Flu pandemic victims buried at Karori Cemetery to be researched

People can meet at the Karori Cemetery to help volunteer. Photo/file
People can meet at the Karori Cemetery to help volunteer. Photo/file

A project at a Wellington cemetery to tidy graves and research the lives of the 1918 influenza pandemic victims buried there begins this month.

The project at the Karori Cemetery aims to progressively clear and clean the main burial sites for greater public access, while local genealogists research the lives and family circumstances of at least 75 people who died.

The results of the research will appear on a community website dedicated to the victims buried at the cemetery.

Between October and December 1918 a lethal influenza pandemic killed about 8600 people throughout New Zealand. This was about half as many New Zealanders as had been killed during the whole of World War I.

In the Wellington area the death rate was highest at the military camp at Trentham, described as "by far the most dangerous place to be in 1918". And at least 720 of those who succumbed to influenza in Wellington were buried at Karori.

"All burials were in individual plots," said project coordinator and local resident Barbara Mulligan. "A few people were interred in previously purchased family plots, but many graves were dug in contiguous areas of the cemetery, the location of these conforming to religious affiliation."

As well as looking for volunteers to help, Mulligan said they want to identify descendants of flu victims buried at the cemetery.

"We'd love to find living relatives who would be keen to help out with our research. In return, they might discover some fascinating family history, which we can sometimes help contextualise by providing additional information on occupations, war service and number of family members affected."

The first volunteer working bee is scheduled for Sunday, November 13. Anyone interested in volunteering should contact Mulligan or turn up on the day at the Main Chapel, Karori Cemetery, Rosehaugh Ave at 2pm.

"Some of the local community groups are helping out but we'd love to hear from anyone else who'd like to get their hands dirty while learning a bit about the city's history."

The project's completion will coincide with the centenary of the Armistice of WWI on November 11, 2018.

• Mulligan can be emailed at flu1918karori@gmail.com

- NZ Herald

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