wc1_stonemason2 - Teaching Heritage

stonemason’s perspective on Rookwood Cemetery
David Clark Sites and Scenes 1999
My name is David Clark. I am a tenth generation monumental mason. I can carve
headstones and monuments. The art of the stonemason is passed down from generation to
generation in the family. Just as it was traditional in England. But I’m not as skilled as
the early craftsmen. This is what they call a “dying art”.
My ancestor, Robert Clark, established his stoneyard beside Rookwood Necropolis in
1890. Before he set up his own business in 1890, he worked with a guy called Conroy, Ed
Conroy. Robert Clark did all sorts of monumental work. He used marble, granite and
sandstone for his headstones. His yard contained many examples of his work. Visitors
could look at his work as they walked to the cemetery. Many examples of my ancestor’s
work can be found in Rookwood Cemetery.
The golden age of the mason’s art came with the spread of wealth and literacy in the midnineteenth century. The plain, modest style of earlier tombstones was replaced by the
more ornate, grand works of monumental masons.
Many of the monuments were finely carved, with lots of symbolism. You can see lots of
symbolism when walking around Rookwood. Doves, ivy, urns. They all meant something
to the Victorian people. Today people only really guess what they mean. Well, I can tell
you a few. Anchors were for hope. Poppies represented sleep and remembrance. Angels
were associated with heaven. The thistle, now, it was a symbol of national origin. Many
Scottish people have a thistle carved on their headstone. Merv Manning — he was a
manager in the Independent Cemetery at Rookwood. He could tell you more about
Like I said, this is a “dying art”. The carving techniques have changed or been lost. My
ancestor, Robert, he did everything by hand, cutting all the stone and the lettering for the
inscription. Alby Duncan — he’s an old monumental mason — he could tell you more
about the methods. The monuments reflect a high level of craftsmanship. Rookwood
Necropolis has many fine examples of headstones, the best collection in Australia! It
could never be replaced. The monuments reflect social attitudes to death and fashions in
funerary ornamentation since 1867. Many of these monuments are of outstanding
aesthetic quality.
Take, for example, the grave of John Ross Logan, is an outstanding example of how
monumental masons adapted monuments to the requirements of individuals. A tram has
been carved on this sandstone headstone to illustrate how Logan was accidentally killed.
There was a monument in the Roman Catholic section that was very ornate. It had lots of
symbolism. Job Hanson carved it in marble. He had a big yard in Elizabeth Street. It was
about double the size of my ancestor’s. He made many of the monuments in the late
nineteenth century. Hanson won 1st prize at an exhibition for this monument. No-one
could carve a monument like that today. And the symbolism, well... The cross is a
symbol of faith. You’ve got the crown of righteousness, a symbol of Victory. Behind it
are the sun’s rays. Now that probably represents a new day, like the Resurrection. The
hand — the right hand of God — is pointing upwards to heaven. The hand is also holding
some shamrocks. This is usually a symbol of national origin, indicating the deceased was
The draped urn on a pedestal was a common style of monument. The urn referred to the
cinerary urn of the ancient Romans where cremated ashes were placed. The drapery
symbolised mourning on the pedestal there are down turned torches. They symbolise a
life extinguished. The wreath represented triumph over death.
Today no one has monuments like this. They all get shot into space. Well, I think it’s a
shame really. Nothing can replace these monuments. They’re special. Very special.