Friday, 17 April 2015

A strange and pathetic scene. John Sainsbury, 1908, Whangamata.

Survivors of the famous fighting force in the 1860s-70s - the New Zealand Armed Constabulary at a reunion im 1914.  Sadly John Sainsbury did not live to attend.  

John Sainsbury, the  licensee of the Whangamata Hotel,  was a big, gruff man, but known as a good sort.  When he was found dead at the age of 62  on his premises in early January 1908, a bottle of laudanum by his side, it came as no surprise to some. 

The day after John was discovered, the coroner's party left Waihi at 5.30 in the  morning. After a ride of 28 miles along the coastline on a rough track, they reached Whangamata about 10.15am.  The horses were fed and the party had lunch at the home of Mrs McCorquodale, the Post Office mistress.  They then made a start for Sainsbury's Hotel which lay a few miles further up the harbour.  They found the hotel in a state of utter confusion, bottles strewn about in all directions and the body of John Sainsbury lying on the floor of the bedroom in exactly the same position as when first discovered on Saturday morning.  No-one was on the premises except an old man in a state of intoxication at a bar crowded with empty bottles. There was no liquor left of any description   An investigation was made of the hotel and steps were immediately taken to hold an inquest. 

Edward Burns,a labourer, who had been in John Sainsbury's employ about four months, stated that  on Saturday morning at 6.30 he visited John in his room and found him in bed. He appeared to be ill and was vomiting slightly.  Edward got him some chicken broth but he would not eat it.  When he returned an hour later he found John lying on the floor undressed and apparently worse,  He was unable to lift John into bed and on entering the room again about 30 minutes later, he found John was dead. The previous day John had said to him  "Ned, I have taken enough laudanum to kill three men."  Three weeks earlier Edward had heard John threaten to shoot himself, and  say that he was in great trouble and could see more coming.  A day or two before he died John  had received a lawyers letter and a summons.  As far as Edward  knew John was  not in the habit of taking laudanum.  John was a married man but had not been living on good terms with his wife, Rama, who recently left Whangamata to attend her daughters wedding and had not returned.

Dr Claridge stated that he had found signs of the excessive use of alcohol and a strong odour of chlorodyne on John Sainsbury. He was of the opinion that death was caused by an overdose of that drug, perhaps accelerated by laudanum.  In the bedroom he found a bottle containing about 12oz of tincture of opium and another bottle containing chlorodyne.  There was also a tumbler which had contained chlorodyne.  The verdict reached was  "that the deceased met his death by taking an overdose of chlorodyne, whilst in a depressed state of mind."

At about 4pm, after the inquest concluded, and with no relatives of the deceased present, Constable Driscoll made arrangements for the burial.  A carpenter from the Luck at Last mine made a rough coffin on the spot, and Mr Watt junior provided a sledge and horses.
The event which followed was later  reported as "a bush funeral- a strange and pathetic scene."  About a dozen people followed the sledge to a little enclosure  a few hundred yards from the hotel, which had served as a cemetery for some years and was fenced in with barbed wire.  While the party waited, the grave was dug. The Church of England service was read by Dr Claridge surrounded by the little group.

After the funeral, arrangements were made to leave the premises in charge of a man named McKeowen.  Some of the more valuable effects of the deceased were carried into one room and locked up. A quantity of valuable gum specimens were also placed in charge of McKeowen.
John Sainsbury had lived in the area for 28 years and a small community  of bushmen, gold miners and gum diggers had sprung up around his hotel, as well as the general store. Whangamata was then all sandy flats and wind-whipped ti tree  hemmed in by rugged bush where wild horses roamed. At the age of 22 he had  served with the Armed Constabulary of New Zealand.  Among his effects was found a NZ War medal awarded for services whilst under fire.  On the medal's rim was engraved "Constable John Sainsbury, AC Force." 

John Sainsbury was evidently a strong, courageous  man but he was eventually beaten by life's troubles.

