Monday, 25 August 2014

"O heaven, what shall we do!" Walter Ritchie, 1881.

Boys, bush and bullets.  A creek near Paeroa. 

For the four lads out on an impromptu shooting expedition on an April afternoon in 1881  the excursion was a high spirited, late summer adventure.  The intended quarry was duck and pigeon of which there were plenty on farmland near Puke, Paeroa.    Earlier that morning, about 10am, Thomas Cashen, jnr, aged 14, and Fred Lipsey, 17, had set out -  Fred carrying his  double barrelled breech loading, pin fire Sniper.  They walked towards the junction and crossed the river near Haora Tareranui's settlement,  passing near Mr Lipsey's farm.

About 12pm they saw Walter Ritchie, aged 13,  on the opposite side of the river.  Walter was also hunting and had a gun with him.   Fred and Thomas re-crossed the river and Walter joined them.  They all walked down to Mr Moore's and there 11 year old Ernest Moore joined the group.  The boys, with youthful exuberance,   crossed the river again and once opposite Mr Snodgrass'  went some distance below his house to a fig tree.  They picked some figs and then their attention was caught by a shag sitting in a willow tree.  Walter aimed his gun and fired at the shag while Fred  discharged both barrels of his gun and then re-loaded.   While Fred was reloading, they saw another shag and Fred called out to Walter "I am going to fire" at the same time raising his gun. Walter was standing about a yard and a half on the left side of Fred when he inexplicably  shifted his position in front of Fred's gun.  The gun went off and shot Walter in the head.

Lewis Snodgrass was on his farm near Puke at 3 pm when he heard shots on the other side of the river.  A short time later he heard another shot, followed immediately by the sound of boys crying out "O heaven, what shall we do!"  Lewis took his boat and went over the river to see what the matter was.  On arriving on the other side he found three boys - Frederick, Ernest and Thomas, who were in great distress. They told him Walter Ritchie was shot.  Ernest pointed in the direction and Lewis Snodgrass found Walter lying on his back.   It was about seven yards from the bank of the river, on open ground.  A distraught Fred  said to Lewis Snodgrass "What shall I do - the gun went off accidentally and I shot him."

At the inquest, held at Paeroa Hotel,  young Thomas Cashen said he thought the reason Walter had stepped in front of the gun was to prevent Fred from firing until Walter was ready to shoot too.  "After the accident,"  said Thomas, "we all ran away screaming." 
Lewis Snodgrass testified  that  he heard no sound of dispute or quarrelling before the shot was fired.  Two of the boys had told him that when Fred was in the act of firing,  Walter ran in front of him and was shot, but the shock and speed of events possibly distorted their recall.

Albert Russell, Sergeant of Police, said that at 3.30 David Snodgrass junior came to the police station and informed him Walter Ritchie was shot and was lying opposite his farm near Puke.   Russell  went immediately to the scene where he asked Thomas Cashen how the boy came to be shot.  Thomas replied Fred had shot him.  He pointed out the spot Fred  had stood in when he fired.  "It appeared to me," said the sergeant, " as if the deceased had come out from behind the bush.  I should think that anyone standing behind the bush could not be seen by Lipsey."  Russell arrested Fred who said "I don't know how it was done; it was accidental." Sergeant Russell believed the boys to all be very good friends.

The jury found that  Walter Ritchie met his death by a gunshot wound and that it was purely accidental and a misadventure.

Walter was the son of Mr John Ritchie, the  respected headmaster of the Paeroa public school. "Deep gloom was cast over the inhabitants of Paeroa, Ohinemuri and the whole adjacent district ," noted the Thames Advertiser when news of Walter's death broke. 
To add to the family's distress  an elder brother of Walter's was lying at Thames in a most critical condition, having recently come out of hospital.  "If sympathy could alleviate this new affliction of the parents, there is an abundant outpouring of it in Paeroa now . . . "

Walter was buried on the outskirts of Paeroa in spite of the law providing  for burial in public cemeteries only.    There was no cemetery in Paeroa then.   Walter's death saw " a strong feeling prevalent in Paeroa which this fatal accident may bring to a climax - that a local cemetery for such a populous district must be provided at once."

