Henry ThompsonPath through Cemetery headstonescross

Bringing Linwood Cemetery Alive!

The Sexton

The role of a Sexton to an individual cemetery is no longer as visible as it was in the past as councils combine the supervision of  cemeteries as cost-effectively as possible under Parks and Recreation Management.
grave-diggerThe Sexton performed all duties in the cemetery associated with grave digging; selling plots, topping up, public liaison, record keeping in association with the Town Clerk.  There is usually an Assistant Sexton that works with the Sexton for the grave digging.  This was very hard physical work, especially when there were many graves to be dug over a short time frame e.g. at times of epidemic or during winter months, or if there was more than one person to be buried in a plot; the first being interred 12 feet (approx 4 metres) below ground level.  One thousand people were buried to an acre.  Linwood Cemetery is therefore around 20 acres in size.

Nowadays, councils also have Cemetery Administrators  – usually one overseeing a large number of cemeteries under the council’s jurisdiction and working from the council’s offices.

Graves are now dug mechanically by the City Council whereas in the past it would take two men one day to dig a grave by hand. In Christchurch, the Council employ a contractor to undertake the work in the cemetery on their behalf and the Sextons (all qualified to perform the role) are employed by the contractor.

No one person can be identified as being the Sexton for Linwood as the Sextons work in groups of cemeteries throughout Christchurch City and Banks Peninsula cemeteries (21 operating cemeteries and 3 closed).  However, there will always be a requirement for a Sexton in the City’s cemeteries.

More information on Sextons can be found at Wikipedia.

From the opening of Linwood Cemetery, the Sexton and his family lived full-time in a house near the main Butterfield Avenue entrance of the cemetery. Read more about the Sexton’s Lodge here.

©E Bieher (1983), Not to be repr0duced without permission.

So what did the Sexton at Linwood Cemetery do?

The Sexton was a public servant employed by the City Council and his job was to dig the graves and uphold the by-laws relating to the cemetery.  He ensured that the cemetery was properly maintained.  In the past, the Sexton would walk at the front of the funeral line in a uniform with a grey jacket.

Having an on-site Sexton would have dramatically reduced the levels of vandalism and he would have managed and repaired any natural damage or prevented over-growth of shrubbery in the cemetery.

The Town Clerk kept records of who owned the plots.  Copies of some of those original records are available in the City Library. The Friends use photocopies of  those maps to help locate unmarked or badly damaged graves.

The first Sexton was Mr FREEMAN.  We know that, sadly, his wife Sarah Anne (B2P1) died before the cemetery was officially opened on 8th July 1884 and was the first burial in Linwood Cemetery.  William FREEMAN died in 1913 aged 69 years having retired in 1902.  He is also buried in Linwood Cemetery at Block 31 Plot 90 in the same plot as Ellen ROACH who had already died on 13 July 1894 and was living in the Sexton’s Lodge at the time.  We understand that as well as the accommodation that came with the job, another perk was free burial at time of death.

In 1895 (11 years after the cemetery opened), the Standing Committee of the Anglican Synod were asked to

“provide burial registers for the cemeteries at Linwood and Addington and whatever else necessary, for the due registration of the burial of members of the church, further that the proper authorities be requested, in each case, to permit the said registers to be kept with the sexton’s books and under the sexton’s charge, for the use of officiating Ministers of the Church.” (The Star, Issue 5345, 24th August 1895, p7)

After a brief discussion the request was rejected.

In September 1898, the City Council received seventy applications for the position of Assistant Sexton at Linwood Cemetery (The Star, Issue 6305, 27 Sept 1898, p4).

We have built a list of  Sextons by looking at Wises Directory in the Family History section of the City Library.  Wise’s Directory was a fore-runner of the phone book. It listed each street in Christchurch, who lived there and what their trade was.

1.    William FREEMAN (1884-1902) – Died in 1913 and is buried in Linwood Cemetery Block 31 Plot 90.

2.   John PARKINS – Assistant Sexton from September 1898 (ref: The Star, Issue 6305 27 Sept 1898, p4) then Sexton (1902-1905).  Died 18 March 1929 and is buried in Bromley Cemetery.

3.   Llewellyn David HUGHES – Assistant Sexton (circa 1902) then Sexton (1906-1930).  Mr HUGHES  died on 18th September 1930 aged 57 years and is buried in Block 46 Plot 342 of Linwood Cemetery.

4.  James DYKES (circa 1933-circa 1946)

5.  William GODFREY (1946-1950)

6.  Emile P MALAQUIN, Caretaker from 1950 (through to when records end in 1955)

7.  Ray PALERMO (1961-1984) – the last Sexton to live on site.  Died 2014.

8.   Edward BIEHER (1984 – 1999)

Can you add any more information, pictures or memories about the Sexton or the Sexton’s Lodge at Linwood Cemetery?

Contact us

Sources: Wise’s Directories; Interview with Ray Palermo (2005); Shelly Jenkins; Cemeteries Administrator, CCC; Papers Past. Research compiled by Alexandra Gilbert. )

© Friends of Linwood Cemetery Charitable Trust

Updated 17 December 2015 by Alexandra