and one about Joe Payn in 2002, the first person, whose name was A Mesyfula, was buried in the cemetery on the Tuesday before 13 December 1877. Hokitika Museum records have Elizabeth Allman, buried in Block 1, No 165, 9 January 1878 as being the first burial at the cemetery. Her husband, George Allman was buried 29 May 1884. Outside the cemetery gate there is a plan with the names and locations of all known interments, except for the more recent burials.

Early Interments
Many records of interments at the Kumara Cemetery were lost in a fire in the Kumara Town Hall in 1940, but names and dates on those graves with headstones have been recorded. Because the cemetery is divided into areas for the Church of England, Catholics, Presbyterians, Chinese,, paupers and stillborn infants, the earliest burials are spread across various places in the cemetery.

The wife of Mr Edwards of Seddon Street, Kumara, was buried in the cemetery 24 May 1878.
Govani Valk's remains were moved from Killeen's Tramway Hotel, Main Road, Kumara to the Catholic Chapel and from there to the cemetery, 19 February 1879.
In March 1879 David Ellis (32), born in Glasgow, Scotland, lost his life in a mining accident at Larrikins. Over 500 people attended his funeral and burial at the Kumara Cemetery.
Killed in a mining accident at Cape Terrace, George Lewis Bird's funeral left his home in Seddon Street for the English Church and from there to the Kumara Cemetery, 5 November 1879.

Notable Interments

Mr James Benyon, born in Jersey, Channel Islands, England was the editor and manager of the 'Kumara Times". He went to Kumara from Okarito in 1885 and was Mayor of Kumara from 1889 until 1894. He died on 15 September 1907 and was buried in the Kumara Cemetery. His wife, Flora was buried with him in December 1908.
Headstone for James S Benyon.
Mr George Robert Rudkin, appointed Town Clerk of Kumara in 1885, was born in Rutlandshire, England in 1841. He arrived in Kumara from the Otago gold fields in 1866. George Rudkin was a member of the Kumara Borough Council for six years . He held about 26 other offices including being the legal manager of mining companies and agent for insurance companies.

World War I

Not far from the entrance on the south east side of the cemetery there is a greenstone memorial to thirteen men and two nurses from Kumara who died during World War 1.
On the oppostie side of the road, there are three headstones on one plot, the centre of which is for H J C Johnsen (22) 58315 Drv, of the Training Unit, died 29 August 1917.
Here's an image.

Accompanied by Rosie, his small dog, from the early 1990s, Mr Joe Payn, born in Kumara in 1931, spent every fine day from dawn to dusk working at the Kumara Cemetery bringing it to a state of tidiness beyond what had ever been there. Over nine years, Joe voluntarily dug a neat network of channels to drain the swampy pakahi land, he cleared away moss, long grass, blackberries and everything growing where it was not meant to be, staightened up Headstones and shite rocks and gravel. That work completed, the Westland District Council gave Joe a lawn mower no longer being used in Hokitika and he kept the lawns meticulously mown. Joe also guided visitors around the cemetery helping them to find relatives' graves. In the years following 2002, he developed the car park.

After 19 years of Joe's committed work, the Council took over care of the cemetery. Joe was given a District Community Services Award. When he died in 2021, Joe (90) was buried in the cemetery he had tended so well.

Joe Payn.

Currently the Kumara Cemetery is an interesting place to visit. It carries much of the history of the last West Coast gold rush with burials from that time and continuing to today. Several metal grave surrounds have survived and many Kumara family names appear repeatedly on headstones. The Westland District Council keeps the lawns mown and some locals continue Joe Payn's interest in the care of the cemetery. Many lost headstones have been replaced and others cleaned up.

The middle area of the west side of the cemetery slopes downhill and, although Joe's drains do a good job, tends to get very wet in heavy rain. When the fire brigade went in to drain a grave prior to a burial a few years ago, it became stuck in deep mud and had to be pulled out. The hearse went no closer than the gate of the cemetery which led to the coffin being carried shoulder high across the cemetery with the sound of accompanying accordian music echoing clearly under a grey, cloudy sky against which tall trees stood out starkly. It could have been 1877 rather than the 21st century.

Kumara Cemetery West Wet Area.


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