Winter is coming…

The chilly weather in Christchurch of late has many of us dreaming of glistening seas, white sand beaches and pina coladas. A while ago, “winter is coming” gags were being fired about among the many Game of Thrones fans, and it is very apparent that winter has indeed come to Christchurch this year. But before the days of heatpumps and rubber hot water bottles, there was a time when the hardy early settlers of Canterbury braved the wild winters of the second half of the 19th century, and they had to make do with their wits, woollies and inner warmth to survive the mid-year season.

Ok, that was the last one, I promise. Image.

We may think that our winter blast has been pretty chilly this year, but it’s nothing compared to the winters of 1862 and 1867. During such times, it was said that it wasn’t uncommon to see icicles clinging to a man’s moustache even in the middle of a fine day – a fine excuse to get rid of one’s moustache I would think (Grey River Argus, 17/7/1918: 2). It makes for an amusing image, but 1895 saw the bitterest winter in the 19th and most of the 20th century. This was the year that Lyttelton Harbour froze and Lake Alexandrina froze so thick that three hundred cattle were able to walk over the lake. A few people even died from being caught outside or drowning (Kuzma 2014). The animals fared the worst of it though, dogs died, frozen stiff in their kennels, and after all was said and done, it was estimated that 2 million sheep perished (Kuzma 2014). This was not only because the snow cover left them with no grass to eat, causing sheep to consume the wool off each other’s backs, but their wool also froze (often fixing them to the snow). This left them essentially ‘sheepsicles’ – some having between four and six inches of ice on their backs which enabled them to only move their heads up and down ‘like armadillos’ (Kuzma 2014, Otago Witness 4/7/1895: 23). Naturally, it wasn’t just the region’s farmers that were adversely affected by the storm – in Christchurch City, three inches fell in two hours one morning, leaving the streets a ‘slushy mess’ (Kuzma 2014). Approximately one hundred men were employed under the city’s Winter Work Fund to clear footpaths and crossings the next day, causing delays to tram services (one of which was derailed by the ice), and frozen pipes and pumps caused a nightmare for the city plumbers (Kuzma 2014).

Snow on Oxford Terrace, Christchurch, 1862. Image CCL. File Reference CCL PhotoCD 4, IMG0055. Obtained from the collection, and used with permission of, Christchurch City Libraries.

Riccarton Mill in a snowy July 1895. Image CCL File Reference CCL PhotoCD 4, IMG0018. Obtained from the collection, and used with permission of, Christchurch City Libraries.

A tram runs into difficulties, at the corner of Colombo and Armagh Streets, when Christchurch was hit by snow. 1918? Image CCL File Reference CCL PhotoCD 2, IMG0092. Obtained from the collection, and used with permission of, Christchurch City Libraries.

But winter didn’t always generate the doom and gloom of being trapped by snow and rising mutton prices, amplified by the decimation of the sheep population (North Otago Times 6/8/1895: 1). For many of us in the south, the snow season  also brings the excitement of winter sports and the same was true for our Cantabrian ancestors, who also partook. We have previously mentioned the 1930s ice skating rink near Mt Harper, and the remains of the 1885 Palace Skating Rink were also found in the Christchurch central city several years ago (ArchSite 2012). Scottish immigrants also introduced curling to the south of New Zealand in the 1860s, and the sport soon spread throughout the south. By 1900, there were nine clubs and we’re happy to say that these snowy sports weren’t exclusively enjoyed by men – there were also women’s curling teams by the 1890s (Swarbrick 2013). Unfortunately, we can’t talk 19th century about skiing here – the first attempt to establish skiing as a sport in New Zealand wasn’t made until 1909 when Captain Head and Lawrence Earle introduced skis to the guides at Mount Cook. It was more than ten years later that the first ski races took place in New Zealand (Snow Sports NZ). But hey, don’t let that stop you!

