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.

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.

Friday, 17 July 2015

The Master of Life called.

Alfred Reddish, 1878

Edward Reddish, 1893

"The sad and unfortunate death of Alfred Reddish would not be soon forgotten by his sorrowing comrades . . ."  The Thames Naval volunteers and band 1898.

Fisherman's (Shortland) Wharf , Thames.  

For the young men of Thames in 1878 the relief of a day's escape from the hard slog in the mines was eagerly anticipated.  Many were members of the Naval Cadets and a weekend sail up the Thames (Waihou) River was a welcome diversion.

Alfred Reddish, aged 18, in particular enjoyed crewing the naval cutter.  Although he didn't labour in the mines, he was no stranger to hard work.  A fisherman like his father, young Alfred was a  major contributor to his family's finances.

On a late February weekend  the naval cadet cutter, with a crew of 15 hands on board, under the command of Lieutenant Bennett,  left  Thames for Paeroa  The trip took four and half hours under oar.   After enjoying themselves overnight,  the crew left on the homeward journey on Sunday afternoon again rowing all the way down the river.  At Hikutaia the boat unexpectedly grounded on the tail of one of the numerous banks. Eight of the crew good-naturedly jumped into the water and got the boat clear while the others took  their places at the oars.  Captain Bennett remarked that Alfred knew the channel better than he did and asked him to take the tiller lines.

Alfred had just taken the position vacated by his captain,  sitting on a pile of spare coats,  when he suddenly sprang up,  jumping clean out of the boat, in a doubled up position, straight into the water.
Captain Bennett instantly stopped the boat and began to strip off his uniform while two of the crew, Richard Pick and Henry Gordon, immediately  plunged into the water after Alfred.  Although both were very expert swimmers,  the two lads disappeared, appearing a few minutes later struggling for their lives against a whirlpool caused by two currents meeting, which had formed at the edge of the bank.   With difficultly Captain Bennett hauled both boys back into the boat.

After searching diligently and without success for Alfred, the shocked crew rowed on as far as the bush men's huts of Bagnall's sawmills.    Captain Bennett left two of the boys, including Henry Gordon, with two bush men named Palmer and Clarke, who immediately manned two boats and went back in search of Alfred.  They had a drag and used it continuously up to 6.30pm  and at last recovered the body of  Alfred  in 7 or 8 feet of water near where he fell in.  Meanwhile the cadets landed back at Shortland and the tragic  news was communicated to his parents in Grey Street soon after 9pm, the task  being described as an extremely painful one.

Alfred was notable for his steadiness and was one of the most trustworthy hands in a boat that could be found in the district; he was also an expert swimmer and well accustomed to boating.  The peculiar circumstances of his death were initially a mystery.

At the inquest, held at the New Caledonia Hotel,  Shortland,  Arthur Bennett, acting captain of the NCC,  said  the boat was safe and capable of holding 15.  "Alfred was quite sober.  I have not seen him take alcoholic liquors. There was nothing like a jollification amongst the crew from the time we left Shortland to when we arrived in town again.   The only refreshment the crew had since leaving Paeroa was a bucket of milk, which they obtained on the way down from Te Kopuru farm. I saw Alfred going into the water in a sitting posture, with his knees up to his chest.  He made no noise or scream whatever.  I did not hear him complaining of being unwell during the trip, on the contrary he was in excellent spirits. Alfred never came to the surface.  It was broad daylight at the time of the accident - about 5.30pm."

Thomas McInany said he saw Alfred double up, turn around and make a spring into the water.  Before he jumped he did not say anything, nor was there an expression of pain on his face.  It was impossible for him to have fallen from where he was sitting.  Alfred had drunk about a tumberful and a half of milk and it  was about half an hour after the milk had been drunk that the accident occurred The sun was very bright and the day warm.  Alfred had his cap on at all times.

 George A Reddish, Alfred's father said "On Saturday Alfred left home to go in the company's boat,which was the last time I saw him. My son was strong and healthy and I don't know of my own knowledge that he was subject to fits, but I heard about two years ago he had one at Ohinemuri.   I do not know that he had any trouble weighing on his mind.  He could swim and manage a boat very well.  He was not addicted to drink.  I have never seen him take anything intoxicating in his life."

