Headstone "Charles & James Fitzgerald"; 1837; QS2007.27


Sydney Quarantine Station Moveable Heritage Collection


Headstone "Charles & James Fitzgerald"

About this object

This headstone was erected by Charles Fitzgerald in memory of his two children Charles and James Fitzgerald, who both died at the Quarantine Station, Charles on 7 March 1837, aged 8 years, and James on 3 April 1837, aged 2 years. Although records relating to this early period of the Station are scarce, passenger lists and the dates on which the boys died reveal that they arrived on the immigrant ship Lady MacNaghten.
The Lady MacNaghten departed Cork, Ireland, on 5 November 1836 with a total of 412 immigrants (223 adults and 189 children) and 32 crew. The ship arrived in Sydney Cove on 26 February 1837. There were 54 deaths (10 adults and 44 children) during the voyage. The ship was quarantined for a total of 45 days, with a further 14 immigrant deaths (4 adults and 10 children) occurring during this period.
At this time, individual causes of death were not recorded in the lists sent from the Quarantine Station to government authorities; however, it is known that the primary reason for the quarantine of (and cause of death on) the Lady MacNaghten was typhus fever. It is also known that there was an outbreak of scarlet fever in Cork at the time of departure, and that, with no medical examination being conducted prior to embarkation, a sick child was brought on board; the result was a voyage marked by widespread sickness and death. Lady Jean Duncan Foley, in her book In Quarantine, describes this voyage of the Lady MacNaghten as “calamitous”. The voyage of the Lady MacNaghten became an important part of the history of quarantine in Australia, focusing attention on the need to improve conditions on immigrant ships and to establish a permanent quarantine station in Port Jackson.
Charles and James Fitzgerald’s headstone is historically significant as a symbol of the story of the Lady MacNaghten, and as such could aid in interpreting and telling the story of early nineteenth century immigration, and the conditions experienced on the ships. It highlights the particular susceptibility to illness of children at this time, given the general poor nutrition and lack of knowledge about hygiene and the causes and prevention of illness, and the resulting high mortality rate amongst the children on these immigrant ships. Additionally, the case of the Lady MacNaghten is very significant to the local history of Sydney, as it was this event which prompted the establishment of a permanent quarantine station at Spring Cove and across North Head. The calamitous voyage of the Lady MacNaghten was also responsible for the improvements that were made to the conditions on later immigrant ships.
This headstone is representative of headstones of this historical period, as the wording of the inscription appears to be typical for this period.
It holds social, or spiritual, significance not only for people at the time it was erected, but also today. For the people who erected the stone, it was socially/spiritually significant as a personal memorial to a loved one. However, headstones, or grave markers, continue to be socially significant to later generations who never knew the person, as demonstrated by the fact that this headstone (along with several others) was removed from the ground and placed under shelter to protect it from weather damage. Additionally, descendants of persons who died at the Quarantine Station remain in contact with the Station to this day, enquiring after the condition of their ancestors’ grave and headstone, and seeking to arrange a visit.

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DIED MARCH 7th APR (2nd)

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All rights reserved



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