Caretakers of the Cemetery

Sextons were responsible for the affairs of the cemetery. They were required to carry out the overall maintenance of the land and buildings as well as to assist funeral directors with burial duties.

Sextons lived at The Cottage and kept all their records there until about 1936. One of the last recorded sextons at the Northern Cemetery was Mr D. A. McLeod. Sexton for more than forty five years, he worked at both the Northern and Southern cemeteries.

Photo: Derek Smith and Maclean Barker

From an interview, the ‘Evening Star’ Jan 19th 1972

“A sexton’s job is a varied one and one of the duties of the sexton in a cemetery like the Northern which is closed to other than family plots, is checking the records to see if persons seeking burial in family plots are in fact entitled to do so. When the undertaker telephones the sexton to check back through the records and find the name of the last one of that family who was buried there, I like to check the last two, just to be sure.”

Then he would check the grave lot from the cemetery plan, find the section, check on the site and then take a test with a rod to see just where the other coffin was sited.

“If it is more than five feet down you can put another on top, but if its too shallow, you test the sides. Then you dig the hole and when the funeral is over you fill it in again.”

A sexton has also to cut the hedges, keep tracks and roads clear and tend to graves, many of which have been willed for “perpetual” care, that is, money has been left for their upkeep in perpetuity or for a set number of years.

“Then there are the records to keep. People come looking for family graves especially at holiday time and it can take anything from five minutes to two hours to check through the records and locate the particular grave.”

It seems that sextons were kept pretty busy.