Great 19th century funerals

Royal funerals glitter with pomp and ceremony, however there have also been many great funerals throughout history that you’ve probably never heard of. Here are just four nineteenth century examples from one Australian town. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.

The first of the really big funerals in Ipswich, Queensland, was in 1864 for Thomas De Lacey Moffatt. He was as Irishman from Athlone, County Westmeath, and was one of the first big-time graziers on the Darling Downs. He ran his empire from Ipswich, which back in the nineteenth century was known as having the highest rate of horse ownership in the colonies.

Thomas De Lacey Moffatt

Moffatt was elected to the first Queensland parliament in 1860 and later became colonial treasurer. His time in office was not particularly noteworthy, although while he was treasurer there was a slight problem with the auditing process. Political opponents said of Moffatt, “Whatever his principles may be, they gave him little trouble.”

Moffatt died while still in office. On the day of his funeral in Ipswich, all the banks, shops, and government offices were closed. Almost all of the inhabitants of the town came to pay their last respects. The funeral was held in St Paul’s Church of England which at the time was the biggest church in Queensland. Inside, it was about three-quarters full, but outside more than double that number waited on horseback, apparently horses were not allowed inside. It would have been quite spectacle.

The most spectacular funeral was in 1890 for George Elmes. He was a thirty-three year old blacksmith who died from tetanus. That infection after he collided with a buggy while he was racing a friend home on his horse.

Elmes was a member of the Queensland Scottish Rifles and the men of his company resolved to pay their last respects in a befitting manner.

On the day of the funeral, all the military of the district and beyond assembled at the Ipswich drill shed. From there they paraded through the streets and attracted a great deal of attention. The march was led by the West Moreton Field Battery, followed by the Moreton Regiment, Queensland Scottish Rifles, Queensland Irish Rifles, and the Cadets. They hauntingly marched, without music, to Elmes’s residence at Newtown in Ipswich. There the Queensland Scottish formed an escort and presented arms as the coffin was brought out.

The cortege was then led by bagpipes to the cemetery. Once there, the Queensland Scottish fired a salute of three volleys. Imagine the array of colourful uniforms, marching of boots, the rifle volleys, and the crowds that came out to see. It was without doubt the most moving, spectacular and spontaneous funerals ever seen in Ipswich.

The longest funeral in Ipswich was in June 1900 for Peter Brown. He had been on the Ipswich council for twenty-six years, been the mayor five times, and still today is one of only two mayors to have died in office.

Peter Brown

The cortege was the longest ever seen in the history of Ipswich. Mounted police led the procession, and the cortege that followed was over a mile long. As the first portion reached the cemetery gates, the last of the carriages were still way in town on Warwick Street opposite the hospital where the mayor had died.

There were one hundred and fifty-four horse-drawn vehicles following the hearse, and the line of pedestrians following was even longer. At the cemetery, there were an unprecedented sixty-five wreaths that were placed on the coffin.

And finally, the most unusual funeral to end the nineteenth century was in September 1900. It was for James Stewart of Limestone Street, Ipswich. He died from typhoid fever and was very well known and respected in business circles.

Stewart was a member of the Ipswich Amateur Cycling Club, and what made his funeral unusual was that it was the first cyclist’s funeral ever seen in the town. In a lengthy procession through Ipswich, his club mates walked, in complete silence, with their bicycles all draped in black.

There wasn’t a huge number of wreathes like there had been for the mayor three months earlier, but the local newspaper noted that there was “a very nice artificial one from the employees of the Queensland Woollen Manufacturing Company.” The scene was unique with the first mourning-clad bicycles and the fake wreath.


Photo credits:
Illustration of a member of the Queensland Scottish Rifles – Queensland Figaro, January 1889.
Thomas de Lacy Moffat – State Library of Queensland.
Ipswich mayor Peter Brown c1888 – State Library of Queensland.
Queensland Woollen Manufacturing Company – Queensland Country Life, 1st July 1902, page 21.

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