Friday, 16 June 2017

I have been hard at work on my new blog - First Year on the Thames Goldfield written for Thames' 150th commemorations starting in August this year.  If you would like to sign up for weekly emails - click here -  There is a subscribe box to the right of the page.

I have come across many more potential Dead Cert stories during my research and I hope normal transmission of Dead Certs will resume in the future!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Gold Fever Year is here! 2017 is the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the Thames Goldfields and there will be plenty happening to celebrate this event. I was very fortunate to recieve a grant from TCDC last year to write a blog to commemorate the early days on the goldfield. The blog will go live around August 1, 2017 and run for a full year showing how a sparsely populated area transformed into a booming goldmining town in just 12 months. The blog will be updated weekly and coincide with what was happening in Thames 150 years ago that week. The project won't be a boring timeline of events but a collection of interesting, amusing and fascinating tales. I have been working hard on this behind the scenes for the past eight months & have nearly 200,000 words of notes soon to be whittled down into something I hope does Thames justice! There are plenty of things planned for the 150th by all sorts of clever people - it looks to be a great celebration for Thames.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Dead Cert TWO is now available. 
 If you would like a copy please email or you can buy direct from the printer -

Reader reviews from Dead Cert One - 

“I loved it. A fascinating book that I couldn't put down once I started it.”
“Nicely done and a brilliant read. Go on, treat yourself . . . Should be on EVERY local’s bookshelf.”
“It has given me insight into how the good folk of the region lived in far off days, when the pioneers were not yet completely settled.
The writing style is a gift that takes each page out of the ordinary and you could be 'there', at the event.”

“I really enjoyed reading Dead Cert - it is most interesting
reading about the different people in that area, especially coming across a
familiar name.”

“I like the book very much -- so very readable. Hope you do another one, Meghan.”

“Congratulations to Meghan and Mike. Wonderful typeface, top marks for layout and Meghan your style of writing makes me want to read more. I love the book. A real gem.  A big thank you.”

“The writing style is most captivating . . . you have certainly researched the stories well and created a story so much that one feels a great sense of loss for the families and the community.”

“I just want to tell you how much I enjoyed your latest book. Your style of writing is perfectly matched to the stories you write, and the photos Mike took add greatly to the appeal of the text. Once again my thanks for your dedication and skill. Thank goodness "Dead Cert" saw the light of day.”

“Highly recommended, professional edition, compliments by Mike’s photos.  Excellent for family history and genealogists.  Keep writing Meghan, I love your style.”

“I finished Dead Cert this morning. I feel as though I've lost a valued friend.”

"Some of you know that I love books, and rarely do I give attention to what I am reading.  I cannot let this publication go by without a mention of this writer Meghan Hawkes . . . her written words transport you to times past and the book is now one of my top reads ever."

Monday, 30 May 2016

"I tell you plainly: we suspect foul play." James 'Jimmy' Adams, 1880

W S Greenville's battery.  "I have been threatened by a person . . ."

In the early hours of Christmas morning, 1880,  Edward Scott was woken by a dog barking. The fishmonger, who lived in Cook Street, Hape Creek, Thames, then heard footsteps going towards what was known locally as the 'big house', about 75 yards from his house.  He heard nothing else and fell asleep again.  About an hour later, at 20 minutes to 3,  his wife woke him up, having heard a window smash.  Edward then heard the loud somewhat drunken shriek of "Let me out! let me out! let me out!"     He also heard a shout of "Greenville!" Sleep- fuddled and thinking someone had set fire to his smoke house in the back yard, Edward pulled on a shirt and ran outside.   But it was the 'big house' that was going up in flames.  He ran towards the gate and at that moment an explosion blew out  the north side of the house. Another explosion took away the four corners of the building and a third, the skylight.  He then heard a fourth explosion which appeared to come from the dining room.  Edward shouted "Fire!"  

About 3am Mr Cartwright, the Grahamstown watchman, rang out the alarm of fire. The Grahamstown and Shortland Fire Brigade's and the police were quickly on the scene. It became known that there was a man in the house, and alarmingly, a quantity of gunpowder.   The fire brigades, assisted by neighbours and police bringing buckets of water from the creek,  worked hard to save the building, but their efforts were hopeless, the house being completely enveloped in flames, and a few minutes after the conflagration was discovered the gun powder exploded blowing the house to bits.  Grave doubts were held as to the safety of the occupier, who was seen returning home at 1.30 that morning.

