Topic: The Sextons of Linwood Cemetery

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A description of the role of Sexton and the Sexton's Lodge in Linwood Cemetery.


The Sexton at Linwood Cemetery

The Sexton was a public servant employed by the City Council and his job was to dig the graves and uphold the by-laws relating to the cemetery.  He performed all duties in the cemetery associated with grave digging; selling plots, topping up, public liaison and record keeping in association with the Town Clerk.  There was usually an Assistant Sexton that worked with the Sexton for the grave digging.  In Linwood Cemetery a grave was to be dug to a depth of 7 feet (approx 2.2 metres).  The land had been chosen for it's sandy soil so, even today, as the grave is dug it needs to be shored with boards to stop the sides caving in. This was very hard physical work, especially when there were many graves to be dug over a short time frame, for example, at times of epidemic or during winter months.  If there was to be provision for more than one person to be buried in a plot the grave had to be dug an extra foot to 8 feet (2.5m).  It would take two men a good part of the day to dig a grave by hand.  One thousand grave plots were dug to an acre.  Linwood Cemetery is approximately 20 acres in size.

The Sexton also ensured that the cemetery was properly maintained.  Having an on-site Sexton would have dramatically reduced the levels of vandalism and he would have managed and repaired any natural damage or prevented over-growth of shrubbery in the cemetery.

In the past, the Sexton would walk at the front of the funeral line in a uniform with a grey jacket.

The Town Clerk kept records of who owned the plots.  Copies of some of those original records are available in the City Archives. The Friends use photocopies of  those maps to help locate unmarked or badly damaged graves.

The first Sexton was Mr FREEMAN.  We know that, sadly, his wife Sarah Anne (Block 2 Plot 1) died before the cemetery was officially opened on 8th July 1884 and was the first burial in Linwood Cemetery.  William FREEMAN died in 1913 aged 69 years having retired in 1902.  He is also buried in Linwood Cemetery at Block 31 Plot 90 in the same plot as Ellen ROACH aged 24 years, who had already died on 13 July 1894 and was living in the Sexton's Lodge at the time.  We understand that as well as the accommodation that came with the job, another perk was free burial at time of death.

In 1895 (11 years after the cemetery opened), the Standing Committee of the Anglican Synod were asked to

"provide burial registers for the cemeteries at Linwood and Addington and whatever else necessary, for the due registration of the burial of members of the church, further that the proper authorities be requested, in each case, to permit the said registers to be kept with the sexton's books and under the sexton's charge, for the use of officiating Ministers of the Church." (The Star, Issue 5345, 24th August 1895, p7)

After a brief discussion the request was rejected.

In September 1898, the City Council received 70 applications for the position of Assistant Sexton at Linwood Cemetery (The Star, Issue 6305, 27 Sept 1898, p4). 

We have assembled a list of  Linwood Cemetery's Sextons by looking at Wises Directory in the Family History section of the City Library.  Wise's Directory was a fore-runner of the phone book. It listed each street in Christchurch, who lived there and what their trade was.

1.    William FREEMAN (1884-1902) - Died in 1913 and is buried in Linwood Cemetery Block 31 Plot 90.

2.   John PARKINS - Assistant Sexton from September 1898 (ref: The Star, Issue 6305 27 Sept 1898, p4) then Sexton (1902-1905).  Died 18 March 1929 and is buried in Bromley Cemetery.

3.   Llewellyn David HUGHES - Assistant Sexton (circa 1902) then Sexton (1906-1930).  Mr HUGHES  died on 18th September 1930 aged 57 years and is buried in Block 46 Plot 342 of Linwood Cemetery.

4.  James DYKES (circa 1933-circa 1946)

5.  William GODFREY (1946-1950)

6.  Emile P MALAQUIN, Caretaker from 1950 (through to when records end in 1955)

7.  Ray PALERMO (1961-1984) - the last Sexton to live on site.  Died 2014.

8.   Edward BIEHER (1984 - 1999)

The Role of Sexton Today

Today no one person can be identified as being the Sexton for Linwood.  The Sextons work in teams that work in a group of cemeteries throughout Christchurch City and Banks Peninsula digging graves with a mechanical digger.  On the rare occasion that a grave plot is needed to be dug in Linwood Cemetery, the team who also dig the graves in Ruru Lawn, Memorial Gardens and also on a rare occasion, Bromley are contracted under Parks and Recreation Management.  In Christchurch, the Council employ a contractor to undertake the work in the cemetery on their behalf and the Sextons (all qualified to perform the role) are employed by the contractor.  Graves are now dug mechanically with a digger.

