Search for state secrets hidden in buried Ipswich crypt

Digging has started at Ipswich General Cemetery as part of remediation work on an underground crypt containing the coffin of a member of Queensland’s first Parliament in 1860

Ipswich City Council, in partnership with the University of Southern Queensland, is trying to uncover the secrets of one of the State’s first politicians, Joseph Fleming.

Details of the significant find were first revealed by council in December 2017 and investigations began to determine if it was possible to carry out the archaeological dig safely and inexpensively, and to restore the site for heritage purposes.

It is the final resting place of Joseph Fleming and his wife Phoebe Fleming. Mr Fleming 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.

USQ Professor Bryce Barker and council staff are supervising the dig, which began today with a small excavator and will ultimately progress to archaeology students on their hands and knees scraping the dirt away with small tools.

Ground-penetrating radar had pinpointed the site (further to the east and closer to Cemetery Rd than originally thought) and digging started after some initial preparation work.

“What we’ve found is a raised area which gives us an indication of where the crypt was. We will gently take off the top soil and come down on the core features, on the collapsed part of the top of the crypt,” Prof Barker said.

“We have come across some big pieces of dressed stone which is indicative of some kind of crypt structure. What we are trying to find is the outline of the crypt. We want to come down on a wall that is still intact to some extent, follow that along with our excavation and find a right angle at the end and an outline of the crypt itself. But at the moment, we are just getting this rubble and stone.”

The project will be delivered using six key phases:

1.             Excavation of the Crypt: The collapsed crypt must be uncovered using archaeological techniques to preserve the site heritage value and to identify location data for the stone blocks to assist reconstruction.

2.             Remove Remains: This is a sensitive phase of the project and will entail the careful removal of human remains and remains of coffins. A local funeral director and the archaeology team will be responsible for this process with remains to be held by the partner funeral director.

3.             Rebuilding of the Crypt: A local company has volunteered time and expertise to the rebuilding of the crypt. The lead stonemason has experience in major heritage projects including Anzac Square in Brisbane and major cathedral works in Brisbane and Rockhampton.

4.             Reinterment of Fleming Remains: The remains of Joseph and Phoebe Fleming in new hardwood coffins will be reinterred with appropriate ceremony and sensitivity.

5.             Crypt Overfill: The crypt exterior will be backfilled and turfed with a small plaque on a concrete desk placed to mark the location. The stairs and access point will be blocked with a removable barrier and filled in to present an entrance that could be made viable with small effort.

6.             Documentary Film: The documentary film produced by USQ will be finalised with post production editing and cutting and the virtual reality tour will be completed.

Council believes there will be enormous benefits to the community, including preserving a rare crypt, its funerary art and stonemason work, and to provide a virtual reality experience “for current and future generations without disturbing the deceased”.

Progress of the crypt remediation will be documented over time on council’s website

(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. He was also a partner in the steamer Bremer trading to Brisbane. After his political career ended, Mr Fleming was a store-keeper in Ipswich and Roma. He died in Ipswich in 1891. He had nine children with his wife, who died in 1851).

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