Earlier this year I visited Fox Glacier having to ‘do a bit of business’ but as I’m not heavily into ‘business’ that part didn’t take too long and I found I had a few hours spare. What to do? Obviously there is the glacier but each time I go there I tend to be more depressed by the unseemly haste with which the glacier’s charging back up the valley!! I remember where the terminal face was when I first visited in the late 60s but that position is left behind as you continue past to drive to the car-park hundreds of metres away, with a further 300-400 metres on foot to where the face is today!
But there’s a sign-post indicating “Gillespies Beach” is just a few kilometres away across a bush-covered range behind Lake Matheson (where my ‘business’ was completed) so I decided to investigate and took a right turn at the T intersection on the road from Matheson.
The road’s well-formed if a bit windy but if you don’t aspire to being a rally driver or are driving a BIG RIG it’s a pleasant drive of about 9 or 10 kms from the bridge- or 20 from Fox Glacier township.
As you exit from the bush just a short way before the beach, the camping ground and beginnings of walking tracks
there is a signpost for the Gillespies Beach Miners Cemetery. Just 2 minutes? Why not!! (…and if you take your time, or include the time taken parking the car it may take you 2 minutes!!)
The ‘bush’ in the immediate area is low scrub, flax and tea-tree but the track heads towards more established natives…
…and suddenly you are there- no gates, no fences, no fanfare, just a nicely maintained walking track entering a grassy reserve sparsely patterned with a variety of headstones and gravesites, and indeed a few rather suspicious depressions in the ground!
It is a very eclectic collection of graves and possibly points to the mixed fortunes of the people who are buried there. There is a range of graves here, from those with impressive headstones to those with a simple wooden cross or even none, from those with properly formed concrete plots to those with no obvious burial plot ‘construction’ at all.
And who are they and where were they from, these early pioneers? Browsing the headstones in any cemetery never gives us a LOT of information on the person or persons who lie there but in an isolated little cemetery such as this, the community that they established may be pondered on, and the ‘Miners Cemetery’ gives a big clue!
This is the last resting place of James Walsh, a native of County Clare in Ireland. He died in 1889 (aged 60yrs) and his loving wife Ellen erected this headstone to mark his passing. Nearby is this grave-
where are buried father and son, Edward RYAN of Limerick, Ireland who died 22 Aug 1899 (57 yrs), and his son
John Edward RYAN who died in 1902 aged 31.
Among others who are able to be identified from the inscriptions on headstones from Ireland are James O’LEARY a native of Cork in Ireland who died in 1892 (interestingly his headstone was erected by Edward Ryan!!), Annie (d 1894) & her husband John QUINLAN (d 1910), and (I’m taking a guess here) Patrick CARROLL. Patrick, who was the son of Michael Carroll drowned in nearby Cooks River 1890 aged just 17 yrs.
Obviously not all of those buried in this quaint wee sacred place were from Ireland as this headstone attests- Robert Curry McINTOSH was a native of Rothesay in Scotland. Whether Henry MORRISON who died 1911, or Eleanor or Fredrick MEYER who are also buried here are Irish or not isn’t clear…
It is a very peaceful part of New Zealand and can reasonably be thought of as being a little bit of ‘The Emerald Isle’ in far off Aotearoa.
It must be said that this cemetery isn’t all there is to see at Gillespies Beach and spending some time walking the tracks there is rewarding both from a scenic point of view and also for a glimpse into the history of gold mining as well as seeing current operations (assuming the old bugger’s still working his claim- either suction dredging in the lagoon or black sand from the beach.) Or you can just walk along the wonderful seashore filling in time before another one of the magnificent sunsets that can be seen on The Coast!
Enjoy your day.