Tuesday, 29 October 2013

"Two former Thamesites."

(Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A16669)

The Thames Sarah knew in the 1860s-1870s. Looking south from Irishtown over Shortland.

“Two former Thamesites.”

Sarah Jane Challoner, 1916, Waihi cemetery.

When Mrs Sarah Jane Challoner* aged 72 went missing from her home on the Martha Hill, Waihi in 1916 police were not unduly concerned.  She occasionally visited Thames and they “would be very glad to be advised by any of her friends if she has done so upon this occasion.”   But her friends had not seen her. As Mrs Challoner was very deaf concern grew but several days of searching found no trace of her.  A party of boy scouts along with the police and borough workmen scoured the hills around Waihi.   After ten days Mrs Challoner was found dead in a dense clump of blackberries off the track in Bulltown, a small settlement on the town’s outskirts.  The area was some distance from her residence. To reach the spot where she was found she would have been forced to crawl on her hands and knees.  The inquest found she died from natural causes.

Mrs Challoner was known to be of eccentric habits and her house reflected this – the police found it in a wretched condition, rats having torn the kapok out of the mattresses.  She lived alone in the small cottage and was in receipt of charitable aid. She had been married twice; her first husband’s name was Vaughan.

At the inquest the police stated that some valuable jewellery of Mrs Challoner’s appeared to be missing but when the residence was cleaned up by the local health officer he discovered it under a mattress.  For a woman who appeared to have nothing the cache included a gold watch and chain, a gold locket studded with pearls and diamonds, a gold necklet chain and two gold brooches set with diamonds and rubies.

Amongst the sparse details of her life it was noted she had no relatives in the district although it was understood there was a niece in Auckland.

 “In the early days she conducted a hotel at Thames,” added the Auckland Star tantalisingly.

In the early days Matthew Vaughan, an Englishman, having served in the Maori war, was awarded some grants of land. He built the Grand Junction Hotel at Grahamstown, Thames. He employed Sarah Jane as a barmaid and married her in 1869.  Matthew Vaughan also became a well known mining speculator and a future Queen’s Hotel advertisement would note the publican was late of Waikato, Ohinemuri and Fiji.  But for now Matthew and Sarah Jane ran the Grand Junction Hotel on Golden Crown Street.  In 1870 the Daily Southern Cross mentions Sarah Jane by what was probably her pet or nick name – ‘Lizzie’ Vaughan, landlady of the Thames Hotel.

In 1881 the Observer newspaper observed that “Vaughan’s new barmaid is a great draw.”  But the Vaughan’s marriage was not so bewitching and by 1886 Sarah Jane had vanished from Thames.

A year later scandalised headlines in the Thames Star announced “A Divorce Case – Two Former Thamesites.”

Sarah Jane had been traced by her husband to a chop house in Market Street, Manchester, England.  She was with a man named Challoner and they were living as man and wife. 

Mr James Challoner, a dispenser and house steward at Thames Hospital, had left Thames for England in 1886 amongst great pomp and ceremony. The Government Inspector of Mines, Mr James Mc Laren presented him with a handsome gold pendant watch.  A testimonial to the energy and ability of Mr Challoner during his three and a half years at the hospital accompanied the gift.  When he left – he took Mrs Vaughan with him.

A short time later Mr Vaughan took a similar trip and a sequel to the affair was contained in the Manchester Guardian.  In the case of Vaughan v Vaughan and Challoner the husband petitioned for divorce on grounds of his wife’s misconduct with Challoner.   The divorce was granted.

The trail of Sarah Jane disappeared again but eighteen years later, at the end of November 1905, advertisements started appearing in the Thames Star.   “Mrs James Chaloner (sic), better known as Mrs Vaughan, having returned to the Thames, has opened the Provincial Boarding House.  Board and residence 18s per week.    She has also opened a shop adjoining.  Fruit and mineral waters.  Tobacco and cigars and cigarettes.”  A few weeks later the adverts also read   “Board and residence – good beds...Dinner – meat and two vegetables, 6 d.”

Sarah Jane came back to Thames when she was 62, without Mr Challoner, who had probably died in England.   The Provincial Boarding House was in Queen Street, Thames, next to the Courthouse.

A peculiar accident happened at her boarding house in September 1906 when a man named Alexander Stewart fell out of a second storey window crashing onto the asphalt footpath below.  Mrs Vaughan, as she was now calling herself, was somewhat deaf and didn’t hear the fall and didn't know of the mishap until Alexander was carried in. “That he escaped death is nothing short of marvellous for he must have fallen many feet,”  reported the Thames Star.

A strange feature of the accident was that the window was found to be almost closed after the event. Alexander was conveyed to hospital badly knocked about, but he appears to have survived.  Sarah Jane however seems to have begun a sad descent over the next 10 years.  Her boarding house adverts abruptly stopped and at some stage she moved to Waihi becoming Mrs Challoner again.

The life of the spirited and enterprising Sarah Jane led her from the clamour of goldfields miners’ hotels, on long ship voyages for love, to the bustle of England’s Market Street and back again.

From diamonds and rubies to a tragic death in a blackberry bush, it is somehow fitting that when she was discovered it was by a boy named Angel.

 *variously spelled Challoner, Challinoer.

(A chop house historically was a type of restaurant.  The Royal English dictionary, 1763, describes it as “a kind of cook’s shop, where meat is ready dressed, so called from their dealing mostly in mutton chops.”  Bread, cheese, broth and ale might be available but chophouses mainly served meat.  Unlike restaurants customers would sit on benches next to complete strangers.

The Provincial Boarding House was previously the Provincial Hotel.  Its licence was refused in 1884 and it was taken over by Mrs Eade as a boarding house.  The rooms were fitted with ‘every convenience’.   It had a succession of landladies including Mrs Wade, Mrs Martin and Mrs Cole.

The Bulltown blackberry and bush seems to have been dense, rugged and somewhat treacherous.  In 1906 boys picking blackberries there became separated and one was lost.  Search parties finally found him about 8 pm. Blackberrying in that area is mentioned nostalgically in several reminiscences.

Golden Crown Street no longer exists.  It was that part of Owen Street from Burke Street to Coromandel Street.

The gold watch and chain found under Sarah’s mattress was quite likely the one presented to Mr Challoner.)

                               (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A8981)
A Waihi cottage, 1901 perhaps similar to the one Sarah ended her days in.


 For photos of Manchester in the Challoner's time go to www.francisfrith.com/


© Meghan Hawkes and Dead Cert, 2013

(Source: National Library, Papers Past; The Treasury, Thames, Ohinemuri Journal)


Jon said...

Thanks Meghan, when writing up this story did you research English resources too. Sarah Jane certainly was well travelled but returned to the Thames Valley to continue business. I wonder if she ever made a Will. Sarah Jane lived in interesting times. Another good read. Thanks.

Meghan Hawkes said...

Hi Jon
I had some trouble due to the different spellings of her surname but I am tracking down some more information to fill in the gaps - watch this space! Glad you enjoyed it - thanks.

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