By 1895 John and Rama had five children - William, 18, Henrietta, 17, Eliza ,16, Oscar, 2, and Lawrence  born that year.  The eldest, William,  was a strapping young fellow.  He had received a good education and was being initiated into the hotel business with a view to helping his father.  But in 1895 he suddenly became ill and died at his home from 'internal inflammation.' The funeral, which left the Commercial Hotel, was largely attended and the vessels in the harbour all flew their flags at half mast. William was engaged to a girl who lived at Thames and when news of his death reached her she walked all the way to Whangamata, swimming across rivers.  After two days the distraught girl arrived in a most exhausted state with boots and clothes all torn to pieces.  She attended the last ceremony performed by the Rev Mr Bradbury and completely  broke down, her cries and lamentations being pitiful to hear.  

A mere two months later - Henrietta (Hetty) and Eliza Sainsbury were involved in what newspapers described as  'A thrilling story.'

Eliza had been staying at 'Kouro', situated on the coast between Tairua and Boat Harbour about 25 miles from Whangamata, when she was taken seriously ill and lay sick with fever.  Word was sent  to Mr Sainsbury who at once sent a boat skippered by Mr Phillips and Mr Slade, who along with Hetty Sainsbury, set sail to to bring the sick girl home. Once Eliza was collected  the party left 'Koura' for Whangamata, but within a mile of Whangamata Heads a heavy blow came on.  Unable to make the entrance, the boat headed for sea.  Despite the efforts of the men, by night they were exhausted and driving gradually onto the lee shore.  About two in the morning they decided to beach the boat, allowing her to go stern first through the heavy surf,  On reaching shallow water the two men and Hetty jumped out intending to run the boat up the beach but the force of the backwash tore it from their grasp and carried it and the sick Eliza back out.  Though worn out and in pitch darkness the men stuck to their charge most pluckily.  Another wave hurled the boat, now half full of water, against Slade and he managed to hold it while his companions extricated the sick girl from her perilous position and carried her ashore.  The boat was subsequently totally wrecked.   

The group came across a whare where the hospitable owner made a fire and supplied blankets to wrap  Eliza in, but there weren't enough blankets for the other three who had to stay in their soaked clothes. At daylight Phillips  set out overland for Whangamata about four miles away and got a message to Mr Sainsbury who immediately dispatched five men with his brother-in-law, Mr Albert Kummert, to fetch the invalid.  This they managed with the aid of a stretcher.  Eliza appeared to have suffered no ill effects from her adventure.

Hetty Sainsbury was brought home the following day in good spirits.   But a day or so after she was taken  ill with what was thought to be typhoid fever and her condition  worsened over the next 10 days..A violent fit of vomiting led to the bursting of a blood vessel, exhaustion set in and she died the following day. It was thought the probable cause of death was internal injuries caused by the knocking about sustained in the boat.   Great sympathy was felt in the small community of Whangamata for the Sainsbury's who had lost two children in two months. 

Hetty was buried at Tauranga at the 'new' cemetery,  the cutter Janet arriving shortly after midday with her remains,  and the mourners.   Flags floated at half mast from shipping in the harbour and from flagstaffs in town. 

The conduct of Messrs Phillips and Slade was considered  beyond praise and the manner in which they brought their charge safely through such a dangerous adventure  spoke volumes for their pluck and endurance in the face of exhaustion, darkness and storm. 

Nine years later, on a Saturday in August 1904,  Alfred Carter, a carpenter and pattern maker  formerly of Waihi, and Eugene Mitchell, a gumdigger and fisherman, came into the Whangamata Hotel for a drink.  Alf had been working  there as a carpenter for one week.  He was a prominent member of the Waihi Cricket Club and was well-known in the district.  Eugene Mitchell came to the hotel from Te Whariki  which is about 12 miles from Whangamata.   Patrick Cooney, barman and labourer at the Whangamata Hotel, served them a few drinks from 10.30am to about 2.30pm when they decided to take John Sainsbury's boat to go fishing along with young Lawrence Sansbury, aged 9.