The 'big house' was owned by Mr W S Greenville, a mine battery owner, and occupied by James 'Jimmy' Adams.    The house was a spacious building situated close to Mr Greenville's battery in the Hape Creek.  It was erected on a mound set apart from other houses and could only be approached from the road by a pathway or through a slip rail abutting the small dwelling belonging to Edward Scott, unless the creek and flumes were crossed from the battery side.  There were a small number of wooden cottages in the surrounding neighbourhood and next to the piece of ground on which the house stood was a butchery fenced off from the house by wooden fence palings.  The house was plainly visible to residences dotted here and there along the hills and as the burning timbers lit up the scene, the grandeur of the spot became apparent. 

Thames Volunteer Fire Brigade (1899)

Jimmy Adams was aged 35 and a native of Northern Ireland.  He had returned to Thames about three years previously with a considerable sum of money, most of which he subsequently lost, and for some time he was employed as a carter.  Lately he had a tribute in Mr Greenville's  mining ground and had  lodged  a payable crushing on Saturday, leaving him well in funds.
The house belonging Mr Greenville  was uninsured. A number of barrels of gunpowder  were  stored on the premises - Mr Greenville kept these  for the use of the mine. There  were some alterations being made in the machinery at the battery and consequently there was much property in store, which was all totally destroyed.  Mr Greenville's loss was estimated at about 200 pounds.    When the flames were at last subdued the police entered and found the remains of Jimmy Adams who was almost cremated.   A watch,  a pair of spectacles and a knife were found where his bed was presumed to have been.  Twelve shillings and eight pence were found near the body. He was  conveyed to the morgue at Shortland Police station  until the inquest.

'A miner roasted alive' shouted the horrible headlines, followed quickly by speculation and rumour.   Jimmy Adams, in whom Mr Greenville placed the greatest confidence, had always been a trustworthy and quiet man, and his sober habits were never questioned.  But it was whispered by local residents that the unfortunate man had frequently been seen wending his way home in a state of insobriety and that on more than one occasion, knowing that gun powder was stored on the premises, neighbours entered the house at a late hour and extinguished his candle.   Gossip said  that voices were distinctly heard in the big house between the time of Jimmy's return home and the fire.  Even the cry of "Murder!" had been said to have been plainly heard.

At the inquest a juror asked  how long the inquiry was likely to last, as it was Christmas and the jury wished to enjoy themselves.  He asked for an adjournment.  Also asking for an adjournment was  Mr Dodd,  a solicitor who appeared on behalf of the relatives of the deceased.  To the Coroner's questions of  "On what grounds?'  Mr Dodd   replied darkly "I tell you plainly: we suspect foul play."

Sergeant Major O'Grady was incensed and  said it was a liberty on the part of Mr Dodd, unprecedented in the history of coroners juries, to take the stand he had.  It was for the police to bring forth evidence and after that Mr Dodd could ask for an adjournment.  Despite the frequent outbursts from Mr Dodd, the trial went ahead. 

 The foreman asked if there had not been rumours as to how Jimmy Adams came to his death.  Sergeant Major Grady  thundered  "Rumours are inadmissible."  Mr Dodd thought the importance of the case demanded the admission of any statement. Sergeant Major O'Grady again protested against Mr Dodd interfering with the inquiry.  The Coroner said he could not silence Mr Dodd.

Several witnesses gave conflicting evidence as to Jimmy's demeanour on Christmas Eve.  
Seen near Mrs Percy's hotel between 12 and 1am  Jimmy Adams appeared "tight" and staggered a little, but also appeared to be able to take care of himself.  About a quarter to one, while being accompanied part of the way, home Jimmy was described as drunk.

But John Granity, a labourer, residing in a Hape Creek house about 50 yards from the one destroyed, said that he  returned home about 1am or a little later on Christmas morning to find Jimmy Adams sitting in his kitchen.  Jimmy was not drunk, only jolly.  John Granity himself was perfectly sober and said Jimmy talked sensibly.  He left after 2am, shaking his hand and wishing him a Merry Christmas.   A little later John saw a light on in Jimmy Adams' bedroom window when he was in the backyard.  Afterwards, when he was in bed, he heard a shout.  It was an unusual sound.  He could  not distinguish any words.  The sound appeared to be either like a "great fight or murder."    Then he heard a window cracking and his  wife crying out "For God's sake save him."    He ran out and saw the fire but could not give any assistance as the heat was so intense.  He heard a dull report and Mr Scott shouting to him to "clear out" of the way of the powder.  From the noise that he heard he did not think there was more than one person in there.  He thought Jimmy  cried out when the fire caught him. 

