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. Tararu Cemetery Road entrance to the left.  

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.

Monday, 5 October 2015

'Simply to Thy cross I cling'. Fred Whyte and John 'Jack' O'Malley. Waihi, 1910.

Miners on the morning shift at Waihi mine descending the shaft in a cage.

It was a rushing noise in the No 4 shaft of the Waihi mine which caught the attention of a miner named Manuel.  On that Thursday in March 1910 he was working on  a winch in the chamber  while above him, on some staging over No 9 level, were mates  John 'Jack' O'Malley, 39,  and Frederick Whyte, 40.

They were fixing gear in the shaft in connection with the haulage of sections of the electric pumping plant. They had completed lining the shaft and had a barrier secured several feet above the back of the chamber on which to attach the large tackle block to be used for hauling up the pipes. One of the two men came down for the block.  He then climbed back up up the ladderway with the block which weighed about 40lbs.  It was then Manuel heard the whooshing sound and the forms of his mates horrifically flashed past the chamber to the bottom of the shaft 170 feet below.

The alarm was immediately given and when rescuers reached the bottom of the shaft the lifeless body of Jack O'Malley was discovered.   Fred Whyte was found unconscious and considerably knocked about.  Medical assistance was promptly called in and Fred was taken to Waihi hospital.  Jack was single, and, as far as was known, had no relations in the district.  Fred had a wife and two children residing in the east end of Waihi.  He died between 5 and 6 that night without gaining consciousness.

It was surmised that the men lost their footing in the shaft while attaching the tackle block to the bearer across the shaft.  Probably one man lost his balance and in falling, knocked his mate off the ladder.

Work was suspended for the men employed underground by the Waihi Company  and it was  doubtful whether it would be resumed before the following Monday.  The accident was regarded as the worst since the Parry and Cornthwaite fatality* occurred in the No 5 shaft some five years previously.

The union had passed a resolution that "as a mark of respect to their deceased comrades, all men in a mine where a fatality takes place shall immediately knock off work and not resume until after the funeral."  This resolution was endorsed at a well attended meeting in Waihi following Fred and Jack's death's by a large majority of those present.  The officials of the union stated that the custom was observed in  certain mining centres  in the Dominion and Australian states.

It was eventually decided that work was not to be resumed in the Waihi mine until Sunday night, as the victims were to be buried on Saturday.   Management closed the Waihi batteries for a shift to enable the battery workers to join with the underground men in attending the funeral.  Waihi mine workers together with many others from the mines in the Upper Thames districts were in the long, somber procession.  It was thought to be the largest ever seen in Waihi taking  fully 15 minutes with  those on foot walking three or four abreast.  The vehicles numbered between 40 and 50, and many followers were on horseback.    As the cortege moved off the 'Dead March' was played by the Waihi Federal and Salvation Army Bands.  At the gravesides the last rites were performed by the Very Rev Father Brodie (parish priest) and the Rev Buckland (vicar of St John's Anglican church).

When the inquest opened a broken plank, 9in wide and 1 1/2 inch thick, formed an exhibit.  The jury had been taken to inspect the scene of the fatality.

No evidence was forthcoming as to the actual cause of the accident, but witnesses generally described Jack and Fred as capable, careful and experienced shaft workers.  They agreed that the plank shown was not sufficiently strong to be used as a staging on which men could work with reasonable safety when carrying out repairs in a shaft.  The fact that there was a knot in the plank rendered its use still more dangerous, but nothing was proved to show that it had even been used - it's production in Court having been due to  its discovery in the well hole of the shaft.

 The Government Mining Inspector, Mr W Paul, gave his opinion that the men would not use such a piece of timber as part of a staging.  It was their duty when working in the shaft to protect themselves against accident by using and putting into position suitable timber, and ample material of the required class was available at the level over which the men were working. To prevent danger he considered they should have erected a staging below the bearers they were putting into position, and also to have covered the No 9 shaft.

J Gilmour, the mine manager, stated that Fred and Jack had been chosen for the work because they were regarded as competent and  knowledgeable shaft workers.  They had been supplied with all the materials requisite to guard against accident.  The timber used for staging consisted of planks 9in wide and 3in thick.  The plank produced in court was a 9in by 1& a half inch kauri plank  used as a lining board.  Some three or four days before the accident Mr Gilmour had instructed the mine to make proper provision for their safety, and use the right timbers for this purpose.