The Coroner determined that Alfred had probably had a fit of some sort.  Having sprung over the gunwale of the boat under the sudden influence of a spasm or fit, a post mortem was deemed unnecessary as he was known to be subject to at least one fit.

 "When a person has a fit," the Coroner commented, "he always has a repetition of it sooner or later.  A fit is generally brought on by excitement, and the sun being hot might have brought one on.  From the evidence it appears Alfred had partaken of some fruit but this would not excite the nervous system on the contrary it would allay it,"   he added with baffling reasoning typical of the era.  The jury returned an open verdict that the deceased came to his death by drowning.  At the same time they wished to put on record the brave conduct of Richard Pick and Henry Gordon in endeavouring to rescue Alfred at the peril of their own lives.

Alfred's funeral took place with military honours at Shortland cemetery.  His comrades paraded in their neat nautical attire, and with arms reversed, they escorted the gun carriage bearing his body from his bereaved parents home.  "Mournfully from the hillsides did the muffled drums re-echo, while the wail of the 'Dead March' sent up its sad sweet notes.  The tears of his boy comrades glistened in their eyes when the last three volleys rung out on the calm  still air above his last resting place; and the pale grey smoke wreathing aloft and disappearing in the summer sunshine seemed an apt metaphor for his short but useful life, " reported the Thames Advertiser.    The senior volunteer companies showed their respect for the memory of their young companion-in-arms, and their regard for the feelings of his relatives, by mustering in considerable strength, despite being given short notice. The bands of the Scottish, Second Haurakis and Naval volunteers were in attendance. It was estimated there were no less than 10 to 12 hundred of the general public lining the route which the funeral procession took.  The burial service was conducted by the Rev Vicesimus Lush and three volleys were fired over the grave by a detachment of the Alfred's companions.

The sad and unfortunate death of Alfred Reddish would not be soon forgotten by his sorrowing comrades and officers among who he was a general favourite, on account of his winsome manner and his ready and obliging temperament.  Great credit was given to Cadets Pick and Gordon, who risked their lives.  Every possible effort was made by Captain Bennett and his crew to recover the body and no blame was  attached to anyone for the unforeseen calamity, which caused great  distress to the respectable and industrious Reddish family.  The funeral expenses were paid by the cadets and other companies and friends in Shortland.  Alfred's loss was severely felt by the family, as was his vital financial contribution.  

A few days after Alfred's death an astonishing letter was received by the Thames Advertiser from someone signing themselves 'YOUTH'.

"Sabbath desecration - I trust that the death of the fine young fellow Reddish (who was drowned while with)  . . . the Naval Cadets on their pleasure excursion up the Thames River will have the effect of stopping that system of the Sabbath breaking carried on by that company of youthful blue jackets, who, I am given to understand, very often make these excursions on the Sabbath day.  What the parents of these lads are about I know not, but one thing I know and that is this, they are not doing their duty by their offspring . . . surely a number of lads going on a pleasure excursion is not honoring the Sabbath, . . .I wonder what Saint George would think of he could see the lads who are called  St George's cadets rowing in an open boat on the Sabbath day instead of attending Sabbath school to receive religious instruction.  I trust that this accident will be a warning, otherwise there may be more parents mourning over the death of a much beloved son; also, that the youths of Thames will see the folly of Sabbath breaking." 

'ONE OF THE CREW AND A GENUINE YOUTH' replied the next day -

"For the information of the writer  . . . allow me to state that, during the last eight months, our boat has only left her moorings on three occasions, on two of which the boat returned on a Sunday - and the crew on those occasions were youth who have to work all week at batteries for their living, and are unable to get out during any other part of the week.  (On this occasion) it was only owing to the plea of myself and two others wishing to visit a sick friend that our captain allowed the boat to leave for Ohinemuri last Saturday and during our return on Sunday, the Sabbath received far more respect than is paid to it by many of my town fellows who may be seen ashore loitering, lolling and otherwise rudely behaving themselves outside Sunday schools and places of worship on Sundays.  If "Youth" had been on board our boat on Sunday last he would have found an even stricter and sterner discipline than could be maintained in a Sabbath School; and so far as the accusation of pleasuring is concerned, it is a pity "Youth" did not get a taste of it and he would possibly find his hands thoroughly blistered, as I did, after rowing 80 miles.  I do not write this letter as an excuse for anyone to go Sabbath breaking, but I must confess that when I perused the letter I thought it was uncharitable and exceedingly unkind, especially the part referring to the parents.  Surely "Youth" must have an idea of the many sad hearts in our corps and the terrible grief and affliction poor Reddish's brothers and sisters are now suffering under without trying to make bad worse, and if "Youth" will make further inquiries he will find a more substantial and sincere mode of showing christian feeling now organised in our corps than he did when he, like a rash youth, rushed into print under the flag of a zealous Sabbath school boy.  I hope that "Youth" will improve our opinion of him by attending at out drill hall with all the pennies he has to spare to add to the fund we are now collecting to assist the brothers and sisters of our late lamented colleagues."