Poor Edward Scott. the fishmonger,  was startled to realise he was suspected of murdering Jimmy Adams when  the foreman asked him if he knew he was  believed to have set fire to the building. In answer to questioning he  said Jimmy was, in his belief, a very decent man.   He last saw him alive on Friday morning when he brought some fish from him. 

By now the frustrated Foreman thought they ought to adjourn as all the evidence was contradictory and perfectly unsatisfactory.  He also wanted to adjourn until such time as it would prevent the trial  clashing with the Thames horse races.  But the trial continued.

William Dick testified that he  worked at Mr Greenville's battery and  lived about 300 or 400 yards from the big house.  Jimmy was well-known to him.  He had entered Jimmy's house and spoken to him about his carelessness in leaving a candle burning at night.  Jimmy would go out to change the horses, of which he had charge, on a whim.   This was when he was a carter and  prior to him taking up the tribute.  It was in consequence of powder and other stores being kept on the premises that William Dick thought he  was duty bound to draw his attention to the candle being left burning.

William S Greenville said he knew Jimmy well.  He last saw him alive about 9pm on the 24th.  Jimmy and his party had sold 14oz 13dwts  (penny weights)  gold to the Bank of New Zealand for which 34 pounds 5shillings was paid.  He never heard of Jimmy leaving his candle burning after he went to bed although he once heard of his leaving the candle burning on the mantleshelf while he was out. "I have been threatened by a person," said Mr Greenville, " that, if I did not do certain things, I should be 'gone for'.  I have reason to suspect foul play . . .    if there has been foul play it would have been to have a "go" at me, unless it was for the money the deceased was supposed to have had.  I believe the deceased came to his death by otherwise than accidentally."

 Detective Farrell got somewhat angry and told the witness he wished to drag people into court who could be no service whatever.  He had visited the parties named and on interrogation was satisfied that their evidence would be valueless.
The Thames Star editorial despaired of  the unseemly manner in which the inquest was conducted.  "It does not add lustre to the system in vogue on the Thames for prosecuting investigations . . into . . . mysteries peculiar to violent deaths or destruction of property by fire."  Mr Greenville had  introduced suspicion that some person or persons unknown were responsible for the death of poor Adams and the destruction of property.  The inquest was  a rowdy display instead of what should be an earnest, calm and patient investigation. Valuable time was wasted over trivial and senseless objections.

But despite the mischief caused by interruptions, rumours and jurors wanting a holiday a verdict was brought in.  The jury found  that James Adams came to his death by fire which occurred in a building situated in Hape Creek, the property of Mr Greenville, on the morning of 25 December, 1880,  but how or in what manner the fire arose there was no evidence to show.  

The funeral of Jimmy Adams left from the Shortland Police Station on  Monday 27 December at 11am.  It was largely attended considering the holidays and the absence of any notice.

But doubts still lingered as the New Zealand Herald confided  - "there is a feeling in the minds of some who are acquainted with the circumstances that the fire was not altogether an accident."

Reader interest and feedback is what keeps me writing, so feel free leave a comment!

 (Source: Papers Past, Sir George Grey Special Collections AWNS 4-8721', AWNS 18990714-31)

© Meghan Hawkes and Dead Cert 2016

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Far beyond this world of changes - Kuaotunu Cemetery.

 An edited version of this story originally appeared in the Mercury Bay Informer (9/2/2016)
Thank you to Stephan Bosman, Editor, for permission to publish the full story on this blog and for use of his photos

For an informative read on all the news from the eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsula -  click for your copy of this great paper here

If you are researching Kuaotunu families please email   A Kuaotuna Hall website is currently being built and will include the school roll, cemetery list and Roll of Honour for WW1.  

