Funeral Service and Traditions in Gawler . . . .
‘The Australian Way of Death’
What created our customs?
All originated from ancestral, historical and social influences, in fact, from a mixture of Pagan, Celtic, and English traditions.
Pagans basically believe in Mother Earth and all of nature is a cycle. The person who died was going to a better place and would come back as part of the earth. They used what they had and often the deceased was wrapped in large leaf branches.
The origins of Celtic beliefs stemmed from this and were then mixed with Christianity.
Firstly, starting with Irish beliefs, the deceased person was going to a better place and needed things to get there, e.g. pennies on the eyes. Also, if the eyes remained open another death would occur.
To help the deceased get to the ‘next world’, windows needed to be open for at least 2 hours after the death so the ‘spirit’ would be able to get out of the house. For the same reason mirrors were covered or turned so as not to confuse the spirit.
Many people drank from pewter tankards in those days, which could lead to lead poisoning . . . this resulted in a comatose state, similar to death.
So, the ‘Wake’ developed . . . some sat with the deceased person for the 3 days leading up to the burial. This gave people time to travel distances for the funeral. Also, to check it was not a lead induced coma from which the person would ‘wake’. For burial, they also put a bell on top of the coffin connected by string to the deceased in case they should wake after burial.
Other terms we hear:
- Shroud – a sheet used to wrap the deceased after washing them. As people had few clothes, the deceased’s clothes were given to family or friends.
- Undertaker – was originally a Carpenter of Furniture Maker in the town given the ‘undertaking to make a coffin after death. (It was considered ‘bad form’ to have coffins made beforehand).
Queen Victoria started many traditions:
- Wearing of black clothing and type of fabric changed in yearly increments, e.g. second year after death women could wear mauve or grey and white for children.
- Mourning stationery, mourning brooches, rings with hair of the deceased and black arm bands for men.
These traditions became modified because as Word War I continued, and so many families had one or more deaths . . . there was no time for ‘wakes’, or mourning paraphernalia. Also, the catch phrase became:
“You just have to get on with it . . . he wouldn’t want you to do that.”
Soon after World War I, came the Great Depression, which was shortly followed by World War II.
So, the first half of the 20th Century caused a big swing away from earlier customs due to the daily needs of survival.
Children were now discouraged from seeing the deceased (whereas earlier, it was a natural part of grieving and saying ‘goodbye’).
From about the mid 1970’s understanding how traditions can help the grieving process has been widely recognised.
The Forgie family has been part of Taylor and Forgie since 1855 when a young 23 year-old Scottish immigrant Alexander Forgie became part of the Builders and Undertakes known as W.S. Taylor in Tod Street, Gawler.
This was a time when a business could not be seen to totally rely for its income on the misfortune of others. Doctors were obviously exempt. So, any business with a horse and cart could be used to undertake the commission to carry out a funeral. Plumes sideboards etc would be added and then removed to resume normal trade.
So, builders, carpenters or furniture manufacturers were the main providers of funeral services as they had:
- The Transport
- The means to manufacture the ‘all important’ coffin
In Victorian times, the class of the coffin reflected the status of the deceased hence the desire of many people to enhance the coffin used. This practice began to diminish in the 1960’s when I believe the coffin was relegated to its place as a respectable container for transportation of the deceased in a hygienic manner. The emphasis is about the celebration of life not on a polished container.
Above: Pictured is an original wagon slide found in the stables of my great-great grandfather’s house in Cameron Street.
He married well, important in those days, and was a senior trustee in the middle class trade church, i.e. the Methodist in Tod Street, Gawler.
This was built by Taylor and Forgie in 1869.
TOD STREET METHODIST CHURCH,
GAWLER – c1870
The new Methodist Church was opened on Easter Sunday 28th March 1869.
Part of the first chapel can be seen to the left of the picture.
TOD STREET METHODIST CHURCH,
GAWLER – c2013
In the 1880’s the Taylor family left the partnership and Alexander was the sole proprietor, with the business concentrating on building and construction over a wide area around Gawler, e.g. the Smithfield Institute, now demolished. The paper from the time capsule shows this as it was retrieved on its demolition.
