Cremation was being advocated in Tasmania in the 1890s. The following piece is from the Tasmanian Democrat, August 7 1896. A correspondent asserted that traditional burial was very costly, and that cemeteries often became eyesores.

‘For a piece of ground suitable for this purpose you will have in the first place to pay from four to five pounds, then it has to be enclosed by an expensive iron railing; then the tombstones and monuments make their appearance. The money spent on these, often unsightly structures, would have been in many cases far better employed in providing for the family left behind.

Hobart came in for particular criticism;

Grave yards and cemeteries are bad enough here in Launceston, but I think Hobart must take the cake in this matter. You cannot go in any direction from that city but you come across either a graveyard or a cemetery. You find them surrounding little churches perched on the side of hills, and close to public roads. The Davies Street cemetery in the centre of town, is a disgrace to any community, surrounded on all sides by houses and having a common sewer running through its centre. Here are expensive monuments in every style, neglected and in a state of mossy decay.’


On February 11 1905, a cloud of smoke was seen rising near the suburb of Risdon, Tasmania. At first there were fears that it was from a bushfire, but this was not the case.

A dying woman had recently arrived in Tasmania from Europe. She had hoped the climate and fresh air would miraculously cure her, but sadly she succumbed. Her last wish was that her body be cremated and the ashes taken back to her homeland. Permission for a cremation was sought by her grieving husband, but when it was refused he took matters into his own hands. It’s important to note that it wasn’t actually illegal at the time.

Several months later there was another unauthorized cremation, this time carried out on the body of Harry Gordon, a surveyor from Lindisfarne.

Harry had made his will on August 2 1905. His executors were his sons Oscar and Gerald. He requested that if at all possible he was to be cremated. He died on August 30, aged 59. ‘I direct my trustees shall use every endeavour to have my body cremated..’

Extract of will of Harry Gordon requesting cremation.

Note that the brief death notice specifically mentioned that Harry Gordon was cremated.

It is likely that the two young men pictured at right in the following photo were Harry’s sons. It indicates that the cremation was no ‘cloak and dagger’ affair. The startling image was evidence of a heartfelt request being openly honoured.

The cremation of Harry Gordon.
UNAUTHORIZED CREMATION 1905 (Photo credit Robert McDonald)

Subsequently there was a brief report in the Daily Telegraph; no name was provided, but locals would all have known the body was that of Harry Gordon.

RIP Harry, you were very forward thinking, and at least your wishes were carried out by your family.

The two cases I have discussed led to a push for the regulation of cremations in Tasmania. In November that same year a bill was introduced to the State House of Assembly;

Article on Cremation legislation in Tasmania.

The bill was duly passed. An editorial in the Hobart Mercury suggested it was a very good thing;

‘….for cremation may become fashionable. Admittedly [it is] the one and only proper method of bestowal for the dead in so far as the science of sanitation is concerned. Prejudice and sentimentality may go down before the promptings of common-sense, and crematoriums become regularly recognised as necessary adjuncts to cemeteries. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust will be accepted in the literal sense of the word.’


  1. How interesting! And having a photo of the coffin on top of vegetation ready for cremating is strange to see.
    thank you for sharing

  2. Pauline

    Yes, I have to admire the sons for carrying out their father’s wish.

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