Waikumete Cemetery unclaimed ashes: council seeks solution

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Nearly 1800 sets of ashes dating back as far as the 1920s and buried in vaults at Waikumete Cemetery must be treated with sensitivity and respect, says the council. Photo/ Jason Dorday
Nearly 1800 sets of ashes dating back as far as the 1920s and buried in vaults at Waikumete Cemetery must be treated with sensitivity and respect, says the council. Photo/ Jason Dorday

Nearly 1800 sets of ashes dating back as far as the 1920s and buried in vaults at Waikumete Cemetery must be treated with sensitivity and respect.

Auckland Cemeteries Manager Catherine Moore says recent interest in the ashes interred in the vaults has prompted calls for reopening them however there are a number of things to be considered first.

"These were unclaimed ashes that date back as far as the 1920s that were carefully laid to rest in a vault in the late 1970s - nearly 40 years ago now - by the Waikumete Restoration Trust and the then Auckland City Council which managed the cemetery.

"This was intended to be the final resting place of the ashes that, despite extensive advertising and news stories at the time, remained unclaimed.

"Opening the vaults could cause damage to the ashes within and we may find that boxes and labels have deteriorated over time, making identification extremely difficult or impossible," she says.

Ms Moore says several descendants have contacted the cemetery to enquire about their loved ones' ashes.

"It is important to note that while some families are interested in retrieving their loved ones' ashes; other families have told us they do not want the ashes disturbed. We have to respect both of these points of view and find an acceptable solution," she says.

The council wants to connect with the descendants of the 1795 people whose ashes are interred in vaults near the Chapel of Faith in the Oaks at Waikumete Cemetery. It is looking into the possibility of creating a suitable memorial to those interred, and would like to hear from any families that are interested in being involved.

Visit OurAuckland for a full list of names of ashes interred in the vaults. Inquiries can be made to Waikumete Cemetery on 09 818 5615.

Interred ashes - a timeline:

1920s-1970s - ashes were stored at the old Waikumete Crematorium until its demolition in 1969. Following this, the ashes were moved to the mortuary chapel (which later became the Chapel of Faith in the Oaks).

1976 - it is agreed by the trust and the former Auckland City Council that the ashes would be interred in sealed vaults near the chapel as a final resting place, unless they are claimed. Extensive advertising and news stories about the project encourage families to claim their loved ones' remains.

1977 - the Chapel of Faith in the Oaks requires extensive restoration. The Waikumete Restoration Trust, a group of 'concerned local residents', is formed to fundraise for the project. The Trust arranges for the ashes to be removed from the chapel for the restoration to begin.

1978 - The urns were carefully moved to the vaults and overseen by a minister.

- The Aucklander

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