The growth of the town and the diverse religious affiliations of the inhabitants were such that increased demands were placed upon St Mary’s Cemetery. The solution was found in the allocation of small pieces of land on the town margins to accommodate the various Christian denominations. In the late 1830’s and 1840’s the Wesleyan Methodists, Roman Catholics and Congregationalists were all granted their own burial grounds to the north-west of the settlement.
I got to attend Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism’s launch of Tourism Month at the newly refurbished Tramways Buildings a week or two ago and had some time on my hands before the event began so went for a walk through St Mary’s Cemetery. It’s really sad to see the state the cemetery is in specially seeing the historic value and position it has. I went scratching for the history around the cemetery and this is what I cam up with.
In 1799 when Fort Frederick was being built, the military authorities laid out a burial ground to the south of the Baakens River. After the foundation of the town which was to become Port Elizabeth, civilian burials appear to have taken place on a site to the north of the settlement. After the arrival of the 1820 British Settlers which brought an influx of people into the town, arrangements were made for civilians to share the military cemetery. Control of the cemetery was assigned to the colonial state church, the Church of England, in the charge of St Mary’s Collegiate Church, and for several years also accommodated other Christian denominations within its walls. The one major group which could not be included was the Cape Malay community, whose members were Moslems. Thus adjacent to the Anglican cemetery a separate Muslem cemetery was laid out with a orientation facing Mecca. The precedent for the separation of place of worship from place of burial once established, was to be followed virtually throughout the city’s history.