Mystery Headstone – Peter Lawlor, 1821-1876 [UPDATED]

A Plea from Harry Gilham
‘I have an unfinished tale to tell……..’

To start…where were you on the Friday evening or Saturday morning of August 3rd – 4th 2013?

Why this question? Well, read on through this account to find out….and then, hopefully, you can help to fill in the blanks.

A weathered headstone, broken into three parts, was discvered that August night in a soggy cardboard box leant against the main entry to Eltham Cemetery in Mount Pleasant Road, Eltham. The headstone belonged to the 1876 burial of Peter Lawlor – no – not the Eureka Peter Lalor and possibly not even the Peter Lawlor who was the first Police Officer at the Eltham Police Station from 1857 to 1872, but maybe even another Peter Lawlor of, at the moment, an unknown background………or does the headstone belong to the policeman?

From the headstone we do know that his children were Michael, Margaret, Maud and Edith.

Lawlor Headstone-2

The Inscription reads:

Peter Lawlor
Who died February 12th 1876
Aged 55 years
Also his children
and Edith

The maintenance staff at the cemetery carefully removed the dark green fungus to show those details. As you now walk past Site 22 in the cemetery you will notice that a bluestone base remains with a centre grooved indent, retaining most of the bottom edge of the headstone. The three recovered parts have been attached to a heavy wooden board and lie on the grave at site 22.

During the 1960’s to early 1980’s a list of all the headstone inscriptions in the Eltham Cemetery was compiled by ‘someone’. This Peter Lawlor headstone was not included in this list. From this omission we can assume that it had been taken/borrowed prior to compilation of the list.

Research by the Cemetery Trust Secretary, Rita Wooley using their records found the following information about this Peter Lawlor family:

  1. Peter Lawlor purchased the Catholic Church site Number 22 for £1 on March 2nd 1862. (This site is beside the Sweeney and Murray family graves).
  2. Margaret was the first of his children buried in Eltham on 2nd March 1862, aged one year.
  3. The second child buried was Maud Kate who was buried on 26th June 1869, aged 11 days.
  4. There is no record of the burial of his other children, Michael and Edith nor his wife (name unknown).

However, from the free offerings from the following information was recently obtained, but needs further confirmation and consideration.

  • The Peter Lawlor who died aged 55 in 1876 has a middle name of Paul and his parents were Daniel Lawlor and Bridget Mulhall.
  • The son Michael Lawlor was Jeremiah Michael Lawlor who died in 1860 and whose parents were Peter and Kate (no surnames given)
  • Margaret Sarah Lawlor who died in 1862, has parents listed as Peter Lawlor and Catherine Ledwedge.
  • Maude Kate Lawlor who died in 1869, has parents listed as Peter Lawlor and Catherine Ledwedge. Edith Beatrice Lawlor who died in 1873 age 1, has parents listed as Peter and Kate.

The final bit of the confusion or is it the confirmation that the headstone is of the policeman and his family, is that the Eltham Primary School records list two children of Peter Lawlor (the policeman). The oldest is Albert Ledwedge Lawlor who joined the school aged 4 years in July 1866 and Peter Vincent de Paul Lawlor who joined the school aged 5 years 1 month in February 1869. Both left in March 1872.

The mystery is why or how did the headstone leave the cemetery and why or how or even by whom, did it return? Someone must know something! Any clues to the mystery are better than nothing.

The Eltham District Historical Society keeps records of early Eltham people and any additions are welcome. If you know anything about this Peter Lawlor and his family please contact anyone below. If needed, the sources of information can be anonymous by using the Post Office Box.


Eltham District Historical Society Post Office Box 137, Eltham 3095 or
President – Jim Connor 9439 5916
Past President – Harry Gilham 9439 1175

Eltham Cemetery Trust
Secretary – Rita Wooley 9432 1963
Murray_Sweeney graves
The gravestone for Peter Lawlor and family lies adjacent to the Murray Sweeney graves

This article appeared in our January 2014 newsletter

UPDATE 11 August 2018

Additional evidence has surfaced with the recent digitisation of a number of old slides within the Society’s collection. On 27 May 1990 the Society undertook a Cemetery Excursion of a number of local cemeteries including Eltham. Among the 23 slides of that excursion is one of the grave of Peter Lawlor; the stone still standing though on a significant lean, quite blackened  but in one piece. This means that the stone did not disappear from the cemetery till after this date, narrowing down the time period of its sabbatical from May 1990 to August 2013.