Perhaps the letter has the desired effect - the next day there appeared this paragraph in the Thames Advertiser.   "Truth" has deposited 5s and "YOUTH" 4s at our publishing office,  towards the Reddish Relief Fund."

Letter writing to newspapers was a frequent activity of Alfred's father, George Reddish.  He was a regular correspondent and even in grief took up his pen, this time in the perceived  disgrace at receiving charity from the fund set up after Alfred's death. "I beg to assure you that, directly nor indirectly, in any shape form or way, was I aware of such a fund.  I do not require it, my very heart and soul would revolt at such a thing.  I am both strong and healthy; what does a man require more?  If the donors would pass it over to the helpless women and children - say the Ladies Benevolent Society - it would so some good.  Thanking them at the same time for their kindness to me."

The Thames Naval Cadets, although the youngest cadet company in the district, had some 45 members.  In March the company promoted Seamen Richard Pick and Henry Gordon to petty officers in recognition of their bravery in jumping overboard from their company's cutter to try and save the life of their late comrade Warrant Officer Reddish.  The officer in command observed that it was a source of satisfaction to his brother officers to know that among them there were true young British hearts and the young men he had the pleasure of promoting had performed an act that reflected credit on the flag they sailed under.

Fifteen years later, on a November afternoon in 1893, Alfred's brother,  Edward Cromwell Reddish, aged 16,  was cleaning one of his father's boats which lay anchored in the Kauaeranga River near the Fisherman's ( Shortland) Wharf,  His  nine year old nephew, George Smith, was helping him. Edward finished cleaning out the boat and then stripped off and dived into the water for a swim.  George saw Edward swimming about then suddenly lost sight of him.  He waited for awhile expecting to see Edward reappear.  He then got someone to put him ashore and he ran to tell Edward's father that "Ned was missing."    It was not until an hour afterwards that the body was found. Mr R Lomas recovered the body and took it to his father's residence.  The Thames Advertiser surmised that Edward "must have received a sunstroke while in the water as the sun was shining very bright and hot at the time."  The reality was probably more simple - Edward was partly disabled and having dived down in shallow water got stuck in the mud and was unable to extricate himself.   Deep sympathy was once again expressed to the Reddish family at the untimely end of another of their lads who was highly esteemed.

The patriarch of the family, George Alfred Reddish, died in 1900 at his Grey Street home, aged 68.    Flags on private residences flew at half mast.  George Reddish was described as "a very old and much respected resident.  Our readers may have noticed his letters in our correspondence columns, which appeared from time to time, during the past 25 years, in which he advocated teaching the Scriptures in schools, the fishing industry and the paramount claims of the English speaking race to dominate the world."

His wife, Margaret Reddish, died  in 1912 at Thames Hospital aged 78, after a long illness.  For a couple of years after her death, their only surviving son, William Arthur, inserted poignant  memorials to his mother in newspapers.

 Annie Wilmot Smith, nee Reddish, eldest daughter of George and Margaret,  died in 1921 at Thames Hospital.

William Arthur died in 1934 aged 62.  He carried the mantle of his family's livelihood, his obituary describing him as one of the old school of Thames fishermen who  had a wonderful knowledge of the Thames Gulf under  all weather conditions.  He was a director of  the Thames Co-operative Fisheries for many years and also an Oddfellow of long standing. His funeral had a large attendance.