In summing up, the Coroner drew the attention of the jury to the provisions of the Mining Act calling upon workers to make suitable arrangements for their own safety when working under conditions similar to those under which the deceased had been working.

After a short retirement, the jury brought in a verdict of accidental death, and stated that there was nothing to show what caused the deceased to fall down the shaft, and that no blame was attachable to anyone.  A rider was added recommending that men working in shafts should be compelled to erect adequate and cleated stage boards underneath them.

Too late of course for Fred and Jack in that single moment of lost balance.

The headstone of Fred Whyte "who was killed with his mate in the Waihi mine . . ."
"Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to Thy cross I cling"
(From the hymn 'Rock of Ages.')

NZ Herald 22 March, 1910

Looking from Martha Hill to the Waihi Gold Mine.

*Melbourne Parry and William Cornthwaite  were in an eerily similar accident in Waihi mine's No 5 shaft in 1903   when  Melbourne fell off a ladder knocking William off as well.  They fell 80 feet.  Reverend Oliphant, speaking at the funerals, despaired at the spate of recent mining accidents and the slowness of mining companies to  adopt basic  safety measures.   ('The toll of human blood' from the book 'Dead Cert' available now from author)

(Source: Papers Past, Heritage Images Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19001214-4-2 & 35-R1469, Whyte grave image- M Hawkes)

© Meghan Hawkes and Dead Cert 2015

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

"You have been in great peril."

Gladys Ramsbottom, 1897

"She took them to a place near the edge of the (Coromandel) bush."

Costley Home - founded by the ladies of Auckland to carry out humane work.

For months the Auckland Police had been searching for a child born to a young Coromandel girl of 18.  It appeared the child had been  born in  Auckland in March 1897 and was subsequently boarded out under the Infant Protection Act to Mrs Cowie's Children's Home  in  Brighton Road, Parnell.

 Mary Ramsbottom had been  admitted to the Maternity Ward of the Costley Home on January 25, 1897,  she was confined on March 8, and discharged with her daughter, Helena  Gladys Mary (known as Gladys),  on March 22. Mary's father, Thomas Ramsbottom  a very respectable man from Coromandel, paid the confinement fees. In May, Mary insisted upon removing the infant from the Children's Home and took her to Coromandel.  Then it suddenly vanished.  The ladies of Auckland who knew the child's history and the detective force began to make inquiries.

Mary got employment at Coromandel but in December left suddenly for Auckland, where she was soon arrested on a charge of the theft of a diamond ring and a bicycle from her Coromandel employer.  Mary, during her detention in gaol awaiting her trial for theft, suddenly made a statement which led to a horrifying discovery.

"Child Murder Coromandel" -   "The Coromandel Sensation" - "A Shocking Affair" shouted the headlines of reports which detailed the  death of a  child which had been abandoned and left to die in the bush at Long Bay, Coromandel by its mother.

In January 1898, Mary Ramsbottom led detectives to a quiet spot in the ti-tree about three miles from the Coromandel Post Office. On the road she told them that they could not very well miss the place as the baby's  bottle would be there.  She took them to a spot near the edge of the bush and at the top of a hill.   They saw on the surface of the ground what they took to be a human skeleton, some rotten baby's clothing, a tiny pair of bootees and a feeding bottle.  Mary pointed to remains and said "that is my baby and there is the bottle."  The remains were found a mile from any proper road and about 20 yards from a track.
A charge of child murder was laid against Mary Ramsbottom, sometimes called Polly, alias Ramsey. It was noted that at times the girl seemed to feel her position and at others she laughed and treated the matter lightly.

At the Police Court, Mary, neatly dressed, tripped smilingly into the dock and appeared to regard the affair with little concern.  When the charge was read she turned her head slightly, but said nothing.  She was described as a young and good looking girl.  She wore her brown hair down her back and was attired in a black velvet blouse, short green skirt and gem hat.  She kept her face averted from the crowd in the court.

