Mount St Cemetery and Victoria University

Mount St offers a shortcut to Victoria University from the city centre, but the steep Kelburn street is also home to one of Wellington’s oldest cemeteries.

The narrow street runs 200m from Salamanca Rd to the top entrance to the Student Union Building.

Pioneering architect William Mein Smith set aside land for Mount St Cemetery labelling the site “Roman Catholic Cemetery”.

Jean­-Baptiste Pompallier, New Zealand’s first Roman Catholic bishop, consecrated the cemetery in 1841, making it second oldest after nearby Bolton St Memorial Park.

The cemetery closed in 1891, though family plots continued to be filled until 1954. Surviving markers date from 1851.

Irish names dominate, including those of eight Sisters of Mercy, dating from 1860 until 1891.

Though more than 1000 people were buried at the cemetery, only 320 headstones and one wooden cross remain.

The cemetery grounds were often untidy and poorly maintained.

Fennel and weeds reached people’s shoulders and bushfires were a concern. Earlier on, goats and cattle roamed, eating the flowers placed at the headstones.

Clean-up attempts began as early as 1882, when 100 parishioners toiled away to clear the undergrowth.

From 1969, because drug addicts were frequenting the cemetery, Wellington City Council and then Victoria University began maintaining the cemetery.

Mount St provides access to the back­ entrance of Victoria University. Pasifika Haos, opened in 2012 for the university’s Pasifika students, is entered from the street.

Mount St Bar and Cafe was on the first level of the Student Union Building, with an entrance opposite the cemetery.

The cemetery’s proximity to the university led to students using it as a place for eating lunch and spending time together.

A 1958 student magazine Salient called for the cemetery land to be used by the university.

“The site is far too useful to be left in neglect. It would be simply ideal for a student hostel,” TKB wrote.

But not until 1991 did the university express interest in buying the cemetery.

Its plan was to convert the area into an open space for students and to install paths, seating and lighting.

Friends of Mount St Cemetery was formed to protest proposed changes. Continue reading


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