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Many of early Wellington's notable figures are buried here. The cemetery offers a tranquil and historically interesting escape from the city, just minutes from the centre. There is a heritage rose collection inspired by original graveside plantings. Blooms peak from November to December.
When Wellington's first cemetery opened in 1840 it lay on the outskirts of the new town and served the colony's non-Catholic residents. A single, shared town cemetery - rather than graveyards for individual churches - was a new concept in England at this time. The cemetery at Bolton Street was considered a liberal concept for the fledgling colony.However, Anglicans, Jews and Roman Catholics insisted on separate burial areas. The cemetery was divided into three areas - Anglican, Jewish and Public. The Roman Catholic Cemetery was - and still is - in Mount Street, Kelburn.Deaths recorded in Wellington's early days reflected difficulties of the times. Drowning, consumption and childbirth were common causes of death. Soldiers, sailors, thatchers, large families and children were among those buried at the cemetery. They were later joined by politicians, Māori and Pākehā community leaders.Overcrowding and the increasing encroachment of the city resulted in the cemetery closing to burials in 1892, with relatives of people already buried there the exception. The cemetery was transferred to Wellington City Council in the same year.
Controversy raged in Wellington in the 1960s over a proposal to direct the city's motorway through a section of the cemetery. The plan went ahead, closing the cemetery between 1968 and 1971. During this time, about 3,700 burials - many newly discovered - were exhumed. This section of the urban motorway opened in 1978.A large vault beneath the Early Setters Memorial Lawn contains most of the disinterred. A small number were reinterred at Karori and Makara cemeteries at the request of relatives. Identifiable burials are recorded in the Chapel. Most headstones were returned to the appropriate religious sectors of the cemetery, other than a few that were claimed by relatives. Protest groups did not stop the motorway's passage, but succeeded in elevating the cemetery's status as a significant historic site and city reserve.
In anticipation of motorway construction, historian Margaret Alington was commissioned to research the cemetery. She contributed greatly to the documentation of Wellington's history with Unquiet Earth: A History of the Bolton Street Cemetery, published 1978.
Life After Death; an Old Cemetery becomes a Memorial Park, by M. H. Alington, in The Making of Wellington, by D. Hamer and R. Nicholls, eds., Victoria University Press, 1990.Bolton Street Memorial Park, by H. A. Fullarton, in NZ Historic Places No 34, September 1991.
Entry to the cemetery is from:
The cemetery sits either side of the motorway. A pedestrian over-bridge links The Terrace side of the park to the Botanic Garden. Some trails are unsealed and include steps.
There are limited parking and wheelchair access at the Kinross Street entrance. Parking is limited to 2 hours. Access is through Centennial entrance to the Botanic Garden on Glenmore Street. Parking is also available along Bowen Street.
Find out more at our Treehouse Visitor Centre, Wellington Botanic Garden
Phone: 04 499 firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday - Friday | 9am - 4pmWeekends September - March | 10am - 3pmWeekends April - August | Closed(Closed public holidays)
Bolton Street Cemetery - open daily from dawn to dusk
Bolton Street Chapel - All year | 10am-4pm
The park is as popular with lunchtime joggers and walkers as it is with visitors to the city.A sign-posted heritage trail through the grounds offers a glimpse into Wellington's colonial history. The trail is split into two, either side of the motorway. Each trail takes between 30 to 45 minutes to walk.
There is a heritage rose collection inspired by original graveside plantings. Blooms peak from November to December.
A replica mortuary chapel on Bolton Street tells the park's story and displays burial information. It is open daily from 10am - 4pm. There are printed lists of the names of those buried in the park at the chapel. Records are also available at the Karori Cemetery.You can search the Bolton Street records dated from 1840 using our online database:
The Friends of Bolton Street Cemetery run guided tours from time to time. Check out the events page for upcoming tours.Special guided tours are available by prior arrangement through the Treehouse Visitor Centre.
If you wish to undertake grave maintenance, you must first obtain a permit from Karori Cemetery. Contact the Treehouse Visitor Centre first and we can help you with this. Treehouse Visitor Centre, Wellington Botanic Garden phone 04 499 1400, email: email@example.com
Friends of Bolton Street Cemetery is a volunteer organisation that aims to protect, maintain and develop the Park and its historical records.The group was set up in 1977 to:• preserve the Cemetery’s historic atmosphere • help the Council maintain graves • encourage descendants and associates of people buried in the park to repair damaged graves • promote the Cemetery through guided tours and promotional information. Find more information on their website