Among the very few headstones still standing in the Kuaotunu cemetery is one that is highly descriptive of our perilous pioneer past.  It details fatal childhood accidents, death in childbirth, stillbirth and what was a calamitous blow to a family of that era - the death at a young age of a husband, father and provider.   On 14 August, 1900, the small daughter of Georgina and John Ferguson, Hazel, aged two years and three months, was being driven, along with her brother, in a spring trap, by an aunt and uncle, Mr and Mrs F A Marshall. The horse shied and the trap and occupants were thrown over an embankment near Mr J Knight’s house.  The boy escaped uninjured, but Hazel’s neck was broken.  The Marshall’s were slightly injured while Mr T Cunningham, who was holding the horses after the accident, was thrown into a ditch and had his shoulder dislocated. Hazel’s funeral at Kuaotunu cemetery, where the service was read by Mr. James, Wesleyan minister, was very largely attended.  Two years later her parents placed a long poem which appears to have been composed by them, in the Memoriam section of the NZ Herald which poignantly refers to Hazel’s “dimpled hand” and how “into the shadow of death away from our arms her form was hurled.”
In 1906 tragedy again struck the family when Douglas, aged seven, died on November 21 at the Mercury Bay Hospital after an unspecified “painful illness” which could possibly refer to any of the numerous childhood illnesses of the time for which successful treatments were then not available.
One year later, the mother of the family, Georgina, known as ‘Daisy’, died in childbirth, a not uncommon occurrence.  It appears the child, George, died as well – Georgina’s’ death and the stillbirth of George both occurring in 1907.
The father of the family, John Bunyan Ferguson, a gold miner, died in 1912, aged only 39, probably leaving the family at the mercy of financial hardship.
Others of this family, described interestingly as “surviving members”, are also noted on the headstone - buried variously at Mercury Bay, Coromandel, Palmerston North and Surrey, England.


It is likely Hazel Ferguson from the previous story died near the home of Joseph Knight, who was for many years the County Road Overseer at Kuaotunu, supporting a wife, Charlotte, and large family.   An old colonist and resident of Coromandel County for about 16 years, he followed mining at Coromandel; prior to that working as a coal miner at Whangarei.  Sadly these occupations were his undoing - for the last few years of his life he suffered from miner’s complaint.  Miner’s complaint – or silicosis or miners phthisis - was a dreaded chronic lung disease common among miners.  It was slow to develop and symptoms did not appear until years after exposure.  The disease was brutal – shortness of breath, severe cough, fatigue, fever and eventual death.  Ill health forced Joseph to give up his job with the county and towards the end he suffered a great deal.  When he died on 16 May, 1907, aged 54, he was praised as a trustworthy and reliable official and highly respected throughout the county. Often in these cases the community would rally round starting up a subscription to help the family financially.  The Miners Phthisis Act 1915 eventually provided financial compensation and led to improved working conditions.

Robert Ritchie lies in Kuaotunu cemetery too.  The ‘beloved husband of Mary’ died on January 9, 1940 aged 79 years.  Robert Ritchie was a proprietor of the Kuaotunu Hotel, the acquisition being noted in November 1897 in the Thames Advertiser  – “The Kuaotunu Hotel has changed hands, Mr Robert Ritchie having purchased the furniture and goodwill from Mr Charles Cowan.”
Robert was previously a miner and later, a famer for some 30 years, a man who had a great store of reminisces of the Kuaotunu area.  He remembered the early district as “. . . four stores, several butcher shops, three bakeries, one tailor, two drapers and a drug store and everything that was required was to be had at our door.”  In his day crowds of young men walked the 12 miles to Mercury Bay for a game of football and about 10pm walked back to Kuaotunu.  Miners were a “fine body of men”, there was no crime in Kuaotunu, police were unnecessary and doors stayed unlocked. In 1920 the Kuaotunu Hotel was dismantled and transported to Pukemiro where it was re-erected as a boarding house for the coal miners. After that Kuaotunu became a dry area. At a 1932 Mercury Bay Women’s Institute meeting he is mentioned as reading from  ’Early Days in Kuaotunu’ by Robert Ritchie, indicating his nostalgia for the district.  His was probably among the last burials there, the cemetery closing three years after his death.


