Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) Survey Results

At the AGM of Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association in February 2020, Dr Ian Moffat, Senior Research Fellow in Archaeological Science from Flinders University made a presentation of his findings to the Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association.

He confidently reported that he has discovered 47 unmarked graves.

This is a significant finding. For many years there was much speculation as to how many people were buried in South Australia’s first cemetery. It would now seem that along with the known graves, there are at least 70 people buried there between 1836 and 1889 when the new cemetery was established.

The survey was carried out on a cold wet day, and a small muddy corner of the cemetery could not be mapped. Dr Moffatt said that he doubts whether this would alter the total.

However he suggests that there could be more if there were multiple burials in the same plot, which was a common practice. He also said that infants who would have been buried in small graves would not be picked up in the survey.

“What is interesting is the general alignment of the graves, with clear pathways, which indicates an ordered management of the cemetery”, said Anthea Taylor who was present when the survey was undertaken in May 2019, “although it was not very well managed in its last years.”

“The last burial in the old cemetery was May 1881, the same year that the new cemetery was surveyed. The Pioneer Cemetery land was transferred from the SA Company to the Crown in 1883 and in 1889 the current Cemetery Reserve was dedicated and placed under control of the District Council of Kingscote."

“The reason for the large number of unmarked graves in the old cemetery is probably that memorial headstones would have been a rarity at that time on the island, and that most of the graves would have been marked by cairns of stones, or wooden crosses.”

In reply to being asked whether graves might have been found outside the existing fence, Dr Moffat stated “Most unmarked graves are on the eastern portion of the site inside the fence. No unmarked graves are in the south-west quadrant or outside of the fence on the east side”.

The Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association now plan to erect an explanatory sign at the entrance to the historic cemetery, to incorporate the GPR map, and a list of people who died at about that time and who are possibly buried there.

Grant received from History Trust of SA for the mapping of the Pioneer Historical Cemetery

The Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association is pleased to announce that it has received a grant to undertake ground penetrating radar (GPR) mapping of the Pioneer Historical Cemetery (Reeves Point) in 2019. The project will be run in conjunction with Flinders University, led by Dr Ian Moffat, Research Fellow in Archaeological Science. Dr Moffat is currently at Cambridge University in the UK.

With the advent of new GPR technology, the Association now believes it may be possible to map the physical extent of the cemetery and also confirm the number of graves used from 1836 until the commencement of the new Kingscote Cemetery. All the graves, markers and plaques will remain undisturbed by this process.

The Association believes that this project will add to a greater understanding of the early history of South Australia and its first cemetery.

See The Islander article with three images.

See Video of the mapping