Cemeteries are not everyone’s thing, understandably, but Brisbane’s Toowong Cemetery is one that’s worthy of your time. The cemetery is one of the most beautiful places in Brisbane, being a 44-hectare, undulating heritage park filled with trees and of course, graves. It’s also a wonderful place to walk your dog in the afternoon or morning light, and it offers much in the way of history, interesting stories and more than the odd Brisbane mystery.
Here are 7 reasons to visit Toowong Cemetery.
Since I’ve just discovered this nearby dog-walking sanctuary, I’ve been here three times in the past week. Taking your dog here is a good excuse to wander around the park’s hills, beneath the tunnels of trees and discover Brisbane’s interesting history. My dog seems to love it. Of course all the doggie deets are above, and since the park closes at 6 pm, I love a sunset walk.
Discover Brisbane’s history
Toowong Cemetery opened in 1875 and currently takes no more occupants, unless you’ve got family already interred within the grounds. So, the history within the grounds is basically contained within the last 150 years. I was just there this afternoon, and my friend curiously remarked there are also quite a few inhabitants of Irish descent who were involved in politics buried within the grounds.
Some of Brisbane’s famous occupants include The Petrie Family, after which Petrie Terrace was named. This includes John Petrie, who was Brisbane’s first mayor. Other occupants include former Australian Prime Minister Francis Forde, former Australian Cricket Captain Percy McDonnell and Australian author Arthur Hoey David, otherwise known as ‘Steele Rudd’, amongst many, many others.
There’s also the Paddington Memorial that tells you 394 individuals, who were previously buried beneath Suncorp Stadium (formerly Paddington Cemetery), were moved and buried beneath the Paddington Memorial. I bet there’s another Brisbane mystery hidden somewhere within there too…
Read the epitaphs and admire the handiwork
I realise it’s a bit personal, poking your nose about other people’s graves, but if you do so respectfully, I don’t see the harm. Additionally, I’m not going to talk about any specific graves here, but I’ll mention an epitaph that caught my eye. “His life was gentle and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up to all the world and say, that was a man!”
There are so many epitaphs within the ground, it makes for good reading! Other graves called their inhabitants, ‘life enthusiasts’ and ‘infamous’. To me, Toowong Cemetery is even more interesting than the state library.
Enjoy the strange and beautiful views of the city
When I say strange, I mean the juxtaposition between the old and the new, life and death, the roar and the silence. The scene makes for an interesting spot to sit, enjoy the view and just ponder…
To follow the trail of a Brisbane Mystery
I was first drawn to Toowong Cemetery back in 2014, following the trail of a well-known mystery that may surprise a few: the possibility that Jack the Ripper is buried in Toowong Cemetery. This is based on the following information:
- There’s a man buried in Toowong Cemetery known as ‘Walter Porriott’, who lived in London at the time of the murders.
- Porriott was known to set sail for Australia on the same day the fifth and final prostitute was killed.
- A grainy image of a caped man raising a dagger was depicted on Porriott’s grave before it was desecrated.
- Porriott was a misogynist who particularly hated prostitutes.
- Porriott was also a convicted murderer, having spent 10 years in jail for killing a woman after posing as a gynaecologist.
While the story is based on a lot of supposition and is dismissed by many historians, there are a few keen ‘Ripperologists’ who believe this is his final resting place.
After writing about the story nearly 10 years ago, I returned just last week to Walter Porriott’s grave, marked only by the words ‘”Bessie”, died 25th June 1957 and her husband’. Porriott’s name is not even mentioned and it appears he found a faithful follower to the last. See my TikTok at the end for more.
To admire the atmosphere
Toowong Cemetery is a hauntingly beautiful place, full of hills, shadows, tunnels of trees, long grass and small meadows. Combined with the Gothic-like tombstones, rusted gates and tall pillars, it’s a delight for photographers, dreamers, writers and lovers of a good old Brisbane mystery.
To be grateful
Another reason I love wandering through Toowong Cemetery – and cemeteries in general – is that they help pull your head out of the bucket to think about what’s going on right now. Life. Cemeteries are a reminder that we’re all going to die and what we’re experiencing, in the short time we have, is pretty damn special. Walking past the graves of the young might help spark that too.
A few fast facts
- Approximately 120,000 people are buried in Toowong Cemetery in roughly 46,000 graves. So there’s quite a bit of stacking and sharing, particularly with families.
- Toowong Cemetery is approximately 15 minutes drive from the city. There are also buses that will drop you there, which take about 30 minutes.
- There are groundskeepers that can help you locate graves during the day.
- You can download self-guided walks and a map of the cemetery here.
- You can also go on a ghost tour of the cemetery on Friday and Saturday evenings.