Beechworth Cemetery and Chinese burning towers2 min read
The discovery of gold at Ballarat in 1851 sparked Victoria’s famous gold rush of the 1850s.
This led to the probably most significant event in the evolution of the state of Victoria, Australia: the mass migration of people from across the globe to the region hoping to become rich.
It’s believed that at the peak of the gold rush, 6,000 miners arrived in the region each week, including many Chinese nationals who converged on Beechworth seeking fortune around the late 1850s. As the population in Beechworth (then surveyed as Mayday Hills) grew, so to did the need for specialized services to cater to the cultural needs of the Chinese miners and not only.
However, life and conditions on the diggings was primitive to say the least: the lack of basic conveniences and sanitation led to an outbreak of typhoid. Among the early deaths was the first Doctor to arrive in Beechworth, Dr Henry Green who died four months after his arrival, a victim of typhoid fever. Between 1853 and 1860, an average of one child per week died of disease including measles, scarlet fever, dysentery, diphtheria and typhoid.
The First official cemetery was in Loch Street from 1853 to 1855.
Many of the bodies were later exhumed and reburied in the “Pioneer Section” of the present cemetery which opened in 1856.
Of particular historical significance is the Chinese Section of the cemetery, where some 2000 Chinese gold seekers and settlers are buried. The Chinese Burning Towers were used for burning paper prayers and meals were provided on the altar for the spirits of the dead. The towers were constructed in 1857 and the altar in 1984.
A memorial in recognition and remembrance of the Chinese contribution to society in Australia was erected in the Chinese Section by the Non Pon Soon Society, Non Pon Soon Club and The Victorian Chinese Memorial Foundation Inc. in 2010.