Penrith General Cemetery history

Little Doris and the saga of Penrith Cemetery

The need for a general cemetery close to Penrith had been discussed since the early 1880s. Small church cemeteries like St Stephens at Penrith were no longer suitable burial places for an increasingly diverse population.

Both Emu Plains (1863) and St Marys (1881) had general cemeteries and denominations in Penrith, other than Church of England were forced to transport their dearly departed to the outskirts of Penrith, to Emu Plains, Jamisontown or Castlereagh. In response, in December 1883 the district surveyor W.B. Greaves, along with the Mayor George Besley, T.R. Smith MLA, Alderman Smeaton, and Council Clerk Robert Stuart investigated two possible sites at Kingswood, one in the new Penrithville subdivision (outside the municipality), and the other near the old hospital on Phillip Gidley King’s property and within the Penrith municipality. In 1884, after King’s property was considered too expensive, the Government purchased ten and a half acres from Mr. Seamer at Penrithville, south of the Great Western Road, but outside the Penrith Council municipality.

Amended plan of Penrithville, Cross Roads Station, 1881.

The problem with the suitability of this site was Penrith Council’s procrastination and when the St Marys municipality was created in 1890, they vigorously opposed a cemetery for Penrith in their council area. Years passed and all the while St Marys Council protested. Other possible cemetery sites, such as land adjoining Sir John Jamison’s old cemetery at Jamisontown on the York Estate, was rejected as it was too near a creek. The growing population feared their drinking water would be polluted. The old Castlereagh cemetery site was considered too far for poor families to transport their dead. Some, like Alderman Robert Stuart and businessman James Noble, favoured cremation. Opposition to the Penrithville site continued unabated and by 1900 local church cemeteries were to be closed to future burials.

By July 1900, the decision had been made to resume P.G. King’s land at Kingswood, north of the railway line, for a general cemetery. It was also located within the Penrith municipality. Another three years would pass by before the fifteen-acre cemetery was gazetted in September 1903.The area was surveyed the next month. The first meeting of trustees for all of the denominations was held on 7 July 1907. The following two years saw them prepare the land, fence the area, put up gates and roads were laid down. The Nepean Times reported in its 15 January 1909 issue that ‘After some eighteen years agitation by the municipal council, the various members of the district, and continued complaints by the public, Penrith can at last say that it possesses a real general cemetery’. The cemetery was expected to be sufficient for 100 years.

Penrith General Cemetery
Penrith General Cemetery, surveyed 21 October 1903

The first burial took place on 16 August 1910. Five-year-old Doris Vivian was known as the youngest child of Kingswood Public School’s headmaster, John Vivian and his wife Sarah Jane Vivian. The family had moved to Kingwood when Vivian was transferred to Kingswood in 1903. His wife, Sarah Jane Simonson, whom he had married in 1881 at Cooma, had given birth to a son at Adelong around the time of their move to Kingswood. Another son, Hector, was training as a teacher and a daughter, thirteen year old Hilda, who was born in Temora, was living at home with them.

Doris was born on 27 July 1905 at the Royal Women’s Hospital at 101 Glenmore Road, Paddington. Her mother was fifteen-year-old Hilda Vivian of Penrith. A four-acre estate in Glenmore Road, Paddington, known as Flinton, had been purchased by the Benevolent Society in 1901 for the establishment of a new lying-in hospital for women.

Flinton, later to become Royal Women’s Hospital, Paddington.

Witnessing the birth was Barbara Hay and Dr. Constance D’Arcy, the accoucheur. Constance D’Arcy, a distinguished obstetrician and gynaecologist, was committed to lowering the maternal mortality rate. She was made Dame of the Order of the British Empire in 1935 for services to the welfare of children. The Pope also honoured her with the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice in 1940.

Hilda and baby Doris returned to Penrith, where Doris was raised as the child of Hilda’s parents. Doris was described in her obituary as a ‘bright, healthy and lovable child … the once little local favorite’. On 28 June 1908, eighteen year-old Hilda, who was living with her parents, married accountant Robert Redpath Spratt at St Stephens Church. They lived in Kingswood for a few years where two children were born. James Hector was born in February 1909 and at the time of Doris’s death, Hilda was five months pregnant with her second child, Vivien May born December 1910.

On 15 August 1910, Doris, who had been ill for three days was diagnosed by Dr Higgins to be suffering from diphtheria. Doctor’s attending people suffering from infectious diseases, like diphtheria, scarlet fever and typhoid fever were required under the Public Health Act to inform the Council who kept an Infectious Diseases Register. In 1910, diphtheria cases were more prevalent than any other notifiable disease.

Doris was immediately admitted to Nepean Cottage Hospital, but died there six hours later. Arrangements were made with Mrs John Price for Doris to be buried the following day in the new Penrith General Cemetery. One can only imagine what this must have felt like, a lonely fifteen acres of cleared land in the bush on the outskirts of Penrith. Richard Green was the informant on Doris’s death certificate and he indicated John and Sarah Vivian were Doris’s parents.

On 16 August 1910, school children from Kingswood Public School, headed her funeral procession, all carrying floral tributes. At the cemetery, four senior boys from the school, Henry Budge, C. Mallard, C. Giles and Arthur Millen carried her coffin to the gravesite. Thirty wreaths rested by the grave beside loving tokens of affection. She is buried in Row B Plot 1.

John Vivian thoroughly disinfected and fumigated his school rooms and house on Monday and again on Wednesday. Dr Higgins gave him permission to re-open his school after the premises had been inspected by the police who were satisfied all precautions had been met. Vivian was then required to visit all the families, some up to two miles from the school to inform them of the recommencement of school on the following Monday.

Well, life went on and as little Doris kept a lonely vigil at the new cemetery, gradually joined by others who had ‘passed to the great majority’, the Vivian family remained living at Kingswood until after the First World War.On 9 April 1911, the two Spratt children were christened at Stephen’s and the family left the district. Two more children were born to them, Norma in 1912 at Burwood and Ronald in 1914 at Annandale.

Hilda’s brother, Harold was at Gallipoli and returned home wounded in December 1915. In 1918 John was transferred to Paterson’s River. He retired to Auburn around 1923 and died there in September 1925. Sarah Jane died in 1952 at North Sydney.

John Vivian
John Vivian and his students at Kingswood Public School. The bigger girl in the back row in a white dress is possibly Hilda Vivian. Circa 1903.

On the morning of 16 August 2010, at a gathering at little Doris’s graveside, her special place in our City’s history was commemorated by the placement of flowers, a prayer for those buried at the Cemetery and the telling of the saga of Penrith General Cemetery. Penrith City Council organised for the grave to be cleaned and a plaque to commemorate the occasion.



  • Nepean Times newspaper
  • Kingswood School Files, SRNSW, 5/16486.2a
  • Register of Notifications of Infectious Disease, Penrith Municipal Council [Held in Special Collections, Local Studies, Penrith City Library]
  • Stacker, Lorraine, Penrith: the makings of a City, Halstead Press, 2014.