Headstone "Thomas Convoy"; 1878; QS2007.30


Sydney Quarantine Station Moveable Heritage Collection


Headstone "Thomas Convoy"

About this object

This is the headstone erected to mark the grave of Thomas Conroy, son of Charles and Maria, who died from scarlet fever at the Quarantine Station on 21 August 1878, aged 4 years. He arrived in Sydney on board the ship immigrant Smyrna on 19 August 1878.
The 460 immigrants on board the Smyrna were quarantined due to several cases of scarlet and typhoid fever on board. The vessel was quarantined for 28 days; the immigrants were quarantined for 56 days. There were a total of four deaths during the quarantine period – all children, all from scarlet fever.
The headstone of Thomas Conroy is rare, as it is the only headstone of a passenger from the Smyrna in the Quarantine Station’s collection. However, one other headstone does survive. The deceased from the Smyrna were buried in the Second Burial Ground, which was in use from June 1853 until September 1881. In early September 1881, during the smallpox epidemic in Sydney, the decision was made to cease using this Burial Ground, and “the site was banked over with lime and clay”. In August 1828, all the headstones except one were removed from the Burial Ground and placed under cover for protection from further erosion and weather damage. The only gravestone that remains in the Second Burial Ground is that of Isaac Lowes, aged 6 years, who arrived with his parents on the Smyrna, and died from scarlet fever on 25 August 1878.
It is historically significant as an artefact of the quarantine of this ship, during which time problems in the management of the Station began to become apparent – problems which were to eventually result in an investigation into the running of the Station in 1881. The quarantine of the Smyrna brought to light the fact that neither the Health Officer nor the Agent for Immigration, the parties that were supposed to be overseeing the performance of quarantines, and the welfare of quarantined immigrants and the conditions at the Station, respectively, were adequately supervising the quarantines, or, in fact, basically performing their duties at all. This situation had resulted from confusion about the status of the Station: an 1855 ruling had declared the Quarantine Station neither an immigration nor a medial establishment, with the result that the lines of responsibility became blurred over time.
The quarantine of the Smyrna is also historically significant, as it is suggestive of improvements in conditions on the immigrant ships from earlier times, and improvements in medicine, resulting in better health for the immigrants, and thus a reduced mortality rate. However, the fact that the four deaths from this ship were all children illustrates that, despite improvements, the voyage was still difficult, and that children were particularly susceptible to disease.
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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