Martyn Street Cemetery 100 Years

Martyn Street Cemetery, or as it was originally known, Cairns General Cemetery, was gazetted and opened 100 years ago in 1916.

It was the third cemetery in the town of Cairns just 40 years after its settlement.  It is the resting place of many of the early pioneers, battlers and gentry of the Cairns region.


The first cemetery was on the Esplanade and was damaged by the ocean tides, the second was in McLeod Street that had problems with the water table which was affecting the town water supply and was also near capacity.


New cemetery at Cairns 1924

New Cemetery at Cairns. Image taken approx. 1924 – Courtesy John Oxley Library


In 1910 it was recommended that the old reserve for a racecourse and the area for the epidemic board on the south-western side of Cairns-Herberton railway, Edge Hill, be used.

A suitable site for the ‘New’ Cairns Cemetery was finally agreed upon in 1911.

Construction for a new road to the cemetery got underway in 1913.  Martyn Street was selected because it was deemed to be the most direct route from the centre of the town rather than Smith Street.  Smith Street had two (railway) gates to negotiate, which constituted a certain amount of danger.  It was also along the pipe track that would have facilitated any carriage in connection with the water supply.

Martyn Street Cemetery grounds were ready for the first burial in 1916.

In recognition of this 100 years, Cairns & District Family History Society conducted 4 walks through the oldest part of the cemetery during June/July this year, a much kinder time weather-wise for Cairns.

The path chosen was based on the diversity of the headstones as we wanted to tell the stories and meanings of them and the engraved symbols, as well as a short story of the person buried there.

We commenced with the first burial, that of Mrs Catherine Hallinan who was buried on the 22 December 1916 and is an unmarked grave, and ended at the Cairns War Cemetery, situated within the general cemetery.

In all 22 grave sites were visited.

Just some of those were:

Anne Martin, with this imposing Angel.  The daughter of Patrick and Catherine Lawless, born 1845, married William Martin and died 4 June 1922.

Anne is buried here with her daughter Irene Annie, who married James Kane Boland, and died in 1967.

Below are before and after images, as the wonderful staff at Martyn Street Cemetery not only had the cemetery cleaned in preparation for our walks,  but some of the headstones as well, this being one of them.  Just an amazing change.


Ann Martin - angel before cleaning

Ann Martin’s angel, cross and wreath before cleaning


Ann Martin - after cleaning. Cross – faith and redemption; Angel – messenger of God; Wreath – eternal or heavenly bliss

Ann Martin (after being cleaned). Cross – faith and redemption; Angel – messenger of God; Wreath – eternal or heavenly bliss


The Brown family are interred in this marble vault.  Katie Brown, died 1924; Michael Thomas Brown, died 1928; Michael Brown, died 1933; Kate Brown 1937; Mary Cavanagh, died 1962; William Joseph Brown, died 1938 and James Henry Brown, died 1952.


Brown Family; Marble vault with 4 step marble pedestal and Roman cross surmount

Brown Family; Marble vault with 4 step marble pedestal and Roman cross surmount


Children’s graves are always sad to read, here are just two of them:

George Bathow Joice, aged 3 years and 2 months, died after a short illness on 20 July 1925 and is buried with his father William Arthur Joice.


George Bathow Joice - A crying child with wreath (wreath – triumphs over death)

George Bathow Joice – A crying child with wreath (wreath – triumphs over death)


and Wyndon McDonald Forbes, aged 5 years, who had drowned and was buried on the 18 July 1937.

His grave just looked like he was in his bed with his ruffled pillow and the sheet turned down.


Wyndon Forbes

Wyndon Forbes


Wyndon Forbes

Wyndon Forbes


Then were was this large grave site of Priests and Nuns, that included Bishop Heavey who died in 1948.


Nuns & Priests buried in Martyn Street Cemetery Cairns

Nuns & Priests


Finally finishing at the War Cemetery, which many of the audience did not realise was here in Martyn Street.

This part of the cemetery is maintained and cared for by the office of the Australian War Graves.


War Cemetery - Martyn Street, Cairns

Cairns War Cemetery



At the Cross of Sacrifice, Cairns War Cemetery

At the Cross of Sacrifice, Cairns War Cemetery


So many of the audience just wanted to linger after the walks and ask more questions or just wander through this old cemetery.

A cemetery is more than headstones and monuments with inscriptions.  It reflects the religious, social, cultural, architectural and literary history in such a combination not found anywhere else.



4 Responses to Martyn Street Cemetery 100 Years

  • Thank you so much for your care and research around the legacy and memories of Cairns! At the moment we have been cleaning and tracing all the Kennedy family resting places (of Kennedys Retravision connection) + linked to the two Kennedy Bros (Hugh and Henry Kennedy of the Illawarra, NSW who took to Normanton in the 1880s to escape a family tradition of bushranging/horse rustling) in Martyn St (the brothers however are buried in Normanton but the wife of Henry is in Martyn St). We are photographing and linking stories as we go if you have any members/future members linked to the Kennedy and associated families – we hope to put it in writing once we have found everyone we can.

    • As family historians, cemeteries are very important and as a Society we hope that what we do will ensure that future generations will take care of them. Researching the people buried there as well as the history of the cemetery itself is something that we love to do. I wish you success with your project and perhaps this blog will assist in finding more of your Kennedy family and we will also send a notice out to all of our members. Thank you Karen for your comment.

  • Thanks Dell, This was very informative. I wish I’d been able to do the tour! I have family buried in the McLeod Street Pioneer cemetery and have been promised two long-awaited granite risers in October. Congratulations to CFHS for its research, and interest in, both cemeteries.

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