Purnim Cemetery




The small township of Purnim is approximately 18 kilometres to the north-east of Warrnambool on the Warrnambool to Mortlake Road. By 1879 a small parcel of land licensed to Martin McMahon was set aside for a cemetery. The land consisted of 4 acres, 3 roods and 39 perches and was gazetted as a cemetery on the 28 th March 1879 (VGG 1879/675).

In 1882, five trustees were appointed for the cemetery (VGG 1882) and were:

  • Bernard Kavenagh,
  • Donald Campbell,
  • Henry Phillips,
  • John Page,
  • William Goodall;

and, on 21 June, 1913 the Trustees were:

  • Donald Campbell- Presbyterian,
  • Bernard Kavenagh- Roman catholic,
  • John Duncan McKenzie- Presbyterian,
  • Thomas Joseph Kelly- Roman Catholic,
  • Michael Kelly- Roman Catholic.

Donald Campbell was Secretary of the Purnim Cemetery Trust at the time, with Donald Kavenagh being noted as being deceased.

In August 1890 the annual return from the cemetery trust noted that there had been no burials in the cemetery and there had only been one meeting of four trustees in the year. It also noted that the cemetery was partly enclosed with a picket fence. The cemetery had been divided into five sections – Baptist, Church of England, Wesleyan, Roman Catholic and Presbyterian. The cemetery was partly enclosed with a picket fence.

By December, 1939 there was only one trustees in place for the cemetery and that was Michael Kelly. There was a reference in a report to there being only one burial in the cemetery and that was for a Harris child who died in the early 1900s. It noted that this grave was still there and enclosed by a picket fence in a central position at the cemetery.

In the early 1950s it was felt that the cemetery had not been in use, but over the years it had been used for grazing animals and the cemetery should be revoked and the land used for a recreation reserve. Following discussion with the Department of Health it was decided that in order for the cemetery land to be revoked, the body of the Harris child would need to be reinterred at the Warrnambool Cemetery. A check was made to try to contact the next of kin for the Harris child, but they could not be identified and hence contacted. The Harris child was then reinterred and the cemetery was revoked on 22 February, 1956. By 1962 the Cemetery Trust was wound up.

Further research identified the child buried at the Purnim Cemetery. He was:

  • Denis Duncan HARRIS aged: 2 years and 10 months.
  • He died 22 May, 1900 at Purnim from “ having his clothes become ignited by being too close to the fire ”.
  • There was an inquest into his death.
  • His parents were Archibald Harris and Ellen Winifred (Brennan).
  • He was buried on 25 May, 1900 at Purnim Cemetery.
  • He had been born in Purnim and lived all his short life there.

A further check with the Cemetery Trust at the Warrnambool Cemetery noted “Child Harris” had been reinterred at the cemetery as follows:

  • Reinterred from Purnim Cemetery on 30 May, 1955.
  • Buried in- Grave: 1, Row: 3, Independent Section.
  • There is no one else in the grave.

One final step needed before the cemetery could be revoked was to identify if there had been issued by the Trust, any “ Rights of Burial ” to any other people but it was noted that they had been none. In April 1954, there were three trustees for the cemetery: Thomas McNamara; George Woolley; Ken Robinson, all farmers living at Purnim.

The status and use of the cemetery land is currently unknown. It is believed to be located on the Bryan Olynn Road, off the Hopkins Highway. So it would appear that the cemetery had been used, but only for the one burial. A further check noted that there was no other Harris family member buried in the cemetery.


  • Department of Human Services Cemeteries Division: Purnim Public Cemetery (Site Revoked) –1889 to 1962; File: H-CEM-405.
  • Department of Sustainability and Environment, Historic Places Section: Purnim Cemetery – Cemetery Datasheet and Cadastral Plan.
  • Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages: death certificate.
David Weatherill
Email: djweath@bigpond.net.au
Bundoora, Victoria, Australia

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