Skating In North Hagley Park, c.1945. Image: by Kete Site Admin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

With all these cold temperatures it’s unsurprising that 19th century winter made people feel a little ‘under the weather’ – just as an aside, this phrase did not always refer to feeling ill in the flu season. Originally it was a sailors term, meaning to feel seasick or to be adversely affected by bad weather. The phrase was initially ‘under the weather bow’ (the weather bow being the side upon which all the rotten weather is blowing). Interesting, no? Anyway, the people of Victorian Canterbury suffered from many health-related ailments. We can see this in the plethora of pharmaceutical bottles we find in archaeological assemblages and in the newspaper advertisements of the time. These bottles contained (often dubious) cure-all remedies for respiratory conditions. You may have come across some of these before on the blog, such as Baxter’s Lung Preserver, which was a local Christchurch product created in the 19th century and it’s still sold today. John Baxter started out as a young chemist in the 1860s and because pharmaceutical companies weren’t required to list the active ingredients in their products during the 19th century, we don’t know exactly what the Lung Preserver contained. Many other pharmaceutical companies took advantage of this lack of regulation and it’s probable that many of the cure-all remedies available to sick 19th century consumers were mainly alcohol based formulations. The advertisement below comes complete with testimonials from satisfied customers if you click on the article link.

Evening Post 29/8/1885: 2

Baxter’s Lung Preserver, Christchurch, bottle. Image: J. Garland.

Another respiratory remedy that we have covered here before is Wood’s Peppermint Cure. This product claimed to do largely the same thing as Baxter’s, in that it was said to cure coughs and colds. This one was associated with some more interesting advertisement angles, and seems to be endorsed by the gods? This stuff must have been good!

Inangahua Times 5/8/1897: 4. Wood’s Peppermint Cure. Image: C. Dickson.

It’s likely that people were more often “under the weather” during this time than is common today, due to the difference in sanitation and living standards. Flush toilets, sinks and baths didn’t become widespread in New Zealand until the 20th century, and it wasn’t until this time that the development of hydroelectricity provided the instant availability of hot water for personal and domestic cleaning (Pollock 2011). Houses themselves were less weather tight – we often find evidence of newspapers plugging drafts in 19th century Christchurch houses. The condition of some dwellings were so poor that it brought about the introduction of the first state houses for renters, firstly in 1906 and on a larger scale during the 1930s (Pollock 2011). But undeniably, the most beneficial introduction was the revolutionary antibiotics that were no-doubt more medically effective than an alcohol based cure-all remedy.

Although houses weren’t as cozy, the wily Cantabrians had their own in-house methods of keeping warm in the winter. You’re probably aware of the existence of bed warmers, which originally took the form of a metal container filled with hot coals, but I was interested to discover that hot water bottles are not a modern invention. Those of us who don’t have electric blankets probably still take advantage of the soft rubber models, but ceramic and copper examples were commonly used by our ancestors. These were naturally hot to the touch, so knitted hot water bottle cozies with drawstrings were employed to transport them from the kitchen to the bedroom… Does your Nana knit something similar? (Cook 2012). The hand warmer, for example, has been used worldwide for centuries, and is still used by skiers today. During the Victorian era, ladies sported heated miniature water bottles, tucked into their fur hand muffs for outdoor adventures. For the less wealthy, hot potatoes, coals or stones sufficed as an alternative (Cook 2012). The heating of such items was usually done in the fireplace – some bedrooms and reception rooms had these, but the kitchen fireplace was the often the focal point of the house and it was utilised as an evening gathering place for families to keep warm, talk and work on small tasks (Cook 2012).

From left: Copper hot water bottle, Doulton’s ceramic hot water bottle, bed warmer. Unfortunately, we haven’t found any examples of these in our Christchurch archaeological assemblages to date. Image.

