GUNGA SINGH MEMORIAL AT HAMILTON CEMETERY VICTORIA

GUNGA SINGH MEMORIAL AT HAMILTON CEMETERY VICTORIA

Len Kenna & Crystal Jordan © 2013

Len Kenna was born in Hamilton, Victoria, and as a young boy and he remembers an Indian Hawker, Gunter Singh, a Sikh, who visited his family home in his horse and wagon.  Len’s mother purchased goods from the Gunter and washed his turbans for him. In return he cooked the evening meal and ate with Len’s family.  After tea the Gunter told Len stories of his travels and of India.  These memories cultured a deep interest for Len of India and things Indian and he was always intrigued by the grave and memorial of Gunga Singh in the Hamilton General Cemetery because his name was similar to the Hawker who visited his home when he was a child. When Len Kenna was researching the history of Gunga Singh in early 2000 he noticed a broken headstone very close to Gunga’s grave. The inscription at first seemed to him to be like Chinese writing but with further research and help from a friend with the translation of the inscription it was found that the 3 broken pieces of headstone were from the one headstone that belonged to the grave of a Jewish man named Lionel Phillips.

Gunga Singh arrived in Australia at 32 years of age in 1888 from Ludhiana District, Punjab, India. He was the son of Dava Singh, a farmer. Gunga was well known around Hamilton and the surrounding districts and on special occasions he wore medals he had received while serving in the army in India.  At the age of 45 he died of consumption on the 6th September 1901. He had been a patient in the Hamilton base Hospital before his brother took him to Melbourne for treatment.  When he returned to Hamilton, he took to his bed at Mrs. Smith’s boarding house, where he and other Indians lived.  He was treated by local doctors Houghton and Laidlaw.  When he died Mr. Milbourne, a Hamilton  Undertaker, took his body to his funeral parlour and placed it in a coffin. His remains were cremated by his first cousin, Chunda Singh who was the executor of his estate.  What happened to the ashes is unknown. Because his brother Bucksie lived in the area it is reasonable to assume that his ashes were disposed of in accordance with his Sikh religious beliefs. After his cremation the ashes from the pyre were disposed of in accordance with Victorian Law and in all probability the memorial was erected by his family on the site where he was cremated. The erection of such an elaborate memorial is unusual in Sikh culture. The memorial is still standing in an isolated part of the Hamilton General Cemetery, alone, neglected and badly needing repair. (An short extract from Are Indians An Ethnic Minority? Hawkers, Volume 4, by Len Kenna. pps. 176-81.)

Inscription on Gunga Singh’s Headstone reads:

GUNGA SINGH
BELOVED SON OF
DAVA SINGH
NATIVE OF POLOOLLA INDIA
DIED 6TH SEPT 1901
AGED 45 YEARS

Lionel Phillips was born in Geelong in 1837. His Hebrew name was “Aryeh ben Uri Asher” and he was the son of Sussanah Marks and Philip Phillips. He had worked as a Brewer in Auckland, New Zealand before he married Frances on the 6 May 1879 in the Great Synagogue, Elizabeth Street, Sydney, New South Wales. They later moved from New Zealand to Hamilton, Victoria, where Lionel became a member of the firm Williams and Phillips of the Western City Brewery. Although he was a heavy man of 22 stone he was very active but suffered from asthma.  He fell ill with bronchitis and died at the age of 42. After his funeral his remains were interred at the Hamilton General Cemetery according to the rites of his Jewish faith.

The  inscription at the top of the Headstone is in Hebrew. The translation was as follows: 
“A man blameless and upright one that feared God and turned away from evil (Job 1:1), Arych, the son of Mr. Uri Asher, whose soul departed on the 8th of Tishrei 5650 at the half of his days, aged 42.”

Part of the text on the Headstone was in English:

IN MEMORY
LIONEL PHILLIPS
WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE
3rd OCT 1889
DIED 42 YEARS

CRY NOT OF … AS BEING DEAD
AS NONE ARE DEAD – ALL LIVE ALL LOVE
YOUR DEAR ONE HAS BUT CHANGED HAS SPED
FROM THIS LOWER HOME TO ONE ABOVE.

Gunga Singh’s grave after some cleaning up. The memorial still needed some attention and repair.

Len Kenna at Gunga Singh’s neglected Grave 2003. The photo for the article was supplied by Len.

Biliography:
Death of Mr. L. Phillips. Hamilton Spectator Vic. Sat. 5 Oct. 1889, p. 2.
Marriage Certificate NSW
Death Certificates Victoria
Research by Len Kenna and Crystal Jordan
Kenna, Len, Are Indians An Ethnic Minority? Vols. 1-5, 2008-2013.

 

 

Len Kenna & Crystal Jordan, Are Indians An Ethnic Minority? 2008-2013.