Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The Historic Syme Memorial At Kew Cemetery



"Reason has not much to say in favour of a future state of existence, but instinct has...... this desire and belief is as strong as the instinct of self-preservation itself. It is stronger than reason, more powerful than the evidence of sense. It withstands ridicule, contumely and persecution because it is rooted in the innermost nature of our being." 
David Syme 
(from Scores Of Symes Vol. 1 by the late Dr. Veronica Condon; the quote can also be found on the website dedicated to Sir Geoffrey Syme, her father and David's son)

David Syme (1827 - 1908) was a Scottish-Australian notable in the early history of Victoria (an Australian state) where on settling in Melbourne was to become proprietor and Managing Editor of the mighty The Age newspaper. This newspaper is still an establishment of some consideration to this day in contemporary Melbourne. The company stayed in the ownership of his family until selling to Fairfax in 1983.


David Syme
Mr. Syme had a spectacular tomb built in Kew Cemetery* that has only recently come to my attention. It is a breathtaking rendering of a Ptolemaic Temple complete with art nouveaux interpretations of essential Kemetic themes. 


Entry to the memorial from the main cemetery gates
Visible from the principle cemetery gates upon immediate entry, the tomb stands in majestic contrast to the stone urns, crosses, and Christian memorials of the immediate surroundings. It is astonishing to see such a monument so far away from Egypt, and so exquisitely rendered.

After further research, primarily from the website mentioned above by the late Dr. Condon, the inspiration for the building was indeed the Temple of Auset in Pilak (the Temple Of Isis in Philae).


The capitals from The Temple Of Auset on Pilak (Philae) island

The entrance from the other side; the gates were added after the memorial was built to prevent people walking through
Two entrances open into the monument, the floor of which has a large horizontal hatch featuring an epitaph of the names of David and Annabelle Syme with a winged disk atop. 


The door to the underground vault which lay beneath the memorial

The winged disk motif representative of Ra Heruakhte can also be found above the entrances. The epitaph seals the vault below in which are buried David and Annabelle Syme, their son Francis and daughters Gabrielle and Caroline (the latter two died in infancy). At time of writing, I have been unable to ascertain if the vault or contents within continue the Kemetic themes of the spectacular exterior and of course I am curious.




In research for writing this article I am learning a lot more about David Syme, and I am particularity interested to get a hold of his last volume, The Soul: A Study and an Argument (1903). Towards the end of his life he and wife Annabelle showed an interest in spiritualism - a very popular topic of the time it appears. But apart from the letters written to Annabelle by the architects of the tomb, Butler and Bradshaw, explaining some of the motifs incorporated into the design and references to the "Book Of The Dead", just how far the interest into Kemeticism went I can not ascertain.
These gates were added later in the building's history; the uraeai design remain true to the 136 that cap the monument and surround the interior and exterior of the cornice 

The tops of the bolts that hold the vault door intact are grasped by Khepera - a charming design addition

This scarab beetle is one design of many on the monument, fitting for the resurrection and transformation David Syme expected of the next world; this is found on the rail fixture surrounding the lower part of the building

This wonderful tiling feature can be found on all 4 corners of the inside floor of the building exterior; a beautiful rendering in art nouveaux style of the winged scarab

The cobras with sun disk on their heads surround the inner and outer cornices of the building and go in separate directions accordingly

The capitals feature a different style on each column denoting those used in pharaonic times

At the time, much of Kemeticism would have been informed largely by still new Egyptology; Theosophy was being introduced at the time in Melbourne also, but still very new. Tutankhamun's tomb discovery was still over a decade away. In light of all of this, the statement that the monument makes is bold. A circle left on the horizontal vault door suggests a vase or perhaps a statue had been present but now removed, and I wonder what this was? If it was a vase, was it sculpted in an ancient Egyptian style, or more the nouveaux look that was still flourishing as a result of the earlier Egyptomania of the 1800's?








The Syme monument is located in the Kew Cemetery* and is listed on the National Trust Heritage register. Before visiting the monument I checked that it was Ok to do so, and obtained permission to take photographs. 

I have approached this topic with reverence and respect for the Syme family and the incredible memorial that has been created to commemorate them. I would like to see the monument cleaned and maintained in a grander state of preservation with the view for it to last for eternity, as I am certain David Syme intended.

*Boorondara is the name of the locality this Eastern Melbourne suburb is located in and often the cemetery is referred to by this municipality 



Much of the information I have gleaned in my research for this blog comes from the work of Dr. Veronica Condon, the grand daughter of David Syme who has documented much of her family history
The Temple Of Auset - a remarakbly well preserved temple dating from the Ptolemaic period of Egypt's history

All of the photos in this blog were taken by the author, except the photo of David Syme and the spine of the book Scores Of Symes Vol 1. by Dr. Veronica Condon taken from her website


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