Northern Cemetery Women's Trail

Dunedin’s Northern Cemetery contains more than 17,000 burials, representing a cross-section of the city’s population from its earliest days to the 1930s. Over 8,000 of these burials are of women. On this trail you will visit the graves of ten of them— high and low, rich and poor, renowned and obscure.

Most of these women came to New Zealand from Britain, Ireland or Australia in the second half of the nineteenth century. For most life was hard.

Unmarried women might have to work long hours as domestic servants, like Annie Gartly, or in factories. Some got themselves pregnant in their teens, like Annie Heads, and were fortunate if a lasting marriage resulted. Rarely did unmarried women forge successful careers: Jane Runciman was the Secretary of the Dunedin Tailoresses Union for thirty years, and Emily Siedeberg, New Zealand’s first woman medical graduate, set up in private practice.

Marriage was no guarantee of an easy life. Apart from the hazards of childbirth and the toil of large families, husbands might turn to drink and become violent, as in the case of Sarah Fogo, who after thirty years of marriage murdered her husband with a kitchen knife.

Early widowhood was a not uncommon experience. Some widows showed considerable resourcefulness after their husbands’ deaths. Anstiss Silk successfully managed a hotel, and Matilda Lo Keong ran the family business.

At the other end of the scale are the wives and daughter of William Larnach, who are buried with him in the most imposing tomb in the cemetery. They never had to work for a living, but it is a moot point whether they were actually happy.

This trail was produced by the Southern Heritage Trust with the help of the Dunedin City Council. A printed brochure is available from the Sexton's Cottage .

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