The Reddish family grave at Shortland Cemetery, Thames.  The e Reddish's previously tragically lost two more children - Lillian aged 9 months (1873) and Edward aged 6 months (1872).  Also buried in this plot is John McKendrick,  son-in-law of George and Margaret, victim of another watery death. John was a carter and  while driving a horse and cart down to the wharf at Thames in 1904,  he endeavored to turn the horse.   The horse was unused to the wharf and backed over the edge, taking the cart with it into the mud.  It was low water at the time and the cart turned a complete somersault, pinning John down, The horse lashed out, kicking him in the head,  When rescued a moment later he was found to be dead.  It was believed that John was stunned by the kicks and as there was two feet of water at the spot he drowned before he could be extricated.  Another occupant of the vehicle had a miraculous escape.
Death Notice -  On February 24, 1878  Alfred Reddish, coxswain St George's Naval Cadets; native of Sandridge , Victoria; aged 18.  "The Master of life called; the soul went back to its Creator."
Possibly taken from this hymn -

The Master Has Called Us

The Master has come, and He calls us to follow
The track of the footprints He leaves on our way;
Far over the mountain and through the deep hollow,
The path leads us on to the mansions of day:
The Master has called us, the children who fear Him,
Who march ’neath Christ’s banner, His own little band;
We love Him and seek Him, we long to be near Him,
And rest in the light of His beautiful land.
The Master has called us; the road may be dreary,
And dangers and sorrows are strewn on the track;
But God’s Holy Spirit shall comfort the weary;
We follow the Savior and will not turn back;
The Master has called us, though doubt and temptation
May compass our journey, we cheerfully sing:
“Press onward, look upward,” through much tribulation;
The children of Zion must follow the King.
The Master has called us, in life’s early morning,
With spirits as fresh as the dew on the sod:
We turn from the world, with its smiles and its scorning,
To cast in our lot with the people of God:
The Master has called us, His sons and His daughters,
We plead for His blessing and trust in His love;
And through the green pastures, beside the still waters,
He’ll lead us at last to His kingdom above.

Sarah Doudney 1871

Copyright: Public Domain   

(Source: Papers Past, Heritage Images Sir George Grey Special Collections 18980923-1-1, 35-R1437)

© Meghan Hawkes and Dead Cert 2015

Sunday, 5 July 2015


* The writing style is a gift that takes each page out of the 'ordinary' and you could be 'there', at the event. I am hoping for a follow-up later to unveil the 'plot' on more of our forgotten stories. 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.*

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

*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.*

*Nicely done and a brilliant read. Go on, treat yourself . . .should be on EVERY locals book shelf.*

Thursday, 2 July 2015

  • Be in to win a free copy of 'Dead Cert'! Thanks to David Tauranga of SunLive Media for a great interview yesterday. 

Tales behind the tombstones

Posted at 12:28pm Friday 03 Jul, 2015 | By David Tauranga

Eventually all of us will shuffle off this mortal coil, but by being remembered by those who are still alive we can live forever.
This notion is certainly achieved in Matatoki writer Meghan Hawkes' new book Dead Cert - Stories from Thames, Paeroa and Waihi Cemeteries which also shines a light on life during the mid-1800's to 1920's.
The book features over 80 stories uncovered while Meghan explored cemeteries in Thames, Paeroa plus Waihi, and reveals the tragic, untimely and sometimes inevitable deaths of early settlers.
It includes photographs shot by her husband Mike and is based on a former newspaper column Meghan once penned and were written over an 18 month period.
“I like bringing these people to life and exploring their worlds,” explains Meghan. “I always find that the story you think you've got goes off in another direction.
“The tales behind the headstones include the consequences of a time with no health and safety safeguards, unregulated mines and unsophisticated medical knowledge.
“Coupled with the often rugged and isolated geography of the area, life was hard and death never far away.”
One tale goes like this: In 1907 Fred Neave was travelling on an oil launch from Shortland wharf to Kerepehi at night when he silently fell backwards into the water. The inexplicable act was put down to him jumping in his sleep.
And then there's the three well known Thames identities who all died on the same day in 1902 – Henry Gillespie, Samuel Alexander and Simon Coombes.
It began with Henry, one of the landmarks of Thames, who collapsed and died at his home on the morning of that fateful day in 1902.
Meghan says when Thames gold miner Samuel Alexander heard the news he prophetically commented “it may be my turn next”.
“And it was – he dropped dead that afternoon,” elaborates Meghan. “Meanwhile over in Auckland, Simon Coombes, a successful Thames miner and businessman, also died. Within hours three old Thames identities lay dead and an era ended with them.”
Through the course of her research Meghan has met many of the descendants of the people she's written about.
She says those descendants are quite delighted that somebody has found the story of their ancestor and brought them to life.
“There's also been occasions where I've done a bit of digging and found a bit more information to include with what they already know. It makes me feel really happy when that happens.”
Dead Cert has been self-published by Meghan who says it was brought into being with the aid of supporters who donated to the Arts Foundation's crowdfunding Boosted project.
It took just one month for her to raise the total cost of printing the book which she describes as an “amazing experience”.
“So many wonderful supporters donated to help me get this book published, I'm just so thankful to them.
“It's always a challenge when you're self-publishing, but it is totally worth it in the end when you get to hold the book in your hand.”
SunLive Thames Coromandel has one copy of Meghan's book to give away to one lucky reader who can tell us the name of the three Thames men who died on the same day in 1902? To enter head over to our Competitions Section.
Entries must be received by Thursday, July 9.
Copies of Dead Cert – stories from Thames, Paeroa and Waihi Cemeteries cost $40 + $5.50 tracked postage NZ wide, and are available from the author by emailing:
For more information visit Meghan Hawkes website at:

