The Glenorchy Lone Grave and Queenstown Cemetery Monuments Rescue

Many sincere thanks go out to the New Zealand Master Monumental Masons’ Association for their recent contribution to several cemetery restoration projects in Queenstown and Glenorchy. 

Dunedin Monumental Masons, Southern Monuments from Gore, and Maiden Stone Monumental Masons from Invercargill all generously contributed their time and energy—covering travel, accommodation costs, and wages for participating staff—while the NZMMMA provided material costs to rescue and restore several historic headstones.

The Lone Grave in Glenorchy

Constance Davidson (1868-1907), daughter of J.K. and Sarah Birley and wife of William Davidson, grew up in Glenorchy and became one of the signers of the women’s suffrage petition in 1893. 

At the age of 39, she met her untimely death due to an accident involving a horse. As she was Catholic, her grave was positioned to the south of the Protestant burials; however, with no further Catholic burials recorded and with fencing later installed around the Protestant area, this left her grave isolated. 

Over 100 years later, another horse would be responsible for knocking over her headstone, toppling it and breaking it in two. While a helpful community member tried to repair the headstone, within a few years it fell again and sat in that position until the NZMMMA came to the rescue. 

(Special thanks to Head of the Lake Heritage Museum Group members Leslie Van Gelder for providing Constance’s biography and photo, and Elaine Kirkland for providing further details on the cemetery and her grave.)

Constance Davidson
The overgrown grave of Constance Davidson

By April 2022, Constance’s grave was completely covered in weeds and blackberry vines, with only a small portion of her upturned headstone visible. When NZMMMA members Craig and Lisa Morton, Natalie McDonnell, and Diane Parker (Dunedin Monumental), Ian Trainor and Ben Naseby (Maiden Stone Monumental), and Hayden Stephen (Southern Monuments), arrived on site, it was unclear what grave features they would find underneath the overgrowth. 

After a great deal of brush cutting, the headstone was finally uncovered, and it was carefully lifted out of the grave area by crane and onto a nearby truck bed. Once there, it received delicate surface cleaning, precise drilling and re-leading of the letters involving tapping lead into the letter grooves followed by gentle sanding, and finally drilling larger holes into the bottom of the monument in order to securely anchor it to its concrete base. This detailed restoration work took almost five hours to complete.

It was a surprising and fortunate discovery that the grave had an intact concrete cap underneath the brush. This prompted a spur-of-the-moment decision to place weed matting down and cover the cap with stone pebbles. Infinite thanks to Diane and Natalie for making the 2-hour round trip back to Queenstown to get pebbles! With the grave cleared, pebbles placed, and outer kerbing repaired, the beautifully restored monument was slowly craned back into place.


Carefully lifting the headstone out of grave and onto truck for restoration
Craig Morton (Dunedin Monumental) precisely drilling anchor points to secure the lead lettering to the monument face

Craig Morton (Dunedin Monumental) and Hayden Stephen (Southern Monuments) working on the carving and lettering restoration while Ian Trainor (Maiden Stone) carefully drills the new anchor holes

Ben Naseby (left) and Ian Trainor (right) both from Maiden Stone Monumental clearing the remaining vegetation from the concrete cap

After almost eight solid hours of dedicated work by a team of seven, the iron-fenced grave and intricately carved monument of Constance Davidson had been fully restored. The rust-coloured residue on the monument (seen above) is a temporary result of the cleaning and will slowly fade to pure white. The result is stunning and shows the skill and passion these craftspeople have for their trade. 

A few tasks remain, such as to weed mat and gravel around the perimeter of the grave, and perhaps a bit of rabbit fencing as well for good measure. The Head of the Lake Heritage Museum Group contacted the descendants of Constance to let them know of this NZMMMA project and they were “over the moon” that her grave was so thoughtfully restored.

The fully restored grave and monument of Constance Davidson
Acknowledgment plaque for NZMMMA members’ invaluable work on the project

Queenstown Cemetery Monuments Rescue 

The next day following the restoration of Constance Davidson’s grave in Glenorchy, the NZMMMA members were back on the job, this time rescuing several Queenstown Cemetery historic headstones that were tipped over onto adjacent monuments posing both a health and safety risk as well as potential for future damage if they toppled entirely. 

Another full day was spent craning monuments down, cleaning their weathered surfaces, re-levelling the concrete bases, and then resetting and securely anchoring them back in place (photos below). 

QLDC heritage partners Jo Boyd and Jane Peasey with the Lakes District Museum kindly took time out of their Saturday to come and observe the restoration works as well as to ask questions. Being in such a high-profile location brought curious members of the public over to have a look as well!

Monument Rescue #1: While not posing a safety risk, the detached headstone of Graydon Johnston had been tossed over the back cemetery fence into the brush where it lay until a contractor reported its displacement. As a straightforward single-person job, Hayden Stephen (Southern Monuments) kindly reattached the headstone to ensure it would not “wander off” in the future.

Monument Rescue #2: In a domino effect, the Boyne monument pictured above was damaged when the monument behind tipped into it, knocking the spire from the top and also spilling the tipped monuments’ decorative features into the Boyne plot. All fallen monument parts were removed from the plot, cleaned, and the spire was craned up and securely anchored back into place.

Monument Rescue #3: Above is a clearer picture of the monument that tipped over, and which took an unexpected amount of effort to get the concrete base level. The monument was removed and cleaned along with the top decorative features which had fallen into the adjacent plot. All monument features were reunited, this time with secure anchoring. Master Mason Craig Morton explained that the draped urn feature (pictured in above photo to right) is symbolic for sorrow.

Monument Rescue #4: Another leaning monument, this one also needed to be craned up and off to level the concrete base. After a good deal of adjusting, the base was evened out and the newly cleaned monument was reset. Since lots of groundworks were needed, the fifth and final monument rescue (i.e., the adjacent headstone that was tipped into) is on hold till the masons can come back to complete the work.

The professionalism, streamlined coordination, and teamwork exhibited by the participating NZMMMA members was first-class and we could not be more grateful to be the recipients of their hard work and expertise. Photo below, from left to right: Thank you again to Craig Morton (not pictured), Ben Naseby, Hayden Stephen, Diane Parker, Ian Trainor, Natalie McDonnell, and Lisa Morton (far right: Tarsy Koentges, QLDC Cemeteries Administrator) for all that you do for the historic monuments of New Zealand!

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