Maids of Misfortune

Every year on the 14th February we celebrate St. Valentine’s day with the exchanging of small tokens of our love and affection with our significant others. As so often is the case, the exact origins of this holiday are clouded in mystery. It is commonly believed to have begun as the pagan festival of Lupercalia, which was celebrated by young Roman bachelors and maidens by drawing out ballets from an urn revealing the name of their ‘valentine’ for the ensuing year, and was followed by raucous feasting and festivities.

During the third century, the Fathers of the Christian Church substituted the pagan festival for a more subdued festival in memory of St. Valentine, who was martyred on the 14th of February. While the exact hagiography of the saint is debated, one popular account suggests Valentine was martyred for secretly marrying Christian couples against the will of Rome, and while imprisoned is said to have written a note to the daughter of his jailor which he signed “from your Valentine”. This Christian St. Valentine’s festival also involved a feast at which rejoicings and amusements were indulged in (though of a more subdued kind than the pagan festival it had replaced), as well as the simple and innocent exchange of tender amenities between the sexes.

It was during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that St. Valentine’s Day became a very popular festival with the aristocracy, and expensive presents began to be exchanged between Valentines. The Duke of York, for example, is recorded to have sent his Valentine (Miss Stuart, later the Duchess of York) a jewel worth £8OO! Presents were not always confined to jewels. Perfumes and articles of attire were  common gifts — mantles, girdles, gloves, and even shoes adorned with diamond buckles were bestowed (Globe 14/2/1881: 3).

By the eighteenth century the festival had been more significantly embraced by the lower classes. Couples eagerly anticipated a token of affection from their significant others on St. Valentine’s morning, while young singletons would anxiously await secret communications from the object of their adoration. During the first decades of Christchurch’s settlement the popularity of these billets d’amour (love letters) is evident in the increased number of letters being sent through the postal service. In 1878, it was reported that 13,430 letters were received and dispatched through the Christchurch post office on St. Valentine’s day alone (Lyttelton Times 16/2/1878: 2). The commercialisation of the holiday is also evident in the local newspapers, as advertisements by booksellers and stationers for valentines pop up in the count down to the big day (Lyttelton Times 27/2/1891: 1; Star 4/2/1871: 2). The holiday was celebrated not only with the exchanging of letters but also by public fetes and moonlight excursions where music and dancing abounded (Auckland Star 12/2/1881: 1; Lyttelton Times 11/2/1865: 6). By the 1880s however, the popularity of St. Valentines day seems to have dropped from its once esteemed position, which is particularly evident in the declining number of letters being sent through the post (Ashburton Guardian 19/2/1887: 2; Lyttelton Times 15/2/1888: 4; Star 15/2/1881: 2; 14/2/1882: 3; 15/2/1883: 2; 15/2/1889: 3).

Despite the decline in its popularity, the celebration of St. Valentine’s day provides an insight into an area of Victorian daily life that is not always clearly evident in the archaeological record – love, romance, and relationships. So, in honour of this historic day of love and romance, our historians have selected to share two tales which provide insight into nineteenth century relationships, and which cover everything from love, marriage, defiance, illusion, and manipulation. Enjoy!

Blind Love

Today, many of us may not think twice about asserting our right to follow our hearts and make our own decisions about who we date and choose to spend our lives with. But for many in the nineteenth century (particularly women) this freedom was not always a given. Our first tale is about a woman whose life was not always her own to direct, but who, despite a strict and controlling upbringing, managed to follow her heart and become one of the most loved women in Christchurch. This is the tale of Annie Quayle Moore.

Annie Moore was the only daughter of George Henry Moore and Anne Kermode. George Moore emigrated to Tasmania from the Isle of Man in 1830 with his friend, Robert Quayle Kermode, to work on the Kermode family sheep run, which was called Mona Vale. Almost a decade after his arrival, on 9 July 1839, Moore married his friend’s eldest sister, Anne Kermode (The Hobart Town Courier and Van Diemen’s Land Gazette, 12/7/1839: 2). Was this a love match? A way for Moore to solidify his position within the Kermode family and their sheep run? Or simply a marriage of convenient proximity – a match made in the Tasmanian countryside where men were abundant and women were few? The answer to these questions is not known. However, despite the relationship producing four children (only two of which survived to adulthood), the marriage appears to have been a loveless and unhappy one, and after a few years the pair were separated (Gardner, 1990; MacDonald 1952-1964: M544).