Thursday, 25 June 2015

HOT OFF THE PRESS!!! ON SALE NOW - 'Dead Cert Stories from Thames, Paeroa & Waihi cemeteries'. $40 plus $5.50 tracked postage NZ wide. Available from author - Email for details

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The hills and gullies of this goldfield.

Mary Gordon, Thomas Gordon, John McLeod, 1869
Catherine Riley and James Riley, 1871

                             Thames hillsides scoured by mining excavations and winter rains.                                                             Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-RIC138'

 Victoria Battery, Moanataiari Creek, Thames.
Sir George Grey Special Collections 4-8718

The steady soaking rain which set in on the night of June 19, 1869 battered the small cottage of a miner named Gordon  which was situated in a rather exposed position on the Golden Terrace mining claim, on the ridge of Canadian Gully, Moanataiari, Thames. It was occupied by Gordon, his wife Mary, their child Thomas, and a mate of his, John McLeod.

As a fearful storm raged the creeks swelled to an unprecedented degree and the tide rose to a great height.  The cottage was immediately under the hill within about a hundred yards of the Victoria Battery, near the intersection of the roads, leading from the Junction Hotel.  

About 12.20am Gordon, who had been lying anxiously awake in the dark cottage, heard some noise above the heavy rain,  pulled on  some clothes and headed outside to investigate.  By the intermittent moonlight he was horrified to see that the mass of ground above the cottage was beginning to give way.  Gordon rushed to the door to wake those inside but was too late - he was met by the whole back portion of the building, crushed in by the weight of sliding earth and part of a toppled kauri tree. Panic stricken Gordon, seeing the destruction with which his wife, child  and friend were overwhelmed, rushed for assistance  to the houses nearby.   A number of men in a few minutes were at work.

"The names of the parties has not yet been communicated", reported the NZ Herald correspondent during the wait for news.  He was further stymied by the twin screw steamer John Penn only waiting quarter of an hour at Grahamstown wharf  to take his report to Auckland.     The steamship Lalla Rookh was expected at an early hour that afternoon, when, in all probability further particulars of the melancholy catastrophe would be received.  And they were - once the bodies were recovered  it was evident that death must have been instantaneous  and caused by suffocation. The features in all three had not undergone the slightest alteration, their expressions being quite calm, as if they had not even been awakened by the noise.  Mary was injured but the child was untouched except for a  piece of wallpaper on his face. as if it had fluttered from the wall at the time of the tragedy.  John McLeod, however, had sustained severe injuries from the fall of the tree, although in all probability he never felt it.

Information was sent to the police at Grahamstown,  and Constable McWilliams and two of the men under his charge, together with Dr Lewis, at once proceeded to the spot. It was found that nothing could be done to restore life.  The bodies were taken to the house of a relative which was close by, and afterwards were  removed to the Junction Hotel for an inquest.