One of the most important things to note is that the nature of 19th century work, society and dress kept the chills largely at bay. Beds were warmed by more bodies than we might be used to – so while it was typical for a couple to have a bed to themselves, the children often slept all together, separated by gender to provide more room… “there were three in the bed and the little one said…roll over?” (Cook 2012). The Victorians also performed more sweat inducing physical labour than we might be used to. Chopping wood, keeping animals, preparing food – even the most everyday chores, from childhood to old age, required more constant physical activity than they do for us (lazy?) modern folk. (Wilham 2009). Additionally, while Gumboots, Swandries, and Kathmandu down jackets revolutionised how we brave the elements in the 20th and 21st centuries, Victorians knew how to successfully bundle up by layering their clothing. Men wore long johns under their outfits and women sported layers of petticoats. Winter wardrobes were primarily made of wool and included coats, trousers, often a waistcoat and shirt and a felt hat. Oilskin raincoats, leggings and hats were also fashioned for wet conditions, making their outerwear (somewhat) impermeable to water (Labrum 2008). So, let it rain!

New Zealand Herald 28/8/1937: 2.

A woollen waistcoat found in Central Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how the Victorians spent their winter months. We hate to leave you out in the cold, but it’s nearly time to cozy up indoors for the weekend cause, baby, it’s cold outside!

Chelsea Dickson


ArchSite 2012. M35/731.

Cook T. 2012. Keeping Warm the Old Way. The Bologazine. [online] Available at:

Kuzma, J. 2014. The 1895 Snowstorm. Australian and New Zealand Environmental History Network. [online] available at:

Labrum. B. 2008. ‘Rural clothing – Hats, footwear and oilskins’, [online] available at: Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 July 2017)

Pollock, K. 2011. ‘Public health – Healthy bodies’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, [online] available at: (accessed 21 July 2017).

Swarbrick, N. 2013. ‘Ice sports – Curling’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. [online] available at: (accessed 21 July 2017).

Wilham P. 2009. Staying War: How the Victorians Did. [Online] Available at:

And yet, she persisted

Many of you will already know that Christchurch has a fascinating political history, from labour movements to radical social reform to the campaign for women’s suffrage. It is to my eternal disappointment that this “great ferment of ideas”, as Jim McAloon calls it, is almost invisible in the archaeological record – even more so when, as it was in many cases, this history of socio-political reform linked with the lives and actions of Christchurch’s women. We’ve talked before on the blog about how difficult it can be to see gender in the archaeological record and, more specifically, how difficult it can be to see women, who are often defined by the occupation, class, economic status and social profiles of the men in their lives. Yet, every now and then, we find ourselves in an exception to that rule. For example…

May I introduce the inimitable Mrs Fanny Cole, prohibitionist, staunch agitator for women’s rights and all round formidable woman.

Fanny Cole sits at the front right of this photograph – she’s the commanding woman with the no-nonsense expression on her face and the gavel in her lap. Image: Otago Witness, “Delegates attending the NZWCTU’s national convention in Dunedin, 1912,” Voices Against War, accessed August 11, 2017.

Mrs Cole (or shall we call her Fanny?) lived at a house on River Road, in Avonside, with her husband, Herbert, during the late 19th century. She was the daughter of Charles and Fanny Holder, Methodist preachers and activists, and first arrived in New Zealand in 1880. She married Herbert Cole in 1884 and, by 1893, they had purchased a section on River Road, on which they built their house.

(Herbert was a commercial agent and staunch prohibitionist himself, but as this is a blog about Fanny, not Herbert, we shall leave it at that.)

The Cole’s house on River Road, as it was in 2014. Image: K. Webb.

We first ran across Fanny Cole when we recorded her house on River Road. The house was a fairly standard late 19th century villa, nothing unusual or fancy about it. A few ceiling roses, a few extensions, weatherboards and sash windows, a modest house for a woman, her husband and her children.

An archaeological drawing of the south elevation (or front) of the house. Image: K. Webb.

From the back, you can see the extensions and modifications that occurred over the years. Image: K. Webb.

Ceiling roses and hidden wallpaper gems. Image: K. Webb.

Case windows and the reflection of an archaeologist in her natural habitat. Image: K. Webb.

However, while recording the house and monitoring the demolition, we found a few things – bits of ceramic, a knife handle, a poster for Goofy’s dance review. Among these, found in the rafters of the attic space, was a small, yet intriguing piece of card. On one side were the partial printed details of a lecture and, on the other, a handwritten appointment reminder for something in New Brighton or Burwood on Friday at 7.15 pm and the stamp of the W. C. T. U., Christchurch, 129 Manchester Street.

