Lee Sulkowska 2021

Deakin University, Australia

Drama in the archives: nineteenth century colonial class conflict in St Kilda Cemetery, Australia

‘Truelove and Dear are names which would suggest a very amicable partnership, yet they are owned by a couple of St. Kilda citizens who are continually at war with one another.’ – The Age, 1903. The story of Charles Truelove and Nathaniel Dear reads like a plot arc on a television soap opera. Both were employees at the St Kilda Cemetery in Melbourne, Australia during the late nineteenth century. Dear, an independent grave decorator, loved to hate Truelove, the cemetery sexton and administrator, who loathed him right back. Together, they caused significant disruption to cemetery management. This presentation tells the story of Dear and Truelove’s dramatic conflict, and then investigates their relationship through the lens of colonial class structures. I will explore the questions: How does a society decide what is respectable? Where do cemeteries fit into colonial class narratives? How are individual subjects categorised into class groups for analysis? Class structures in colonial Victoria were complex: squatter-graziers held British evangelical ideas about the moral purpose of colonisation, which evolved into anti-squatter sentiment with the industrialisation of Melbourne, and then, toward the end of the nineteenth century, social fluidity and a growing Labour movement further muddled social class divides. I argue that Dear and Truelove were both a representation of existing class structures in the mid to late nineteenth century, and agents of change in class attitudes in Victoria.


The Cemetery Research Group runs two events a year: in May and in November. Follow the links and send in an abstract