Day to showcase historic Sandgate Cemetery's unique role in Hunter region's community

The fascinating tales behind some of the headstones in Sandgate Cemetery will come to light this month as part of an open day that aims to deepen the historically significant site's connection with the living.

Newcastle Family History Society will for a fourth year host guided walking tours through a section of the 200 year old cemetery, which will be the flagship event in the inaugural open day, to "stop [it] being an enormous and forbidding place of tombstones".

"The cemetery isn't just a place of headstones but memories," society member Greg Manning said.

"You'd be surprised by what you find when you come to the cemetery. The stories behind some of these stones are riveting - they give the stones a human face.

"Sometimes I feel like I've made friends with the ghosts. It's not just family history buried here, but local history."

The Congregational section of Sandgate Cemetery. Pictured is Greg Manning talking about the section, which is subject of a walking history tour. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

The Congregational section of Sandgate Cemetery. Pictured is Greg Manning talking about the section, which is subject of a walking history tour. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

Mr Manning will be one of the guides conducting half-hourly walking tours of the Congregational section of the cemetery during the open day on Sunday, May 26.

This section of the cemetery is the resting place for many 19th century Welsh-born mining families from Lambton, Wallsend, Minmi, Cardiff and Swansea, other Congregational members and their church leaders.

Twelve graves and 15 people will be spoken about during the tour of this section, including a member of Mr Manning's own family - Elizabeth Reaveley.

Each story has been researched by the family history society.

What is known about one of the most eye-catching monuments in the Congregational section, built for a boy named Bennie who died in 1892, will also be spoken about on the tour.

Greg Manning next to the Williams family memorial, built for a 13 year old boy named Bennie who died in 1892. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

Greg Manning next to the Williams family memorial, built for a 13 year old boy named Bennie who died in 1892. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

Newcastle Family History Society president Melodie Woodford said the annual walking tours are "extremely popular".

"People are genuinely interested in our rich local history and what better way to learn about it than to hear stories - up close and personal - of some of the people who helped make the region what it is today," she said.

Tours will be held half-hourly from 9.30am until 1.30pm. Registrations are essential as numbers are limited. Bookings can be made at nfhs.org.au, by phone (02) 4957 8296 or visiting the society library in Lambton on Thursdays (1pm-3.30pm) or Saturdays (10am-3.30pm).

The walking tour will be one of a number of activities being staged in the cemetery, which is one of the Hunter's oldest and largest, on May 26.

Other attractions include a vintage hearse display, art and flower shows, harp playing, history of grave digging presentations and performances by the Marching Koalas (11am-1pm).

Located on Crown land along Maitland Road, the not-for-profit community cemetery, established in 1881, was historically managed by a variety of religious trusts. It is now administered by Northern Cemeteries.

Sandgate Cemetery houses 85,000 citizens. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

Sandgate Cemetery houses 85,000 citizens. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

Pauline Tritton, Northern Cemeteries' chief executive officer, said the free open day is designed to showcase the site's unique connection and contribution to the region.

"Sandgate's open day is an exciting inaugural event as it not only showcases the important role cemeteries play within their community, but also encourages us to be more familiar with all aspects of the life cycle," Mrs Tritton said.

"Sandgate Cemetery provides an important and caring service to a range of diverse communities across the Hunter, all with differing cultural and religious practices and requirements.

"We also strive to be an active member of our community - and that means letting people of all ages know we are here as much for the living as we are for those who are remembered.

"If you have ever driven passed the site and wondered about what you may discover on the other side of our magnificent gates, we invite you to bring along the family and join us on the big day."

Sandgate Cemetery was originally located a long distance from various villages which eventually combined to form the City of Newcastle.

Older cemeteries dating from the early settlement of Newcastle after 1804 were relocated to Sandgate.

In the early days, access to the cemetery was by river and road, but more commonly by train which continued until 1985.

Recent upgrades have significantly improved the site which houses 85,000 citizens.

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