Digging  the dirt on great-grandpop

FREMANTLE musician turned author Melanie Hall has penned her first book The Choir of Gravediggers, based on her great-great grandfather Charles Truelove.

An eccentric figure, he was a choirmaster and cemetery manager at the centre of a “graveyard” scandal in Melbourne in the early 1900s.

Hall, and her family, were unaware of Truelove’s misdeeds until her granddad picked up a copy of Great Scandals in Australia’s Strange Past, by George Blaikie and stumbled across his name.

• Freo musician turned author Melanie Hall. Photo by Jenny D’Anger

• Freo musician turned author Melanie Hall. Photo by Jenny D’Anger


A University of WA history student, Hall took up the baton to find out about the rellie who’d been pruned from the family tree.

She trawled through archives and court records in Melbourne and visited the scene of his crimes, the East St Kilda cemetery.

Her novella weaves fact and fiction to give the reader a taste of 19th century Melbourne, its choirs and its burial business.

Truelove scandalised Melbourne society by re-selling old graves, sometimes two and three times over and pocketing the money.

“The bones of those laid to rest in the pioneering days were being ruthlessly disturbed in order that more ground might be acquired for sale,” The Age thundered in 1907.

“There were rumours of spades knocking on wood, bashing through coffins, the covert incineration of human remains, the turning of bodies in their grave,”  Hall writes with poetic licence.

Truelove did a runner to England, where a clergyman encouraged him to return and face the music, even paying his passage to Australia.

Instead he got off in Fremantle and went into hiding, until he was found by Melbourne detectives and sent back to Victoria.

Published by South Australian Ginniderra Press, The Choir of Gravediggers is being launched at the North Fremantle Bowls Club Sunday September 18, 6.30pm.


35 Mojos 10x3 CLA018C82726x148_P.pdf

Leave a Reply