While young Annie was sent to be raised at her father’s birth place on the Isle of Man, the man himself travelled to New Zealand in 1853 to investigate prospects of runholding in Canterbury. Despite his separation from Anne, Moore was bankrolled by his estranged wife’s family, and he was able to select the large Glenmark sheep station, which contained one hundred and fifty acres of freehold and leasehold land. Moore proved to be an able run manager, and at one point he had extended the estate to a remarkable 81,000 acres of freehold land, upon which he managed 90,000 sheep (Acland, 1946: 271-275).

It is at this point in the tale that our heroine re-enters the scene. At 19 years of age Annie left the Isle of Man to travel to Canterbury to keep house for her father (Christchurch City Libraries, 2019). This appears to have been no easy task as, by all accounts, Mr. Moore was a difficult man to deal and live with. Moore was known as the “king of scab” and nicknamed “Scabby Moore”, because he refused to clean his sheep of the pestilence. Keeping his country scabby was believed to be a tactic which allowed him to buy up the neighbouring land cheaply (Acland, 1946: 271-275). When questioned about his obligation to his neighbours, he retaliated by asking: “What are my neighbours to me? What do I care for my neighbours?” (Lyttelton Times 15/5/1879: 7). Another account of Moore’s harsh nature is the story of a begging swagman, who Moore not only turned away from his own door on a wet bitter night, but also commanded his servants to refuse the man entry to their own homes. Being thus turned away, and with no anticipation of shelter, the man committed suicide. With no remorse for his actions, it is said that Moore even refused to let his carpenters build a coffin for the poor dead man. When news of the incident spread, the local newspapers chastised Moore as a “mean, hard-hearted, barbarous, blasphemous man” and implored their readers that “no hand of a Christian should clasp that of Mr. Moore till he has done penance for his deep crime against the laws of God and man” (Lyttelton Times 21/3/1860: 4).

For young Annie, living with this severe and harsh man dictated the way she was to live much of her life. It is believed that Moore insisted that any would-be suitors seeking Annie’s hand in marriage could only be after her money, and thus Annie spent her youth as an isolated spinster (was Moore’s assumption regarding the suitors’ intentions based on his own experience of marrying Miss Kermode for her money?). Despite the strict conditions, Annie appears to have at least lived in comfort, especially after 1888 when the construction of Moore’s grand castle-like mansion was finally completed on the Glenmark run, and allowed the father and daughter to live in secluded splendour (Figure 1). Unfortunately this was short lived as the uninsured structure was gutted by fire a few years later (Christchurch City Libraries, 2019).

Photograph of the Glenmark Station house prior to its destruction in the 1890s. Image: Glenmark Station, Waipara. Ref: 1/2-127240-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23134000

In his later years Moore began to go blind. It is at this time that Annie finally appears to have seized her chance to take control of her own life. In 1900, Annie entered into a secret union with Dr. Joseph Henry Townend. Dr. Townend was born in Wolverhampton and studied medicine at Guys Hospital, London. He arrived in Canterbury on board the Rakaia in 1875 as a medical officer in charge of 500 emigrants. He was married shortly after his arrival to Miss Harriet Cox, with whom he had five children. Dr. Townend appears to have enjoyed a successful career, as well as a happy marriage until Harriet died in 1893 (MacDonald 1952-1964: T345). By all accounts Dr. Townend was a well-liked man, being described at one time as Christchurch’s “popular Doctor” (New Zealand Herald 24/1/1901: 3). It is not clear when Annie and Joseph’s paths first crossed (was he the Moore family’s doctor?) but it was almost certainly a love match as the two secretly conspired to be married. Annie and Joseph’s wedding took place at St. Barnabas’ church at 11 o’clock on Saturday 15 September 1900. Contemporary newspapers described the wedding as “a very quiet one” with the only witnesses being two friends, Mr R. W. Stringer and Mr. H. W. Bishop. One conspicuous absence from the wedding party was Annie’s father, and indeed it was Mr H. W. Bishop who is recorded as walking Annie down the matrimonial isle. Annie was fashionably attired for the event in a fawn silk poplin, richly trimmed with silk velvet and Maltese lace, and with a hat and sunshade to match, all made by well-known local drapers J. Ballantyne and Co. (Press 18/9/1900: 5). This romantic elopement feels like it could have come straight from a Jane Austen novel!

