Denny Day's historic gravesite lies anonymous

ANONYMOUS: Maitland City Council Heritage Officer Clare James at the historic Denny Day gravesite, which is in a state of disrepair. Picture Jonathan Carroll.

ANONYMOUS: Maitland City Council Heritage Officer Clare James at the historic Denny Day gravesite, which is in a state of disrepair. Picture Jonathan Carroll.

One of Australia's most historic gravesites lies anonymous and in a state of neglect in Glebe Cemetery, East Maitland.

Denny Day, the former police magistrate of Maitland from in the 1830s and ‘40s may well be Australia's greatest lawman, instrumental in bringing to justice the killers in the infamous Myall Creek Massacre. At least 28 aborigines - mostly the elderly and children - were killed at a peaceful camp in what remains to this day as Australia's most notorious aboriginal massacre.

The Irish-born Day was renowned at the time for catching bushrangers who terrorised the Hunter,  and set out to bring the Myall Creek murderers to justice. He tracked them to just outside Bingara in the north of the state, a distance of about 240 miles (400km), to make the arrests. His actions drew scorn from the press and general public, and the colony’s top lawyers were hired to defend the killers.

The gravesite was located by author Terry Smyth, a former Newcastle journalist, in his book Denny Day.

"Local legend had it that Denny Day was buried at Glebe Cemetery so I went searching for the gravesite and managed to locate it," Smyth explained. "The headstone was standing at the time, but the next time I went there it had fallen flat. Now no-one can read the name.

"I think it sad that someone who played such a major role in not just local history, but Australian history, should have their headstone flat on the ground and anonymous.

"Denny Day changed Australia's history. This was the first time white men were convicted for killing blacks."

Denny Day changed Australia's history. This was the first time white men were convicted for killing blacks.

The killers were originally found not guilty but were brought back before the courts when further evidence was found.

"This time seven of the 11 were found guilty and hanged," Smyth said. 

Maitland City Council Heritage Officer Clare James says plans are afoot to restore the gravesite.

"There has been an intensive two-year review of the gravesites at Glebe, taking into account their condition and historical importance," Ms James said. "Restoration work on the first phase is due for completion any day now, and Denny Day's gravesite is scheduled for the next phase and should be complete within the next two years.” 

The council commissioned Rookwood Cemetery Trust to undertake the conservation work. The Office of Environment and Heritage contributed half the cost for the project, with council paying the other half.  

Terry Smyth's book Denny Day (Penguin), RRP $35.