Professor Hallie Buckley and Dr Peter Petchey presented their insights from their archaeological research at Drybread Cemetery at our AGM on 9 February.

Drybread was established in the early 1860s as a gold-mining settlement at the northern end of the Manuherekia Valley. Thirty years later Drybread was abandoned as gold diggers moved on to other sites. All that is left now is the cemetery, about 10km north of Omakau, which includes several unmarked graves.

The cemetery is managed by a Trust which includes locals who have a long history of living in the district and/or have family members buried there. The Trust has inconclusive records about who was buried at the cemetery and was eager to fill in these knowledge gaps.

Because the cemetery is not Council owned, the Trust was anxious about the potential legal costs associated with accidentally unearthing and restoring unmarked graves. At the invitation of the Trust, a month-long archaeological dig commenced in November last year, led by University of Otago anatomy Professor Hallie Buckley and Southern Archaeology director Dr Peter Petchey.

Sketch by Andrew Hamilton 1869 helped identify where the former goldmining settlement Image Courtesy of Lakes District Museum & Gallery.

Locating the old settlement and cemetery perimeter was always going to be a challenge because the records were destroyed in a fire back in the 1930s. However, pencil sketches drawn in the late 1860s proved to be a valuable resource.

So far, the research team has located and investigated 12 unmarked burial sites of 10 adults and two infants. Six of these burial sites appear to be the resting place for Chinese people, one of whom had been previously exhumed, probably for transport back to China on SS Ventnor. Unfortunately, the Ventnor sank near Hokianga Harbour in 1902 along with the remains of 499 Chinese miners.

Based on the Victorian decorative detailing on the Drybread coffins, many of the burials appear to date from the late 19th century.

Samples of remains are now being analysed to determine the ethnicity, age, and sex of these people. An understanding of life in Drybread at this time will be created through evidence of diet, disease, or physical trauma.

Karen Glassford, Drybread Cemetery Trust