Heritage: Symonds Street Cemetery

Symonds Street Cemetery

The Symonds Street Cemetery is Auckland's oldest Municipal Cemetery. It was created from 1841 onwards

Symonds Street (and by extension the Cemetery) was named after Captain William Cornwallis Symonds, although he is not buried there. Symonds was a friend of William Hobson and one of his closest and most effective officials.

William Cornwallis Symonds was one of the first six Police Magistrates in New Zealand and Chief Magistrate of Auckland. In 1841 he was appointed Deputy Surveyor-General of New Zealand.

William Cornwallis Symonds was related to the General Cornwallis who surrendered at Yorktown during the American War of Independence. William's brother Captain John Jermyn Symonds (1819-1883) also lived in Auckland; Symonds Street in Onehunga is named after him.

William Symonds intended to create a settlement on the Manukau Harbour at Cornwallis. The Maori name for that place was Karangahape and Karangahape Road (including what is now Lower Symonds street) was part of the route taken to reach that place - hence the name.

Captain William Cornwallis Symonds 1810-1841, depicted in a lithograph of an 1841 drawing by Joseph Merrett. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library

Captain William Cornwallis Symonds and two others had drowned in the Manukau Harbour in November 1841 while on an errand of mercy. The United Service Magazine lamented:

Thus miserably perished one of the finest young men in the British Service." “Capt. Symonds - has found an early grave in the public service, and in the immediate performance of an act of humanity at great personal hazard"

There doesn't seem to be any record of a funeral for him or burial site so it appears his body was never recovered.

In 1842 Hobson named the main road leading south out of Auckland Symonds Street in memory of his friend and colleague.

Shortly afterwards in 1842 he demarcated several acres at the intersection of Symonds Street and Karangahape Road to be used as a municipal burial ground.

In the 1840s this land was a mile outside of the flegling town of Auckland. Initially this was the area to the east of Symonds Street - comprising a large area for Anglicans to the south and a smaller area to the north or “dissenters" (basically everyone else).

Eventually in 1843 the land to the west of Symonds Street was made available for the other minority religion - the Jewish faith and then areas for the two other Christian denominations located in Auckland at the time - the Roman Catholic Church in 1852 and the Church of Scotland in 1869.

The Symonds Street and Karangahape Road ridge had been used in pre-european times by Maori as a walking route between the two harbours.

The track was demarcated by white shell fragments - small shellfish such as pipi were the most convenient food to carry on trips and any heavily used walking track became littered with discarded shells - this led to one of the interpretations of Karangahape - The Shell Path.

There is the possibility of the area having been used for pre-european burials - certainly its Maori name - Te Iringa o Rauru - was associated with death.


Grafton Gully in the 1850s This photograph shows the view down the fern clad gully to the harbour. The house on the left is at the bottom of St Martins Lane