Remembering the forgotten

Elizabeth Carroll’s unmarked grave between ‘Little’ Doris Chainey and Annie Forbes at Hautapu Cemetery. Photo: Mary Anne Gill

Anyone who has watched television programmes where people retrace their family history will know it can be a fraught experience.

Tragic stories of babies born out of wedlock, lives lost far too young, injustices and bad luck.

Two recent experiences where I have gone in search of information from the past have upset me and it is because seemingly the lives of three women meant nothing to their families, one of them mine.

They lay in “unmarked graves” a phrase which can mean so much but reveal so little.

When there is an unmarked grave in a public cemetery, it can either be because of widespread disease or war, the person was not worthy of commemoration, the family couldn’t afford or bother to get a memorial headstone or plaque – or if there was one it has been damaged and no one is around to replace it.

A few weeks ago, for a story about the Masonic Hotel, I went searching for the grave of Elizabeth Carroll, 40, the wife of William Carroll, who died on 2 June 1899, 18 days after her husband brutally assaulted her.

A search of Waipā District Council’s excellent cemetery database showed she was buried on 4 June 1899 and lay in plot 251, row N and block E2 of Hautapu Cemetery. When I cycled out there, as Cyclone Gabrielle brewed in the distance, I found an unmarked grave.

The newspaper coverage of her death said she had been under the influence of drink at the time of the beating and that they lived unhappily, both in drink and out of drink. He was the publican at the hotel. Medical evidence showed “shocking injuries” to her body and three broken ribs.

Carroll said he had not intended to kill his wife, his lawyer said there was no malice and the charge should be reduced to manslaughter.

It was, and he served 10 years in prison. Nothing more is known of him and he is not buried in any Waipā cemetery.

Elizabeth Carroll has been the forgotten one in all this – lying in an unmarked grave, blamed it seems for her own death because she liked a tipple and argued with her husband.

Read: Tales of court cases and a blaze

Hamilton East Cemetery – where my great and great great grandmothers lie in “unmarked graves”.

Some weeks before I’d gone to the old Hamilton East Cemetery to find the graves of my great and great great grandmothers.

The mother and daughter were both living in Hamilton when they died – Eva, the mother of 11 children, in 1945 aged 78 and Lillian, 11 years later aged 66 and the mother of three children, seven grandchildren and 27 great grandchildren, including me.

Hamilton City Council has a great cemetery database too and armed with a copy of the map on my phone, I went to the cemetery with my two granddaughters to find the graves.

What we found was …… nothing. A bare piece of ground where each woman was buried. No sign there had ever been any memorial stone.

Thanks to, I know something about the women but none of that explains why they have unmarked graves.

We have vowed to place a simple plaque on their graves to at least show their descendants care. Who is going to do that for Elizabeth Carroll?

Mary Anne Gill pictured in front of her great great grandmother’s “unmarked grave”.


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