The rafters of the attic space, where the ticket was found. Image: K. Webb.

The card, with the stamp of the W. C. T. U and handwritten appointment on one side, and the details of an event on the other. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

The W. C. T. U. stands for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, an organisation that was established in Christchurch in 1885 to combat the evils of drink in Victorian New Zealand, but which became a vehicle for the promotion of social reform and, not least, for the voices of women. Most notably, one of the earliest members – and national presidents – of the organisation was Kate Sheppard, and it was through the machinery of the W. C. T. U. that much of the campaigning for women’s suffrage in the late 1880s and early 1890s was carried out. This was an organisation of strong women, who believed that alcohol was destroying society, that something needed to be done about it and, that if no-one else would do it, they would break down the gender barriers to do it themselves. From there, really, there was no stopping them. Or, perhaps I should say, us.

We’re not entirely sure what the appointment in New Brighton at 7.15 pm on Friday happened to be, but the rest of that tiny piece of card – well, that’s another story. After a bit of sleuthing we discovered that the lecture referred to on the back of the card is likely to have been one in a series of lectures given by the Reverend Leonard M. Isitt at the Theatre Royal in 1894, along with a talk by William Lloyd Garrison “hero and slave liberator.” The Reverend Isitt was an active politician and labour leaning member of parliament in the early 1900s, a strong proponent of the temperance movement and a close friend of the Coles.

Advertisement for a lecture by the Reverend L. M. Isitt on the 4 December, 1894. Image: Poverty Bay Herald, 1/12/1894: 3. 

However, it was the W. C. T. U. that really intrigued us. As it turns out not only was Fanny Cole a prohibitionist and active member of the W. C. T. U. (inherited in some part from her activist Methodist parents, do you think?), she was, by 1897, the national W. C. T. U. secretary (Kate Sheppard was president) and, by 1904, the president of the Christchurch branch. By 1906, she was the national president for the union. And it is in this role, and through this association, that history – and archaeology – can hear her voice. And not just her voice – her political voice. Because, let me tell you, she did not hold back.

Fanny Cole’s signature on the 1893 women’s suffrage petition presented to parliament by John Hall. Image: Archives New Zealand.

She was vocal, as one would expect from the president of a temperance union, on the subject of alcohol, from publicly taking the ‘liquor party’ to task for stealing a W. C. T. U. globe tableau to employing graphic and dramatic rhetoric against the liquor sellers and their ‘no license’ agenda. In 1899, for example, she said (and I could not make this up):

“The term innocent can scarcely be applied to designate those men and women whose hands are red with the blood of hundreds and thousands slain ruthlessly by the liquor traffic. You say that those who vote for no license would do evil that good many come. That is not true. But the publicans and brewers are working evil all the time so that they may live.”

Press, 28/11/1899: 2.

Extracts from Fanny Cole’s letter to the editor on the ‘no license’ question in 1899. Image: Press, 28/11/1899, p. 2.

She, and the rest of the W. C. T. U., railed against what they considered the cause of harm to women, children and society. They took on everyone, from liquor sellers to the Sports Protection League (which I did not know was a thing – did anyone else know that was a thing?). As history tells us, theirs was a campaign that never quite succeeded in New Zealand – it was defeated by a vote margin of just over 4% in 1911, a measly 1% in 1919 and an incredible 0.3 of a % later that same year (New Zealand History). Individual districts of the country voted to ‘go dry’, meaning alcohol licenses were not issued for those areas, but New Zealand as a whole never did adopt prohibition.

Extract from Fanny Cole’s letter to the editor on the evils of the alcohol trade in 1899. Image: Press 28/11/1899 p. 2.

The temperance movement was not the only poker that the W. C. T. U. – and Fanny Cole – had in the fire, however. They dedicated themselves to matters of social reform outside the sphere of prohibition. For example, in the early 1900s, they sallied forth on the subject of prison reform – specifically, as it affected female prisoners. Fanny and her fellow members advocated for women to be ‘endowed the with powers of justices of the peace’ in order to act as official visitors to prisons, arguing that female prisoners should be better treated, that they should have women doctors and that, rather than men, women attendants should have charge of “violent or incorrigible female prisoners”.

