The Records of Clifton Street Cemetery
The information contained in these books is a historical goldmine for any researcher
One of the most historically interesting facets of any burying ground is its registry books. Although the New Burying Ground was opened in 1797, it was not until 1831 that the Belfast Charitable Society began to keep a registry of all interments. The exact number of people buried in the grounds before this date will never be known.
The information contained in these books is, to any historian or genealogical researcher, a historical goldmine. The books list the name, address, age, profession, place of birth and date of burial of the deceased. They also record the grave number and cost of opening the grave.
As could be expected, there are many interesting and odd entries recorded in these books.
Ann McGain was buried in the cemetery shortly after records began, on March 2, 1831. She was buried in the poor ground, and her age is recorded as 109, an amazing feat in the 1830s, especially for a pauper.
William Brown was buried on November 17, 1831. His death is recorded in the normal way, but his entry adds that, ’his wife and children are in slavery in America’. How William Brown escaped from that life and became a labourer in Belfast is, without doubt, a story in itself.
On April 12, 1837, Matilda Moreton was buried. She is recorded as being a widow and a beggar, aged 19. Catherine Orr, aged 66, was buried on December 8, 1842. The registry records her profession as ’carried a basket’. Sarah McNally was buried on December 27, 1842, after being found drowned. Her profession is recorded as ’prostitute’.
The records of causes of death are also interesting. Andrew Maguire, who was buried on September 12, 1832, reportedly died from a ’sore leg’. Others apparently suffered death from a ‘sore arm’, ’sore head’ and even ’the bite of a cat’.
On August 12, 1833, the first recorded murder victim was buried in the New Burying Ground.
This was swiftly followed by the interment of 17 year old Jane Gageby on August 20, 1833. A servant from Mill Street, her death is recorded as ’died from a gunshot wound received 12 days ago’. How she got this wound, whether through an accident or in a more sinister way, remains a mystery.
A burial which took place on January 12, 1837, undoubtedly resulted from sinister activities. A 69 year old tailor by the name of John Dalton died in the poor house. His death is recorded as ’harsh treatment in the House of Correction’, this being the Belfast jail previous to the construction of the Crumlin Road prison.
On February 14, 1837, the first ’unknowns’ were buried in the poor ground. The number of unknown people buried then rose at an alarming rate, reaching its peak during the cholera and fever epidemics. Children’s bodies were often found at the graveyard gate, left there by parents too poor to afford burial.
Without doubt, a look through these books will interest any reader. The original copies of the registry books are kept in Clifton House, the former poorhouse. Access to these books is limited to academic researchers only. However, microfilm copies are kept in the Public Record Office on Balmoral Avenue, Belfast.
© The Glenravel Local History Project 2004