Grave diggers search for silent politician

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Remediation work being carried out at Ipswich’s General Cemetery

Some people take their secrets to the grave, but few expect them to be ‘unearthed’ some 127 years later, but digging at Ipswich General Cemetery that began in October is part of remediation work on an underground crypt containing the coffin of a member of Queensland’s first Parliament in 1860.

The crypt is the final resting place of former West Moreton MP Joseph Fleming, famous for not uttering a word in Parliament, alongside his wife Phoebe.

Details of the significant find were first revealed by council in December 2017 and investigations began to determine if it was possible to carry out the archaeological dig safely and inexpensively, and to restore the site for heritage purposes.

Archaeology students from the University of Southern Queensland will assist the Council in this complex six stage project, which by completion will be a preserved rare crypt with funerary art and stonemason work, and later will provide a virtual reality experience for current and future generations without disturbing the deceased.

USQ Professor Bryce Barker said a ground-penetrating radar had pinpointed the site (further to the east and closer to Cemetery Rd than originally thought) before the digging began.

“What we’ve found is a raised area which gives us an indication of where the crypt was. We will gently take off the top soil and come down on the core features, on the collapsed part of the top of the crypt,” Professor Barker said.

“We have come across some big pieces of dressed stone which is indicative of some kind of crypt structure.

”What we are trying to find is the outline of the crypt. We want to come down on a wall that is still intact to some extent, follow that along with our excavation and find a right angle at the end and an outline of the crypt itself.

“But at the moment, we are just getting this rubble and stone.”

Joseph Fleming settled in Queensland in 1848. In September 1850 at Ipswich he bought town lots to establish a boiling-down works, sawmill and flour-mill. He was also a partner in the steamer Bremer trading to Brisbane. After his political career ended, Mr Fleming was a store-keeper in both Ipswich and Roma. He died in Ipswich in 1891. He had nine children with his wife, who died in 1851.

Progress of the crypt remediation will be documented over time on Ipswich City Council’s website www.ipswich.qld.gov.au.