On the subject of women in prisons. Image: Star 29/11/1897: 2.

In 1910, she and Miss M. B. Lovell Smith signed a public letter to the Honourable Dr Findlay (Minister of Justice at the time), criticising his proposed solutions to the problem of venereal disease, or, as the newspapers called it, “the black plague, peril to the country.” Their letter argued that instead of the reforms Dr Findlay was proposing (which included compulsory examinations and reporting for prostitutes, but not their male customers; McAloon 2000), that emphasis should be placed on providing treatment that didn’t also carry with it the fear of being reported to other authorities. They also argued strongly for the education of young people in schools on the subject of sex, venereal disease and their own bodies – a suggestion that is still controversial in some sectors of New Zealand and in some parts of the world (America comes to mind here…). I remember discovering for the first time that the radical and feminist women of Christchurch were actively campaigning for their economic and sexual independence as early as the turn of the 20th century – largely because, some days, it seems like we are still fighting for this.

“This department suggests that the Education Department of New Zealand should procure the services of specialists to educate the young people in our schools and universities by means of scientific teaching concerning the function of their bodies, the dangers consequent on the misuse of them and the value of healthful self-control.”

Evening Post, 5/09/1910: 8.

Throughout, no matter which areas of social reform she was pushing (and no matter what we think of those reforms now), Fanny was advocating for the necessity of women’s involvement, at all levels of the process. Whether it was women acting as officials in prisons, women making themselves heard in matters of health and education, or women sitting on the boards of aid foundations, she was actively and vocally doing what she could. I think possibly my favourite example was her prediction that, not too far off in the future, there would be women legislators, many of whom “will be far more capable than some of the men now in the House.”

You’ll be pleased to know, Fanny, that we’ve had two women Prime Ministers and currently have a woman Leader of the Opposition….Image: Taranaki Daily News, 12/03/1908, p.2.

Perhaps, nowhere is this unrelenting and forthright emphasis on the rights and position of women in society more obvious than in 1910, when she co-signed a furious letter to the Premier of England regarding the treatment of British suffragettes, and in 1912, when her remarks on the subject were printed in the paper. In both, she cites the shame the Empire endured from conduct of the British government and the total illogicality of keeping women out of the electoral process. Her remarks on the subject were blunt and to the point, questioning the condemnation of women who employed methods less violent than those used by men in their fight for enfranchisement, questioning the progressive credentials of men who cannot see the potential for social reform in politically active women, and condemning “indelible stain on the British Government” left by their actions against the British suffragettes. In her words (and I encourage you to read the full thing):

“We learn, in fact, that the consideration theoretically promised to all his Majesty’s subjects is not extended to women, who are thus shown to be on the footing of serfs in the eyes of his Majesty’s Government… Can anyone fail to draw the obvious inference. Nowhere on earth can the interests of women be safeguarded where Parliament is not as fully responsible to women as to men.”

Grey River Argus, 7/05/1910: 7. 

Remarks on the position of those fighting for women’s suffrage in Britain. Image: Otago Witness 20/03/1912, p. 63. 

Fanny Cole died on the 25th of May, 1913 at the age of 52, while national president of the W. C. T. U. Her funeral was attended by the Mayor of Christchurch, local and national politicians and members of the W. C. T. U. from all over the country. Her eulogy was delivered by the Reverend Leonard M. Isitt, M. P., the ticket to whose 1894 lecture we found in the rafters of her house more than a century later.

Jessie Garland


McAloon, J., 2000. Radical Christchurch. In Cookson, J. and Dunstall, G. (Eds.), Southern Capital, Christchurch: Towards A City Biography, 1850-2000. 

