Aboriginal Burial Ground Discovered on Parry Street

Coal River Working Party researcher Mr. Russell Rigby today alerted us to a series of articles in TROVE relating to a discovery of Aboriginal remains on the corner of Parry Street (and the present Union Street) in 1881. They have been kindly transcribed by him and are located below.

The Newcastle Herald has not been yet digitised, but we have tracked down the series of reports as they appeared in the Newcastle Herald.

Discovery of Aboriginal Remains - NMH 9 June 1881 p.2

Discovery of Aboriginal Remains
(Newcastle Morning Herald & Miner’s Advocate 9 June 1881 [p.2])

Yesterday afternoon some workmen employed at the corner of Parry-street near the approach to the racecourse, came across, a few feet from the surface, a number of aboriginal skeletons. Three or four were exhumed from their sandy grave in a good state of preservation; one in particular – measuring 5ft 8in – being almost perfect, and enshrouded in a large sheet of tea-tree bark, the material generally used for such purposes by the blacks. Those already dug out were removed by Constable Smith to the lockup. Other skulls and bones are visible in the sand, and will probably be dug out to-day. Medical examination having proved them to be the remains of aboriginees (sic), and the Coroner, Mr. C. B. Ranclaud, having personal experience of the spot having many years ago been a general camping place and burial-ground of the blacks, no inquest is considered necessary.


More Aboriginal Skeletons - NMH 10 June 1881 p.2

More Aboriginal Skeletons.
(Newcastle Morning Herald & Miner’s Advocate 10 June 1881 [p.2])

Yesterday morning a further instalment of aboriginal remains, discovered in Parry street, was lodged at the lockup. The bones, which are comparatively perfect, despite their long burial, clearly betray themselves as being those of the Australian blacks.



The Corporation workmen employed in excavating  for the extension of Parry-street towards the racecourse unearthed to-day five human skeletons. They were found encased in sheets of ti-tree bark. The locality is known to have been many years ago a great aboriginal camping ground. The bones were much decayed, but the sheets of bark were excellently preserved.

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APA citation
(FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENTS.) NEWCASTLE. (1881, June 9). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved January 10, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13486213


The Newcastle Herald states that on Wednesday afternoon some workmen employed at the corner of Parry-Street, near the approach to the racecourse, came across, a few feet from the surface, a number of abo- riginal skeletons. Three or four wero exhumed from their sandy grave in a good state of preservation, one in particular – measuring 5 feet 8 inches – being almost perfect, and onshrouded in a large sheet of ti-tree bark, the material generally used for such purposes by the blacks.

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NEWS OF THE DAY. (1881, June 11). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved January 10, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13478945


John Egger, the Corporation waterman,  while engaged in excavating a street in Newcastle, yesterday, unearthed the remains of 500 [sic] skeletons, encased in sheets of bark. The bones were much decayed, but the bark was in excellent preservation. The locality has been known for many years as an aboriginal camping  ground.

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LATEST TELEGRAMS. (1881, June 11). Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved January 10, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71832095


Thursday, June 9.

A discovery of several blackfellows’ skeletons was made yesterday by workmen employed near the entrance road to the Newcastle racecourse. A few  feet below the sandy surface they unearthed four or five well preserved skeletons – some wrapped in ti-tree bark. They were removed to the lockup, but on examination no inquest was deemed necessary. A number of other skulls and bones are sticking out of the sides of the cutting, and they will be dug out to-day. The spot is well-known  to old residents as having been a regular burial ground and camping place for the aboriginals.

Article identifier
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Colonial and Intercolonial Telegraphic messages. (1881, June 11). Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW : 1870 – 1907), p. 9. Retrieved January 10, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70956724


The Location

By Russell Rigby

I have overlaid the 1894 Newcastle street plans on  a recent aerial photo to show where  the Racecouse Road turned off Parry Street.

Parry Street and Racecourse Road (Compiled by Russell Rigby)
Parry Street and Racecourse Road (Compiled by Russell Rigby)

The intersection was at a corner in the municipal boundary between Newcastle and Hamilton, and Racecourse Road ran westwards to the grandstands and finish post which were in the middle of what is now Newcastle High School.

Knaggs 1887 (Plan cropped)

The cropped image from Knaggs 1887 harbour chart shows that the intersection of Parry and Melville Streets was on a rise above the swampy ground  to the southwest, with a creek running into the swamp immediately south of the intersection from the high ground of Cooks Hill. The depiction of Parry Street does not change on charts for about 20 years, so they are not  reliable for defining the extension of Parry St.

In the early 20th century the racecourse was moved from National Park area to Broadmeadow, and the cricket ground shifted west from Corlette St to National Park, as part of the subdivision of the area by the AA Co.

The drilling rig shown in the 1898 Snowball photo http://www.flickr.com/photos/uon/3270569951/ was probably set up on the
south-eastern side of the Parry/Melville St intersection. There may be other photos showing the general area.


Discovery of Human Remains NMH 10 January 1888 p.7

(Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners Advocate 10 January 1888 p.7)

It was reported to the police yesterday morning that Mr. William Parker, night scavenger, whilst emptying the closets of Messrs. Clark and Smith, of Parry-street, on Sunday night, brought forth two bones, which subsequently were found to be the shin-bones of a human being. Inspector Brennan immediately caused the bones to be taken of, and despatched constables Rochefort and Smith to have the closet thoroughly emptied, with a view to finding further remains of the human being. The constables in question lost no time in proceeding with the necessary grappling irons, &c., and instituted a search of the place, but could not find any other vestige of remains. In prosecuting their inquiries, however, they elicited the fact from Mr. Clark that it was he who had placed the bones in the closet some considerable time ago, that they were bones of an aboriginal, and were taken from an aboriginal burial-place near the racecourse. This statement was corroborated by ex-senior-constable Smith, who stated that these and other bones, including skulls, &c., had been removed some years ago from the place, which brought about the fact that they were evidently the bones of aborigines. We are glad the matter has been cleared up so satisfactorily, as the finding of human bones in such a place would at all events give rise to the supposition that some unaccountable termination had occurred to some human being. The shin-bones, which are in the possession of constable Rochefort, are of unusually large size, and of course are entirely denuded of flesh, as some years must have elapsed since the aboriginal of whom they formed portion closed his earthly career.



While it doesn’t appear that a Coroner’s Report was ever made, it would be interesting to know what became of the human skeletons. I wonder if the relatives and descendants of Mr C.B. Ranclaud, Mr Clark, Constable Smith and Constable Rochefort would have any family information that has passed down through the years. If anyone has further information please get in touch with by leaving a comment on this blog.

It is very important that future developments in the area take note of the site’s history and potential for further archaeological finds.

Gionni Di Gravio
University Archivist
Chair, Coal River Working Party

3 thoughts on “Aboriginal Burial Ground Discovered on Parry Street

  1. Another good piece of collaborative research by the Coal River ‘mob’. I hope some more info comes to light and lets hope that ‘the authorities’ had the decency to give the remains a respectful burial.

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