Written in stone

Student activities

Task no. 1

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Written in stone

What can cemetries and head stones tell us about people in the past?

History is not just written in books. You can find out about people in the past from many different places.

Head stones in cemeteries can tell us about the lives of people who lived in the past. These inscriptions don’t just tell us about famous people of their time. They also tell us about ordinary people or forgotten people.

Cemeteries can tell us who they were and how they lived. An inscription will tell us their name, their date of birth and the date they died. They usually tell us about their family members. We can also find out about their religious beliefs.

We should always remember that a grave is the place where the remains of a person are buried. They were once alive and were important to their family, friends and admirers.

Cemeteries and graves are important places for history. We should respect them and take care of them for the future.  Some cemeteries are tourist attractions, where people go to visit the graves of great and famous people.

Where is your local cemetery? If it is very old you may find the graves of the early settlers in your area.

Who was he?

Head stones can tell us information about a person’s life. Examine the head stone below and fill in the information in the attached activity sheet.

Gravestone with inscription reading "Sacred to the memory of Samuel Hamilton, died Nov. 1st 1942, age 55. A zealous & respected police officer, N.S.W. Beloved son of Annie Hamilton, of Helensburgh. R.I.P.", 12/1942
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Task no. 2

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Looking after the past for the future

This is a very old head stone. It belonged to George Graves who came to NSW with the First Fleet in 1788, but he was not a convict.  George was a free sailor on the First Fleet ship Sirius. He died when he was 48 years old, but we do not know how he died.
Unfortunately, people in the past were not always as careful about preserving head stones as we are today.  George Graves’s head stone was discovered because it had been used as part of a footpath in The Rocks, Sydney.

The inscription says:

In memory of

George Graves

Late Boatswain Yeo-

man of his Majesty's

Ship Sirius who

Departed this ----

----10 July 178? aged

48 years


  1. Do you think it was right or wrong to use George's head stone as part of the footpath? Give reasons to support you opinion.
  2. Imagine that you find out in the news that your old local cemetary is going to be destroyed. All the graves will be dug up and the land will be used for shops and houses. Write a letter to your local council about the importance of the cemetery to your community and why it is important to preserve it. An example has been provided in the downloadable resource to help you.
Gravestone discovered in Bethel Street,
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