The grave of Peter Lawlor, Eltham Cemetery, 27 May 1990

A Virtual Eltham Literary Tour

Eltham District Historical Society Meeting

11th November 2015 at 8pm

Eltham Senior Citizens’ Centre, Library Place, Eltham

Alan Marshall by Alan Martin; Nillumbik Shire Council Art Collection
Alan Marshall by Alan Martin; Nillumbik Shire Council Art Collection

The topic for our November meeting is inspired by a literary tour of Eltham organised by the Eltham Library a few years ago. Of course at a meeting we cannot actually visit sites associated with local writers but we will discuss their lives, writings and Eltham connections.

The starting point for this presentation was a long list of local writers, including many present day authors, with quite a few being members of our Society. To keep the presentation to a manageable length we will deal only with writers and literary figures who have passed away. The presentation by a panel of members will include a number of readings relevant to each of the subjects.

A particular feature will be the life and work of Alan Marshall who had a long association with Eltham and is our most famous and well known author. In 1971 he wrote Pioneers & Painters: One Hundred Years of Eltham and its Shire. In the chapter ‘Educationalists and Writers’ he notes that “Writers came to Eltham for the same reason as did the painters: their neighbours had similar interests and the surroundings attracted them.”

His stories about local writers have informed the preparation for this meeting.

This meeting will take place at 8.00 pm on Wednesday 11th November in the Eltham Senior Citizen’s Centre, Library Place Eltham.

As at all of our meetings, new members and visitors are most welcome.

New EDHS Banner


The Royal Historical Society Victoria (RHSV) invited affiliated historical societies and heritage groups to apply for the design of a rollup banner as a way to acknowledge and celebrate their History Week 2015 program. The Eltham District Historical Society was fortunate to be successful with an application, which meant we could proceed with submitting a layout to their graphic designers.

Our committee agreed with the draft design prepared by Jim Connor, which was then sent for final artwork and production. We are pleased with the banner we have received through the generous support of the RHSV.

This has already been displayed at a talk about Early Eltham Pioneers at the Eltham Library on 20 October 2015 as part of the RHSV Local History Week and also the Yarra Plenty Regional Library Local History Month. The banner will also be used at our meetings, future events and presentations as a means of promoting our Society and our interests in local history.

Heritage Walk: Panorama Heights Estate – 7 Nov, 2pm

Panorama Heights Estate
Montmorency South
Saturday 7th November 2015 at 2.00pm

Peck's Dam
Peck’s Dam – this former farm dam is a feature of this walk

This estate is a residential area of winding streets lined with indigenous local trees and includes secluded parks and walkways. Prior to its subdivision in the 1920s this was Tom Orr’s farm, a favourite painting place of the artist Walter Withers.

After it was subdivided by land developer John Quinn the sale of land and house building proceeded slowly. Much vacant land remained in the 1970s. This estate was unusual for its time, although to some extent it emulates the subdivision designs of Walter Burley Griffin, such as the heritage listed Glenard Estate in Heidelberg. It contains winding streets, irregularly shaped lots, secluded parks at the rear of lots and connecting walkways.

This walk will mostly not be one of historic buildings and the like although we will pass a group of heritage listed mud brick houses in Napier Crescent. Rather it will be a pleasant Peck’s Dam, this former farm dam is a feature of this walk walk through informal streets and parks imagining the past landscape that inspired Walter Withers and looking at aspects of this unusual 1920s subdivision. On the way we will discover the elusive southern boundary of the Montmorency Farm where it crosses streets and parks.

This circuit walk is about 3.5 km in length and will take 2 to 2.5 hours. It will start at 2pm at the car park in Grand Boulevard opposite the Montmorency South School (Melway ref.21 E 7/8). It contains some hilly sections. This free walk is open to the general public as well as Society members.

Dogs are not permitted on Society excursions.

Phone number of contact on the day is 0409 021 063