BUDNA SINGH – Leederville W. A.

BUDNA SINGH – Leederville W. A.

© Len Kenna & Crystal Jordan 2014

As stated by Sir Hartley Williams in 1892, “Cremation was perfectly legal and there was no law against it.”  The only place where cremation was ever made illegal was Japan, where in 1873 it was abolished by law, in the rage for everything European, but less than two years’ of experiencing burials Japan reverted back to cremations. 

Budna Singh arrived in Western Australia in ca.1908 from Moga District, Ferozepur, Punjab, India where he had three wives, Bhago, Goree and Harro.[1] He worked as a hawker in the mining areas of Western Australia.   When hawking in these areas became unlucrative, Budna moved to Leederville hawking wares from a horse and cart in Perth and country districts. He became known as “Little Budna” to distinguish him from Buttan Singh the famous wrestler who was known as “Big Budna Singh”.[2]

At 60 years of age Budna was living with Meer (sic. Amreek) Singh[3] a Cameleer at 123 Richmond Street, Leederville[4], when he became ill and was admitted to the Point Heathcote Reception Home where he died on the 3 May 1929. Budna had lived in Australia for 20 years or more.

Undertakers: Mead & Son & Gibb prepared Budna’s body for burial at Karrakatta Cemetery. Previously Sikhs were cremated at a Crematorium Ground in Subiaco but it had been quite some time since a cremation had taken place there. Meer (sic. Amreek) Singh knew where the ground was but many houses had been built around it and the site was difficult to pinpoint. Meer (sic. Amreek) Singh applied to the Federal Government for another site, but that was going to take some time, so Meer(sic. Amreek) applied to the Health Department and was granted permission for the cremation. It was with the stipulation that it had to be carried out in secrecy away from places of habitation. A site for the cremation was selected on the Canning River Flat amongst the Banksia trees. Meer Singh, Boor Singh, Tolse (sic Tulsi) Rann, Kahn Singh and Kepal (sic Karpal) Singh were the only Sikhs who were available to organise a cremation for Budna. They prepared his body by binding it from head to foot in fine linen and built a funeral pyre ready for the funeral the next day, which was conducted by Meer (sic. Amreek) Singh; Priest, and overseen by the Undertakers: Mead & Son & Gibb. Meer Singh, Boor Singh, Kahn Singh and Karpal Singh left Australia for the Punjab, India on Monday 8 July 1929 to return Budna Singh’s ashes to his family. Tulsi Singh followed them on Monday 22 July. [5] 

The Western Australian Cremations Act was passed in December 1929, soon after Meer Singh’s efforts to cremate Budna Singh, at Canning River Flat in May 1929. In 1932, Meer (sic. Amreek) Singh’s dream of the Canning River Flat Cremation Site being set aside as a Cemetery for the Sikh Community by the Government was realized, when The Canning Cremation Ground Reserve No. 20968 was vested by the Government to Bollah (sic. Bhola) and Massa Singh to be held in trust by them for the purpose of a Sikh Cemetery. [6]

Both Meer (sic. Amreek) and Massa in their later life made their living as hawkers. Meer (sic. Amreek) Singh was still living at a house he owned in Richmond Street when died in 1946 at age 67.[7] Bhola Singh, a hawker married Mildred Muir in 1904[8]. He lived at 16 East Street, Mt. Hawthorn until his death at age 91 in 1949.[9]  Massa Singh like many other Indians died in his village in India and his ashes were taken to the Ganges River at Hardiwar.

There were two previous cremations recorded in Perth in 1897.

The first cremation was that of Kalla Singh, a six foot tall Sikh Clothier and Draper of Marquis Street, West Perth.[10] It was reported in the newspapers as the first cremation that had ever taken place in the colony. This was not the case as cremations were taking place in other colonies well before that time and Western Australia was way behind the times.[11] It was most probably the first cremation with permission in Perth that is recorded.

Kalla had been employed at one time as a Watchman by Mr James Grave and later by Messrs. Bickford and Lucas who spoke highly of him. Kalla died at his Marquis Street home on the afternoon of Wednesday 19 May 1897 of typhoid. Two of his Sikh friends obtained permission to cremate his body at Claremont, as there wasn’t any crematorium in Perth at that time.[12] The cremation of the body of Kalla Singh was conducted by his Sikh friends; late in afternoon on Thursday 20 May 1897 under the supervision of the Undertaker, Mr. Donald J. Chipper, at the West Australian Gun Club’s Ground, a cleared piece of land about a mile and a half from the Claremont Railway Station. There were about 20 of his Indian friends present.[13]

The second cremation was that of Muggrall Singh only five days later on Tuesday 25 May 1897 a short distance from the Subiaco Railway Station[14] A few weeks earlier Muggrall had been charged at the Perth Police court with being of unsound mind. He was just a skeleton of a man and had just been discharged from the Perth Hospital. At the order of Mr. Cowan the Police Magistrate, Muggrall Singh was taken into police care and fed nourishing food. He died on Monday 24 May. The cremation of the body was carried out by Muggrall’s Sikh friends; under the supervision of the same Undertaker, Mr. Donald J. Chipper.[15]


[1] The West Australian Perth WA Tuesday 16 July 1929 p. 15.
[2] Truth, Perth WA. Sunday 21 July 1929 p. 6.
[3] Perth, Western Australia, Australia, Rate Books, 1880-1946 Leederville East Ward. sic. Amreek Singh – Meer Singh’s name according to Massa Singh’s family history was Amreek Singh.
[4] The Daily News Perth WA Friday 12 July 1929 p. 12.
[5] Truth, Perth WA. Sunday 21 July 1929 p. 6.
[6] Government Gazette of WA No. 63 Perth 23 December, 1932 p. 1882.
[7] Singh, Mier, Death Certificate No: 1043 Perth, Western Australia, 1946.
[8] Singh Bhola, Marriage Certificate Registration No: 1567 Australia, Marriage Index, 1788-1950.
[9] Singh Bholo, Death Certificate Registration No: 384 Australia, Death Index, 1787-1985.
[10] Rooms To Let. The West Australian Perth WA Saturday 7 November 1896 p. 2.
[11] Kenna, Len, Are Indians an Ethnic Minority? Hawkers, Volume 4, Australian Indian Historical Society Inc. 2013. Chapter 18.
[12] The Mercury Hobart Tas. Wednesday 26 May 1897 p. 4.
[13] Cremation in Perth. The West Australian Perth WA Friday 21 May 1897 p. 2.
[14] Cremation Near Subiaco. The W.A. Record Perth Saturday 29 May 1897 p. 8.
[15] Cremation. The Inquirer and Commercial News Perth WA Friday 28 May 1897 p. 9.

lenkenna-crystaljordanAre Indians An Ethnic Minority? Vols 1-5

© Len Kenna & Crystal Jordan 2014