History of Cremation
- see also:
- Australian history:
Indigenous peoples of Australia:
- Australia's aboriginal peoples long practiced cremation, with the oldest
known cremation in human history being that of Mungo Woman some 40,000 yrs
- It seems that mainland Aborigines ceased the practice perhaps 10,000 yrs
ago as after the sea levels rose isolating Tasmania, the Tasmanian
Aborigines have continued the practice.
Cremation in Western culture:
- until the late 19th century, cremation was seen by British peoples as a
practice of heathens and pagans and also known to be practiced by the Hindu
peoples in India which was under the rule of the British Empire.
- the push for cremation sprang out of the British funeral reform movement
of the late 19th century, which was spurred by the excesses of Victorian era
- cremation became a very emotional topic much as is euthanasia is today.
- the medical profession were among the advocates on sanitation arguments
whilst the churches opposed it on the following arguments:
- it was a pagan practice
- humans are made in God's image and it was sacrilegious to destroy it
- what about the Resurrection - what would have happened if Jesus was
- the main advocate of the cremationists in Australia was Dr John Mildred
- in 1886, the Vatican issued a decree labeling it a pagan practice.
- early non-indigenous cremations in Australia:
- Mr Foo Choo, a Chinese leper was cremated in 1890 at the Quarantine
Station in Portsea, Victoria, at the height of the White Australia
policy for "hygiene reasons".
- in 1895, a Mr Singh, a Sikh, was the 1st consenting non-indigenous
person to be cremated and this was done at Sandringham beach (a popular
bathing beach) in Victoria without any permits.
- later that year, a 83yr old piano teacher, Mrs Elizabeth Hennicker
became the 1st European to be cremated in Australia - also at Sandrigham
beach, performed by the undertaker Joseph Le Pine but the media attended
and generated poor publicity as people could watch the remains burning.
- outrage by locals later that year when a Hindu man was also cremated
on the beach.
- after years of political lobbying, crematoriums began to be built:
- 1903 - South Australia's West Terrace - 1st cremation in Australia
within a crematorium was witnessed by an unruly crowd and media
- 1925 - Sydney's Rockwood
- 1927 - Melbourne's Fawkner
- 1934 - Brisbane
- 1936 - Hobart
- 1937 - Perth
- early coke-fired furnaces took a day and a half to cremate a body to ashes
and bone (bone then had to be placed in a grinder)
- until the 1950's the general public opinion regarded cremation as being
for loopy radicals.
- in 1963, the rising popularity of cremations pushed the Vatican to grant
Catholics permission for cremation as long as the remains are not scattered
but are buried or entombed.
- in the 1960's, cremations began to overtake burials as the preferred
option for Australians.
- by 2000, Melbourne's Springvale Crematorium was processing an average 25
cremations each day (max. 50-60) with 5 burning at any one time.
The modern cremation process:
- each takes an average of 70min
- each natural gas-fired primary furnace is rated at 1.5 gigajoules per hour
producing 690degC furnace
- certain items are removed from the coffin prior to placing in furnace:
- glass - this melts and becomes stuck to furnace floor and is difficult
- flower arrangements and wreaths with wire bindings
- exterior fittings that won't burn - name plate, metal handles,
crucifixes - these are buried in the cemetery & not re-used.
- by 10min, coffin has collapsed
- by 30min, body fat has been burnt with the black smoke of volatile gases
being burnt in a 900degC secondary furnace.
- by 50min, most of the other parts of the body are burnt, with the heart
and brain the last of the organs, leaving the skeleton.
- over the next 20min, the skeletal remains become brittle and are reduced
- residual bone may be ground to ash then any medical metallic parts removed
- NB. in the past, the batteries in older pacemakers used to explode &
thus was a contraindication to cremation but newer pacemakers are not a
- NB. silicone implants are not a problem
- article in The Age newspaper 2007 extracted from a book by Robert Larkins "Funeral
Rights: What The Australian "Death Care" Industry Doesn't Want You
To Know" Viking, 2007. Sounds like an interesting read if you want
to know more about it.