Unmarked, but in the cemetery is the grave of the unnamed infant daughter of Dr and Mrs Barnes, who died in August 1900.
Doctor Barnes came to Kuaotunu in 1896 - a popular and sociable man who travelled great distances by horseback to attend the ill and injured from Mercury Bay to Whangapoua. He was engaged by the Kuaotunu Medical Fund committee, which employed him on a salary, without any government assistance.  About 12 months later, in September 1897, the Mercury Bay Hospital Board took control of the district and Dr Barnes was attached to their staff, while still living in Kuaotunu.    When the new hall was opened in 1897 Dr Barnes was there playing piano to a “bumper house.”  The accidents and injuries which befell his patients were sometimes out of his scope , such as when in June 1897 he attended Thomas Moore, employed in the Venus mine, who his left hand shattered by the premature explosion of a dynamite charge .   Dr Barnes recommended his removal to the Auckland Hospital.  Poor Moore rode to Coromandel with a mate, arriving at 6.30pm after a most trying and painful journey over bad roads, before travelling on to Auckland.
In 1901, almost a year after their child’s death, Dr and Mrs Barnes were farewelled at a social at Ritchie’s Hall.  Dr Barnes had decided to leave Kuaotunu to take up part of his brother’s practice in England.  The well attended and very enjoyable social was testament to the popularity the doctor had gained both professionally and personally.  Dancing continued until about 10pm when a representative of the Mercury Bay Hospital Board presented Dr Barnes with a valuable diamond ring and Mrs Barnes a silver cake basket inscribed with her monogram.  Dr Barnes thanked those present and stated that his work had been comparatively easy due to the manner he had been treated by the people of Kuaotunu.  The Barnes’ left by steamer for Auckland, where they spent a few days, before proceeding on their way to England.  “He will be missed by both young and old,” said the Auckland Star.  But there was no mention of the daughter lost the year before and left behind in the Kuaotunu cemetery, a sign of the times when bereaved parents were expected to show great stoicism in those days of frequent infant mortality.


James Richard Shaw Wilson was a mine manager who died at Kuaotunu on 10 December, 1901, after a “long and painful illness”, aged 56.  He was also a member of the Kuaotunu Syndicate, established in 1890.   By June 1901 the Kuaotunu Syndicate had a good staff – some 17 or 18 men were connected with the pump and mine while several others were reported as being in the bush getting timber.  James Wilson’s health though was failing and it was reported George Horne was taking over management with James retiring because of ill health. He and his wife Sarah had ten children, perhaps not the hardship it might have been on a mine manager's pay. For a few years after his death his “sorrowing family” inserted long poems and prose in his memory, one asking “Lancaster papers please copy.”  Although obviously grief stricken for a time,  his widow Sarah went on to re-marry Lewis Woodcock.  Lewis died in 1928 and Sarah three years later, in 1931, at Waitaia, Mercury Bay.  Sarah was buried at Kuaotunu, the mourners being taken there first by motor launch and afterwards cars.  Mr William Lee, Whitianga, conducted the burial service and as a testament to the high regard she was held in almost every resident of Kuaotunu was present at her graveside. 


Although the cemetery was in use from 1888, one of the first recognised burials at Kuaotunu cemetery wasn’t until December 1892 - that of the small daughter of George Loram, proprietor of the Kuaotunu Hotel.  The two and a half year old was “taken bad” on a Friday evening and died the following day from the effects of sunstroke.
By 1896 the cemetery was sadly neglected as a letter to the editor of the Auckland Star describes.  ‘Eyesore’ complained of the disgraceful state of the cemetery as well as the road leading to it.  Fern and ti-tree had been allowed to grow to such a height that the few fences and tombstones around the graves were obliterated from view.  During summer months the cemetery was in danger of catching fire.  A road had been roughly formed with a ditch cut on each side and the earth being tossed into the centre, rendering it practically impassable.  A canal, cut for the drainage of water from the mine batteries, lacked a bridge, which for a few paltry pounds could be erected, while metal on hand could be used to make the road fit for traffic.  On 8 April, 1903, a public meeting was held to nominate trustees for the care and maintenance of the cemetery, among them Sarah Wilson and Robert Richie who eventually ended up buried there. The committee raised funds to carry out much needed improvement to the five acre cemetery by socials, dances subsidies and subscriptions.
The cemetery closed in 1943.  Sixty five pioneers of the district were buried there.  Although scarcely any headstones are still standing, their stories remain.

N Z Herald, 9 December 1905


Source:  Papers Past, This is Kuaotunu – R A Simpson.
Photo credits - Stephan Bosman, Mercury Bay Informer.
Thanks to Anne Stewart Ball for sharing local knowledge.

© Meghan Hawkes and Dead Cert 2016

Friday, 30 October 2015

Weary with the march of life. Charles (Charlie) O'Hagan, 1888

An awful early morning discovery. At the entrance to Tararu Cemetery Road.