"One of the most disastrous accidents . . . since the opening of the goldfield . . . occurred at a time when, unfortunately, very little assistance could be procured, although in this instance the most effectual and speedy aid would not have saved life,"  observed a newspaper correspondent.

A great many people visited the scene of the accident the next day, many of the opinion that if any ordinary amount of caution had been used the accident might have been escaped.   The site on which the cottage was situated though was evidently  as secure as a great many others which whole families occupied  on the ranges.  The slip appeared to have been caused by a crack created by the dry weather, which the rainwater worked into, carrying off the bedrock, and taking with  it the roots of a heavy kauri tree.

Another extensive slip took place in the Waiotahi Creek about the same hour that night. Several hundred tons of earth were dislodged, almost burying the machine house known as Break o ' Day, the property of Messrs Johnson and Du Moulin.

An inquest on Mary, Thomas and John was held at the Junction Hotel, Grahamstown, and the bodies then taken up to Auckland by the tss John Penn for interment.   It is not known what happened to  the miner Gordon, sole survivor of that terrifying night.


Looking towards the hills up Waiotahi Creek, Thames.  Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 35-R143

Two years later, again in the branch of the  gully of the Moanataiari Valley known as the Canadian, rain lashed the  weatherboard cottage of a miner named Riley, his wife Catherine and their three children, aged 15 months, four and six years.

The cottage had been built on a cleared space of the Midnight Gold Mining company's claim, at the foot of the blind gulch. A few feet from the front door of the house the ground fell nearly perpendicular into Canadian Gully.  Immediately under the fall was an old shaft some 20 feet deep that was full of water.

Riley worked a mining contract in the Moanataiari Company's mine and at midnight on April 5, 1871,  he came off shift and headed home through the storm to bed.  At 4am he was woken by a rumbling noise at the back of the house and heard the roof crack.    With danger from a landslip never far from his mind, he bolted out of bed, lit a candle and told Catherine to take their youngest child, James, and run up the hill at the side of the house.  Riley caught up the other two children, one under each arm, while Catherine snatched up the youngest and  rushed to the door of the house but she was too late.
An avalanche of earth, timber and tree stumps struck the house and swept it away.  When Riley recovered consciousness he found himself half buried in earth and his house broken to matchwood in Canadian Gully creek, which flooded by the rain, was a roaring torrent.

 He extricated himself with difficulty, and after searching for a few moments, found the two elder children in the last stages of suffocation, under the bed and a quantity of timber. Pulling them to safety, he turned to look for his wife and other child, but they were nowhere to be seen.  Riley was severely hurt about the back and chest and half demented by the suddenness of the catastrophe, but was able to get to the nearest house to raise the alarm.   Several of the Moanataiari Company's workmen were first at the scene of the disaster.  A strenuous search was started for Catherine and James, who at first were thought to be lying under the mass of earth that had been deposited at the bottom of the steep fall.  By this time over 100 men had arrived and they at once set to work to dig away the mass of earth that covered the site of the house.  They worked in sideways but made slow headway owing to the immense quantity (between two and three hundred tons) of earth that had fallen.

 Dr Trousseau arrived and examined the wounded Riley, ordering his removal to the hospital, but he refused to go.   He was, at the firm direction of the doctor, then removed to the Junction Hotel while the searchers continued their efforts to recover his missing family.

 By 7pm unflagging work for the recovery of the bodies had continued until darkness set in but without success.  Not a trace of them could be found. The shaft at the foot of the gulch was mostly emptied but they were not in it, and it was thought the poor creature and her child must have been overwhelmed by the main body of the landslip and were underneath that.  The search was to resume the following morning.

"The sad event," reported the Thames correspondent of the Southern Cross newspaper,  "has created the most painful excitement here."   Catherine Riley was 30 years old; both she and her husband were held in high estimation by a circle of numerous  friends.  Newspaper headlines horrifically declared "Mother and child buried alive."

The next morning the search for Mrs Riley and her infant in the old shaft at the foot of the gulch continued.   It had  been emptied to a depth of about 18 feet and it was said by those who knew  the ground that it was only three feet deeper than that and therefore the bodies could scarcely be in it without some sign of them being visible.  The searchers however decided to clean out the shaft thoroughly and the work proceeded.   Some three or four feet of sand and broken timber were taken out and then a portion of some textile fabric came into sight - it was part of Catherine's dress.   The earth was soon removed and there lay the body resting on its right side, with the arms poignantly folded in the position of clasping a child to the breast.  About a foot or so deeper the body of the child was discovered, just below the spot where his mother's head had rested. They were removed to the Junction  Hotel.  Scores of people visited the scene of the accident  and a very widespread commiseration was felt for the bereaved husband and father, who so narrowly escaped the fate that met his wife and child.