George Moore is believed to have never found out about his daughter’s wedding and subsequent marriage (Christchurch City Libraries, 2019). This begs the question: where did the newly married couple live after their wedding? Did Dr. Townend quietly sneak around the Glenmark estate concealed from Mr Moore’s blind eyes? Or did the new Mrs Townend come to live at the Townend family home in Park Terrace where some of Dr. Townend’s children still resided? Surely if it is the latter, then Mr Moore would have wondered at the absence of his daughter from their family home? Or was the truth hidden from him by some fiction of her travelling abroad or taking up a house of her own? Unfortunately the answer to these fanciful questions are uncertain. Mrs Townend’s place of residence is not listed in the contemporary street directories or electoral rolls, and while Mr Townsend is still recorded in 1900-1902 as occupying premises on Park Terrace, this could merely be a reference to his family doctors practice and not a true representation of his place of abode (H. Wise & Co. 1900: 220, 1902: 339).

Sadly, Dr. Joseph Henry Townend died just two years after he and Annie were married (Star 11/7/1902: 3). It is interesting to note that Dr. Townend bequeathed all of his estate to his widow, Annie, without any inheritance being set aside for his children (Archives New Zealand, 1902). This shows the trust Dr. Townsend had in his wife to continue to provide for his family (sadly records from the Probate Court show that this is not always the case!).

Annie’s father died in July 1905 at the good old age of 92 (Star 7/7/1905: 3). Annie was the sole benefactor of Moore’s large fortune (Moore’s son, William, had died young and estranged in London in 1865). The inheritance made Annie the wealthiest woman in Canterbury, but even in death Moore managed to ensure one last input in Annie’s future and scare off any suiters who were after her money. In his Will he included a clause that if Annie were ever to marry, her future husband was to have no control over her money:

I give and bequeath to my daughter Annie Quayle all my real and personal estate for her absolute use and benefit and I wish her to have all the powers to deal with it that I possessed in my lifetime. Should she marry it is my most earnest wish that her interest in my estate both real and personal be so securely settled upon her that her husband can have no control over it (Achieves New Zealand, 1905).

With Moore’s money Annie purchased the Karewa property on Fendalton Road, and renamed it Mona Vale after her mother’s house in Tasmania. Annie continued to own Mona Vale until her death in 1914 (Oamaru Mail 18/5/1914: 5). Unlike her father (or maybe in spite of him?) Annie was a very charitable woman. This is not more evident than in her Will in which she generously bequeathed a large portion of her extensive estate (which was estimated at £800,000!) to her step children, cousin, servants, friends, and to various public institutions. So generous was her endowments that local newspapers even published part of her Will for all to read:

Copy of Annie Quayle Townsends Will printed in the Press in 1914. Image: Press 30/5/1914: 11.

Annie’s obituary printed in the Oamaru Mail in May 1914, succinctly summarises her kind nature and charitable spirit, and reveals how she became one of the most cherished women in Christchurch:

The deceased lady, who led a most retired life, was chiefly known for her charitable work. She was one of the kindest and most humane of women. She was a most liberal contributor to charitable and deserving objects, in many cases anonymously. She was greatly loved by all who knew her (Oamaru Mail 18/5/1914: 5).

Er steht einfach nicht auf Dich (He’s just not that into you)

Nineteenth century Canterbury was to be the bastion of an Anglican utopia, a prime colonial example of good social order. But even a brief foray into the records of the day unveils that the love life of the early settlers was often the cause of the more interesting accounts of the Canterbury settlement. Love manifests in many ways and can create a heady concoction of misjudgement, illusion, and sometimes manipulation.

