Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The Southern Hemisphere’s First Crematorium.

The Southern Hemisphere’s First Crematorium.

Photo note: Crematorium, Adelaide, South Australia. , 1919.Image retrieved through Trove from State Library of New South Wales, digital order number d1_13488,  from http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/36913995
 Adelaide can lay claim to many things, but perhaps one of the least known claims is that of being the home of the first crematorium ever built in the southern hemisphere.
 Located at West Terrace Cemetery, the crematorium was built a decade after the Cremation Bill was passed in Adelaide Parliament, making South Australia the first State in Australia to legalise the procedure.
 The crematorium was designed by architect A. Barham Black and built by Isley and Co. and featured a Chapel measuring 9.75 metres by 5.6 metres, a subterranean furnace room measuring 7 metres by 5.5 metres and single cremation chamber and a chimney in the design of an Italianate bell-tower. The furnace was heated by the use of gas coke and mallee firewood, but in the early days, reaching peak heats that would disintegrate the entire body and bones was hard to achieve.
The Crematorium used dead animals, such as sheep, to practice upon to make sure they got their temperature high enough, and their procedures right.
The first human cremation in the newly built crematorium happened in May 1903, upon the remains of Bishin Singh, a local Sikh businessman on Hindley Street.
 Being the first Sikh to die in South Australia, debate erupted in regards to the fact, that a Sikh, who follows the laws of Brahmanism, may not get his spiritual and funeral rites met to his families, and to his own satisfaction.

 A funeral pyre would not be accepted, so the crematorium, even though it didn’t technically meet the funeral rites of the Sikh, was chosen as a substitute. To get around the fact that Mr Singh would not be upon a funeral pyre of wood, as his tradition demands, his remains were placed in a wooden coffin shell.
Adelaide Crematorium c.1919, West Terrace Cemetery - photo: History SA
 The cremation attracted the local media and curious onlookers, with one woman stating she had come to “see him burnt”. An estimated 200 people gathered at the chapel.
 The body was taken into the furnace room by 6 of Mr Singh’s family and countrymen, and placed atop a grate, that had a long chain attached, that would soon pull his remains in to the cremation chamber.
After a number of prayers, the coffin, draped in white, was slowly pulled in towards the chamber.
  As the body ignited, some dignitaries and 16 of the Sikh’s were allowed to watch the remains of Mr Sigh burn in the chamber through an aperture in the furnace door.

 It took over an hour for Mr Singh’s remains to be totally consumed by the flames, not before the witnesses saw his fleshless skeleton laying in the flames.
 In its early days the crematorium saw barely any use, but soon it became popular, and before its closing in 1959, after 56 years of operation, it was used to cremate the remains of 4762 people.
 The building was demolished in 1969, however, in recent times, work had begun by archaeologists to try and recover and preserve what remains of the foundations of the building operate in 1959 and was demolished in 1969.
During the crematorium's 56 years of operation, 4762 cremations took place.

In 2005, Justin McCarthy of Austral Archaeology began an archaeological excavation of the site. It was established that during the deconstruction of the original building, the furnace, which was a basement like structure, was intact, and had only been back-filled with rubble.

Inside the furnace relics were found, including bricks, mallee wood, linoleum, building debris, scraps of metal and a damper for the chimney. The bricks were marked with the original manufacturers stamp, allowing the year of production to be identified.
The artifacts are now held by the West Terrace Cemetery Authority.