At the trial, Agnes Henrietta McFarlane, matron of the Children's Home,   said that about May 5, 1897, Mary Ramsbottom asked her to take in her child as she wished to take employment.  Gladys was younger than usually admitted, but owing to the pleas of Mary her request was granted.   After keeping Gladys for a short time it was suspected that Mary had not taken employment, but was leading an immoral life; as well, after 20 days in the Home, the weekly payments for Gladys were not forthcoming.  The Inspector of Police was then requested to have the child removed. Gladys was subsequently handed back to Mary in the Inspector's presence.  The child was taken away on May 25, Gladys had been delicate in health and was attended to by Dr  Arthur E Marsack when in the Home She was not a particularly robust child; she was rather below the average.  However the doctor pronounced her much better on the day of departure. This was the last he or the matron saw of the child. 

Constable Kennedy testified that Mary had arrived in Coromandel from Auckland by steamer early on a May morning. The child was left alive in the bush with a feeding bottle.  Two days later Mary returned to the place and the baby was dead.  She did not bury it.  He had known Mary for two years and had never thought there was anything wrong with her mind.

Dr Stanley Arthur Bull, of Coromandel, said the exposure of the child would certainly cause its death. There were no fractures of bones or anything to indicate a violent death. Dr Bull said he was struck by Mary's utter callousness.  She did not seem to grasp the situation at all.  This tended to show that her mind was not as healthy as that of a normal woman.  He judged her moral sense wanting and said she was what was known to doctor's as morally insane.  It was very exceptional for a woman to show no sign of affection for their children, even if they were illegitimate.

The defence urged the jury to take into account Mary's extreme youth and pointed out she had lapsed from the path of virtue at an early age and now it was hard to reform.   The jury were asked to consider her condition when arriving at Coromandel in the morning from Auckland.  Having no one to meet her and knowing that she dare not leave the baby at her father's house, she wandered away and left it in the bush.  Was it clearly her intention to abandon the child in order to cause its death? Might it not have been that the girl left it there intending to go back two days later?  Were her circumstances not so desperately unfortunate as to be enough to turn her mind?  He asked the jury to deal with the case as mercifully as they could.

When the Coroner tried to read aloud Mary's statement, he was so affected he had to ask Detective Grace to do it instead.  It said, in part, "I suppose you know what I done with it.  I left it down at Coromandel, at Long Bay, with nobody in the bush . . . I was at home between the time I left the baby and the time I returned to see two days afterwards.  The place where I left the baby is about a quarter of an hour's walk from my father's place . . .I do not think anyone saw me with the baby at Coromandel . . . I saw it about two days after I left it.  It was then dead.  I came away and left it there.  I did not bury it."

Mr Justice Connolly, in his charge to the Grand Jury, said it was clear at law that if the woman knew, as she must have known, that leaving her child away from the road, at winter time would cause its death, then she was just as guilty of murder as if she had used violence to accomplish her purpose.

The jury retired at 2,10pm and returned 25 minutes later  with a guilty of manslaughter verdict.

His Honour in sentencing Mary, said "Prisoner, you have been exceedingly fortunate in that the jury have taken such a lenient view of your case.  They would have been quite justified in arriving at a different verdict, which would have placed your life in danger.  You have been in great peril.   I can hardly imagine, under the circumstances, how you could be guilty of such cruelty as to leave your unfortunate child to die of starvation."  He sentenced her to two years hard labour.

 She was also committed for trial on a charge of stealing a bicycle but the case was not proceeded with.  Mary, who did not appear to be affected, was removed to the cell.

'The infant that was left to starve' ran the Evening Post headline as newspapers across the country  reacted with indignation at the sentencing.  The New Zealand Herald admonished ". . . if ever there was a cruel and wanton crime that called for adequate punishment, this was one.  The verdicts of the juries are not always easily explicable . . . A jury of women would probably have come to a different conclusion. . . . Had she set fire to a stack of hay she probably would have been more severely punished.  We are afraid that if infanticide is to be effectively suppressed it will not be by the passing of such light sentences.  The punishment must be made more Draconian."

There was a flurry of letters to the Editor of the Auckland Star between the Rev George  MacMurray of the St Mary's Anglican Vicarage, Parnell,  and the Rev Joseph Parker  of the Beresford Street Congregational Church.  The  Rev Joseph Parker had given  a special address to the young women in his congregation referring to Mary Ramsbottom.  He said that he regretted that at a time when the young woman was least fitted to have the care of her child she took it out of the home where it was being cared for.  The fault of the mother was in his mind an evidence that she ought not to have the child at all; in France or Russia mother under similar conditions would not have been forced to take charge of her child again, and he hoped the day would come when in Auckland there would be an institution to care for the most helpless when "sin abounded."

