Dozens of unmarked graves in Kingscote cemetery revealed by radar mapping

TIME TEAM: PhD students Tiago Attorre and Michael Everett, Masters student Hayley Bishop and Dr Ian Moffat, Senior Research Fellow in Archaeological Sciences at Flinders University, at the Kingscote pioneer cemetery on Kangaroo Island.
TIME TEAM: PhD students Tiago Attorre and Michael Everett, Masters student Hayley Bishop and Dr Ian Moffat, Senior Research Fellow in Archaeological Sciences at Flinders University, at the Kingscote pioneer cemetery on Kangaroo Island.

Researchers have officially announced the discovery of 47 unmarked graves at the Kingscote Pioneers Cemetery, found using cutting edge radar scanning technology.

After surveying the cemetery in May 2019, Dr Ian Moffat and his team of researchers from Flinder University have now confirmed their suspicions in a presentation to the Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association.

The project was funded thanks to grant funding from the History Trust's annual South Australian History Fund grants program to the Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association.

Anthea Taylor from the KI Pioneers Association said this was a significant finding.

"For many years there was much speculation as to how many people were buried in South Australia's first cemetery," she said.

"It would now seem that along with the known graves, there are at least 70 people buried there between 1836 and 1889 when the new cemetery was established.

The unmarked graves have been highlighted using Ground Penetrating Radar.

The unmarked graves have been highlighted using Ground Penetrating Radar.

"The survey was carried out on a cold wet day, and a small muddy corner of the cemetery could not be mapped."

Senior Research Fellow in Archaeological Science from Flinders University Dr Ian Moffatt said that he doubted whether this would alter the total.

However he suggested that there could be more if there were multiple burials in the same plot, which was a common practice.

He also said that infants who would have been buried in small graves would not be picked up in the survey.

In reply to being asked whether graves might have been found outside the existing fence, Dr Moffat said that most unmarked graves were on the eastern portion of the site, inside the fence.

"No unmarked graves are in the south-west quadrant or outside of the fence on the east side".

The Kangaroo Island Pioneers Association plan to erect an explanatory sign at the entrance to the historic cemetery, to incorporate the GPR map, and a list of people who died at about that time and who are possibly buried there.

"What is interesting is the general alignment of the graves, with clear pathways, which indicates an ordered management of the cemetery," KI Pioneers Association's Anthea Taylor said.

"Although it was not very well managed in its last years."

"The last burial in the old cemetery was May 1881, the same year that the new cemetery was surveyed.

"The Pioneer Cemetery land was transferred from the SA Company to the Crown in 1883 and in 1889 the current Cemetery Reserve was dedicated and placed under the control of the District Council of Kingscote."

"The reason for the large number of unmarked graves in the old cemetery is probably that memorial headstones would have been a rarity at that time on the island, and that most of the graves would have been marked by cairns of stones, or wooden crosses."