Some of us (or a lot of us) have had that brief but embarrassing delusion that someone is totally into you. Sometimes in that haze of infatuation (sometimes mistaken for the real deal) we get that niggle of reality that all is not what it seems. The wakeup call is either getting dumped unceremoniously, ghosted into oblivion, and the oh-so often allocation to the ‘friend zone’, or in the case Wilhelmina Klaus (despite her tenacity) completely replaced by an imported wife…

Johann Grabau had been part of a migration of German settlers to the Halswell/Tai Tapu area in the 1850s and 60s. In 1864 Grabau, a single man at the time, had gone into a brief partnership with another German immigrant Wilhelm (William) Klaus. Wilhelm was married to Wilhelmina (cute I know!). Current research indicates that Wilhelm and Wilhelmina were married circa 1858 in London. Klaus and his wife were recorded immigrating from London to New Zealand on the Regina which arrived in Lyttelton 4th December 1859. Klaus was listed as William Klaus, aged 43, and his wife Wilhelmina, aged 28 (Figure 1). By 1862 Klaus was naturalized and listed as a farmer originally from Hanover, Germany.

The Klaus couple’s arrival to New Zealand. Image: Archives NZ, 1859: 4.

By 1866 it appears all was not well in the marriage as William advertised in the Lyttelton Times that he would not be answerable for any debts that his wife, Wilhelmina Klaus, may contract from this date: 20th September 1866 (Lyttelton Times 21/9/1866: 4). From research conducted in a later court case, it was noted that Wilhelmina (possibly affronted by this development) took things into her own hands and on the 1st December 1866, it was alleged that she cohabitated with Johann Grabau.

By March 1867 Klaus was suing Grabau (also recorded as Graban or Grabow) for £500 over the alleged cohabitation of Grabau and Wilhelmina (Lyttelton Times 8/3/1867: 2). During the Supreme Court case the legality of the Klaus marriage was called into account – were they actually married? Two witnesses who knew the couple in London attested that they were married as they witnessed the couple coming out of an East End church in London approximately five years prior. Historic documents show that a Wilhelm Heinrich Jacob Klaus, aged 41, married Wilhelmine (Wilhelmina) Johanna Wespfahln (Westfall), aged 28, on the 31st of October 1858 at St. George’s German Lutheran Church in Whitechapel, London. The cross-examination of the witnesses even covered the sleeping arrangements of the married couple’s one roomed cottage on Lincoln Road, Christchurch. Apparently, Wilhelmina had other ideas for her sleeping arrangements. Whilst staying at the Wellington Hotel in Tuam Street (which she had stayed at on a prior occasion with Mr Klaus) she was collected by Mr Grabau, along with all her boxes.  Some two weeks later Wilhelmina was back at the hotel this time with Mr Klaus. Grabau arrived at the hotel to inquire of her whereabouts only to be told that Wilhelmina was booked in at the hotel with her husband. Grabau infuriated at the situation stated he had a great mind to go upstairs and knock the old *&^%$’s eye out! Mrs Fuchs, the proprietor of the hotel, reminded Grabau of the married state of Mr and Mrs Klaus, to which Grabau retorted “why does he not keep her!” Grabau, good to his word, stormed up the stairs of the establishment causing a great commotion. Back down in the bar after his outburst, Grabau was soon joined by Wilhelmina speaking German in low tones. Grabau then went to get a horse and carriage, while Wilhelmina collected herself and later left with Grabau. Various other witness testimonies also confirmed that Wilhelmina and Grabau were indeed cohabitating for weeks at time (Lyttelton Times 8/3/1867: 2).

The upshot of the instance was to prove a case for Klaus to divorce his wife, and to be remunerated for it. Prior to this accusation, Klaus and his wife had planned to travel to America, resulting in the conveyance of a rural section to Grabau. The case eventually concluded that adultery had occurred, with the verdict to the plaintiff with damages of £40 (Press 8/3/1867: 2). It must be noted that Grabau’s conduct as recounted by witnesses, appeared to be reluctant. When confronted of the fact of taking another man’s wife he replied he did not want Klaus’s wife, and that she had come after him.

