Flu pandemic burial site project – volunteers needed

4 November 2016

An ambitious project focusing on Karori Cemetery’s burial sites for victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic starts this month.

The project aims are to progressively clear and clean the main burial sites for greater public access, while local genealogists will research the lives and family circumstances of at least 75 people who died. The results of the research will appear on a community website dedicated to the victims buried at Karori Cemetery.

The first volunteer working bee is scheduled for Sunday 13 November. The project’s co-ordinator, local resident, Barbara Mulligan says people should contact her if they’re interested in getting involved, or turn up on the 13th at the Main Chapel, Karori Cemetery, Rosehaugh Avenue at 2pm.

“Some of the local community groups are helping out but we’d love to hear from anyone else who’d like to get their hands dirty while learning a bit about the city’s history.”

Between October and December 1918 a lethal influenza pandemic caused the death of around 8,600 people throughout New Zealand. This was about half as many New Zealanders as had been killed during the whole of the First World War. In the Wellington area the death rate was highest at the military camp at Trentham, described as “by far the most dangerous place to be in 1918”. At least 720 of those who succumbed to influenza in Wellington were buried at Karori cemetery.

“All burials were in individual plots,” says Mulligan. “A few people were interred in previously purchased family plots, but many graves were dug in contiguous areas of the cemetery, the location of these conforming to religious affiliation.”

As well as looking for volunteers, Mulligan says they want to identify descendants of flu victims buried at the cemetery.

“We’d love to find living relatives who would be keen to help out with our research. In return, they might discover some fascinating family history, which we can sometimes help contextualise by providing additional information on occupations, war service and number of family members affected.”

The project’s completion will coincide with the centenary of the Armistice of WW1 on 11 November 2018. If people want to help and become involved, they can contact Barbara Mulligan on email.