Grave robbers from a century ago have impacted on Ipswich City Council plans to rehabilitate an underground crypt belonging to a member of Queensland’s first Parliament.
University of Southern Queensland archaeologists began working at the Ipswich General Cemetery site last October and had found the bones of the region’s first state politician, Joseph Fleming and his wife Phoebe.
They also found remains believed to belong to their daughter, Caroline Smith (nee Fleming) who died in 1875, aged 30 years, from measles. It could be confirmed in the near future.
However, the paucity of burial accoutrements suggested the crypt was robbed shortly after Joseph Fleming was interred in 1891.
“There was a financial depression in 1892 and this probably was the catalyst for the robbing of the crypt,” a council spokesman said.
USQ teams expected to find clothing remnants, boots, belts, buttons and personal items that would have been buried with the deceased.
The only items found were two wedding bands, one ceramic button, one badly corroded bone hair comb, coffin handles for three coffins, coffin nails and remnant metal coffin embossing.
“The narrow gold bands probably came from Caroline Smith, with one being larger than the other suggesting it was handed down from Phoebe and worn by Caroline with her own band,” the spokesman said.
“The gold is 19.4 karat and the bands have a hallmark. But the Jewellers Association of Australia did not have a record of the mark.
“USQ believe the bands came from Sydney and may have come from a start-up manufacturing Jeweller. USQ have taken the rings to Sydney and have canvassed older jewellery houses with no result.”
Council discovered the location of the underground crypt in 2017. It was known that circa 1997 the crypt roof partially collapsed and the crypt was filled in with soil and covered over for public safety.
The crypt is the final resting place of Mr Joseph Fleming and Mrs Phoebe Fleming. He was a member of the first Queensland Parliament, representing West Moreton from 9 July 1860 until 3 November 1862 and again from 11 September 1866 until 2 July 1867.
Born in NSW in 1811, Joseph Fleming settled in Queensland in 1848. In September 1850 at Ipswich he bought town lots to establish a boiling-down works, sawmill and flour-mill located at Bundamba on the river. He was also a partner in the steamer “Bremer” trading to Brisbane. He died in Ipswich in 1891, while Mrs Fleming died in 1853.
USQ Professor Bryce Barker and his team found remains scattered over the crypt floor. They were surprised by the extent of damage inside – however the grave robbery would perhaps explain some of what happened more than a century ago.
“The remains of the Flemings were taken to the USQ Archaeology labs where Honours Student Lawson Rennie, under the supervision of Professor Barker, catalogued and separated the skeletal remains into their right groups,” the spokesman said.
“It is intended these will be formally handed over to L R Thomas Funeral Directors in the second week of March, where they will be stored securely at the funeral home until reinterment.
“It is intended that the remains will be placed in an ossuary box (a box that holds bones) inside the coffins that will be custom manufactured by council, if possible, but if not by a local cabinet maker. We are still trying to establish what designs would have been used for the Fleming burials.”
Classical Stone Australia has taken over the site and commenced repairs to the crypt.
“The repairs will consist of making good the damage done by filling the crypt in with a backhoe, repointing stones with traditional style lime mortar and creating a new roof.
“Unfortunately the poor stone used in the construction and the poor construction methods mean that full restoration cannot be achieved without rebuilding the crypt from the ground up and that does not fit with our desire to keep it original.”
Allowing for appropriate repairs to be completed, council is planning for a June 2019 reinterment and sealing of the crypt.
It is hoped a documentary film produced by USQ will be finalised with post production editing and cutting and a virtual reality tour completed at the completion of the project.
“The project partners including the USQ School of Archaeology and Film and Television School, LR Thomas Funeral Directors and Classical Stone Australia have provided their expertise and work at no cost and have held to the highest standard of giving back to their community,” the council spokesman said.