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MoB Sunday Stories: the Toowong Cemetery

An icon of the south-west suburbs, and sprawling across an amazing 44 hectares, Toowong Cemetery is the biggest cemetery in Queensland.

Established in 1866 under the Cemetery Act, it was a long and bumpy road to fruition, with trial sinkings in December 1870 proving the site to be unsuitable at the outset. However, on the insistence of Queensland’s second governor, Samuel Wensley Blackall, the project continued.

Unfortunately, Blackall did not live to see the completion of the site, and was buried on the highest knoll of the cemetery in January 1871, a full four years before its official opening in 1875. His spectacular memorial is still the most prominent in the cemetery and boasts commanding views of Brisbane’s skyline.

Funeral hearse of T.J. Ryan at Toowong Cemetery 1921. Courtesy Brisbane City Council.
Funeral hearse of T.J. Ryan at Toowong Cemetery 1921. Courtesy Brisbane City Council.

In 1873, the cemetery started to take shape with the addition of a keeper’s lodge, ornamental fencing and a gate, all designed by FDG Stanley.

During this period, six new internments arrived to remedy the lonely condition of Blackall’s grave. Amongst the number was Ann Hill, daughter of Walter Hill, the first superintendent of the Botanical Gardens (who was known to row his boat out of the wharf to trade exotic seeds with visiting ships).

Many other graves of note have since dotted the slopes of Toowong Cemetery including suffragette Emma Miller, Brisbane’s first Lord Mayor John Petrie, former Prime Minister Frank Forde and, most sensationally, Jack the Ripper suspect Walter Thomas Porriot.

However, Porriot’s grave is not the only urban legend that haunts the reputation of the cemetery – stories of phantoms and supernatural phenomena have passed through generations of Brisbane residents. From alleged apparitions of the ghost of boxing legend Peter Jackson, fists akimbo and ready for a final round, to a 19th century vampire beauty who haunts the headstones of Avenue 12, the wild and wonderful tales have been a fixture of slumber party gossip for years.

The most prevalent of all these tales has been the legend of ‘Spook Hill’, a part of the cemetery that contains the graves of two young women tragically killed in a car accident. It is rumoured that if you park your car in neutral at the base of the hill, the car will defy gravity and roll up the hill, pulling you towards their graves. While it has never been satisfactorily proven, it still makes for a good ghost story to share at Halloween.

If you’re looking to discover more stories from Brisbane’s past take a walk through the pages of history with us here.

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Museum of Brisbane respectfully acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Brisbane and surrounding areas, and other First Nation peoples. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

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