The port of Cairns, was established for the Hodgkinson gold fields in 1876. A five acre cemetery was gazetted on McLeod Street the following year in 1877 as earlier burials had taken place along the Esplanade near the hospital reserve.
Management of the cemetery was initially sporadic, however in 1885 trustees apply for funding to properly manage the site. The cosmopolitan nature of early Cairns is reflected in the range of nationalities, including English, Irish, Scottish, Japanese, Javanese, Chinese, Indian, Italian, Bulgarian and Swedish. The cemetery is divided into sections for the use of Christian denominations, plus an area for non-Christian burials of Chinese, Malays, Javanese, and Aborigines. References to these burials, all unmarked, may be found in interpretation material in the cemetery rotunda.
Burials reflect the history of Cairns, representative of professional, business, clerical, political and mercantile interests. Included are; the first mayor of Cairns, Richard Ash Kingsford (grandfather of aviator Charles Kingsford Smith); Cairns' much admired medical pioneer, Dr Edward Koch; men who died during construction of the Cairns to Herberton Railway; and a beche-de-mere fisherman who had worked here prior to the establishment of Cairns.