The strange adventures of Etienne Brocher (aka Stephen Bosher, aka Stephen Brocher, aka the Petone murderer)

Bricks are the best thing that I find. That’s my answer to the most common question an archaeologist is asked. Bricks? Why bricks? Because they always have the best stories to tell! Brickmaking was a booming industry in the 19th century. Fortunes could be made and lost, and opportunities to climb the ranks of society were ready for the taking. Through brickmaking, workhouse orphans would become influential businessmen and labourers would grab political power. And then there were the criminals and schemers trying their best to hang on for the ride…

Recently I was sent out to Akaroa to investigate an old brick kiln on Rue Grehan. The kiln itself is in a very good state of preservation, and many of its original features remain intact. It’s a small, simple, rectangular kiln, set some distance from the road at the foot of L’Aube hill. The elevation facing the road has been replaced in the 20th century. No one driving past would have given it a second thought, but, as most kilns that survive today are of the large robust Hoffman type, this small kiln is a very rare and valuable artefact of Victorian industry.

The 19th century south elevation of the brick kiln on Rue Grehan. A bricked up door is visible towards the middle of the image. Unfortunately a better photograph wasn’t possible due to the foliage. Image: M. Hennessey.

A bricked up opening in the south elevation. The original function was probably to add fuel to the kiln (scale = 1m). Image: M. Hennessey.

The bricks that had been used to build the Kiln were marked ‘EB’ – and with the help of the Akaroa museum, and a healthy amount of background research, it was discovered that this mark belonged to Etienne Jean Brocher.

‘EB’ marked brick used to build the kiln on Rue Grehan, Akaroa. Image: M. Hennessey.

Brocher, a French immigrant, had arrived in Lyttelton in 1876 when he was about 19 years old (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 19/1/1897: 3). Upon arriving in New Zealand he took up work as ships cook aboard the ketch Alice Jane.

He supplemented his legitimate employment with a second job: petty criminal and scammer.

His early criminal career started off slowly. In 1875 he was arrested for forging cheques to buy boots in Timaru. At his arrest he gave an alias, Stephen Brocher, and when he appeared in front of the magistrate he gave the ultimate of novice defence strategies – I don’t speak English (an unfortunate condition that appears to have only affected him when dealing with law enforcement). Unfortunately for Brocher the magistrate saw straight through this well-crafted subterfuge and assigned an interpreter, and Brocher spent a stint in Lyttelton gaol (Timaru Herald 3/2/1875: 3, Timaru Herald 29/9/1875).

On his release Brocher moved to Akaroa, where he got work as a carter, before finding work with brickmaker, Joseph Libeau (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 27/6/1879: 2). While in Akaroa, Brocher entered into a feud with local man, Chas Lemmonnier. In 1877 Lemmonnier accused Brocher of kicking him. The reason for the assault? Lemmonnier had made the gravest of offences, and had called Brocher a COWARD and a PRUSSIAN!

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 16/11/1880:2.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 16/11/1880: 2.

While Brocher had denied kicking Lemmonenier, a medical certificate was produced to the contrary. And where had Brocher kicked Lemmonnier? Right in the, ahem, family jewels.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 16/11/1880: 2.

In 1878 he married the daughter of Joseph Libeau, Josephine (Alaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 1878: 2). Josephine owned a small plot of land in Grehan Valley that had been subdivided from the larger rural section owned by her father and, while we’ll never know for sure, it seems likely that Brocher married her to get access to this property (LINZ c.1860: 1016). Josephine, being fairly astute, never transferred ownership of the property to her husband.

Brocher constructed the brick kiln on Josephine’s property, and begins appearing in the local newspaper as a brickmaker starting in 1881 (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 2/12/1881: 3).

The only problem? Brocher wasn’t very good at it…

In 1881 Brocher entered into litigation against John Dixon, who had received a load of bricks six months prior.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 2/12/1881: 2.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 2/12/1881: 2.

Brocher gave up brickmaking shortly after, and began a new career as a photographer (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 2/12/1881: 3). He also continued his new-found interest in litigation, suing Josephine’s brother for £9 4s 6d in 1881, and continuing his feud with Chas Lemmonnier, suing him for £1 15s that same year (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 13/5/1881: 2).

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 22/11/1881: 3.

