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:

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