Local retiree Karlyn Robinson never set out to write a book about a cemetery but the lure of a bushranger’s death from gunshot wounds was just too enticing to ignore.
The author of “Dubbo Pioneer Cemetery: The Stories Behind the Headstones” explained that, as a dedicated member of the Dubbo and District Family History Society (DDFHS), her journey began with a social media update.
“It didn’t start as a book. I manage the Family History Facebook page and I try to put up things that are interesting.
“In May 2017, I went down to the Pioneer Cemetery in order to take a few photographs of the headstones... I soon realised that a photograph alone would not suffice and so began researching the names of the people buried beneath the headstones.”
Karlyn’s first study was the grave of Charles Ashenheim, a Jewish doctor from Edinburgh who was the medical examiner at the death of infamous bushranger Ben Hall, who was gunned down and killed near Forbes on May 5, 1865.
After examining the body, which was riddled with up to 30 bullet holes, Ashenheim’s statement was declared: “I am a qualified medical man; I have examined the body of the deceased, and find it perforated by several bullets; the shot between the shoulders the two shots through the brain, and the one through the body were severally sufficient to cause death.”*
The fascinating account was enough for Karlyn to continue her research and discover other stories from the cemetery.
These included deaths caused by typhoid and childbirth, and the first Chinese national to be buried at Pioneer, along with the tale of a woman who stepped on a death adder.
Once Karlyn started sharing her findings online, it opened a floodgate of information which was too good to waste.
“The photos and information posted on the Facebook page soon developed a following with favourable results,” she explained.
Many descendants of those buried there were quick to offer insights which soon became much more than social media chatter.
“More and more people started following and people would give their information.
“Once I had finished the project on the headstones, I was left with a tremendous amount of material that was just too good to throw away.”
Knowing that she wanted to preserve those people and their lives, Karlyn committed to the book, which was launched in Dubbo on Friday, May 18, after seven months of hard work in the latter half of 2017.
Other than Robert Dulhunty, one of Dubbo’s founding fathers, very little was written about the other people laid to rest in the graveyard.
“There are small bits written on some people but absolutely nothing on the others. That’s when I got started on the research. People like Charles Ashenheim are absolutely fascinating,” Karlyn told Dubbo Photo News
“I just felt that the inscriptions on the stones leave many stories untold.”
Unlike the headstones of today, which reveal a lot about the family of the deceased, headstones of yesteryear often showed very little.
“They would just have the name and dates – there’s nothing to tell you anything about them. No-one had written about the headstones before.”
Karlyn published the book with the help of her daughter Elizabeth. Additional information that wasn’t included was filed in a large folder and stored by the DDFHS.
She praised both Elizabeth and her friends at DDFHS for their help with compilation, along with Macquarie Regional Library local studies officer Simone Taylor for their invaluable assistance.
The book will now be added to the DDFHS collection and copies are available for sale.
Dubbo Pioneer Cemetery is believed to be Dubbo’s first cemetery and was established on land formerly owned by Robert Dulhunty. It is now his final resting place.
DDFHS hosts a ‘Share Your Story’ session every third Friday and welcomes new members. It is located at the Community Arts Centre at Western Plains Cultural Centre. Visit www.dubbofamilyhistory.org.au for more information.
*Source: A Guide to Australian Bushranging