West Terrace Cemetery (General) Adelaide, South Australia

Cemetery Details

Location West Terrace,
Co‑ordinates S34.933573, E138.5878559

This cemetery was originally known as the ADELAIDE PUBLIC CEMETERY.

Historic West Terrace Cemetery dates back to European settlement of South Australia and is one of the nation's oldest operating cemeteries.

West Terrace Cemetery has been a feature of Adelaide since Colonel William Light identified its location in his 1837 plan for the city.

Burials occurred less than six week after the Proclamation of South Australia despite no formal arrangements for the administration and management of the cemetery being in place.

John Monck assumed the role of the cemetery’s first sexton in February 1837 following his appointment by Colonial Chaplin Charles Beaumont Howard, although he had no formal sanction from the government to do so. Monck’s appointment pre-dated that of the Board of Trustees, established in 1839 to oversee the cemetery. The Board of Trustees addressed such matters as plot size, lease periods and costs and burial fees.

As many as 500 burials occurred at the cemetery prior to the first recorded burial on 6 July 1840.

The absence of a systematic approach to burial and poor record keeping means that the earliest burials were not accurately recorded and are distributed haphazardly across the site.

Since 1837 more than 150,000 souls have been laid to rest at the cemetery, bringing together the many threads of our State's rich heritage in one place.

The 27.6 hectare site is located in the south-west corner of the Adelaide central business district, between West Terrace, Anzac Highway, Sir Donald Bradman Drive and the Seaford/Belair Railway Lines.

The establishment of a Jewish section in 1843 began the denominational division of the cemetery. Subsequent allocations of land were made to the Catholic Church, Church of England and Society of Friends (Quakers). The reservation of areas of the cemetery reflected the European tradition of religious denominations wishing to manage the burial of their members.

In 1845 a Catholic cemetery was established on land adjacent the main public cemetery and in 1849 a third of the public cemetery was given over to the Church of England.

In 1854 the unplanned method of internment was corrected when the grid design of paths and roadways that we see today was imposed over the cemetery, providing a template for future burials.

Situated within the Catholic area, the foundation stone was laid on 18 December 1870 by the venerable Archdeacon Russell, Vicar General, and was officially opened and formally consecrated on 22 October 1871.

The Smyth Chapel was built in 1871 as a memorial to the Very Reverend Dr John Smyth, Vicar General, who lies buried in the crypt beneath the chapel. It was designed by E.J. Woods in the latter part of 1870 as a result of a competition conducted by the Smyth Memorial Fund and built by Peters and Jones for approximately 472 pounds.

In 1902, the first crematorium in the southern hemisphere was built and began operating in 1903. For the next 20 years, this was the only crematorium in Australia (en.wikipedia.org).

A number of famous and important South Australians have been buried in the cemetery and since 2002, the site has been administered by the Adelaide Cemeteries Authority, which also controls a number of other cemeteries within the metropolitan area.

The granting of public land to particular religious denominations conflicted with the principal of religious equality upon which South Australia was formed. This caused concern among dissenter groups which feared ecclesiastical control of public affairs and fuelled growing debate about Adelaide’s supposed public cemetery.

While the location of the cemetery made it convenient for the disposal of human remains in the early years, continued expansion of the city brought residential development closer to the cemetery. This engendered great community opposition on the basis of public health grounds and fuelled continued debate over the future of the cemetery.

Throughout much of its early history the cemetery was under constant threat of closure and as early as the 1880s the size of the cemetery was considered insufficient to keep up with demand. For almost a century alternate sites for a new public burial ground some distance from the city were put forward, but no agreement was reached. It was not until 1936, that a viable alternate was established at Panorama; Centennial Park.

As the colony became firmly established and society prospered, the cemetery landscape changed. The advent of the Victorian funeral brought with it ostentatious displays of pomp and wealth as well as larger, more complex monuments, symbols of social status and respectability. Such grand and imposing headstones were mainly confined to the prominent and wealthy. In stark contrast, those unable to afford a funeral were generally buried in unmarked, common graves and without ceremony.

Among the endless rows of 19th century marble and slate headstones are the graves of many leading political, religious, social and business figures, as well as those of a wide range of people whose lives have enriched the history and development of the State.

Visitors can also discover the history of West Terrace Cemetery on one of the regular guided walking tours (www.aca.sa.gov.au)or by following the award winning self-guided Heritage Highlights (www.aca.sa.gov.au)interpretive trail.

In 2010 the first section of virgin land to be released for burial in 44 years opened at West Terrace Cemetery. Situated in the north eastern corner of the cemetery, Wakefield section providing South Australians with a rare chance to be buried in this historic burial ground.

Since its establishment more than 150,000 burials have taken place and the cemetery has progressively expanded from its original oval shape to cover an area of 27.6 hectares.

The 27.6 hectare site is located in the south-west corner of the Adelaide central business district, between West Terrace, Anzac Highway, Sir Donald Bradman Drive and the Seaford/Belair Railway Lines.

Despite many difficulties and setbacks, the cemetery has survived and remains a rich source of stories that chronicle the development of Adelaide from a fledgling colony to a modern city.

Today West Terrace Cemetery is renowned for its ornate 19th century monuments, historic burial sites of many leading political, religious, social and business figures, as well as those of a wide range of people whose lives have enriched the history and development of the State.

The cemetery also holds important links to major national developments and achievements and is associated with many Australian firsts; including the establishment of Australia’s first dedicated military burial ground and the country’s first modern crematorium.

Testament to the cemetery’s historic value, West Terrace Cemetery was listed on the State Heritage Register in 1989.


Information sourced through Julianne T Ryan; West Terrace Cemetery archives and Stephen Wayne Muller.

Sourced and submitted by Julianne T Ryan.    3 September 2014.   Lest we forget.



Showing 8 people of interest from cemetery

LAIDLAW, Morris Lawson

Service number SX2467
2nd/1st Forestry Unit RAE
Australian Military Forces (Army WW2)
Born 25 Apr 1896

WILLIAMS, Albert Ernest

Service number 238
27th Infantry Battalion
Born 1888


Service number 3277
58th Infantry Battalion
Born Aug 1893

BURT, John Edward

Service number 1429
Australian Army Ordnance Corps
Australian Military Forces (Army WW2)
Born 27 Oct 1886

MARKS, Harold Edward Ernest

Service number 895
3rd Division Medium and Heavy Trench Mortar Batteries
Born 20 Apr 1890

SCOTT, Clarence Hibbard

Service number 2718
32nd Infantry Battalion
Born 26 Feb 1893

STONER, Henry John

Service number 3749
Born 29 Jun 1887


Service number 2329
Born 1 Nov 1893