It holds the remains of up to 700 of Whangarei's early settlers.

But many locals have never heard of the Mission Ground Cemetery, the unassuming grassy park on Selwyn Avenue, next to the Quarry Arts Centre.

Now, another 72 of the previously unidentified people resting there will be commemorated on the cemetery's black marble cairn, adding to 83 names already there.

The acknowledgement comes thanks to the work of volunteer researcher Joan Leversedge, for whom the 0.3-hectare plot has become an six-year-long fascination, after she discovered her great-great-grandparents Murdoch and Margaret McKenzie were buried there.


Among the more remarkable stories of the additional 72 names is that of murder victim John Butler, who died in 1862.

"John Killey, chillingly prophetic, was one of [Mr Butler's] mates," Ms Leversedge said. "Killey drank to ridiculous levels. One day Killey was in his cups and John said, 'you'd be better off supporting your wife than spending it all on grog'. Killey got very cross and accused John of being overly friendly with his wife."

The next day Killey threatened Mr Butler again and killed him in the area that is now Laurie Hall Park, by bashing him over the head with a piece of wood.

Killey was hanged for his crime in Auckland and Mr Butler remains at Mission Ground, which was operational between 1840 and 1940. Few records were kept, and in the 1950s, when the neglected cemetery fell into disrepair, the then-Whangarei council removed the headstones and buried them at Kioreroa Cemetery.

In 2010 the Whangarei District Council decided to release the 40 names which were recorded. Ms Leversedge saw this and immediately wanted to track down more.

Following her initial research, in 2010 a list of 69 names of people buried at the cemetery was compiled and engraved on the newly installed cairn at the reserve.

In 2011 another 14 names were added and Ms Leversedge launched her book In Memoriam, Mission Ground Cemetery 1840-2010.

Tomorrow , the additional 72 names will be revealed, and a second book detailing their stories will follow, the final piece of work for Ms Leversedge, with the latest engraving including a line honouring all the remaining unnamed people buried there.

Ms Leversedge's only payment for more than six years full-time research has been the gratitude of the families whose ancestors are buried at the cemetery.

"It's wonderful. It's very rewarding and very moving."

The former IT systems engineer does most of her research from her Pataua South home and where her main sources include; birth, death and marriages records; Papers Past; and family members who make contact.

"It's really detective work ... You have all sorts of 'whoopee!' moments because you link everything up. It's tiring because it's all running around in my head all the time."

The unveiling of the latest names is tomorrow at 10am. This will be followed by a cup of tea at Botanica on First Ave.