Historic graves vandalised in Auckland

November 15, 2010 by Ruth Thomas
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Historic Jewish graves dating back to Auckland’s founding are among the headstones that have been again badly vandalised in the Symonds Street cemetery.

Damaged headstones photos: Ilan Wittenberg

Damaged headstones

“Drunks gather there when it’s dark and take out their frustrations on fairly brittle old graves. It’s not necessarily anti-Semitic,” says Neville Baker, from Auckland’s Chevra Kadisha.

He is passionate about preserving the heritage of the cemetery, set in beautiful park-like surroundings near Grafton Bridge.

“Some of Auckland Jewry’s most prominent people were buried there in the 1800s.They include David Nathan, the founder of the AHC, who came to NZ in the 1840s and was buried there in 1886.

“Two of his children were buried there, six-month-old Catherine in 1844 being the first recorded burial. Also there are graves of the Phillips, Goldwater, Keesing, Davis families.”

Last year the Auckland City Council allocated $400,000 over a 10-year period for the maintenance of the graves and will in the summer months, spend a second $40,000 repairing the damage to the worst affected graves, Auckland Council’s manager of local and sports grounds, Mark Bowater says.

He says the council is doing everything it can. The nearby lighting has been improved and there is also more regular surveillance from the police and as well an independent security company patrols the area.

However Neville Baker believes what is needed is a wrought iron fence with high walls and a gate so that it can be locked off at night.

The parks department is investigating options for a suitable perimeter fence, costing up to $300,000 around the entire site, which is almost six hectares.

Symonds Street cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in Auckland and was its first official burial ground. Many of Auckland’s early settlers are buried there, including Captain William Hobson, the first Governor of New Zealand, who died in 1842.

It was closed in 1886. The unused part of the Jewish cemetery was given back to the council to be used as a park and is commemorated by a small plaque. It houses a sculpture designed by Greer Twiss.

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