Monday, June 25, 2012

Grave Tales 3 :: The loss of the 2 Graham girls

Here is the next instalment in our series of Grave Tales. In this edition, Brad Argent tells us of his visit to a small cemetery in NSW's Shoalhaven area and the search that resulted for the descendants of the two poor farming girls buried there. He found them. Start your local research today.


I was taking a short break in Kangaroo Valley with my family recently and couldn’t resist taking a stroll through the local cemetery. My usual approach is to let my feet take me where they will and there, in dappled light beneath a sparse shrub, were two crosses with the names Helen and Kate Graham. Time worn and obviously hand crafted, I was struck by the similarities of the crosses – same surname, similar age of death and a decade apart.

Helen, known officially as Jane Helen Kate Graham, was born in the Shoalhaven area in 1875 to John Graham and Mary Merchant. Helen She was the fourth child and second daughter for farmers John and Mary.

Life on a farm meant that everyone in the family worked. On August 10, 1889 fourteen year old Helen, with her younger sister Florence, aged ten, were minding some cows in a paddock near the house. For reasons unknown Helen lit a fire and her dress caught alight. She died some hours later and was buried in an unmarked grave.

Kate, formally Kate Martha Matilda Graham, was born in the Shoalhaven in 1886 - John and Mary’s eighth child and sixth daughter. Kate died of rheumatic fever when she was just 13 years old.

The anguish of losing two young children is something I cannot begin to understand. I hugged my kids tighter when I got back to the house that day.

After doing a little research it occurred to me that the wooden crosses were unlikely to have been original, so I sought more information on and found the Latham/Madge Family Tree. I reached out to Mable, the tree’s owner. In less than 24hrs, Mable – a descendent of Kate and Helen’s older brother Archy - got back to me with details on the girls.

Mable said that it was Helen’s father John and`her brother Archy who found the badly burnt body. She also told me that Kate was a favourite of Archy’s. Mable also shed some light on the crosses. They were erected a few years ago by members of the family as the burials were in unmarked graves, or graves whose markings had long since become erased. Mable also supplied the lovely photo of John, Mary and family you see below. My thanks to Mable for helping me tell this story.


Read the previous instalments in the series of Grave Tales:
[1]  Story of Strange Butson Hartigan
[2]  The murder of William Hird

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


  1. Thankyou for sharing this story....families endured so much tradgedy in the development of our wonderful country.
    There is a plot in the Beechworth cemetery which is the resting place for 7 of the 10 Gammon sad.
    My great great grandmother's first babies were twins put were born premature and they both died not long after they were born. this was back in the 1860s and the family was living at Barigan Station near Jerilderie. The death certificate says the children were buried there but I have been unable to find a grave for them. We drove thru Jerilderie a few times when we were living in Victoria and I always felt sad that I could not visit the childrens final resting place.
    Thankyou for sharing this story

    1. There are so many stories such as these in our nation's graveyards and you're right Ree, those early pioneers made Australia what it is today. That is sad about the Gammon children in Beechworth - I saw a similiar case in Parramatta's St Johns cemetery where a lady lost 11 children all under the age of 18. Very sad indeed. Thank you for sharing your family's story - there are too many lonely graves lost on farms across the country. A big thank you to the volunteers who are working to identify many of them.

  2. Such an interesting find. Thanks for sharing the details and the photo. I could stare at it for ages.

    1. You're very welcome Dorothy, thanks to Brad for telling us the stories from his travels. There is so much to discover in every cemetery and every photo!