The first burial at the Old Melbourne Cemetery occurred in 1837. The cemetery was divided into sections for each religious denomination. In 1851, due to lack of available space, the cemetery was closed to burials apart from people who already had claims on plots. The last burial at the cemetery took place in 1917. The cemetery closed in 1922.
The gradual encroachment of what is now known as the Queen Victoria Market saw cemetery land being taken over by the market. In 1877 the sections allocated to Aboriginals and Quakers and the unused part of the Jewish section were taken over by the market.
In 1917 the Melbourne General Markets Land Act (No:2913) was passed by parliament allowing the Melbourne City Council to reclaim cemetery land for the use of the market. The council had the responsibility of overseeing the operations of the cemetery through the appointing of trustees. The Melbourne City Council were co- trustees of the cemetery with the Board of Land and Works (VA 669).
Exhumation of bodies began in 1920. Only marked graves were exhumed. George Simms of the Melbourne City Council had the responsibility for the exhumations and he identified 525 marked graves. Human remains were found in the early 1990s during excavation work for the market car park, the site of the major part of the Old Cemetery grounds. As part of the exhumation process 70 significant memorials were identified and relocated to the Fawkner Park Old Pioneers Section. Other bodies were reinterred at cemeteries around Melbourne.
No burial records exist prior to 1866. A letter from the then Secretary of the Trustees of the Old Melbourne Cemetery in 1895 (Outward Letterbook p 180) apologises for records not being available due to them having been destroyed in a fire at the gatekeepers lodge in 1865.
This series constitutes the most complete record of burials that took place at the Old Melbourne Cemetery from 1866. Records of burials prior to 1866 were destroyed by fire in 1865.
The List of Burials contains information on date permission for burial granted, name of deceased, religious denomination of deceased, age at death, occupation of deceased, residence of deceased,.deceaseds place of birth, date of funeral, Minister to officiate (sometimes the name of the Minister officiating is given, sometimes just yes or no is written), cause of death and to whom permission to bury was granted.
Researchers interested in the Melbourne City Councils role in the closure of the Old Melbourne Cemetery should consult the Minutes of Council Meetings (VPRS 8910) from around 1916 to 1922. The minutes of the Market Committee (VPRS 8945) contain many references to the Old Melbourne Cemetery between 1916 and 1922.
Town Clerk's Correspondence Series II (VPRS 3183) may also contain files pertaining to the closure of the Old Melbourne Cemetery.