Gore Hill Memorial Cemetery, St. Leonards, NSW.

By Ms Christine Christine Harris

Spring FlowersI may be biased, but I believe the best time to visit Gore Hill Cemetery is in late Spring when the wild flowers are running riot and colour is everywhere.  This was the sight that greeted me when I walked through the gates on Westbourne Street, St Leonards (turn right off the highway if you are driving north from the city).  Of course, this wonderful display would have been enhanced by what was the wettest Winter/Spring in Sydney's history, but I prefer to believe that it always looks like a dreamscape.

A central walk bisects the cemetery and there is an overwhelming sense of peace and tranquillity that belies its location right beside the constantly jammed and noisy Pacific Highway.  Mature trees and shrubs line the walkways and surround the area.  And everywhere there are flowers. Located in St Leonards and adjacent to the Royal North Shore Hospital, the cemetery occupies an area of 5.81 hectares and was originally laid out as a formal Victorian/Edwardian garden. It now provides a relaxing and reflective space. 

Nature is making itself feltA newspaper report from 2015 tells us "Once the burial ground of the elite, one of Sydney's oldest and most historic cemeteries has fallen into a sad state of disrepair."   Yes, I saw lots of undergrowth and nature taking hold, but I did not get a sense of a "shocking state of neglect".  What I saw was a place that is loved and cared for by some very dedicated people.

Sydney's first official cemetery was the Old Sydney Burial Ground.  It was first in use in the 1790s and is now under the Sydney Town Hall and St Andrews Cathedral and School.  The Devonshire Street Cemetery, which was in use between 1820 and 1867, was cleared in 1901 to make way for Central Station.  Some of the bodies and their headstones from both of these lost cemeteries were moved to other metropolitan cemeteries including Gore Hill.

PeaceGore Hill Memorial Cemetery is one of the oldest and largest cemeteries remaining in metropolitan Sydney and is currently administered by Northern Cemeteries Trust, a not for profit organisation that includes Macquarie Park, Frenchs Forest, and Field of Mars in Sydney and Sandgate in Newcastle as well as Gore Hill. The cemetery was established on 19 May 1868 by New South Wales politician William Tunks, who is buried in the cemetery. The first interment was in 1877, and, by the time it was closed in 1974, approximately 14,450 burials took place mostly between 1900 and 1930.

The Friends of Gore Hill Cemetery was established shortly after the announcement was made, in 1975 by the government of the day, that the Gore Hill Memorial Cemetery was to be demolished and the land dedicated as a public park. A public meeting was held in September of that year to gauge the level of support that existed to mount an opposition to the proposal. The decision of the meeting was overwhelming in its desire to oppose the planned destruction of the cemetery, and a steering committee was elected. The committee was charged with the primary objective of formulating a strategy and plan of management that would see the cemetery remain in its current form.DSC07416

Many of the pioneers of Sydney’s north shore are buried in this cemetery. There is a monument to Saint Mary MacKillop who was originally interred here from 1909 although, once she was beatified (1914), her remains were moved to a purpose-built chapel in North Sydney.

Dr Archibald McLeanMany politicians, including members of Australia's very first parliament such as Alfred Conroy and Harrie Dalrymple Wood, sportsmen - Dave Gregory (first Australian test captain in 1877), scientists such as Diedrich Henne, and business tycoons, Anthony Hordern and William Wardell, are interred at Gore Hill. There's even an Antarctic Explorer!  Dr Archibald McLean was the chief medical officer accompanying Sir Douglas Mawson on his expedition to the South Pole between 1911 and 1914.

The biggest funeral held at Crow's Nest was that of Bernard Kieran who died much too young in 1905 from a ruptured appendix.  30,000 people are reported to have mourned the 19-year-old world champion swimmer who held world records in all distances from 25 yards right up to the mile.  His memorial is one of the most impressive in the cemetery and readsBernard Kieran "In Loving Memory of Bernard Bede Kieran. Died 22nd December 1905. Aged 19 years. R.I.P. Erected by the public as a tribute to the late champion swimmer of the world.  He won his laurels by courage, self denial, and patient effort.  His achievements and manly qualities will long be remembered in this, and other countries in which his victories were gained."

This is not a big cemetery.  You can easily walk around it in a couple of hours.  But don't rush.  Take a thermos and a sandwich - there are plenty of shady places to sit and enjoy the serenity. Don't forget to take your camera and a note book.

Although the last burial took place in 1974 the cemetery is still open to accommodate ashes into private family graves and in the columbarium which was rebuilt in 2017 following a fire. Gore Hill Memorial Cemetery, as it is formally known, was established as a historic site with the Gore Hill Memorial Cemetery Act in 1986 and was given State Heritage status in 2001.


image-20230218153831-1Gore Hill Memorial Cemetery is located right next door to the Royal North Shore Hospital on the Princes' Highway in St Leonards.  There are some parking bays in Westbourne Street and on the occasions I visited I had no problem finding space, but there is a fee - of course there is, this is Sydney after all!

By Car : It is 11Km from the City via the M1 or the Bradfield Highway.  

By Bus : take the 115, 291, 254, 320 or 252 

By Train : Take the T1 

By Ferry : Take the F4 to McMahons Point and then pick up the 254 or 291 Bus






Posted by Anne Giles, 01/03/2023 12:02:48 pm

A very interesting read, thank you. Looking forward to the next cemetery!

Posted by Edwina Shooter, 01/03/2023 8:28:45 pm

An interesting look at a cemetery and its history. I enjoyed the read on this area although it is not related to any of my interests .

Posted by Maxine Dahlstrom, 06/03/2023 12:25:19 am

@Maxine Dahlstrom, It's not related to any of mine either, but it was certainly worth a visit.

Posted by Christine Harris, 06/03/2023 1:21:13 am

You need to login to make a comment.