Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Grave Tales :: Story of Strange Butson Hartigan

This is the first in a series of Grave Tales, from Brad Argent and his travels across the land and its many burial grounds. He may be a little nuts about cemeteries but aren't all historians!


For most suburbanites, cemeteries are large well laid out affairs located on the outer reaches of the city or town, but what many don’t realise is that there might be a smaller, quainter, necropolis just around the corner.

Tucked away in the quiet back streets of the Inner-western Sydney suburb of Canterbury is a cemetery.  Like many of the smaller suburban cemeteries still around today this one is attached to St. Paul’s Anglican Church – a beautiful building from 1859, designed by Edmund Blacket who was also responsible for the Great Hall at Sydney University.

Residing in this cemetery is the wonderfully named Strange Butson Hartigan, the third son of Reverend Edward and Elizabeth Florence Hartigan (nee Eyre).  At the age of about 19 Strange left his 12 brothers and sisters and joined the West India Regiment, ultimately rising to the rank of Captain.  A military life must have suited him as he pops up in the US Civil War records in the early 1860’s.  At this point he is married to a music teacher, Ellen Sandars and living in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In 1865 he’s back in Ireland, this time marrying a Margaret O’Dea in Kilrush, County Clare, Ireland.  What happened to his first wife, Ellen, is unknown, but it’s possible she died in the US.  Strange and Margaret make their way to Australia later that same year and arrived in Sydney, via Adelaide, on February 22, 1866.  Strange died 12 years later on October 10, 1878.

I’ve yet to find out about the life of Strange once he arrived here, whether he had children, when his wife died, etc. – I only recently stumbled upon his existence.  But to think that 145 years ago a world weary ‘soldier of fortune’ came to spend his quiet years just around the corner from where I currently live is pretty awesome.

Take a closer look at your neighbourhood cemetery, there might be some strange things there too.

Read the 2nd instalment in the series - The murder of William Hird!

Brad Argent is content director at Ancestry.com.au. Australia’s leading family history website, Ancestry.com.au contains more than 930 million records in its Australian and UK collections. 


  1. Good luck with your searches! One day it may all be revealed!

  2. What a fascinating tale and unfortunate name. I would love to introduce my husband as Strange ;)

    1. It's great isn't it, Brad has lots of brilliant tales to tell!