Nestled away behind tall standing trees protecting it from noise and debris lies the Kaituna Cemetery in Marlborough, just north of the North Bank Road turn off. A quaint little cemetery which can be easily missed even though State Highway 6 sits upon its doorstep.
The Cemetery may not be the oldest in the province, but certainly holds within it a great deal of history, which can be seen by reading the inscriptions and looking at the ornate stones of yesteryear.
Two members of the Cameron family were apparently the first burials in Kaituna Cemetery, however there are no records of these burials, apart from a transcription of their headstone. The first recorded burial is of Dudley Ragg, wife of John Ragg of Rock Ferry, Wairau. Her obituary is recorded in the Nelson Examiner of 17 April, 18721:
"Ragg.-- On the 1st April, at Rock Ferry, Dudley, Wairau, the wife of Mr. John Ragg, aged 35 years; also April 2, the infant child of Mr. John Ragg."
It would seem that Mrs Ragg sadly passed during child birth. Although sad, it was all too common in early New Zealand.
A year later the next burial took place, with one other the following year. In 1875, however, three burials took place.
Many of the early graves do not have headstones as wealthier people tended to be buried in Omaka Cemetery. Mrs Ragg does have a headstone, however, it looks as though it may have been added later.
To my knowledge the oldest headstone in the Cemetery is that of Robert Ellison, a 63 year old man from Onamalutu who passed away on the 30th of August, 1875. His inscription reads quite simply:
In Loving Memory of Robert Ellison Died 1875.
Like many cemeteries, this one holds tales of tragedy. One such tale is of a relative of mine, a brother to my Great, Great Grandfather Edward Landon-Lane. Whittington Landon-Lane was shot and killed in Havelock while attempting to hop into a raft to go duck shooting with Harry Dorreen, a pub owner notorious for his drinking and harsh ways.1 Whitt was buried in an unmarked plot in the cemetery.
As well as tragedy, there are stories of those who lived rich lives, like that of Mrs Mary Roberts. Mrs Roberts had lived in the area for most of her life, although she was born back in England. She came from the Bartlett family of Bartlett's Creek and had been married three times and had around eight children. She lived long enough to see the opening of the first bridge across the Wairau in January of 1913, dying in November of the same year.
Many of the graves are those of large families, like the Camerons, The Gibsons, The Powells, The Weavers and the Kenningtons.
One item in the cemetery reveals the gratitude felt towards one woman by her comrades. Lucy Margaret Weaver was a nurse at Wairau Hospital at the time of her passing in 1929. Her fellow nurses all helped pay for a large flower concrete vase to be placed at the foot of her grave, with a note which reads "Lucy Weaver from her fellow nurses Wairau Hospital 4-3-29", a nice gesture for a well-loved colleague.
The Cemetery once sat beside a quiet, dusty track with the only noises being birds and the occasional horse and cart riding by. Nowadays, the highway pushes past and yet, behind the seclusion of the small trees a silent peace can be felt even though the highway is right there.
This small but well kept cemetery allows a quick insight into what life was like when the cemetery was established and how different things are today. Like all cemeteries it is a place for reflection and thought and by just walking around and looking at the unique stones and stories you are provided with a special view of the local history and a feeling of peace.
2019 (updated August 2020)
Sources used in this story
- Obituary (Dudley Ragg) (1872, April 17) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle.
- Fatal accident at Havelock (1886, April 19) Nelson Evening Mail:
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Further sources - Kaituna Cemetery
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