Walter was a bugler in the No 3 Company of the Thames Scottish Volunteers.  He was buried with military honours: a tragic victim of those relatively carefree colonial days where young boys entrusted with guns was commonplace. 

There were seven children in the Ritchie family, including Walter.  Two of his brothers, Fred and Jack, are pictured here to the right, leaning on the seat.

(Back Row: Mr Walter Sullivan (Headmaster  at Paeroa School 1885-1901), Miss Minnie Shaw. Teacher at Paeroa for 31 years, Fred and Jack Ritchie. Seated: Fred Shaw, Mr Jim Shaw (uncle of Shaw's and Ritchie's) Mrs Sullivan.Two young ladies not known).


The lack of a cemetery at Paeroa was the subject of a Pigeongram flown to the Thames Advertiser in February 1878 which noted that “the wife of Mr Thomas Shaw (Foreman of the Works in this district) died yesterday...owing to the want of a cemetery here her remains will have to be conveyed to the Thames for sepulchre.” In 1882 Paeroa submitted a request to parliament for the setting aside of a piece of ground for a local cemetery and was finally successful.  Later that year a cemetery committee arranged the fencing, ploughing, harrowing and sowing of a one acre block, ‘Pukerimu’, for a cemetery.  

John Ritchie was the first headmaster of Paeroa school (1875-1884).  
  In 1876 he opened a part time school at Mackaytown, while Mrs Ritchie continued teaching at Paeroa.  When Mr Ritchie left Paeroa he went teaching in Northland.  He returned to Ohinemuri, opening the Karangahake and Owharoa schools.   He died 21 October 1901, aged 70.
Mrs Ritchie died on July 16, 1884,  aged 48, three years after her son Walter.  She was buried at the Paeroa cemetery by then opened.

The area where the boys were shooting  was called 'Te Puke'  in newspaper reports, likely meaning the Puke Road area of  Paeroa, not Te Puke, Bay of Plenty.   
"In 1842 when Joshua Thorp sailed up the Waihou with a view to building the first European house in Ohinemuri he chose the site "Te Puke", a low hill adjacent to the river . . ."   [see  Ohinemuri Journal 8: Thorp Family - Paeroa's First Settlers ) 

(Sources Papers Past, Ohinemuri Journal No's 8, and 19 (Ritchie photo), Sir George Grey Auckland Libraries 534-9514)  

© Meghan Hawkes and Dead Cert 2014

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Hawkeye, 1887.

A goose gizzard gathering gold was dissected  at Puriri and was found to contain  40 small particles swallowed from the river there.  The goose's nest egg prompted  the Advertiser to proclaim  "the opening out of this important tract of country is of the utmost importance to the county."

Also at Puriri vigorous steps were being taken by the police to quell orchard and honey robbing which was rife in the settlement.  There was scarcely a settler who had not suffered from "nightly marauders".  Constable O'Brien, it was ominously reported, would no doubt with his usual tact run to earth the petty thieves.  The metalling and forming of the Puriri- Hikutaia road was making good progress with about 40 workmen and ten teams of horses employed on the job by the contractor, Mr J Rickets.

Boisterous weather, bad roads and hard times were reported form Paeroa. Compounding the gloom was the amount of 'naughty lingo' overheard there.  A 'burst of amusements' was anticipated though - talented musicians were to appear at the public hall and a football match at Mackay Town was scheduled.

Banging gates in the vicinity of Thames Hospital pained patients. The negligence of  some inhabitants in attending to the safe fastening of their gates, particularly during windy nights, earned them a scolding.  The hospital patients had 
 their rest seriously broken by the clanging and banging of unfastened  gates and those  who were the cause of this harassing nocturnal disturbance were advised to take the precaution of safely latching  them - if only for the sake of their own comfort.

'A case of misplaced charity' was observed when a Shortland  fisherman obtained from the Charitable Aid Board an order for food rations and was later seen in a public house  trying his utmost to exchange the order for a long beer.

