Buried Alive at Mount Gambier
Richard Unwin was a sexton and gravedigger at Mount Gambier cemetery. On 26 October 1893, Unwin set about digging a grave, there was no machinery to dig the graves, so it was all done by pick and shovel.
Unwin on this day was digging a particularly deep grave between two burial enclosures had nearly completed his work, having reached a depth of 8 feet, when the sides of the grave collapsed, burying him up to his neck.
Unwin was trapped, and unable to move. He tried in vain to move his body, but the weight of the dirt was too much. His head was exposed, but he was below the ground line by a good two feet, so could not be seen by people passing by, unless they actually looked inside the grave.
Unwin called out, but the weight of the dirt on his chest made it hard to do so, but he persevered in the hope someone might hear him.
In another part of the cemetery, Mr Kelly and Mr Topham were also at work. Mr Kelly thought he heard some odd noises travelling on the wind and went to investigate them. He followed the moans and groans and soon discovered Unwin buried to the neck in someone else’s grave.
Kelly called Topham over and the two men worked with great urgency to free Unwin. An adjoining monument was threatening to collapse into the hole onto Unwin after the dirt had shifted trapping Unwin.
Two men passing by, Mr Lewis and Mr Driscoll noticed the commotion and ran into the cemetery to offer his assistance. Mr Topham was sent into town to retrieve some brandy for Unwin to relieve his exhaustion.
Another passer-by Mr Eustace also offered to help.
While the men were digging to free Unwin, the ground caved in a few times, further destabilising the already precarious position of the nearby monument.
Unwin indicated to the men that one of his legs was seriously injured as it had begun to burn. A local doctor was sent for.
After an hour and a half of digging, Unwin was finally freed from the grave, he was exhausted and had suffered a broken right leg.
It was many weeks before Unwin returned to work.
Researched and written by Allen Tiller © 2019
‘A MAN BURIED ALIVE.’, South Australian Chronicle, (28 October 1893), p. 21.
‘A GRAVEDIGGER BURIED.’, South Australian Register, (27 October 1893), p. 5.
‘A GRAVEDIGGER BURIED.’, Evening Journal, (27 October 1893), p. 3
‘The Border Watch,’, Border Watch, (28 October 1893), p. 2.