On my search for the story of former All Blacks utility back and NZRFU President Alfred "Alf" Bayly I stumbled upon, or rather didn't stumble upon, the Stratford Pioneer Cemetery in Taranaki – a dead end if you will.
Alf was a distant relation of mine and a prominent figure within rugby circles so I decided to visit his grave site and take some photos.
A town that prides itself on the Taranaki Pioneer Village, yet the Stratford District Council turned its Pioneer Cemetery into a 'memorial park' during the 1980s, getting rid of the vast majority of headstones - ironic that they want to preserve the pioneer history elsewhere in the town.
The Pioneer Cemetery was Stratford's first cemetery, opening in 1886, with the last recorded burial in February 1975, although the cemetery closed some 65 years previous but anyone that had bought their plots already could still be buried at any time.
The only current cemeteries left in the Stratford region are the Kopuatama Cemetery (first burial recorded in July 1906) and Midhirst Cemetery (first burial being in September 1934).
In the Wednesday, January 18, 1984 edition of the Stratford Press, this was published:
"The Stratford Borough Council intends to convert the old Stratford Cemetery in Regan Street to the Stratford Pioneer Memorial Cemetery. The council wants the area to be appropriate to the memory of the early pioneers who founded the district and now rest there.
"While the majority of the grave surrounds are in a state of disrepair and will require removal, there are examples of stone stonemason's art which will remain in strategically placed positions. A memorial wall with built-in seats and containing the names of all interred will be erected at the northern end of the area. All remaining land will be sown in lawn and planted in shrubs.
"The council believes the proposal will provide for quiet relaxation for those who contemplate the past and remember those who created the beginnings of this district. The proposal is presently being advertised and required by law and any person wishing to object must do so prior to March 23."
Around 30 of the gravestones were gifted to the Taranaki Pioneer Village after consultation with families while others had fallen into disrepair.
The badly deteriorated headstones were removed in the late 1980s under the Stratford Public Cemetery Clearance Notice 1984 and council's current process is that if a gravestone is damaged or somehow fallen from their berm, it is kept at Pioneer Cemetery and placed on or near its original location, as safely as possible.
Alf was laid to rest here on December 16, 1907, at the age of 41, after suffering from an illness.
Although it was more than a century ago, Alf played a big role in New Zealand rugby and is still recognised to this day through the Alf Bayly Memorial Trophy, yet there is no exact spot to represent where he was laid to rest.
The Alf Bayly Memorial Trophy is given annually to a Year 7-8 student in Taranaki who displays outstanding playing ability, leadership and sportsmanship.
The trophy was first presented in 1909 and has been won by the likes of former All Blacks captain Graham Mourie, former All Blacks utility back Neil Wolfe and Taranaki centurion/captain Andy Slater.
Many will recognise Alf's name from the story of the death of Otago's Barney Armit in 1899 as the result of an unfortunate tackle made by Alf - some say Alf was sent to an early grave due to the worry of this accident.
All Black #35 Alf, was born in the Taranaki town of Waitara on May 20, 1866, to Thomas and Ann Bayly (nee Rundle) - eventually they would have 12 children.
There were nine boys – George Thomas, Frederick (Fred), Frank Rundle, Harry, Charles, Ernest, Walter, Frank and Lawrence and three girls – Amelia Dallas (Minnie), Norah and Lena.
Frank Rundle Bayly passed away at the age of 3 in 1964, hence two children named Frank.
Alf was educated at New Plymouth Boys' High School and at age 16, in 1882, made his debut first class appearance for West Coast (North Island) against New South Wales, the first overseas rugby side to visit New Zealand.
The Taranaki Rugby Football Union wasn't officially established until 1889 but Alf became a big part of the future of Taranaki rugby, first playing for a side in 1883 and representing them every year from 1885 to 1901.
Before the TRFU came into existence the team went under names like Egmont and Taranaki Clubs.
At the New Plymouth Racecourse in May 1888, the Taranaki Clubs team claimed their first international scalp against Great Britain.
It was Britain's first tour loss, after five wins and a draw.
The Taranaki Clubs team was certainly a family affair for the Bayly clan with captain Alf and Charles in the starting side, George as the Taranaki umpire and Fred as the referee.
Both Harry and George were a part of the reception committee for Great Britain, meeting their steamship at Opunake.
Alf and Charles were standouts for the side. At one point, Alf gathered possession near halfway and ran down the field, getting cut down a few metres short of the British line.