"Bread stuffs falling" announced the Advertiser, catching the attention of Thames housewives  concerned about the price of bread.   A baker boy in Richmond Street,  driving his pack horse  to his customers, was nearing the  Rev Mr Neil's house when the horse bolted, upsetting the bread and sending several loaves flying.

"Mr F C Dean, Town Clerk, announces that from and after Saturday next, the water supply of the Borough will be cut off except during the hours of 7.30am and 11am.  This course is necessitated through the cleaning out of the dam, and the repairing of the water race."

© Meghan Hawkes and Dead Cert 2014

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Where youth and laughter go. 1914-1918.

With the start of the commemorations of World War One it is perhaps timely to remember that not all casualties were to be found on the battlefields or in the trenches.  Thames and districts were no exception.

In May 1915, against a backdrop of rising anti-German feeling across New Zealand, Herman Mohlman, a naturalised German of Paeroa, ordered his wife and children out of the house.  His wife, who had no financial means, went to stay with friends.  She had recently started proceedings against her husband on account of his ill-treatment of her.
They had married at Rotorua six years previously and had lived at Opotiki for a time, then at Paeroa for about eight months.   Two years earlier Herman had gone to Germany for six months.   His father had died and Herman was to look into his estate.  He had been in New Zealand a little over six years and was naturalised after marriage.  He had been a gardener at Rotorua Sanatorium and afterwards started farming near Rotorua but gave it up to go to Germany.  Since returning from Germany his sympathies were absolutely German and he was very strong in his beliefs.  He began gardening again at Paeroa but was fired due to pronounced pro-German statements.
The day before he ordered his family out he had applied to the Thames police for the cancellation of his naturalisation papers as he wished to become German again.
His wife last saw him on the morning of the 18th when he called out from across the road to say he was going  to the police and wanted to say goodbye to the children.

Herman travelled to Thames and engaged a room at the Royal Hotel.   He told Mr J W Bright, the hotel licensee, that he would be staying overnight and returning to Paeroa the next afternoon.   A subsequent guest went to occupy the room Herman had been in but found it still tenanted.  Bright investigated and to his horror found Herman shot in the temple, on the bed, fully dressed with a revolver nearby.

Bright told the inquest that he had heard no shot fired nor had he noticed anything unusual in Herman's behaviour.   He considered Herman had been perfectly sane.  He drank very little and had missed no meals.
The verdict reached was one of suicide by shooting, there being no evidence of insanity. There is no record of where Herman Mohlman is buried, a task that was probably carried out quietly with no acknowledgement.  It was noted that for the Mohlman's, there had been unhappiness before the war, which had increased since its outbreak.

In June 1915, near Ohingaiti, on a special troop train from Auckland to Trentham, Archibald Young, from Thames, a member of the Auckland reinforcements, was asked for  a match by another trooper.  Instead of producing a match box Archibald pulled out a razor and shockingly slashed at his own throat in a most determined manner.  He was immediately restrained   and a doctor who boarded the train at Hunterville  accompanied the injured man to Palmerston North Hospital.
At the Magistrate's Court hearing the next month  Archibald Young  blamed the send-off in Auckland at which the departing soldiers were supplied with a great deal of liquor, which  had affected him. He made a "remarkable recovery" and his father paid all court costs.  "A soldier's lapse" the newspaper headlines described it,  playing down what was,  for the times, perceived as a shameful disgrace.

