Chinese Disinterment

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Chinese Disinterment between 1901 -1902 - For loading on the ill fated Ventnor


The work has been continued over twelve months. The contractors were engaged in upwards of forty cemeteries, including those at Auckland, Wellington, Palmerston North, Greymouth, Christchurch and other towns. From seven cemeteries on the West Coast of the South Island, some 190 bodies were lifted, including 120 from the Greymouth Cemetery. The whole of the 190 coffins were stored in a shed erected for the purpose in the Greymouth Cemetery. In the Otago and Southland districts toll was levied on no fewer than twenty-four graveyards, the result being an accumulation of upwards of 200 coffins, which were stored near Dunedin in a shed similar to that at Greymouth. Christchurch has contributed about five bodies, and Wellington thirty.

Star , Issue 7544, 29 October 1902, Page 3 http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=TS19021029.2.45&srpos=99&e=-------100--1----0ventnor+bodies--

• Ahaura • Barrytown • Blackball • Cobden • Gladstone • Greenstone • Karoro • Maori Gully • Ngahere • Notown • Stillwater


Auckland Cemetery - Waikumete

Wellington Cemetery - Karori

I'm looking for information on the men disinterred - Can anyone help.



The First Chinese Disinterment was in 1883


This wholesale disinterment of the Cantonese Chinamen is surely a very peculiar piece of business. We do not allude to the practice of sending the bones back to the Flowery Land, because everything the Chinese do is peculiar, according to European ideas. What we are puzzled at is that the Government should allow the cemeteries I to be ransacked for dead Chinamen, and great numbers of bodies to be exhumed at various stages of natural decay. The law of this colony, as we understand it, is that the dead are under the charge of the public authorities, and that no private persons have any further control over them, after they have been lawfully disposed of. This is manifestly a wise and reasonable provision, having for its sole object, the health, decorum and well-being of the whole community. By the universal consent of the people, it is held that dead bodies should not be disturbed after being committed to the earth under proper regulations. The law, nevertheless, contemplates the existence of certain circumstances under which it may be to the public interest, or at least may be permissible, without j detriment to the public interest, that dead bodies should be disinterred. For example, it is sometimes necessary for the purposes of criminal justice that a body should be exhumed and examined for traces of poison or other indications of murder. It is also occasionally found expedient to remove bodies from one spot to another, owing to the place of burial proving unsuitable or, perhaps, m order to meet the urgent requirements of relatives or friends of the deceased. Power is, therefore, given to the Colonial Secretary, the Minister who is commonly charged with the direction of domestic public affairs, to permit the disinterment of bodies under special and exceptional circumstances, and to order such disposal of them as he may see fit. The law clearly demands, however, at least by implication and intention, that the circumstances of each case of disinterment shall be special and exceptional, and, further, that the manner of the disinterment and disposal of the dead shall be m accord with public decency and public safety. Now, m this case of the Chinese, both of these limitations appear to have been totally disregarded. An application, we are informed, was made to the Colonial Secretary by a business agent, not even by the friends or relatives of the deceased for leave to disinter the bodies of some two hundred dead Chinamen, with a view to removing the flesh and sending the bones to China. And to this cool request Mr Dick assented. The whole affair, we are assured, was purely a commercial speculation, the agent issuing contracts so to speak, for the delivery of the bones m good order and condition according to Chinese rites, and be m his turn, getting his profit from the pious kinsmen of the deceased m their native place. It is said that the sum to be paid for the recovery of the bones amounts to £6000, of which, probably, one half is clear profit to the speculator mi New Zealand. The bodies were distributed pretty generally amongst all the cemeteries on the goldfields, and the contractors for the ghastly job," of preparing them for export, went to work m the most matter of fact fashion. They simply dug up the coffins, opened them, removed the bodies, scraped the flesh from the bones, amoked them, packed them neatly m small boxes, together with a portion of food and liquor, closed the boxes, labelled them, and delivered them to their employer. In all this, not the slightest regard was had to the feelings, the senses or the health of the public. The surroundings of the operation were inexpressibly filthy and barbarous. Many of the bodies had not been buried long enough for the process of decomposition to be completed. Some of them had only been buried a few weeks. In one instance, we believe, nothing more than a formal interment had taken place. Yet for the sake of the high wages offered, the resurrectionists took these gruesome corpses m hand, m a condition so horribly disgusting that it cannot be described, and went through the process of scraping, smoking and re-packing the bones, precisely as if thej had been dealing with dried mummies or fossil remains. The atmosphere m the neighborhood of these operations, we need hardly say, was simply intolerable to European nostrils. Not only was tbe stench unutterably foul, but there was a deadliness about it that not unnaturally inspired fears of infection or some subtle form of malignant disease. The cemetries were closed to ordinary visitors while the Chinese workmen were at their loathsome occupation, the local authorities, ye imagine, not caring to run the risk boundaries of the cemetries, the proceedings that had been authorised by the Government constituted an abominable nuisance, and were certainly perilous to the public health. A prosecution, we fancy, was instituted m one town where this went on; but with what result we cannot say. We should very much like to know on what conceivable grounds of public necessity or legitimate private aentiment, the Colonial Secretary allowed the bodies of these two hundred Chinamen to be disinterred. Clearly it was not for the good of the people of New Zealand, by whom and for whom alone, the laws of this country are made. It was dead against their interests that the public burial grounds Bhonld be violated and the most beastly and sickening scenes enacted there, with something more than a possibility of a plague ensuing. Then for whose good was it for the good of some greedy speculators, who saw their way to making a few thousands out of the superstition, the credulity and the simplicity of their countrymen P Surely not. Surely Mr Dick never forgot himself so far as deliberately to debase the exercise of the responsible and extremely exceptional powers placed m hie hands, merely to gratify the avarice of a band of body snatchers. Then why did he allow the bodies to be disturbed P Out of respect for the pious feelings mistaken but none the less to be respected of the relatives or friends of the deceased m China. Well, if that is it, all we can say is that Mr Dick must take a most extraordinary view of the duties of a Minister of the Crown m a British colony. The Chinese of Canton believe that there is no resurrection except for those who are buried m the sacred soil of their own particular locality, or under the auspices of their own particular priesthood. It is a purely local superstition, and is obviously invented and fostered by the priests for their own selfish emolument. It forms no article of the Buddhist religion or the Confucian morality; but is ridiculed by nine-tenths of the Chinese themselves. Yet it is out of deference to this degrading dogma that Mr Dick has set aside the ordinary law and custom of this country, and permitted those extraordinary proceedings which we have detailed. We should have thought the principle of Government m such a case was too plain to be missed by anybody, least of all by an experienced public man, who has hitherto had credit for sound common sense. Aliens who come to this colony, place themselves ipso facto under our laws and customs, and leave their own behind them m the land from whence they came. Not only are our Government not bound to recognise their laws or customs m any way, but they cannot recognise them m any way without inflicting a positive wrong on the people of this country. In our opinion Mr Dick has grossly misused his powers as Colonial Secretary.

The Timaru Herald. WEDNESDAY, JUNE 6, 1883.

Second Burial - New Zealand Chinese Experience 1883 and 1902 - has now been published Publication Date: 3/2013 ISBN 978-0-473-24298-5

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