The Story of the Hepburn Graves

Captain John Stuart Hepburn was in the first party of overlanders from Sydney to the Port Phillip district in 1836. Born in Scotland in 1803, he became a mariner and after having landed in Hobart, entered into a plan to overland stock from New South Wales to Central Victoria. 

In April 1838 he settled at the Smeaton Hill Run (named after a small hamlet near his birthplace) and in 1849 proceeded to build ‘Smeaton House’ on the northern side of the valley of the so-called Captain’s Creek. Thus the Hepburn family became the original settlers in the Smeaton area; and today their name is reflected in the popular town of ‘Hepburn Springs’ and local government Shire of Hepburn.  

The property included a small private cemetery located to the west of the homestead, that is today known as ‘Hepburn Graves.’ It contains the graves of Captain Hepburn and his wife Elizabeth, two of his sons and other relatives.  

In 1968, ownership of the cemetery was transferred to the National Trust, along with a right of way to enable public access. Since this time the Ballarat Branch of the National Trust has played an important role in conserving and maintaining the site. From the first working bee at the cemetery in November 1969, to its most recent in June 2022, a merry band of volunteers have continued to care for this fascinating piece of local history. Ongoing conservation and maintenance tasks include care of the marble headstones, carparking facilities, signage, clearing access of fallen branches, and site maintenance such as weeding and fencing.  

The Hon Catherine King MP (Federal member for Ballarat) supported the Branch in their application to the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications for a minor grant through the Stronger Communities Program. This much appreciated grant has enabled various works at the cemetery, including repairs to the rabbit proof fence, installation of way finding bollards and a seat, and the purchase of trees for planting a windbreak when the ground moisture permits.  

The energetic group of volunteers continues to make an enormous impact in caring for this remarkable piece of local history. In particular, Branch members Gerald Jenzen, Bruce Gow and John McClure have contributed an enormous amount of time, effort and energy, which is gratefully acknowledged. It is the efforts of our members and volunteers that keeps our cultural heritage and stories accessible for the future. 

As Branch organiser Dianne Gow states: 

‘History is important – it’s up to us to keep history alive and protected for generations to come. New volunteers are always welcome – whether regular or just occasional – why not come and enjoy a day outdoors, seeped in local history and good company. People of all interests and all ages are very welcome – there is always something to contribute and something to enjoy.’ 

Why not plan a visit?  

One of the few private cemeteries that is publicly accessible in Victoria, Hepburn Graves is accessible from the carpark via a 5 minute walk now marked with wayfinding bollards, past beautiful ancient gum trees and up a gentle incline to the top of the rise, where the headstones look out over the rolling plains. Bring a picnic and immerse yourself in the history, serenity of the countryside and magnificent views. 

Hepburn Graves is located 118 Estate Lane, Smeaton (within the Shire of Hepburn). 

For information about volunteering with the Branch phone Dianne Gow on 0418519515 or email  People of all interests, ages and abilities are welcome.