With the recent anniversary of the signing of the ‘Indenture’ on May 31, 1837 that paved the way for the establishment of the Mildura irrigation settlement − we are reminded of the significance of the Chaffey Brothers to our city.
The anniversary is celebrated annually as Mildura Day, but sadly it was the poor condition of the Chaffey family grave’s headstones at Mildura’s Nichols Point Cemetery was highlighted as Mildura Day came and went.
The historic significance of the graves was underscored when Mildura Rural City Councillor for Arts, Culture and Heritage and Chaffey Trail Inc. chairperson, Mark Eckel and member of the Chaffey Trail Reference Group and owner of Langtree Hall, Barbie Cornell visited the cemetery recently to inspect at close quarters the condition of the graves.
Councillor Eckel said that the Chaffey Brothers graves and their family members were like most of the old graves at the cemetery which are showing their age.
“They have just been left to deteriorate in the elements over many decades,” he said.
“The Chaffey graves are marked as a historical site, and so I think a little bit more attention should be given to the site.
“And not just W.B. Chaffey’s grave, but the other family graves around it too should be restored and maintained.
“I think that it’s something that the Chaffey Trail reference group, now that it is an incorporated body, may be able to look at from a fundraising perspective.
“We don’t have any money of our own as yet, but this is something for the group to look at and consider.”
Cr Eckel added that he is hoping the budget for the new financial year (only a few weeks away) will help as there is a proposed small amount extra for maintenance.
“Council will look into the ground sterilisation further for the weeds to try and get it done at a reasonable price,” Cr Eckel said.
“The cemetery team is passionate and committed, and just needs a few more dollars. Councillors support at budget time would be great.”
There is a walking trail which takes people to the Chaffey graves, which is part of ‘walk five’ of the walking and driving history books of Mildura.
Interestingly, there are cemetery tours conducted in most capital cities, which people find fascinating because of the rich history that exists in them and they are popular tourist destinations.
In Melbourne cemetery tours are conducted and also in Geelong and Ballarat, some of which are done at night.
Apart from William Chaffey there are a number of other family members buried in the cemetery including W.B.’s second wife Harriet Schell.
After W.B.’s first wife died, he married her niece who had the same name − Harriet Schell.
First Harriet and W.B. had four surviving children. Apart from a daughter who moved to Melbourne, the three other sons, Arthur, Karl and Herbert are all buried at Nichols Point, with Karl’s grave being next to W.B.’s and his second wife Harriet’s.
The first Harriet died after giving birth to a boy named Maurice, in 1889.
Maurice died four months after his mother and is buried with her near the Mildura Homestead.
In 1891, W.B. returned California and there he married Harriet’s niece- the second Harriet and they returned to Mildura. The second Harriet and W.B. had another five children, four of whom were surviving.
W.B. and the second Harriet lost one son when the little boy tragically fell into the fountain outside Rio Vista and drowned. It is said that Harriet never recovered from the loss.
This boy is buried, along with one of his sisters and the first Harriet at the Mildura Homestead cemetery. It was the second Harriet who bequeathed Rio Vista to the city of Mildura when she died in 1950 aged 83.
Councillor Eckel said that the cemetery typically has no ownership or responsibility for headstones on graves.
“It is up to families or the right of interment holder to purchase, maintain the grave in terms of cleaning, repairing, re-guilding and so on,” he said.
“That is why there are quite a few damaged monuments particularly in the old section as they deteriorate over time and family members pass on or move away.”