Posted by: Gregoryno6 | February 15, 2014

The Melbourne Expedition – Days among the dead: the Springthorpe Memorial.

While back in the old home town over Christmas and New Year, I spent a lot of time in cemeteries. Don’t laugh. It kept me out of the bookstores. There are still books in the To Read pile from my visits in 2010 and 2007.

Kind of worried my mother and uncle, though. They may have suspected I was searching for parking spaces – if you know what I mean. As it happens, the family does have a resident relative or two somewhere in the Kew grounds. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to locate them and the directory at the front office was no help.

I started at Kew because I have a friend there – a schoolmate who was diagnosed with cancer at 18. He fought with guts but the battle ended just a few weeks after his 21st birthday. I lost touch with his family a long time ago, and Jon has now been joined in the cemetery by his father and one of his brothers. They have a small bronze plaque each, quite minimalist markers compared to some of the elaborate pieces elsewhere within the walls of Kew.

Not that it really matters. Buried, cremated, cast overboard at sea – the means of departure go in and out of fashion, but the destination is always the same.

Grand display was the fashion of Victorian-era Melbourne, and the Springthorpe Memorial is a world famous example of that period’s cult of death.


The sculpture, by Bertram Mackennal, is bathed in red light. The roof features a mosaic of red amber.

John Springthorpe spent thousands of pounds to erect this memorial to his wife Annie, who died in childbirth in 1901. The work took ten years, and the memorial was described when completed as Melbourne’s Taj Mahal. Time has left its mark but it is still fascinating.


And maybe disturbing too. It’s proper to honour the dead, but even for a man of his time John Springthorpe seems to have pushed the envelope. The memorial was only one part of the exhibition of his grief; according to the source of these photos he made his house into a shrine as well. The children were sent away to live with relatives, which seems a very ostentatious form of neglect.

Photos sourced from the blog of The Resident Judge. There’s more information here. And this post points out a fact I had overlooked:

Almost every surface of the floor is inscribed with poetry and verse.  Nowhere is Annie’s name.


  1. Hmm. Springthorpe honored her presence but just could not “say” goodbye, maybe?

    • A very expensive way of not saying it.

      • That’s for sure.

  2. By the way good fellow:
    Watch the noggins in Australia. Seems them damn Ruskies is aimin’ for ya.

    • Damn It!
      Russian reconnaissance satellite to hit Earth Sunday

      • Folks here still remember when Skylab came down in the middle of the desert. This one missed a Perth flyover by just a hair, globally speaking, and the key word in uncontrolled descent is ‘uncontrolled’…

        • I blame George Bush.

          You heard it first..That is before our Dear Barry, says it..

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