Most of us are aware of the old cemetery that sits on a wind-swept hill, adjacent to but isolated from the ever growing suburban development of Rathluba, it too a name steeped in Maitland's history.
But what is a 'Glebe'? The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a Glebe as: 'a portion of land going with clergyman's benefice'.
In colonial NSW, this was in effect a grant of land up to 20 acres in size to be used to supplement the stipend of a clergyman.
There are many familiar examples. The valuable 'Glebe' buildings in Central Maitland still belong to the Presbyterian Church and continue to supplement the income of local charges (parishes). In Newcastle, the road from Adamstown to Merewether is 'Glebe Road', in this instance the 'Glebe' being located in what we would now call Merewether Heights. In inner Sydney City, the Anglican Church is one of that city's largest landlords, their 'Glebe' being an entire suburb, unsurprisingly called 'Glebe'.
A cemetery therefore hardly fits this profile. The reality is that 'our' Glebe Cemetery is in fact adjacent to, but independent of, the Glebe; properly titled, the Church of England Burial ground.
In 1829 surveyor George Boyle White was instructed to include in his survey of (East) Maitland an allotment of 18 acres for a Glebe and Parsonage and a burial ground of one acre. It should be noted that the original land set aside for an Anglican church was south-east of the present edifice, considerably closer to the Glebe than today.
The size of the Glebe was increased by the direction of Governor Darling in 1834 to 40 acres, excluding the stone quarry and burial St Peter's 'Old' Burial Ground and Glebe (courtesy Google Earth) ground. Because the existing Glebe was limited by Wallis Creek and Rathluba, to achieve the requisite 40 acres, a small allotment just over an acre in size was surveyed but separated from the remainder by the burial ground.
Jim Waddell in his history of St Peter's, cites a letter from the catechist Lieut Wood to Archdeacon William Broughton, pleading with him to appoint a sexton to manage the burial ground:
"It is the custom for the friends or fellow-servants of the deceased to prepare the grave, and it sometimes happens that a body is brought from a distant farm in a state of putrefaction, and the persons accompanying it have on their arrival, first to borrow tools, and then to quarry, rather than dig a grave in the rocky soil of the Burial Ground - thus the corpse having reached the ground in a very offensive condition becomes more disgusting by several hours exposure to the sun ..."
Waddell further comments that on the occasion of a Roman Catholic death, the deceased was often buried without his (Wood's) knowledge.
Wood lamented that graves were now scattered over the whole ground with little order or regularity, and in any direction they pleased.
When the clergyman George Rusden was appointed in 1834 he too petitioned the authorities to appoint a sexton: "... Having attended the burial ground previous to the internment of a man who had drowned the preceding afternoon in endeavouring to cross the flood at Maitland, I had no sexton to dig the grave and no tools belonging to the church for that purpose; the friends of the deceased dug the grave themselves with such implements as they could borrow. The subsoil was so hard that the graves were scarcely more than two feet in depth, thereby attracting native dogs to the spot & causing a noxious effluvia ..."
With Rusden's appointment conditions improved and the cemetery was finally dedicated in 1843 by Bishop Broughton and provided the last resting place of Maitland's pioneers for the next 70 years.
These pioneers included Rusden himself; Magistrate Denny Day; Samuel Clift; Andrew Sparke; John Eckford and First Fleeter Joseph Trimby.