The final score was 1-0 with the only try scored by H.M. Good from Taranaki's Pihama club.
Alf's final match for Taranaki came against Whanganui.
As he had a broken leg, he wasn't named to play but was the team's manager.
The team were a player short so Alf joined them on the field, broken leg and all.
It was said he was a fan favourite, as he had donned the amber and black jersey for so long, and the crowd cheered him on as he took the field.
Alf's All Blacks debut came in 1893 when he was chosen as a member of the first official New Zealand team. He played 10 matches and was the top scorer.
The next year saw him captain New Zealand in their only 1894 match, an 8-6 loss to New South Wales.
This was also brother Walter's one and only game for New Zealand.
In 1897, Alf captained the North Island team in the first inter-island match, and was subsequently named in the New Zealand team to tour Australia.
In all, Alf played 20 All Black matches, captaining 10 of those, and scoring six tries.
Over his long career he had represented six Taranaki rugby clubs as well as the Taranaki cricket team who he played six first-class matches for over 1891/1892 and 1897/1898.
Brothers Frank, George and Harry also represented Taranaki in cricket.
Alf had married Mary Cashel in 1895 at St Paul's Church, Auckland, and they took over part of his father's 5000-acre estate at Toko, near Stratford, where he farmed for several years.
Charles, Fred and Harry also farmed at Toko.
After his rugby retirement, Alf was a Taranaki rugby selector from 1901 to 1906, and president from 1899 to 1906.
At national level he was New Zealand selector 1901 and 1905 and NZRFU president in the year that he died.
George also had roles as TRFU president (10 years) and NZRFU president.
Great-nephew Les Bayly, who passed away in September 2021 aged 96, was also a Taranaki Rugby Football Union president and spent decades as a player, coach and administrator.
In 1905, Alf sold his property to the Government and moved to Stratford before becoming sick and heading south to St John's Hill, Whanganui.
It was said that his December 14, 1907, death was not unexpected.
He was returned to Taranaki and buried at Stratford's Pioneer Cemetery with his daughters Marguerite (Margaret) and Alice.
Three years later, his 12-year-old daughter Maude passed away and was buried with her father and sisters.
Headstone inscription: Margaret Eileen Bayly died 9 May 1902 aged 5 years. Alice Alexandra Bayly died 26 May 1902 aged 14 months. Also Maude Rita Mary died 14 May 1910 aged 12 years. Alfred Bayly died at Wanganui 14 December 1907 aged 41 years.
Yes, the Pioneer Memorial Wall tells you who was laid to rest there but in my opinion the respect is gone, as there is no exact location or plaque as to where this influential man, his family and the other Pioneers lay at Stratford's Pioneer Cemetery.
STRATFORD DISTRICT COUNCIL'S HISTORY OF THE PIONEER CEMETERY:
An Order in Council published in the NZ Gazette of Thursday, July 2, 1885, (#41, page 822) appointed the Stratford Town Board as Trustees for the maintenance of the Stratford Public Cemetery.
The first recorded burial for the Pioneer Cemetery is Mortimer Frederick Hassall, who was buried on December 15, 1886. The last recorded burial was of Cuthbert Hargreaves Taylor, on February 10, 1975.
At the Ordinary Meeting of the Stratford Borough Council of September 13, 1898, (the second meeting of the Borough Council), it was minuted that "the Colonial Secretary be requested to gazette the Borough Council as Cemetery Trustees", which was duly done. In 1900, the Borough Council started looking for a suitable site for a new cemetery.
However, at the ordinary meeting of December 11, 1900, it was moved "that the cemetery be enlarged by moving part of the fence so as to make it of equal width front to back and that the path necessary to give access to the enlargement be formed and gravelled".
This was the result of a recommendation from the Cemetery Committee.
At the Ordinary Meeting of the Stratford Borough Council of October 9, 1905, it was moved "that the necessary steps be taken to have the old cemetery closed in accordance with Section 73 of The Cemeteries Act 1882, subject, however to the right of persons at present owning unoccupied portions of the cemetery to be allowed to bury therein at any time".
This was followed by an Order in Council published in the NZ Gazette of Thursday December 7, 1905, (#107, page 2818) to close the Stratford Public Cemetery from July 1, 1906, and that the cemetery be vested in the Council of the Borough of Stratford from that date.
It was not until 1980, however, that the first steps were taken to convert the cemetery into a Pioneer memorial. This process was not completed until 1984, when the cemetery was renamed the Stratford Pioneer Memorial Cemetery.