Those fascinating folk, now at rest…

March 14th, 2024Those fascinating folk, now at rest…

Retired Anglican priest, Trentham’s Peta Sherlock admits she’s more than a tad addicted to fossicking out fascinating stories of the past.
Retired Anglican priest and keen amateur historian Peta Sherlock is leading another historical tour of Trentham Cemetery in March. She is picture here at the oldest marked gravesite at the historic cemetery. Image: Eve Lamb

Retired Anglican priest, Trentham’s Peta Sherlock admits she’s more than a tad addicted to fossicking out fascinating stories of the past.

“It’s a nice addiction,” chuckles the dedicated amateur historian who simply loves to share her keen
interest in the lives of those who have gone before with those living today.

Right now Peta, a member of Trentham Historical Society, is preparing to indulge that passion a little
when she leads a historical tour of the Trentham Cemetery on Saturday, March 23.

Everyone is welcome to join Peta as she leads the 75 minute tour being presented by the Trentham Historical Society in conjunction with Trentham Neighbourhood Centre, for the very nominal cost of $8.

Tour participants will not only be taken on a rollicking journey through the past, “meeting” some of the intriguing characters who lie at rest in this local cemetery, they’ll also receive the benefit of Peta’s extensive research – and an informative printed pamphlet she has prepared as well.

“I love the cemetery. It’s the people, and this is full of people,” says Peta whose prior tours of this local cemetery, including one earlier this month, tend to be very well received. They’ve all got stories,” she says.

They certainly have. The Trentham Cemetery was established in 1870 and even one quick tour looking into the former lives of those who lie at rest here provides a rich dip into Trentham’s post European past.

There are the early settlers, the captains of industry, the visionary, the wealthy, the mysterious, the
heroic and the tragic. There are love stories buried here and tales that could make you weep.

A look into the lives of those who now lie at rest here provides a potted history of the development of the township and lively insights into how the movers and shakers of the 1800s and early 1900s got things done.

Peta says that as the town’s built environment changes, the cemetery increasingly becomes the only
physical connection left to many significant threads of its past.

“It’s not a scary place. To me they are still ‘alive’,” she says.

“Some have had horrible lives. Some have lost all their babies. There are people who made a mess of their lives and people who made a great success of their lives. But they are all God’s creatures.”

Peta’s research into the lives of those interred in the Trentham cemetery dates back to 2014 when
she started researching the history of the town’s Anglican Church to mark the 150th anniversary of
the denomination’s presence at Trentham… “Then you start to get interested in everybody,” she says, recalling how the history bug bit.

Peta has her own personal favourite grave sites, the memorial resting places for characters like 1800s businessman about town J.W.S. Wolff, local humanitarian Catherine (Kit) Trewhella, and much-loved yesteryear medic Dr Gwen Wisewould. She loves to share their stories and the way their legacies have shaped the community that Trentham is today.

“I want to know who talked to whom when they spotted them in town, and who walked on the other side of the street,” she says.

In carrying out her research, Peta has noticed certain patterns emerge. Patterns that she has come
to realise can point to significant demographic trends. She mentions early sanitation problems, the disposal of night soil, by the “dunny men” of the day, down old mine shafts, the subsequent pollution of local waterways, the potentially lethal link to typhoid.

There are the tragic trends whose ghostly fingerprints have left their traces in the early burial records… The yesteryear deaths of an unusually high number of men of a certain age, the potentiality of syphilis playing its part. People lived and partied hard in those days, apparently. But speculation is speculation, and Peta strives always to find the facts.

“Only God is perfect and history is an ongoing thing,” she muses as she hands me with a copy of the
pamphlet she has produced to accompany her tour.

“This is pretty accurate and nobody has pulled me up on anything quite yet,” she says.

One of the elements Peta relishes about leading a cemetery tour is the input from those who take the tour.

“Often people will tell me stuff,” she says.

“A cemetery can be a confronting place, partly because here we realise our own mortality.”

Peta is no stranger to the presence of human mortality, having conducted funeral services during her
many years spent working as a priest.

“Even though some of the stories today are about the full and fruitful lives of past Trenthamites, some are also sad, the death of children especially so,” she says.

“It’s a lovely cemetery. It’s been really well looked after and it’s run by a local trust of volunteers.”

Those keen to take the upcoming tour and “meet” many of those colourful, now at rest, characters who once peopled Trentham and surrounds can contact the Trentham Neighbourhood Centre to book into Peta’s next tour taking place on Saturday March 23.

Words: Eve Lamb

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