The blame game. Parramatta, NSW, Australia

I was in Parramtta yesterday and I visited an old sadly neglected historic cemetery from the early days of settlement, where I came across this gravestone. 

Gravestone in Parramatta

The epitaph reads:

Sacred to the Memory
Who was unfortunately drowned in a
Well on his Parents Premises the 23
Day of October 1834
Aged 3 years and 7 Months
The Well having been left uncovered
By a careless Female Servant who
had Charge of the Unfortunate
Infant who was a beautiful
Promising Child

Weep not for me my Parents Dear
I am not Dead but Sleeping here
My days are past my grave you see
Prepare yourselves to follow me

13 thoughts on “The blame game. Parramatta, NSW, Australia”

  1. Ooooh I love that one. Something I find profoundly morbid about myself is a fascination with old children tombs and that one is GREAT!
    In Porquerolles, a little island in South of France, there is a tomb where three children from the same family are buried. The three kids all died before reaching 7 years old, and all three from different accidents… I’ve always found that particularly suspicious.

  2. Good Grief! What guilt carved into that stone! I’ve never seen anything like this and I’ve got a few pre-revolutionary graveyards here in Boston! Parental guilt and if the “Careless Female Servent” could read, yowser….Perhaps, there was the equivalent of “Nancy Grace” back then? (She’s a legal commentator on TV in the US who hounds parents of children who have been abducted or died under mysterious circumstances.

  3. Nat

    I, myself am very interested in how people died. When ever I’m in cemeteries, I can’t help myself reading the epitaphs and my favourite ones are those with a little information about the person interred.


    When I showed my wife this photo, she (in a mock accusatory tone) said, “I damn you to hell!” The epitaph is so loaded with grief, anger and recrimination. The fact that the parents felt the need to point out that it was a servant’s fault shows how guilty they must of felt for not caring for the child themselves. I find it also strange that they had to mention the sex of the servant.

    I also wonder if the “servant” was a convict. There weren’t many women in NSW back then and many of the women who were there were convicts or ex-convicts (convicts were used like slaves until about 1870). Most of the female convicts were petty thieves or prostitutes and they were treated so badly it makes me shudder (the “Fatal Shore” by Robert Hughes is a very well written account of the convicts in Australia). So I don’t find it hard to understand that if the Barley’s “female servant” was a convict forced into indentured servitude, that she would’ve had very little enthusiasm for her job.

    I think that the death of little Samuel would’ve been a very ugly time for everyone involved, as the blame game was played out.

    I would’ve loved to know what happed to the “female servant” and what her story was.

  4. Some things I just don’t understand. Putting incription like this on your child grave is one of those things. What did they think an inscription like this would do? Be a warning, threat maybe to other careless female servants? (who probably didn’t roam graveyards and probably didn’t even know how to read). Provoke emphatic feelings of other parents? Maybe.
    I wonder.
    Though, when we travel to Bosnia, it’s an increadible experience to visit their graveyards. People put all sorts of stuff on their gravestones, not to mention the size and shape of those – gravestone in a shape of a tractor is quite common, I guess, because quite some people die in work related tractor accidents.

  5. I have always had a love of old graveyards and find the modern trend of putting only the last name and perhaps a date, to be very regrettable. The level of personal detail that used to appear on stones, I feel, give you a sense of real empathy and a solid connection to a person who might have died hundreds of years ago. Call me morbid, but I like that.

    This stone is simply amazing. As a father of two very young children, I don’t know how I’d survive this kind of grief and yet, back only a few decades ago, loosing a few of your sons and daughters before they reached adulthood was expected. It makes me ill just to think about it.

    There is a stone in the corner of a small and very old cemetery in southern New Hampshire that belongs to a five year old girl, who died some time in the late 1700’s. I can’t remember the inscription in any great detail except that it is all done in rhyme and tells the story about how she was killed by falling into a vat of boiling cider. The last line of the last lines refers goes something like “… who, in her wracking agony, was lifted to the embrace of God.”

    Powerful stuff. I always try to visit hew stone when I’m in the area.

    -Turkish Prawn

  6. Great tombstone spotting! I always like taking a look around graveyards and reading the inscriptions. The old Ross Bay Cemetary (west coast Canada old) in Victoria, B.C. is a great place to read about shipwrecks, mining disasters, robber barons, and immigrant stories. Almost everyone in there died amazingly!

    note: I wasn’t named after the cemetary.

  7. Cashmere

    I think that the tombstone was an expression of not only grief but also an cursing accusation. You’ve got me intrigued with the tractor gravestones in Bosnia. The more I hear about Bosnia, the more interested I become in that country.


    Thanks for coming by again and doing me the honour of passing on the Kreativ Blogger Award.


    Yes, it’s hard to believe that child mortality used to be taken as a given up until fairly recently. I think that there are very few people in the world who aren’t moved by the plight of a child in danger. Like you, I (who have no children) don’t how parents can cope with such a loss.

    Marx once said that “religion was the opium of the masses”. I’m pretty sure he meant it was a pain killer, not an addictive drug and that is why we see stuff like “in her wracking agony, was lifted to the embrace of God”. I suppose there must a little consolation that the child has gone somewhere better and is no longer suffering.


    I’ve been to Victoria BC several times but I never thought about going to the cemetery there. Next time I’m over that way (I have friends in Vancouver)I must go an check it out.

  8. It’s one of those pictures that tells an entire history. We have a guy at work who holds the terrifying position of Director, and his saying is “when we get it right it’s WE but when it all goes wrong it’s YOU.” He doesn’t accept the blame for a single thing.

  9. I live very near this cemetery in Parramatta and have often wandered around and placed small flowers on the graves. A headstone used to tell a story and isnt it amazing to think that hundreds of years later that people will read it and think of that person – in some ways it keeps the memory alive of that person.

    I have seen this gravestone and have wondered where they lived in Parramatta, what the family’s story was and …. yes what happened to “the female servant”. I have just googled Samuel Barleys name and this was my first ‘hit’ – congratulations on keeping Samuels memory alive and spreading it throughout the world!

  10. Liz

    Thanks for stopping by.

    I also used to live near the old graveyard and one of the things that struck me about it, was that it was so neglected. It is probably one of the oldest European cemetries in Australia and the government doesn’t seem to be bothered in preserving such an interesting piece of our history of European settlement here.

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