Always trying to get his hands on more money, Brocher was “connected with some trouble about a sum of money collected for a Catholic Church”, and stole the deeds of his father in law, Joseph Libeau, to take out a fraudulent mortgage on his property. His inability to produce his father in law’s signature stopped his attempt (Mataura Ensign 30/3/1897: 4).

Finally, in 1882, Brocher decided that the marriage to Josephine wasn’t working as he had envisioned. The brickmaking business had failed, and photography wasn’t letting him pay his growing debts, let alone making him wealthy.

On 26 December he stole a horse and bridle from his brother in law, Henry, and abandoned Josephine and their son and daughter (Mataura Ensign 30/3/1897: 4). He rode the horse to Lyttelton, where he sold the horse, and then boarded a ship for Sydney, before going back to France. A warrant was put out for his arrest. Of interest, a distinguishing feature is a bullet wound on his right leg, perhaps a souvenir from earlier dealings…

New Zealand Police Gazette, volume 6, 1882: 9.

The editor of the Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser made it clear how the Akaroa population felt of Brocher’s departure without paying down his debts.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 10/1/1882: 2.

And so, was that the end for Etienne Brocher’s story? Not by a long shot. In fact, things were just getting started.

Following his arrival in France, Brocher was immediately arrested for being naturalised in New Zealand without the consent of his parents, and for not serving in the military (New Zealand Times 1896: 3). After refusing to join the 37th Regiment of infantry at Troyes Champagne he was sentenced to 5 years military detention in Africa. Then, after serving his time, he was sent to the first battalion of Light Infantry at Mascara, Algeria (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 19/1/1897: 3).

Following his military service, he returned to New Zealand in 1890, eventually settling in Petone, Wellington, under the pseudonym Stephen Bosher (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 19/1/1897: 3, Ashburton Guardian 1896: 2, Star 25/3/1897: 2). He re-appears in the New Zealand historic record in 1896 when, as Stephen Bosher, he is implicated in the brutal murder of elderly shop keepers, Joseph and Emma Jones.

The murder had occurred on the evening of 27 August 1896. The Jones’ had been interrupted by an unknown assailant while eating dinner. A struggle had ensued, in which the assailant had thrown pepper into Mr Jones face, blinding him. Mr Jones was then stabbed three times in the back. The body of Mrs Jones was found in a hallway leading from the kitchen to the front door (Evening Post 28/8/1896: 6). She had received a single stab wound to the chest (Evening Post 29/8/1896: 5).  The motivation for the murder was unclear as the cash box belonging to the Jones’ had been left behind, and it appeared nothing had been stolen (Evening Post 29/8/1896:5; 31/8/1896: 6). The murder made national headlines.

Evening Post 28/8/1896: 6.

Brocher had gone to the Jones’ shop to collect a package the morning after the murder. After he failed to get a response from the Jones’ he asked a neighbour to check on them. The bodies of Mr and Mrs Jones were discovered by the neighbour. Brocher then entered the house, saw the bodies himself, and alerted the police to the crime (Evening Post 14/1/1897: 2).

Initially a man named James Shore was accused of the murder, and Brocher was brought in as a witness (Evening Post 16/11/1896: 6). Shore was a known drunk, and an easy target for law enforcement, although luckily for Shore he had spent the night of the murder annoying the local Petone residents in a drunken haze. His whereabouts on that night were well-known, and he could not be placed at the crime scene (Evening Post 17/11/1896: 5). Attention turned to Brocher as a suspect.

The case against Brocher was incredibly flimsy, and came down to some very circumstantial evidence:

  • Mr Jones ledger book showed that he had been the last person to purchase something from the store that night,
  • It was discovered that Brocher had an almost £3 debt to Jones,
  • The knife wounds described by the coroner supposedly matched a knife owned by Brosher – although the knife was never found, and the description of the blade was based entirely on witness testimony,
  • A muddy footprint found in the Jones’ scullery matched a pair of boots owned by Brocher – although Brocher had entered the house the morning the bodies were discovered prior to alerting the police.

Perhaps, in any regular case, this evidence could have been argued away by a competent lawyer. Unfortunately, since arriving back in New Zealand Brocher had been up to his old tricks.

