St Marys Boys Orphanage Cemetery


St Marys Boys Orphanage Cemetery, Ngawhatu, Stoke Nelson

St Marys Boys Orphanage was blessed and opened on 18 August 18861 by Bishop Francis Redwood. The New Zealand Government paid one shilling per day for each boy. The boys received schooling and were trained in gardening, farm work, and trades.

St Marys Orphanage, Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection. Click to enlarge

Management of the Orphanage was always vested in one of the priests of the Nelson parish.  The first was Father Antoine Garin and, from 1884, Dean William Joseph Mahoney, until his death in 1903. Father George Mahoney then took over.

A fire destroyed the Orphanage on 27 April 1903 and the new Orphanage was built in 1905.2 The new building used 300,000 brick and 80 tons of tile for the roof. All of the bricks  were made on the Orphanage property.

St Marys Orphanage, original headstone recording burials.
Click to enlarge

The first burial recorded in the little Cemetery attached to the Orphanage is for a boy named Arthur Blane, aged just seven years, who died of Meningitis. The last person to be buried, was Francis Stephen Stewart, 8 years, who died of croup and Cardiac Failure, on 16 October 1920.

There was another small burial ground for the Brothers and Priests behind the Orphanage. The two Brothers who were buried there were exhumed and reinterred in the Marist Brothers Cemetery at Claremont, Timaru in January 1965. They were Brother Celestine McPhelamey (died 1890) and Brother Liguori Donnelly (died 1897).

On the occasion of a death at the Orphanage, everyone had to attend the funeral service, and then the boys would carry the casket containing the body from the chapel in the Orphanage, up the steep hill to the Cemetery. It was only on rare occasions during later years that a Funeral Director, or known then as an Undertaker, would take part in any of the interment. According to records the Priests conducted the service.

In March 1919 the Orphanage closed, and was sold for use as a Mental Hospital in 1920. The building was condemned in 1962 and demolished in February 1967.

The ‘Bell' from the Orphanage was hung in the Interdenominational Chapel built by the Citizens of Nelson. The Chapel was closed in the year 2002. Two years later the "Bell' was given back to St Mary's Parish by the new owner of the land, Stuart Calder. The bell was painted and mounted on a stand by Tony Clark in June 2004 - It is now on display in the Parish Archives/Museum in Manuka St Nelson.

The bell. Click image to enlarge

In December 1998 the newly restored Cemetery was blessed in a rededication ceremony. This marked the culmination of a restoration project at the Cemetery, by the Catholic Church and Nelson Marlborough Health Services, to tidy the previously neglected and broken headstones.

The new headstone.

A new headstone listing all 26 names has been erected on the site,  in order to establish a point in time to pay a mark of respect to those who were buried in the Cemetery.

There is a small Fig Tree growing at the top end of the Cemetery.  This was a cutting from the original Fig Tree that Father Antoine Garin, Nelson's first Parish Priest, planted in Marlborough. The cutting was presented to the Parish as a symbolic gesture by the Blenheim Parish at the 150 Jubilee of St Mary's Parish In the year 2000.

2011 (updated 2021)

List of burials at the Cemetery, compiled by Marjorie Webby [PDF]

Sources used in this story

  1. Town edition  (1886, August 13) Nelson Evening Mail, p.2
  2. St Mary's Industrial school, Stoke: solemn opening new building at Stoke (1905, 29 May)  Colonist, XLVII, (11344), p. 6

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