Toward the end of his life, sons 2 and 3, Alexander Phillip and James, ran the business. Sara Cheek, the daughter of the long serving Town Clerk, to whom he married, died in 1896 and he became poorly in 1900 and died in 1902.
I do not know how the two sons gained the business, rather than being divided among the six living siblings. Son number 1, Thomas, died at less than one year. The business continued to prosper and was one of the leading entrepreneurs in Gawler. The next chance event that led to the longevity of Taylor and Forgie was that Alexander Phillip had no children, while James had three boys greatly reducing inheritance complications.
Above: James Forgie, home in King Street
Above: James Forgie
The three boys were:
- F Gordon Crosby (picture)
- J Graham (photos) killed Villers Bretonneaux – No children
- G Clarence Hearse (photo). Speculator Car Dealer – No children
F Gordon was the sole inheritor of Taylor & Forgie.
But back to the second generation, they were the go-getters with innovation in building, public works and community service, local government and church. It was just good, solid value for money, good customer service and up-to-date facilities. The only funeral innovation at that time was to build the first motorized hearse outside of Adelaide in 1925. The hearse now resides in Kimba and is under restoration.
Above: The first motorised hearse outside of Adelaide – c1925
Above: Hearse under restoration
Above: James Forgie
The period 1930 to 1963 saw the retirement of Alexander Phillip and the sole proprietorship of Gordon in 1938.
This was the enterprise my father purchased from his father in 1963: an old premises, a 14 year old hearse and NO refrigeration.
Again, I refer back to the influence of the depression on these generations which curtailed even prudent and essential investment. This was the first time Taylor and Forgie had been sold and was important as fragmentation of the ownership had now been prevented with sale to one family member.
Division was made easy and Frank took over the carpentry and Graham, the funerals.
Gordon was 73 years of age when he left the business in 1963, and died 7 years later.
Bringing the business up to date in 1963 was not mean feat as, Graham had limited funds, working as an award paid employee since he left school at the age of 14 (less 5 years off in the RAAF).
It was now all stops out to bring service levels up-to-date by providing an up-to-date mortuary and service chapel. Life based services and paying respects with an open coffin were becoming the norm, not the die today, bury tomorrow of times past.
The Tod Street premises, home base for over 100 years, was sold as well as the family home to fund the move to 15 Cowan Street in 1967. This move gave Taylor and Forgie as good a facility as any other in South Australia, enabling us to combine the best attention with the best facilities.
Above: Graham Forgie
Back to 1925 and then civilisation ended at the Enfield, on the intersection of the Irish Harp Road (Regency Road) and Main North Road, and the only settlement of any size to the north was Gawler.
Funerals were contracted and the vehicle hired to all Funeral Directors far and wide on the Plains and beyond. My father was only 10 at the time and he told me stories of being taken along to help clean the hearse at the church after a muddy trip from Gawler.
In 1929 we had the depression era and we, baby boomers, have no idea how this changed thoughts and behaviour. It scarred the optimism of two generations. About this time my great-grandfather, James, retired and his share was run by his eldest son Gordon, still dealing and of course the middle son, James, did not return from France.
Being Scottish made them careful and combine this with the depression, all innovation and progress that cost money ceased. The building business was reduced to a carpenters shop to reduce overheads as wages were unable to be paid. The whole economy stayed in neutral up to and throughout the war as there were not resources for non-war enterprise. This hung over well into the 1950’s as my father waited for the next depression, as the memory still haunted him.
Above: Taylor & Forgie premises, 15 Cowan Street, Gawler
Gawler was still a small country town and Graham was a one-man operator (he could not have done it without his wife Aisla):
- On-call 24 / 7
- No continuous holiday, just weekends away
- Some stigma
- Isolating (carried many confidences)
The number of services increased and he employed an assistant in 1980. Then, a year later, his wife died of cancer aged 58.
