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.
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.
The current entrance from Middleborough Road was established in 1973 to eliminate the need for funeral traffic to cross the railway line. The original 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 1922 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. 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.
In 2002, the first stage of a community mausoleum was constructed. 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. Over the years, second, third and fourth stages were completed to respond to the demand for further crypts.
In recent years, the Box Hill Cemetery Trust has worked to develop new grave availability while respecting the history and feel of the original survey.