After arriving back in New Zealand Brocher had attempted to contact Josephine to ask if he should come home. She sent back a single word reply: “No”.

New Zealand Times 16/11/1896: 3.

During the murder case against Shore, Brocher was arrested for selling a cart to two separate people, while also taking out a loan on the same cart.

Evening Post 22/9/1896: 6.

Evening Post 22/9/1896: 6.

Brocher re-appeared in court later that day on a separate charge. As it turned out, the cart he attempted to sell to Smart and Zachariah may have been stolen from W. H. Cook.

Evening Post 22/9/1896: 6.

Then, while in prison, Brocher attempted to again contact his wife, Josephine, in Akaroa. This was a huge mistake. Brocher had since re-married. The only problem? He and Josephine had never been formally divorced, and they were still married. That, and he had told his current wife, Mary Anne Reece, that he had never been previously married (Evening Post 23/10/1896: 6). The letter had been intercepted by a jailer, and the revelation made national scandal!

Evening Post 14/11/1896: 5.

Josephine attended the hearing for his bigamy case, not once looking at her husband.

New Zealand Times 16/11/1896: 3.

Brocher was sentenced to two years imprisonment both for the case of the cart and for the charge of bigamy, to be served concurrently (Evening Post 16/1/1897: 5).

New Zealand Police Gazette, volume 20, 1896: 216.

While in prison, Brocher was charged with the murder of Mr and Mrs Jones. With the gossip about the bigamy still warm the case became something of a soap opera.

At the beginning, Brocher clearly felt that he was going to be let go.

Evening Post 13/1/1897: 6.

A suggestion was made that Mr Jones’ eyes should be photographed, as the image of the murderer would be captured in his retina, although the editor of the North Otago Times noted that the last thing Mr Jones saw was pepper…

North Otago Times 1/10/1896: 3.

And a witness gave his testimony in a fake French accent…

Evening Post 15/1/1897: 6.

While another gave testimony in fake broken English.

Evening Post 18/3/1897: 6.

Brocher had been concerned that he would be accused of the murder because throwing pepper is a “foreign trick”.

Evening Post 18/3/1897: 6.

And of course, Josephine made a statement as to the character of her previous husband.

Mataura Ensign 30/3/1897: 4.

Ultimately it was the bigamy case that would be Brocher’s downfall. Previously, his current wife, Mary Anne Reece, had not been expected to testify against her husband (Hastings Standard 14/11/1896: 2). But after it was clear that she was not his wife she was open to questioning by law enforcement. Mary Anne Reece gave testimony that her husband had been acting strangely that night, was shaken, had a cut on his hand, and that she had seen the supposed murder weapon and it had gone missing following the murders (Evening Post 16/1/1897: 5). The fact that her entire life had just been destroyed by the bigamy case doesn’t appear to have had much sway over the court.

His criminal past (including outstanding warrant for his arrest for the horse and bridle), the bigamy case, the fact that he had a history as a scammer, and now the testimony from Mary Anne Reece meant that opinion was quickly turning against Brocher. In many ways, it no longer mattered if he was guilty of the murders…. In the eyes of the public he was absolutely guilty of something.

Brocher’s story ends in 1897 when he was sentenced to death for the Petone murders. In his final statement he reaffirms his innocence, and accuses some of the witnesses of lying to the court (Evening Post 24/3/1897: 2). He would later forgive these witnesses with his last words at the gallows (Evening Post 21/4/1897:5).

Evening Post 24/3/1897: 2.

Etienne Brocher was hanged at the Terrace Gaol on 21 April 1897 (Evening Post 21/4/1897:5).

Matt Hennessey



Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser. [online]. Available at

Ashburton Guardian. [online]. Available at

Evening Post. [online]. Available at

Hastings Standard. [online]. Available at

Mataura Ensign. [online]. Available at

New Zealand Police Gazettes. [online]. Available at

New Zealand Times. [online]. Available at

Star. [online]. Available at

Timaru Herald. [online]. Available at

Land Information New Zealand, c,1860. Deeds index – C/S 8 – Subdivisions of rural sections register. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch office.