Rev George MacMurray took great umbrage to this saying that "the reverend gentleman took occasion to throw a stone at the Children's Home, Parnell, with the hope of hitting the Anglican Church."  He explained that the Children's Home was not under the control of the Anglican Church,
It was private enterprise of Mrs Cowie who, at her own risk, founded it in order to assist girls who had fallen to return to virtuous living.  Mrs Cowie's experience led her to the conclusion that such girls were terribly handicapped in the battle of life for the want of a suitable home where their children would be cared for, whilst they were set free to earn a maintenance for themselves and their children.  "Mr Parker, from his pedestal of lofty ignorance, has cast a reflection upon this work of charity . . . "

A perplexed Rev Joseph Parker, as a newcomer to Auckland, pleaded ignorance of Mrs Cowie's Home and even of Rev MacMurray's existence.  "The whole trouble has been that Mary Ramsbottom did not get to the right place" - the right place being, in his opinion, an industrial school.  "Those who know the sad sequence to her story will exclaim 'What a pity she didn't know the right place to take her helpless child to."

To which the maddened Rev MacMurray replied "Mr Parker seems to think it would be desirable to provide facilities for Mary Ramsbottom and others of her class to get rid of their offspring without trouble . . . The Industrial School Department deals with the matter wisely. inasmuch as it indulges no maudlin sentimentality.  If a girl has a child she is responsible for it and must keep it.  If she leads an immoral life the police are authorised to interfere so as to protect the child from being trained in immoral ways . . .I must admit that the police are sometimes too slow to act in cases of demonstrated unfitness.  I know one case of a notorious prostitute, who lately lived in Parnell, who has two beautiful children who ought to be at once taken away from her . . ."

The disturbed state of mind that Mary Ramsbottom was clearly in was no doubt a consequence of  cruel circumstance.  Pregnant outside of marriage and abandoned by the father resulted in the almost unbearable stigma of single parenthood.
No mother is mentioned and although her father was noted as  respectable, and paid for the confinement, he obviously did not want  Mary with her child back.   Newspaper reports allude to a life gone off the rails; perhaps her responses were not so much callous as  numb, an effect of post natal depression.  Mary also seems to have fallen through the cracks - the option of the Industrial School wasn't pointed out to her.  Or maybe it was and she rejected it. Industrial School's were not always a safe alternative.  Perhaps she had experienced something similar in her childhood.

Abandonment or exposure is one of the oldest methods of infanticide. It is thought that in some cases the parent acts in  the naive belief that their child will be rescued.

Three month old Helena was most likely buried by Charitable Aid, something she and her mother most desperately needed in life, not death. 


Eliza Cowie  - 'loving deeds and a good example.'
Eliza Cowie's Home gave shelter and hope to single mothers who were expected to stay for six months, change their living habits and learn sewing, laundry and housework before being reinstated into society.   Eliza was well known for her work with the less fortunate of Auckland in an era when there were barely any social services for women.   The women's home (now St Mary's Family Centre) and her work with distressed women and children are her great legacy.    She was described as 'one of those gentle Christian women whose loving deeds and good example can be ill-spared', and by Maori clergy as 'our mother, Mrs Cowie'.

The Costley Home  was founded by the ladies of Auckland to carry out humane work among the people there.  It was eventually taken over by the Hospital and Charitable Aid Board.  The average number of inmates was about 175.  There were two dormitories used for maternity wards and  accommodation for fifty female inmates.


(Source:  Papers Past;  Images: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19101110-10-6 , 18981209p004, 19020821;  Wikipedia - Infanticide;  Cyclopedia of NZ -;  Judith Bright. 'Cowie, Eliza Jane', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2012 URL:

© Meghan Hawkes and Dead Cert 2015

Friday, 21 August 2015

           Books are selling fast - make sure you order a copy!

More Reader Reviews - 

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

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

I started reading it at work yesterday  and the team leader came in to the tea room and said - you look engrossed!. and I was. Read bits to hubby when I got home and then got out of bed at 10.30 after reading  just one more.... I can see that once again I'm going to be gutted when I finish it . . .you  better start the 2nd Volume Meghan! If you don't have a copy get one asap. 

I loved it. A fascinating book that I couldn't put down once I started it.