The uncertainty of war also affected loved one's  left behind.  In February 1917 at Tirohia, Kahu Taupaki, a 19 year old  European woman, attempted to drown herself in the Waihou River in the vicinity of the Tirohi Maori settlement.  Her husband, a Maori, was away at war and she had been living with his relatives at the settlement.  She felt isolated and alone and  got the idea into her head that she had not been treated properly, and those at the pa were always talking disrespectfully of her. This preyed so much on her mind that she suddenly rushed into the river.  She was up to her shoulders in the water before she was rescued.
Kahu was taken to Paeroa and seen by a doctor.  The stress of the incident affected her psychologically. "Strange to relate Mrs Kahu Taupaki appears to have lost her memory regarding the occurrence.  She could remember nothing whatever about going into the water," said the Ohinemuri Gazette. She was brought up at the Police Court and charged with attempting to commit suicide.  The Bench unsympathetically  gave her a severe reprimanding, some advice and discharged her, remarking it would be wise for her to leave the area.
Kahu was reported to have later taken a job as an assistant at the quarry cook-house at Tirohia with the likelihood of her running it on her own in the near future.  "She is, however, in regular receipt of money from her husband at the war."

Suicide and cowardice were seen as a serious transgression particularly in war time.  There was much to fear - being shot at, gassed, losing friends, losing family, being wounded, being killed.  The continual fear of death drove many over the edge.  Others suffered from trauma and mental breakdown from constant explosions and artillery fire. Men returned  wounded,  suffering with war related mental illness to employment prospects could be grim.   Shell shock was poorly understood and often not recognised.

In  July 1918  the publication of details on the suicide of soldiers came under discussion.
The Rangitikei War Relief Association protested against the undue prominence given in the press to suicides of soldiers and returned soldiers. The association asked the Dominion Advisory Board of the Patriotic Society  to take action so that the newspapers would suppress the words "soldier" and "returned soldier" in future.  The president of the RSA, Mr McCallum, said "starring in headlines of returned soldier suicides was most offensive.  It reflected on the deceased relatives and in soldiers generally."
Mr J Dougall said the request should not stop there - it should be extended to cover soldiers charged in court. The Hon J T Paul remarked that he had heard "very strong comment in the lack of publicity that was given to suicides in the (training) camps for instance."   He agreed that publicity in these matters was sometimes scandalous, but they must not stifle reasonable publicity.  The public, he said, was the great jury.
Mr Larner observed that the government might not be blameless in these suicides.  He believed many of the men to be victims of neurasthenia, who had been discharged before they were fit.  Publicity would be a good thing if it brought the government to a sense of responsibility in regard to these men.  Mr McCallum, replying, said that camp suicides were on a different plane to those of returned men.  Camp suicides  might be from fear.  As for returned men,  it was impossible to say what a man might have been through or how his mind might as a result have been affected.  A resolution was passed condemning undue publicity being given to soldier suicides or offences.*


By Siegfried Sassoon

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Rameka Taupaki's war grave at Ramparts Cemetery, Ypres, Belgium. His wife, known as Kahu, was Gwenyth  Taupaki,  nee Henry.   They married at an Auckland Registry office in February 1916.    They lived at Grey Street, Waihi at one time.   Two Taupaki brothers went to war.   Rameka Taupaki was a Lance Corporal who embarked February 1916 with the Third Maori contingent.  He was killed in action at Ypres, on 31 December, 1917, aged 27, ten months after Kahu's suicide attempt.  His brother, Te Aotutahanga Taupaki, was a private who embarked in February, 1915, with the First Maori contingent.  He is noted as being single, with his as mother next of kin. In Roll Of Honour In Memoriam notices a year later Rameka is remembered by his brother Te  Aotutahanga, his sister Caroline and his mother.  Rameka's brother's memorial notice to him poignantly says "killed in action somewhere in France." 

'John' Taupaki of Paeroa - Auckland Weekly News 21 March, 1918.  In all likelihood this is Private Rameka Taupaki who was killed three months before.

(Thanks to Althea Barker for additional information on Rameka Taupaki's marriage details.)

*At the same discussion there was also an appeal for the elimination of 'Americanisms' in the press.

Neurasthenia  was originally a description of a mechanical weakness of the actual nerves.  It later came to mean a psychological disorder marked especially by mental exhaustion, lack of motivation feelings of inadequacy and psychosomatic symptoms.


(Sources: Papers Past,  Heritage Images AWNS 19180321-41-34, Auckland Museum Cenotaph database,  NZ War Graves Project, Wikipedia)

© Meghan Hawkes and Dead Cert 2014