Through the dim dawn of a mid-winter morning an astonished Francis McCormick noticed a body lying on its back, eerily on the Cemetery Road at Tararu.

Francis, a farmer who lived on the Puru Road, was coming to town by horse and cart  to deliver milk when he made the awful discovery about 6,30 on a June morning in 1888.

 He at once made for Thames along the isolated coast road to inform the police.  On his way home a sidelong glance revealed vomit on the road close to the body and pieces of paper alongside it.

Constable Bern proceeded at once to Tararu.  He examined the vomit which seemed to consist of nothing but Rough on Rats, a vermin poison made of arsenic and coloured with a little coal.   He also found some of the powder on the grass and several scraps of paper torn from the box.  There were marks on the ground as though a struggle had taken place, the grass being trampled and torn up.

He had the body removed to the Royal Hotel, Tararu, where it was identified as that of Charlie O'Hagan, aged 41,  a bushman employed by Mr Thomas Webb, contractor at Kauaeranga,

A search of the body yielded 3d in coppers, a pipe and a box of matches. There can be no doubt, stated the Thames Star, that the man committed suicide.

Charlie O'Hagan was a steady man, but when he came into town he was very much given to drink, according to his mate of about 10 years, Richard Toomey.  The drink sometimes made him violent and on two occasions he had suffered from delirium tremens. For the past week Charlie had been drinking but he had been fairly sober whenever Richard saw him.  Except for Tuesday when his conduct was unreasonable, and they had a difference about some business matters.  Richard had had enough and forbid Charlie in the house until he was sober, which he seemed to take very much to heart.

Charlie had been staying at the Imperial Hotel of James J Foy that week. He had arrived on Monday evening in a state of intoxication and had some bread and cheese and beer.  He slept at the hotel each night till Friday, but did not remain there during the day, leaving at breakfast time and returning in the evenings.  Mr Foy did not see him drunk during the week  and his conduct was quite rational. Nothing in Charlie's behaviour suggested that he was thinking of suicide.

Charlie had recently received two letters from his brother in Wairoa South, which revealed he was in difficulties about his land.  After reading the letters Charlies remarked to Richard "My poor brother, he is going to be without a house or home."  Richard suggested Charlie send his brother some money, as he had a cheque in his pocket, but he declined to do so.    Charlie left him about noon on Saturday but was not the worse for wear from alcohol.    In fact he had remarked that he had just made up his mind to leave the Thames and go to Mercury Bay.  The cheque had been for about 17 pounds, which Charlie cashed the previous Monday.  Richard gave him one pound when he left on Saturday.

Sometime after leaving Richard, Charlie went to the Pacific Hotel where he met Henry Ladner whom he had known for several years.  It was around 2.30 and they spent about five minutes together having a glass of beer.   Charlie asked Richard to get a box of Rough on Rats for him, saying that his place at Tapu was infested with rats, and he could not obtain the poison himself, as the chemists would not sell it to him as he was a stranger.  Henry purchased one box of Rough on Rats at Mr Hall's, chemist, and gave it to him.  Although he had known Charlie for awhile, Henry was unaware that he didn't actually live at Tapu.

Dr M H Payne said of the postmortem examination that there were no bruises or any marks of violence but the walls of the stomach were fearfully corroded and inflamed.   The constable had given him some grass and vomit which he analysed and found arsenic in it in a large quantity.  Dr Payne believed that death had been caused by the action of the corrosive poison Rough on Rats and the coroner agreed, finding that "that the deceased came to his death by taking Rough on Rats while in a state of temporary insanity."

There are many gaps in the story of Charlie O'Hagan whose death was put down to the almost dismissive  cause of  temporary insanity.  He must have felt extremely hopeless to make the awful decision to end it all with something as caustic as Rough on Rats which delivered a ghastly death of severe abdominal distress.

 Charlie O'Hagan was buried at Tararu cemetery at the end of the road where he was found. 

Rats on the Thames goldfield were a huge problem and they were accused of all sorts of vile deeds as a letter to  the Thames Advertiser a year prior to Charlie's death illustrates.
"The dwellings of the humble classes . . .are built of combustible material in the shape of logs,"  wrote VOX,  before alluding to the arsonistic tendencies of rats.   "These man-hated vermin do sometimes act as the probably four-footed and tailed incendiary . . ."

