History of Box Hill Cemetery

The first moves to establish a public cemetery at Box Hill, east of Melbourne, were made in 1872 when an area of twelve acres was set aside and eight trust members were appointed at a public meeting.

A grant of £35 was received from the Government of the day for the erection of a fence around the site. The area was part of a large reserve bounded on two sides by Whitehorse Road and Britnells Road (now Middleborough Road) from which the Sagoe Common School and police paddock had been excised.

The first burial took place the day after the cemetery was officially gazetted on 30 August 1873. Prior to this, burials took place on land surrounding the nearby United Methodist Church and in the small Lutheran cemetery established at Waldau (Doncaster) in 1860. Public cemeteries had also been established at Kew and Burwood.

Box Hill Cemetery was enlarged on two occasions in subsequent years. A small adjoining section, still referred to as the “New Survey”, was gazetted in 1886, following the extension of the railway line from Box Hill to Lilydale. In 1935 a further adjoining area of twelve acres was purchased by the Box Hill Council to bring the cemetery to its present size of 30.8 acres (≈12.5 hectares). Part of this area included the police paddock.

From 1875 until 1973, the main entrance to the cemetery was from Whitehorse Road by way of an attractive avenue. The fine entrance gates and pillars to this approach still stand today, but they are no longer part of the cemetery. The present entrance from Middleborough Road was established in 1973 to eliminate the need for funeral traffic to cross the railway line and the Whitehorse Road entrance avenue was passed over to the then City of Box Hill in 1979.

Two notable features within the cemetery are the commemorative arch built in 1923 to mark the 50th anniversary of the cemetery; and the columbarium built in 1929 as a repository for cremated remains. Designed by architects Rodney Alsop and A. Bramwell Smith and built by T. F. Crabbe, this building is in the form of a Greek cross; it has a Spanish-tiled gable roof and octagonal tower with a copper dome. While the exterior appearance has a distinctive Mediterranean flavour, the proportions of the exterior are Byzantine. This building is now included on the register of Heritage Victoria.

Another interesting item is the large iron bell hanging over the entrance to the current office. Cast in Manchester, England in 1886, the bell originally served the Box Hill Fire Brigade at its previous Watts Street premises where it was used to call-out volunteer fire-fighters to emergencies over many years. In 1927, the Brigades Board presented the bell to the Box Hill Cemetery where it is rung each evening around 5:00 pm as a signal to cemetery visitors that the gates are soon to close.

With few remaining new burial sites available, the first stage of a community mausoleum was constructed in 2002 to provide 130 crypt spaces on 5 levels. Crypts are faced with shutters of imported granite and distinctive architectural features include wide verandahs on all sides supported by brick and rendered pillars in Californian Bungalow style. A second stage, offering a further 216 crypts on six levels was built in the same style in 2005. The first stage was designed by Brearley Architects and Urban Designers and the subsequent stage by GHD. Both buildings were constructed by Milne-Miller Constructions. The complex was officially opened by the Hon. Daniel Andrews (then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health) on 20 November 2005.

A third stage of the community mausoleum was built in 2012, to provide a further 270 crypt spaces With rights to all crypts in stages 1, 2 & 3 issued by 2016, a fourth stage was completed early in 2017 to offer another 342 casket spaces.

The former secondary-entrance and side-fence on Middleborough Road were replaced in 2016. The attractive new main entrance and front fence now offer safer and more serviceable access to Box Hill Cemetery.

A range of themed historical walking tours of the cemetery (visiting various famous graves) are periodically conducted by members of Box Hill Historical Society. For further information on these tours, please contact the Box Hill Historical Society.

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