Instead of the Town Clerk recording deaths and burials, councils have Cemetery Administrators, one usually overseeing a large number of cemeteries under the council's jurisdiction and working from the council offices.

The Sexton’s Lodge

From the time of the opening of Linwood Cemetery in 1884 until 1983/4, the Sexton and his family lived full-time in a house near the main Butterfield Avenue entrance of the cemetery. 

On 1st April 1884, plans for the Lodge were reported as being prepared and “as soon as they are completed, the work of pegging out the cemetery allotments, paths, and plantations will be proceeded with….” (Cemetery Committee Minutes; 1st April 1884).  Three weeks later, it was put forward that tenders “…were invited for the erection of a Lodge near the entrance and a rotunda for a shelter, the Lodge to be connected with the Telephone Exchange, the total cost not to exceed £500.” (Cemetery Committee ;22 April 1884); the equivalent in today’s money of  approximately NZ$87,700.

The tender for the Lodge went to Goring & Parker and the drilling of an artesian well to Armitage & Unwin (Cemetery Committee Minutes; 5th May 1884) and, at the same meeting, the Works Committee was given permission to sign the contracts for the work. Building of the Lodge started  at the beginning of June and was reported as completed on 7th October 1884 along with all the other buildings. It was described both as “A caretaker’s house of architectural fitness... (ref) and “A neat cottage” (Star, 11 Oct 1884)William FREEMAN (B31P90) (widowed in July) and his three teenage children had moved in.  He probably lived there until his retirement 18 years later.

The Lodge was built of weatherboard timber as is remembered as having lead light windows.  It had a separate wash house and was surrounded by a wooden fence.  Those who can still remember the Lodge recall it was

“a large building of white weatherboard.  The burial registers were kept in an outhouse that was also the wash house.  They weren’t in a cupboard or anything that protected them.  I remembered being concerned about the damp in there and them getting damaged and that’s before I knew anything about conservation.  I remember phoning the Sexton at his home to see if I could consult the books.  We made a time to come.  When I arrived he showed us to the wash house and I was just left in there to look at the big leather bound books on my own.  I guess the wash house probably doubled in function as the Sexton’s office.” (Recollections of Alison O’Neill, local resident and genealogist, May 2011.)

Known as the ‘Sexton’s Lodge’, ‘Sexton’s House’ , ‘Caretaker’s House’ but also referred to as the ‘Sexton’s Cottage’, this property was demolished around 1983/4.  Ray PALERMO, the last Sexton to live on-site, finished working there in 1984 (from an interview by Trustees in 2005).  Following an interview in 2013 with Eddie BIEHER (Sexton 1984-1999) he produced 13 photographs of the Lodge taken in July 1982 and January 1983 and said the Lodge was demolished not long after.  The house would have been nearly 100 years old.  We are very grateful to Eddie for letting us make copies of his photos and allowing us to reproduce them here.

Today, there is still a gap in the boundary fence near where the house was located and a tap on the site which probably formed the water source for the Lodge.  Outside the perimeter fence is a white capped off pipe which is probably the waste water outlet.

The area of the house has some of the oldest trees in the cemetery – a macrocarpa and a cypress – and is protected as an heritage area; any changes needing special permission and Resource Consent.  Still-born children were also buried in bushes on the boundary of the Sexton’s Lodge.  Some of these are noted on the CCC Cemetery Database as being in Block 0 Plot 0.


©E Bieher (1983), Not to be reproduced without permission.



Wise's Directories;

Interviews with Ray Palermo (2005); Shelly Jenkins; Cemeteries Administrator (2010), Eddie Bieher (2013)

CCC Cemetery By-law 38 (pre-1980)

Papers Past


© Friends of Linwood Cemetery Charitable Trust
 Research by Alexandra Gilbert..  Updated 7th September 2018 by Alexandra.

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The Sextons of Linwood Cemetery