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.
1890 -1892 The first Authorised Official and Registered Cremation in Australia was in 1890 (1), when a Chinese leper named Foo Choo, who had been a patient at the Quarantine Station at Point Nepean, died and was cremated at the Station.(2) However, on the 9th December 1892 there was another Chinese leper named Gee Ti, who died and was cremated at Point Nepean Quarantine Station where he had been a patient for over three years. And he was reported in the Newspapers to be the first official Cremation in Australia.(3) Drs. Gresswell, Mullen and Browning did a post mortem of the body and found that there was so much disease that they made a unanimous decision that it was safer to cremate the body. They were all present at the cremation of Gee Ti. The ashes were collected and placed in a container and buried at the Quarantine Station.
1895 The first Australian European woman to be officially cremated in Victoria was Elizabeth Henniker. Her body was cremated in March 1895 at Sandringham Beach, Victoria by Mr. J. R. Le Pine, Undertaker at Richmond. Her son arranged the funeral as per his mother’s instructions in her will. (Note: Le Pine Funerals are still conducted today.) (see sketch of cremation below). (4)
1895 Sjoomand (Soomand) Singh, Hawker, cremated between Sandringham and Black Rock, July 1895. The Moorabbin Council protested to the Health Department and to the Police and asked for a place to be set aside for cremations. The Minister for Health ruled that, “all cremations, must be conducted in a Cemetery, fartherest removed from the centres of population, so that only those people who wished to be present attended.
1901 Jameeta Singh was cremated on the beach at Warrnambool in February 1901.
1901 Gunga Singh was cremated by his cousin Chunda Singh on the 5 September 1901 at the Hamilton Cemetery, Victoria and his ashes that were not scattered on water or taken to India were buried in a grave a section of the cemetery and a memorial was erected on the site by his brother Bucksie Singh. (See memorial photo)
1903 Bishin Singh was the first person cremated at the new West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide, South Australia, on the 4 May 1903. The Crematorium was built by the Cremation Society of South Australia and handed over to the Government in 1903. Five of Bishin’s friends collected his ashes from the Crematorium. (see 2 photos below) of these cremations were carried our offically and registered.
1905 The Cremation of Devan Singh in Albury in 1905 was reported to be the first cremation at the Albury Indian Cemetery. Esher, Ernam, Buddan, Bishan, Junda, Unda and Buddar Singh were present at the funeral, five of them lifted the coffin onto the pyre and Esher Singh read the prayers.
For more information on the history of Indian Cremations in Australia see “Are Indians An Ethnic Minority? Hawkers Vol. 4 and A Pictorial History Vol 5. by Len Kenna and Crystal Jordan 2013. available from this website.
(1) NAA: SP1155/1, 10 2
(2) Burning the Dead. Goulburn Evening Penny Post NSW, Sep. 1898.
(3) The First Cremation in Victoria. The Age, Melb. Vic. 12 Dec. 1892.
(4) Cremation at Sandringham. The Australasian Melb. V. Mar. 1895.
 Australasian Melb. 29 Jul. 1905.
©Len Kenna & Crystal Jordan Are Indians An Ethnic Minority? Vols 1-5, 2008 – 2013.