Latitude: -33.87328392844336, Longitude: 151.20631456375122
Old Sydney Burial Ground was Sydney's first permanent cemetery. It was located near the current corner of George Street and Druitt Street. The burial ground was originally established in September 1792.
Since its closure in 1820 the site has undergone a number of alterations. The alignment of George Street now impinges upon the original burial ground area. The construction of the original St Andrew's Church (1842) and Deanery (1871-1872), as well as the current Sydney Town Hall site clearing (1868-1869) have caused major destruction to surviving graves.
Up until the latter part of 1792 burials in Sydney were made in land adjacent to the military barracks near the present day Grosvenor Street. In September 1792 Governor Philip and the Reverend Richard Johnson set out the new cemetery. The land belonged to Marine Captain Shea, who at his request had been buried there in 1789, so there was a precedent for its use in this way. The cemetery was expanded in 1812 by Governor Macquarie, more land being added to the northern and western sides.
The burial ground fell under the jurisdiction of St Phillip's. Clergy from the Church conducted the burial services and apparently everyone was buried with Church of England rites regardless of their denomination. A burial register was kept but the departure of the Reverend Johnson in 1800 meant that records were poorly maintained until W. Cowper arrived in the colony in 1809. Reverend Cowper later estimated that some 2,000 people had been buried in the 'George Street' cemetery. Most of those buried in the Old Sydney Burial Ground would have been convicts or ex-convicts, but prominent citizens such as Thomas Reiby and members of the various regiments and their families also came to rest there. The cemetery monuments would have varied from the non-existent (for perhaps many of those who died as convicts) through simple wooden crosses and perhaps plainly carved stones for the poor, to elaborate altar monuments. Similarly, coffins would have varied from well made cedar examples, expensively fitted out, to nothing at all.
The burial ground was used until 1820 when the Brickfield or Sandhills Cemetery (More correctly named the Devonshire Street Cemetery), now the site of Sydney's Central Railway Station, was opened. According to government orders the burial ground was closed because the nature of the ground rendered it unsuitable for further use. The cemetery had suffered considerable damage even while it was in use. Herds of cattle wandering through it and pigs rooting among the gravestones no doubt had done their share. A wooden fence was subscribed for and erected but was soon torn down for firewood and a stone fence was later erected. The Sydney Gazette recorded recovery of stolen goods from inside an open tomb. After the cemetery closure the damage continued. A witness before the 1845 Select Committee gave evidence that by this stage most of the graves were no longer marked and it would be impossible to find them without clearing the land down to the coffins. The historian James Bonwick, visiting Sydney in 1866, described open graves, boys burrowing into the exposed tombs and the headstones, 'with the exception of a dozen. thrown down, broken. defaced. trodden over'. In 1868 the Mayor of Sydney called the old cemetery 'a dsgrace to the city'.
By the end of 1868 it had been decided that the Old Burial Ground would make way for the construction of the Sydney Town Hall. Notice was given in the Sydney Morning Herald that the remains of the interred, 'so far as they can by reasonable search be discovered', together with all legible headstones would be reburied at Haslem's Creek (Rookwood). As it was, virtually none of the headstones from the old cemetery found their way to Rookwood with the possible sole exception of Captain Gavin Hamilton's (1798), which was removed by a family friend.
The Chief Engineer's advice to the 1867 Select Committee was to dig only that part of the site where foundations were to be laid and not to bother trying to remove remains outside this area. There is no reason to think that this advice was not taken. Apparently, when ordinary graves were unearthed traces of remains could be found, although the vaults uncovered held remains in a much better state of preservation. The human remains unearthed while digging the foundations were re-interred under a monument at Rookwood, but as there were no names inscribed on it apparently none of the remains could be identified.