Picton Cemetery


Picton Cemetery is one of the oldest burial grounds in the province of Marlborough, dating back to the very early European settlement in Picton. Many notable figures of the town were laid to rest here and to this day it is still being used as a burial grounds, with a new area recently opened for more burials and ash interments.

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Picton Cemetery. Image supplied by author

The cemetery is situated at Gravesend Place on the western side of the Picton township. It is perched on the side of a hill which offers views of the town and the surrounding Sounds, especially at the top of the cemetery where it has been terraced.

The town of Picton was first surveyed in 1849 but wasn't called Picton until ten years later. It is likely the earliest burials were in the 1850s, but there may be even earlier burials, possibly dating back before European colonisation. Many of the older headstones still stand tall, however, and they face risk of toppling, with earthquakes and strong winds being felt in the regularly felt in the province. Marlborough District Council has been working to save many of the pioneer headstones to ensure the community's safety and to preserve the heritage of the town. Unfortunately, things are proving difficult as the soil is clay-like and finding relatives to gain permission to work on the headstones is also proving tricky.

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Picton Cemetery. Image supplied by author

The oldest headstones date back to the 1860s, when the community was starting to properly form itself. The headstones provide a unique insight into design styles and the heirarchy of the society of time. One of the more elaborate headstones is on the Godfrey plot, which dates back to the 1890s. The cemetery also shows off more modern and creative designs which are limited in the other grounds around Marlborough.

Māori designs are also present which also aren't seen in other cemeteries in the region. Many whalers, politicians, pioneers and characters are interred here. These include:  John Davis, a possible former African-American slave who jumped ship and married, living in the Marlborough Sounds for the rest of his life; James Flood, a victim of Edward Tarrant who murdered him in 1931 (James's skull was shown in Court as evidence); politician A. P. Seymour - the 4th Superintendent of the Marlborough Province and  a member of the Provincial Government for all 16 years of its existence; Reverend T. D. Nicholson, the first Presbyterian Minister of Nelson and Marlborough; Arthur Law, who died in an aircraft accident near Greytown in 1942;  Liberal Senator Judith Adams; Sarah Budge, wife of Marlborough surveyor William Budge; Mary Ann Esson, one of the first white women to permanently settle in Picton; Joseph August Perano, founder of the Perano Whaling station; early French Missionary J. S. Pezant; Thomas Walton, a Sergeant in the 57th Regiment; and James Fuller, who owned the first fully New Zealand-built car which was built by Mr Birch of Blenheim.

Many more pioneer families are buried here, such as the Jacksons, the Frances, the Neals, the Timms and the Peranos who helped shape the community and left behind many, many descendants. Stories of heartbreak and hardship can be read all around the cemeteries as well as stories of longevity and strength. Families of these ancestors are still being buried alongside them and will continue to be, until there are no free plots left. A large area is dedicated to the R.S.A and a new memorial wall has been erected in the past few years.

2019 (updated August 2020)

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