The shocked Southern Cross correspondent wrote " The heavy rain and gale of Tuesday night in some sort prepared the mind of the public for the receipt of news of accidents in the hills and gullies of this goldfield, but that a house containing a whole family of people should have been swept away by a landslip was a contingency scarcely anticipated.  And yet such a calamity really took place . . ."

A subscription list for financial aid was opened by the miners on Riley's behalf and rapidly filled up, having been "heartily responded to."

The slip had started about one hundred yards away from the back of the house and had  been carried down with such tremendous force it had stripped away  the surface of the ground for the whole distance.    At the inquest a verdict of accidental death was given.  The jury added a rider to the effect that the government ought to see that houses were built in safe places and that old shafts were filled in.  Catherine Riley is buried at Shortland cemetery, Thames.  There is no record for James, but perhaps he was laid to rest in the fold of his mother's arms, echoing her final act.

A Pollen Street, Thames, house badly damaged by a landslip in 1907.
Sir George Grey Special Collections AWNS-19070124-12-4

Landslips at Thames were frequent and exacerbated by mining activity, extensive removal of trees and vegetation and heavy rain.   They ranged from rock falls to huge slides of soil, rock and debris.

The tss (twin screw steamer) John Penn was built in 1867 at Blackwall, London by the  Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company.  It was ordered by the  President of the Bank of New Zealand to serve the country's coastal trade.   Arriving in 1869, the steamer carried passengers, cattle, horses and agricultural produce. It was constructed with a shallow draft and a sliding keel  which enabled it to navigate dangerous harbour entrances.   The vessel was purchased by a company in Sydney, arriving there in 1871.   The steamer was wrecked on rocks at the foot of Burrewarra Head in 1879.

The Lalla Rookh was a paddle steamer built in 1868 at Mechanics Bay, Auckland,  and possibly  named after the heroine of an Oriental romance by Thomas Moore.  In 1887 the steamer sprang a leak during a storm, was run ashore at Great Barrier Island and broke up almost immediately. 

Sources:  Papers Past, Heritage Images,  John Penn Info sheet -

Friday, 5 June 2015

The proof copy of Dead Cert has arrived! Now for a final proof read and we should be all systems go very soon. Thank you again to everyone who helped me.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

104% funded thanks to YOU!  I am hugely grateful to everyone who donated and/or sent messages of support.  This was quite a step into the unknown!  A proof copy of the book is now being printed and - all being well - Dead Cert will be hitting the shelves shortly.  Thank you one and all once again - I couldn't have done it without you.

Friday, 15 May 2015

WE DID IT!!  100%  fully funded overnight!  To say I am humbled by all your support is an understatement.  A heartfelt thank you to everyone who supported and donated to this project. On seeing the result I burst into tears and burnt the breakfast - time now to dry my eyes and get cracking -  I have a book to get printed!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

The finishing line is in sight! With only four days to go donations have reached 85% of the target. This is just AWESOME! Thank you!!!! If you would like to donate there is still time - . .…/dead-cert-stories-from-thames,…

"The struggle of Mary Strange was an inspiration to all who witnessed it and a great testament to this extraordinary woman of faith" - from the chapter 'A Great Crown in Heaven' - a very special story of the tragic death of Mother Mary Agnes in 1972.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

We are nearly there!  78% of donations and just five days to go!  THANK YOU to those who have donated.  If you would like to donate - there is still time - go to .,-paeroa-and-waihi-cemeteries

“A good deal of excitement is prevailing at Hikutaia over the case,” announced the Ohinemuri Gazette.   At an adjourned inquest Dr Couzens attributed the death to drowning.  But, telephoned the special correspondent mysteriously, “This theory is not altogether upheld and it is likely further developments will take place.”  The strange ending of Fred Clay in 1915  from the chapter 'If anything happens to me.'

Fred Clay's grave at Omahu cemetery.