Given that my last post (here) talked about a train station that used to be at Sydney’s Rookwood Cemetery (and is now a church in Canberra), it makes sense that there was also a mortuary receiving station in the centre of Sydney from which mourners would depart with the coffin on their journey to the cemetery.
The station was built in 1868-69 near Central Station on Regent Street in the neo-gothic style and serviced other cemeteries, as well as Rookwood. It is now a rare surviving example of a mortuary station still in its original location and is apparently unique in Australia.
(Unfortunately these mortuary stations may have taken their titles a bit too seriously and turned out to be the end of the line for a few mourners who were tragically killed by trains early last century. See the news clippings in these posts about Regent St and Rookwood.)
The last funeral train left Regent Street for Rookwood in 1938 and the station became a platform for animals, such as horses and dogs, from 1938 and parcels from 1950.
However, trains continued to transport mourners (if not coffins) from the main Central Station to Rookwood for the next ten years – especially during the war due to petrol rationing.
The Regent Street Station was restored by the State Rail Authority in 1981 and has since been used as a restaurant called the Magic Mortuary and as a venue for launching train-related special events and displays, as well as being hired out for weddings, parties and other celebrations.
(The idea of celebrating at the station was not new – with funeral wakes sometimes starting on the way to the cemetery and ending with drunk mourners being carried back to the train on a litter (stretcher or other hand-powered wheelless vehicle) that had just been used to carry the coffin (and possibly food and drinks) to the grave.
In such cases, beer and spirits – and perhaps some sherry for the ladies? – would have been loaded onto the train with meat pies, seafood, chicken, sausages, cheese, bread rolls and other food in preparation for a big send off.
After the feast at the graveside, bones, shells and other leftovers and empty bottles were apparently thrown into the grave before the soil was replaced. I wonder what archeologists will make of this practice in the future! It also adds a whole new dimension to the term ‘funeral litter‘.)
Further repairs to the Regent Street Station were undertaken in 2012 and it now awaits its next life.
- Train platform – Mortuary Station of Regent St. Station, Sydney, Australia by Thortful (Uploaded 5 July 2006 to Wikimedia under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license).
- Details of stonework near the entrance of Regents Street railway station, Sydney by John Dalton (Uploaded 2006-08-07 via Wikimedia under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license).
- Other photos – Pip Marks (April 2014)
- For more historic photos: http://nowandthen.mindsocket.com.au/images?tag=mortuary
- ‘History of Mortuary Railway Stations Rookwood Necropolis & Regent Street, Redfern, Sydney, NSW‘ by Allison Lee (2007)
- ‘Mortuary Railway Station and Gardens‘ at NSW Heritage website (Accessed 25 April 2014)
- ‘The mortuary train to Rookwood‘ by M. Ochert in Locality, Newsletter of the Centre for Community History, University of New South Wales, Vol. 9 No. 2 1998 (Published at the Teaching Heritage NSW website. Accessed 25 April 2014)