Mission to find living descendants

Adam PoulsenGeraldton Guardian
Utakarra Cemetery ground Superviser Harry Taylor and administrator Leanne Day at the grave of Ethelbert Gibbs, the first person to be buried at the cemetery.
Camera IconUtakarra Cemetery ground Superviser Harry Taylor and administrator Leanne Day at the grave of Ethelbert Gibbs, the first person to be buried at the cemetery. Credit: Supplied, Adam Poulsen

On July 22, 1930, Ethelbert Gibbs had the unenviable distinction of being the first person buried at Utakarra Cemetery.

Almost 89 years later, the Geraldton Cemetery Board wants to track down his descendants.

Mr Gibbs died aged 58 after battling an unknown illness for several years.

“All of a sudden, it hit him and his demise came within about three or four weeks,” a Geraldton Cemetery Board spokesman said.

“We know he was employed in the Railway Goods Shed for quite a while and he was well accepted around the town at the time.”

The Geraldton Guardian and Express reported Mr Gibbs’ death on the day of his funeral. “A large circle of friends will regret to hear of the death of Mr Ethelbert (Bert) Gibbs, which took place at his residence, Fitzgerald Street, yesterday afternoon,” the report said.

“Deceased, who was about 58 years of age, was employed as a clerk in the goods department of the railways, and had been with the department for very many years. His health of recent years had been very indifferent, and during the last few months he steadily became worse.

“He leaves a widow and three children, for whom the greatest sympathy will be felt.”

News of the Utakarra cemetery and Mr Gibbs’ death were reported in The West Australian on Monday, August 4, 1930.

“Geraldton’s new cemetery, opposite the Show Ground at Utacarra (sic), and about two miles out of the town, is nearly completed, and the first funeral was conducted last week,” the report said.

“A sum of £300 has been expended, and a water supply will be laid on. Thirty acres have been reserved for burials, and it is considered that this will be sufficient for the next 40 years.”

The Geraldton Cemetery Board spokesman said the the licence for Mr Gibbs’ grave had long since expired, but the WA Cemeteries Act permitted the board to look after the graves of people deemed prominent. “The first person buried in the cemetery is pretty prominent as far as we’re concerned,” he said.

“There will be a little plaque put on the grave. But we recognise the sensitivity ... and we think, before we do anything, it’s in good taste to try to find any descendants, to give them a say, or to at least enjoy what we’re doing to enhance the grave.”

He said Mr Gibbs’ three daughters had married and changed their names, and the board has had no luck tracking down their living relatives.

Mr Gibbs’ death notice, printed in The West Australian on July 25, 1930, lists the following siblings: “Mrs J.C. Fowler, Ferguson; Wall, Kalgoorlie; Att, Fremantle; and Jim, North Fremantle”.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails