Lyn Williams loves digging up old stories in the Hamilton East Cemetery.

And this weekend, she's looking forward to sharing them to celebrate Cemeteries Week.

"It is a way of telling Hamilton and the Waikato's story," Williams said. "It's the history of the area, represented by who's buried here.

"I have always found cemeteries fascinating. Just the inscriptions found on the headstone, as you might see 'four children died within four months' or something like that - that's always been fascinating."


Williams is hoping she's not the only one with this morbid interest. On Saturday, she hosts a tour of Hamilton East Cemetery.

"The purpose of it is to demystify cemeteries for people and celebrate them as places of social history and heritage importance," Michelle Rivers, Hamilton City Council's Cemeteries Manager, said.

"Cemeteries are often portrayed as spooky or daunting, but the reality is they can be calming, tranquil and informative places," she said.

"Hamilton's two heritage cemeteries are the final resting places of some of our city's historic figures and there are interesting stories behind a lot of the people buried there."

At the Hamilton East Cemetery, a number of important Hamiltonians are laid to rest including:

- Farmer, military-man and early Waikato Councillor William Steele (after whom Steele Park is named)

- Farmer and Methodist preacher James Melville (after whom the city's southwestern suburb is named)

- Councillor, Hospital board member and Harness racing enthusiast Henry Tristram (after whom Tristram St is named).


Williams has spent more than a decade researching and writing about Hamilton's dead. People such as an elderly farmer called Cliff.

"He got ploughed to death," Williams said.

"Ploughing with eight horses at a time, he tripped and... got disembowelled basically. And it took him two days to die. I haven't actually written that one up yet but that's one of the not-so-nice stories."

It's estimated there are more than 13,000 casket burials and 800 ash interments at Hamilton East cemetery - but Williams is certain there are many more in unmarked graves.

"There were no records and this was a wilderness of scrub, thorn and gorse, pigs and cattle. Fires swept through the fern and a lot of headstones were wooden, and they burnt and they went up."

This year also marks a century since the lethal outbreak of influenza which killed thousands of people.

Rivers said death is not as "scary" as it once was, particularly in the Victorian era when it was not talked about at all.

"It was very hidden," she said. "That has changed now with all the different ethnic groups coming to New Zealand... We have a much more open approach to death and people are much more involved with the preparation of the deceased."

The tour of the Hamilton East Cemetery takes place on Saturday, October 6 at 9.30am.

No bookings are required for any of the Cemeteries Week initiatives but people planning to join the heritage cemeteries tours should wear sturdy and comfortable shoes.

Made with funding from