 Carter and Mitchell wanted some whiskey and beer to take with them in the boat.  John Sainsbury gave them a broken bottle of whiskey.  Mitchell took two bottles of draught beer, which he drew himself from the cask.   When the men left the hotel they were perfectly sober and had previously had lunch in the kitchen.

The next morning John Sainsbury and Patrick Cooney saw the empty boat on the beach down the river.  Patrick launched another boat and towed the empty boat up to the house.  It had been properly  anchored , the  rope  coiled and five rock cod were in it. It had been  anchored on the other side of the channel and he thought it quite possible the men  thought they were on that side.  If so - they may have walked into a deep channel which was a very dangerous place at that point.  

James McCorquodale had seen the men and boy on Saturday.  Their boat had towed his down the channel.  Mitchell was in charge and they told him they were going to the island to fish.

Roderick McCorquodale,  agent for the Northern Steamship Company,  was out fishing in his own boat on Saturday afternoon and saw Sainsbury's boat off the island with the group in it.  They appeared to be all right and  managing the boat.  He  heard on Sunday that two men and a boy were missing.  On Monday morning he  saw Sainsbury's boat on the other side of the channel.   He began to search and found the bodies of Mitchell and Carter. They were in the water and had evidently been drowned.  "I think they must have got out of the boat and walked into the deep water . . .it was quite possible for the men to have been uncertain which side of the channel they were.  I have had similar doubts myself,"  he later said at the inquest.

After taking the bodies ashore he went back to look for the boy and found him 50 or 60 yards from where the others were found. 

John Sainsbury said Eugene Mitchell had asked for help with shifting during the coming week and John  lent him 10 shillings.  He gave him the broken  bottle of whiskey and that was the last he saw of them until he saw his boat on Sunday morning.  He had left the light in the window on Saturday night in order to be a guide for them.
Tragically John Sainsbury didn't know his son Lawrence was with them until afterwards. 

John Sainsbury said  he thought Eugene Mitchell well able to take charge of a boat,  He "must have followed the blind channel which hundreds have done before.  There is a drop of more than seven feet.  They evidently thought they were on this side and could walk home, but being in the dark they could not see their danger.  I am quite certain Mitchell was perfectly sober . . . they were on the best of terms with each other and both very fond of my son Lawrence.  I consider the disaster was accidental." 

The newspapers called it "The Whangamata Calamity."  Max D King, the district coroner,  found that the party, after anchoring the boat in shallow water, attempted to wade ashore, but walked into deep water and were accidentally drowned. 

After John Sainsbury's death the papers reported on the "Sequel to the Whangamata Tragedy" .  In mid January 1908, at the Thames Police Court, Edward Burns, a middle aged man, was charged with stealing at Whangamata the sum of 8 pounds 15 shillings the property of the late John Sainsbury, proprietor of the Whangamata Hotel.  The accused, who was undefended, pleaded not guilty.

Inspector Kiely said Burns had been a hanger-on and sort of employee at the Whangamata Hotel.  Immediately after Mr Sainsbury's death Burns commenced to "furrage" through the premises.  He took the money, left the hotel and travelled to Thames where he purchased a new suit of clothes and indulged in intoxicating liquor until he became drunk and was arrested.  When searched he had 3 pounds 13 shillings in his possession.  Burns was the only person in the hotel at the time of Sainsbury's death.  Burns appeared to be suffering from the effects of heavy drinking and and was not allowed to remain on the premises.

Mrs Sainsbury said about four months previously Burns was employed at the rate of 10s a week and his keep.  He had nothing at the time and was supplied with clothing from the store.  Before she left Whangamata she asked her husband how the accused's account stood and he replied that Burns was in debt.  When she left the hotel there was 56 pounds in cash and a new stock in the bar.  When she returned there was nothing in the hotel in the shape of cash or liquor, the doors were wide open and anyone could walk in.  Burns, who should have been there, was absent.  She recognised a few of the coins produced in court as some of those which were in her husbands room.  The accused had no authority to remove the cash. 

