A pennyweight is an insignificant weight and insignificant amounts of gold were found on the flats around the cemetery; so it got its name.
The autumn still and beauty of this place belies its significance as the site of such loss.
This is a cemetery almost without headstones, almost without defined graves and yet it is the final resting place of over two hundred children. It’s not well known and not much visited.
I have come to enjoy visiting this place.
During 1852, as the Victorian gold rushes began, children started dying from typhoid and dysentery after drinking tainted creek water during their first goldfields summer. So a cemetery was established on a rocky hill overlooking the area. They were buried on what must have been a sad and exposed hilltop below which locust swarms of new arrivals jostled, blinded to the truth on the hill above them. In that gold hunting clamour parents would have sat beside those tiny graves mourning a child and wondering whether their decision to come out to this dusty outpost was wise. They, being poor, had placed their children in shallow graves, then piled rocks up to mark the place. Now, over one hundred and fifty years later the scene is different and very quiet. The gravestones are scattered and most of the graves are hard to discern, mere mounds, barely visible under the leaf litter. Just a few weathered headstones, fallen or falling suggest the place is a cemetery.
Perhaps if I sit quietly the land will draw up the stories of those who lost so much when they lived on the Victorian Goldfields.
The Cemetery’s origins are linked to the Mount Alexander alluvial gold rush of 1851-54. The first interment took place in 1852 and the cemetery was used until 1857. In the intervening years, between 150 and 200 burials had taken place. The cemetery is situated on a small rocky hill overlooking Pennyweight Flat, one of the richest gold spots on the goldfield. The gold seekers chose a patch of ground where gold was unlikely to be found, but one which was totally unsuitable for digging graves and for good hygiene. The rocky nature of the ground meant that the burials were very shallow (about two feet deep), necessitating the construction of above-ground stone mounds, which a local press report in 1860 described as ‘tumuli, erected without mortar on pieces of sandstone broken from the surrounding rock’. Another report mentions complaints about the stench coming from the cemetery.
The Pennyweight Cemetery is historically and archaeological important as a very rare artefact of Victoria’s greatest gold rush. The ephemeral nature of structures and technology employed in the early gold-rush days means there is very little physical evidence of the intensity of technical and social activity sustained by the area during the gold rush years. The significance of this site is also derived from its setting: the cemetery overlooking the formerly gold-bearing flat and the large town that grew around the diggings.