This really highlights the importance of the spouse in the small funeral business. His unpaid assistant had died and he was working himself into the ground, so he decided to sell. It was only by luck that I called and made an offer the day before he was to sign up with one of the large chains.
This has assured the continuance of Taylor and Forgie as has been sold to one family.
Gizelle and Mark Forgie took control on 13th July 1984, and:
- Established bereavement resource
- Established Smithfield & Elizabeth Funeral Directors 1985
- Began complete chapel funeral with refreshments
- Established Solace Bereavement Group in Elizabeth
- Twins 1987
- Expanded Gawler Chapel in 1988 with cremation alcove
Above: Taylor & Forgie Funeral Chapel c1988
- Opened first private crematorium in South Australia 1989
- New offices and mortuary 1991
- Enlarged Smithfield and Elizabeth Chapel 1993
- Enlarged Taylor and Forgie Chapel again!! 1996
- Purchased Durdin Funerals, Balaklava 2002
- 2005 – 150th Anniversary Parade
- 2017 Opened state of the art new chapel at 98 Adelaide Road, Gawler South
- All aspects are in continuous upgrade.
What we offer.
Caring and compassionate Gentlemen or Lady Funeral Directors are available at all hours, 7 days a week to assist you.
They will give you a full range of options and attend to all requirements:
Refreshment lounges and chapel:
- Refreshment lounges
- Family after care by provision of grief literature
- Offices and funeral arrangement rooms.
- Pre-paid funeral information
- Viewing rooms
- Accredited mortuary
- Funeral premises tour by appointment
No hidden costs:
All prices are clearly explained by the funeral consultant at the time of the arrangement.
The cost is given in writing. You have time to change any costs before the funeral.
For more information please call us on (08) 8522 1734
Cowan Street Office and Chapel:
15 Cowan St, Gawler
Telephone: (08) 8522 1734
Open hours: Mon-Fri, 8:30am – 5:00pm
(but urgent assistance available 24 hours a day via phone)
Thank you for your interest in joining the Funeral Profession. From time to time a variety of positions become available these include:
- Funeral Directors (experienced)
- Crematorium duties.
- Administration with multimedia skills.
- Assistant /Trainee Funeral Director
- Mortuary Technician
- Embalmer trained or trainee
- Transfer Driver with exceptional communication skills verbal and written.
All applicants will need to be able to demonstrate their skills in their application and interview.
More information about careers working in the funeral industry can be found on the AFDA website or download our information pamphlet – So you want to be a Funeral Director
Current employment opportunities at Taylor & Forgie are below:
Funeral Director (Full time)
Taylor & Forgie; with a team of Funeral Directors, are seeking a mature-minded person with a ‘can-do’ attitude to join a very well established family owned funeral company.
The position requires you to have:
- Proven sensibility to distressed people , their values and beliefs.
- Experience in a Service Customer driven position with multi tasking.
- Proven ability to implement time structures and follow through skills.
- Interpersonal skills to assist in a team environment.
- The position can be physically demanding and a Drivers licence is required
- An on call 24/7 roster system applies.
Funeral Director Duties:
- To arrange and conduct funerals.
- To have a sound knowledge of Churches,Ministers and cemeteries .
- To interview next of kin to ascertain their requirements as to the Funeral arrangements of the deceased person.
- To carry out their instructions and ensure all their needs are met before, at and after the funeral.
- To have expertise in the function and setting up of graveside equipment and placement of vehicles for smooth flow.
- Operation of Cremator if required.
- Transfer of deceased people from the place of death, eg, ,home, hospital, accident scene.
- To carry out approximately 18 weeks after hours on call per annum.
- To attend to the deceased person for basic mortuary care.
- To carry out maintenance tasks as required.
- General Clerical duties and moderate computer skills required.
Based on Funeral Directors Award. However a salary will be paid to acknowledge the experience and skills the applicant brings to the position.
A hand written covering letter with resume posted to PO Box 711 GAWLER SA 5118. Applications will not be accepted via email or if the cover letter is not hand written.