Burns stated on oath that Mr Sainsbury informed him that he had taken a dose of laudanum big enough to kill two men.  He also said Sainsbury told Burns to take the money and explained where he had put it.  He maintained that as he had not been paid wages he was entitled to the money.      His Worship found the accused guilty.  The list of previous convictions was a large one and Burns was sentenced to six months imprisonment with hard labour.

At a creditors meeting  Mrs Sainsbury was awarded the sum of 50 pounds net out of the estate of the John Sainsbury, bankrupt,  and  a piano taken possession of by the official assignee  was released to her.

It was not a lot to show for the big, gruff man found with a bottle of laudanum by his side.  

In the same little enclosure where John Sainsbury was buried were  the graves of  his two sons, William and Lawrence.  Alf Carter, who drowned at same time as Lawrence,  was also buried there  Altogether there were 10 graves almost side by side.  Alongside the grave of his youngest  son John was buried,   an intensely sad scene , the last of a man who had spent 28 years of his life in the vicinity, and who had seen service in the Maori War. 

John Sainsbury also ran a Gum Store where Maori bartered gum for pakeha tools and clothing.  His store listed here at number 18.  Te Aroha News 24 September 1887

Photos Chris Raymond Ball

The old Allan Street cemetery, Whangamata where John Sainsbury and sons are buried.    There are no markers for the family.  The cemetery was closed when a very bad storm caused encroachment on the graves. 

"The Armed Constabulary of New Zealand 1867 - 1871.

The Armed Constabulary of New Zealand was formed by Act of Parliament in 1867, with constables used as both soldiers and sworn police. Following the cessation of hostilities with Titokowaru and Te Kooti it became an armed police force, with a reduction in numbers from around 2,000 to 776 by mid 1870.  Constables also became involved in road and bridge building and swamp draining, while still doing police work. There were also Provincial police forces to 1877. A number of constables came from Australia.   Some members of the Armed Constabulary had previously served in their local Militia. The 1858 Militia Act and its successors provided for the conscription of all Pakeha males between 16 and 55 years of age, and those called up garrisoned outposts and mounted patrols. The more enthusiastic instead formed volunteer corps, and fought alongside regular troops and military settlers. The 1865 Volunteer Act and its successors formalised the organisation of the various corps."
-Auckland Libraries website

No 1 Division, AC Force 1868-9

Armed Constabulary/MilitiaArmed Constabulary
Name SAINSBURY, John (W/alter/illiam)
Year of birth. 5.1846
Armed Constabulary Division1
Service commenced23.11.1868
Served atPatutahi; Nukumaru; Karaka
Service ended13.11.1869

Many thanks to Anne Stewart Ball.

 Source: Papers Past, Ohinemuri Journal, Auckland Libraries - the Armed Constabulary, NZ Militia, Volunteers and Armed Constabulary .Sir George Grey Special Collections AWNS 19140423-18-2.

© Meghan Hawkes and Dead Cert 2015


Meghan Hawkes said...

From Rebecca Weir: HI there, I am related to John Sainsbury i LOVED your write up on him, as i had been able to find the newspaper articles etc but wasn't sure where the wee cemetery was!! great work

Unknown said...

Hi Rebecca,
Liked the photo of our relative. Fascinating but tragic story. Very detailed and accurate by my records.
Allan Sainsbury

Meghan Hawkes said...

Hi Allan - thank you for your comment, so pleased to hear you enjoyed the story. So many tragedies for the family. Kind regards - Meghan.

Geoffrey Jones said...

Amazing! John's sister, Henrietta Amelia was my Great Grandmother. Does anyone know the details about how the Sainsburys got to NZ?

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