Sacrilege on Chapel Hill
By Susan Prior
How many of us have sped along Moggill Road without even noticing the chapel on the hill, after which the suburb Chapel Hill is named. Well, that is one story. Another is that Chapel Hill was named after Chapel Hill, a village in Lincolnshire, in England.
This little historical gem was built by the trustees of the Primitive Methodist Church in 1874 (now the Chapel Hill Uniting Church). It is reported that Reverend J Buckle purchased the five acres of land in 1873 and donated it to the trustees for the specified purpose of a local cemetery.
I visited early one morning to take some photographs when researching this article. High above the Moggill Road, in a woodland setting, the graves are mildewed and mossy, the ground underfoot damp with leaf litter. The constant traffic noise from the road below at first obtrusive, added to the poignancy of the site, almost forgotten above the busy road. But this receded in my mind as I explored the peaceful old cemetery. I could see why Reverend Buckle chose this vantage point, although today the view is largely obscured by the trees.
On 8 October, 1932, The Brisbane Courier reported the chapel’s diamond jubilee, or 60th anniversary, although the dates don’t quite seem to work:
The Chapel Hill Methodist Church, looking down from its eminence upon Indooroopilly, and the Brisbane River, celebrates its diamond jubilee tomorrow and on Monday.
This little church is believed to be the oldest Methodist Church in the State electorate of Toowong. None can say of a certainty when the first Methodist services were held in the district. … Mr. J. Sinnamon has expressed the opinion that Methodist services must have begun as early as 1867 or 1868, but the actual dates and details of these early services remain shrouded in doubt.
It is generally believed that the church was built about 1874, Mr. D. Hill being the contractor. The title deed of the site, which contains about five acres, was granted to the Rev. Jos. Buckle and six other local preachers of that time, as original trustees.
The church building itself has stood the strain of the years well. The first shingle roof was replaced by iron, and later the building was lined and ceiled, the men of the congregation forming a ‘working bee’. More recently a vestry has been added. Chapel Hill is one of the few churches in Queensland which have a burial ground attached. The number of early settlers in the district who have been laid to rest in the shadow of the little church forms a strong link between it and many families.
One of those families was the Gibsons. Sarah and William Gibson of Spinkbrae (after which the street in Fig Tree Pocket is named) had the sad and dubious honour of being the first to bury a family member at the cemetery – their 14-week-old son David – in 1875. His twin sister Sarah survived.
The original subscribers to the purchase of the land had intended the cemetery be open for public use – and not just for the Primitive Methodists. In April 1887, when it was known as the Indooroopilly Cemetery, there was a rather unedifying kerfuffle surrounding the burial ground. The Week reported (on 23 April, 1887) that it was a ‘scene of sacrilege’ and a ‘scandal’. A grave had been dug in preparation for the burial of the late John George Thonei, a long-time resident of the district who had expressed a wish to be buried there. However, ‘certain persons’, some indignant local youths who had recently moved to the district, had refilled the grave and thrown the tools outside the railings.
It must have been very traumatic for the deceased’s relatives, as well as causing much anger and consternation in the wider community. A meeting was duly called where it was concluded that the cemetery was, indeed, a public burial ground. The minutes of the meeting records this:
That this meeting desires to place on record their strong condemnation and abhorrence of the inhuman and unchristian act of sacrilege committed by certain parties in refilling an open grave prepared for the interment of a respected inhabitant of the district, preventing the burial taking place, and thereby causing a public scandal, and bringing disgraceful notoriety upon the locality.
Mr Thonei is also referred to as Thone (in the Brisbane City Council burial search) and Tone (by another newspaper of the day). One of the reasons for the objections to his burial, it seems is that he was of German descent. The Queensland Figaro and Punch records (on 16 April 1887) the events after the meeting:
At the last moment, in the most indecent haste, the friends of poor old Tone had to have a grave hurriedly dug at the Toowong Cemetery, and, the burial disgracefully rushed.
Finally, Mr Thonei was laid to rest. And his poor, long suffering wife Catherine was buried with him a couple of years later, in January 1889.
Next time you travel along Moggill Road and pass the chapel spare a thought for poor old Thonei and the unseemly events of 1887.
Left to right: Chapel Hill Cemetery,
The cemetery at Chapel Hill Methodist Church