He related a tale from the picturesque and isolated district of Whangapoua, at a sawmill kitchen some distance down the tramway,.  The workmen,   having enjoyed a satisfying supper, were sitting puffing  their pipes around the cheerful fireplace, others were engaged at the rough, long table with the 'Devil's pasteboards' (playing cards), when suddenly in one of the bunks that lined the walls,  a flame of light shot up .  A rat, with a match alight in its mouth, came running out and deposited its burden on a carpet bag in an adjoining bunk.  The bunks consisted of the inflammable brush and on top of them had been left a paper with matches lying on it .  Willing hands, in a  trice, extinguished the blaze, but , what if, he asked,  "the rat been holding its high carnival when all the inmates were away?"

A month after Charlie's death the Thames Advertiser rued the amount of money spent by the government introducing ferrets as well as the cost of rabbit proof fencing in the South Island; money it felt could be better spent on eliminating  the rampant rat.  "The prolific bunny is no doubt a great source of annoyance to the large run-holders  . . . and there is no question that a large amount of damage is caused by the hoards of rabbits which burrow beneath the fertile plains of Canterbury and Southern NZ . . ." but why could the government not grant money to eradicate the rats which infested the grain merchants premises on the Thames?  The town was overrun with "large numbers of gay and festive rodents that commit depredations on our pantries  and that occasionally introduce a novelty in their ordinary daily life, by attacking a  sleeping and defenseless babe."

"The rat is quite as great a nuisance to us as the rabbit is to the Southland squatter, but who would ever dream of applying to the government to expend vast sums of money to clear our houses and business premises of rats while there was 'Rough on Rats' to be had at a shilling a box . . . ?" it asked in exasperation.

Although there were many suicides from Rough on Rats across New Zealand they were not common in the Thames district.  By 1901, when restrictions on the sale of the poison had come into effect, William White was found dead alongside his bed in his dwelling in Thames.  Dr Bond testified that there was no sign of poison in the stomach.  An examination showed that death was due to syncope, caused by vomiting, the result of the diseased condition of the deceased's stomach and liver.  There had been persistent rumours to the effect that the man had taken Rough on Rats.  These were entirely dispelled.

Mental health and suicide were poorly understood in this era and it was a time when attempted suicide was an offense punishable by imprisonment.  But the mid-1890s there was a turn against the cruel practice of penalising the mentally unwell.

The Thames Star in 1894 reprinted this editorial  from the Christchurch Truth  on the "arrant stupidity of punishing a would-be suicide."

"Several cases have recently occurred in the Australasian colonies of Magistrates punishing persons who had attempted, but failed, to commit suicide."  One Melbourne lawmaker even announced his determination to put a stop to suicide, and sent to prison "one or two trembling creatures who 'weary with the march of life' attempted to destroy themselves with Rough on Rats . . .  those who punish a person for attempting suicide is in many degrees a more contemptible object to the eye of reason than the would-be suicide."

The attempt to eliminate of the scourge of rats inadvertently became a scourge of suffering for those who could buy death for a shilling.

Advert for Rough on Rats which ran continuously in Thames newspapers, 1880s, although skunks and gophers weren't much of a problem!

"Now, Rodie, my love, be quick and get the kids ashore and I'll look after the luggage. "  Rats travelling by the Sydney steamers will not be permitted to land at the (Auckland) wharf.

Observer 18 February, 1889

Observer, 6 September 1890

The poison brand Rough on Rats was invented in 1872 by Jersey City manufacturer Ephraim S. Wells.  Jokingly, his wife called it Rough on Rats and the name stuck.  The product was hugely successful.   It was intended to kill a wide range of household pests but unfortunately it became a common suicide method particularly by those of the lower classes of colonial society. It was easy to get from chemists.   Rough on Rats was included in the Sale of Poisons Act sometime prior to 1901 making it harder to obtain and the world-wide epidemic of suicides slowed.

(Source: Papers Past,, http://beachpackaging; Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 2-V1269' &  NZG 1900324p0529)

© Meghan Hawkes and Dead Cert 2015

Monday, 19 October 2015

Out Now! Thames Coromandel's 'Summer' Magazine with a 'Dead Cert' feature. Plus photos by Mike Hawkes illustrating 'Dead Cert' and the tekoteko in 'Carving Kaitiakitanga'. Available free of charge from Thames Coromandel District Council's and libraries. Or if you are an absentee ratepayer - coming to your mailbox soon.