Once the land was sold to the government, work quickly commenced on the cemetery. In addition to an area set aside as a general section for those without a religion or denomination (58 acres), areas were allocated to the Church of England (53 acres), the Roman Catholic Church (35 acres) and various other denominations or religions according to the proportion of the population they had in the 1861 census, and each was made responsible for the preparation of their own area.
The cemetery was fenced, roads constructed, railway access provided and an overseer’s cottage built. In 1867, the government passed the Necropolis Act. This came into force on 1st January 1868 and stated that separate boards of trustees were to be set up by each of the denominations to manage and maintain each area, and to set and collect fees.
The original 200 acres was then increased in 1879 and the government purchased an additional 577 acres of land adjoining the cemetery from the estate of Edward Cohen and his partner J. Benjamin. The areas controlled by each of the trustees was then expanded. By 1890 there were a number of buildings in the cemetery. The Roman Catholic Church had constructed the St Michael the Archangel Chapel (commenced in 1886), while the Independents had built a timber Chapel and the Jews a brick one. The Presbyterians had a ladies’ waiting room and in the General Cemetery, the Chinese community had erected a 2.6m high brazier topped by a pagoda dome. In addition, manager’s residences had been built by the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and the Independents, and a residence for a Sexton by the Presbyterians.
In 1925 the State Government created a Joint Committee. Its task was to collect a levy from each of the Trusts annually for the construction and maintenance of roads, fences, paths, drains and other “common property” within the Necropolis. Today the Joint Committee is comprised of one representative from each group of Trustees and nominees of the State government, National Trust, Heritage Council and the NSW Crematorium Company.
In 1926 four acres were set aside for a crematorium. The NSW Crematorium company was established to run what was then only the second crematorium in Australia. Today, approximately half the funerals at Rookwood are cremations.
In 1948 the railway line into the cemetery, together with the stations on it, were closed down - a victim of the increasing use of motor funerals. Four of the five station buildings (excluding a dilapidated one of timber) were offered to the Joint Committee for one pound (two dollars) each. This offer was declined because of the high maintenance costs. Three of the stations were then demolished. The surviving station was sold in 1951 to a Reverend Buckle for one hundred pounds. He had it demolished, transported to Canberra and rebuilt as All Saints Church of England in the suburb of Ainslie.
In June of 2009, the Repeal of the Rookwood Necropolis Act was passed. This replaced the Joint Committee of Necropolis Trustees with the Rookwood Necropolis Trust on 1 July 2009. Today, the Cemetery has a total of 8 Chapels for indoor funeral services, 5 denominational Open Air Chapels for special ceremonies, 3 Florist Shops and 2 Cafes/Condolence Rooms.
Rookwood Cemetery Lidcombe Entrance