In 1877 (yes all was not over yet) Johann Grabau became naturalised at the age of 42 years. Grabau was also recorded in 1877 in newspapers as noting that all money due to him must be paid in full to Mrs Klaus (it seems that no trip to America eventuated…) during his absence from Canterbury (Press 13/3/1877: 4). By 1879 Grabau and Klaus were back in the district court, with Klaus claiming wages for his wife – yes, they were still married! Mrs Klaus (Wilhelmina) deposed that she had been living with Grabau as a housekeeper for eleven years and had paid her £200 in 1873. In March 1877 Grabau left for Germany and returned the following year. During this time, Mrs Klaus acted as farm manager for his property and was to receive all payments regarding the farm. On cross examination, Mrs Klaus said she had argued with Mr Klaus, and was living with Mr Grabau as a result of having nowhere to go. During her management of the farm the property had produced a good profit. On Mr Grabau’s return in 1878 he had promised payment of her wages. Grabau did return but not with payment of wages, but with a wife! Grabau had married in Germany. Grabau testified saying the £200 was a goodwill payment as they were going to part ways and it would pay for the construction of a dwelling. Grabau also stated that Mrs Klaus persuaded him to keep her as his wife. Mr Klaus at this time lived not far away. The rather convoluted court case had the judge dryly commenting that the witness, Mr Klaus, after being cross examined and insisting that Mrs Klaus was living with Grabau as a servant, that servants must very scarce if it was necessary to take such energetic exertions to secure one. Mr Klaus replied (with poor English), ‘how could she (Mrs Klaus) have two mans?’ The case closed in favour of the defendant with no costs.  The judge commented that the judgement was with regret as there was no doubt the contract between Mrs Klaus and Mr Grabau was an immoral one (Lyttelton Times 21/2/1879: 3).

To be honest it is hard to say who was playing who in this unfortunate triangle of monetary tit for tat and whether the concept of love and romance ever entered the equation. Whatever was the truth, Grabau produced his trump card in the form of a legitimate marriage, to remove himself from Wilhelmina’s entanglement. Nothing more was recorded of Klaus and Wilhelmina in local newspapers, suggesting that they left the region and Grabau to live a much more uneventful but by all accounts, happy married life.

Lydia Mearns and Annthalina Gibson

References

Acland, L.G., 1946. Early Canterbury Runs and Glossary of Station Words. Whitcombe & Tombs.

Archives New Zealand, 1859. New Zealand, Archives New Zealand, Passenger Lists, 1839-1973.

Archives New Zealand, 1902. Probate, Joseph Henry Townend. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch Regional Office, CAHX-2989-CH171-123-CH4478/1902. Available at: https://familysearch.org/

Archives New Zealand, 1905. Probate, George Henry Moore. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch Regional Office, CAHX-2989-CH171-144-CH5328/1905. Available at: https://familysearch.org/

Christchurch City Libraries, 2019. Annie Quayle Townend. [online] Unsung Heroines. Available at: <http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/Heritage/Publications/UnsungHeroines/AnnieQuayleTownend/>.

Gardner, W.J., 1990. Moore, George Henry. In: Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. [online] Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Available at: https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1m52/moore-george-henry

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little more Lyttelton history

During recent earthquake repairs at a residential property on well-known Sumner Road in Lyttelton, our archaeologists uncovered a small assemblage of artefacts that represented everyday Victorian household items. At first glance these appeared a somewhat ordinary – but when Lydia Mearns (one of our historic researchers), delved deeper into the history of this domestic house site, she uncovered the history of a local couple who experienced their share of turbulent times during the late 19th century.

A selection of the domestic artefacts found at this site. A (from left): dinner plate, clay pipe, transfer printed plate. B: leather shoes. C: pharmaceutical bottle with “W” embossed on the base (we aren’t too sure who made this one), wide mouth pickle bottle, aerated water bottle – made by J. F. Wyatt, Lyttelton, between 1889 and 1835 (Donaldson: 1991: 266-267). W.D. and H.O. Wills cigarette tin lid (this tobacco company was known by this name from 1830 onwards; Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences 2017). Image: C. Dickson.

The young settlers, Robert Flett and his wife, Isabella Gaudie Flett, emigrated from the Scottish Orkney Islands in 1863 and arrived in Lyttelton on board the Tiptree (Sun 3/12/1915: 11). The couple initially settled on land that they purchased in Hawkhurst Road, and during the late 1860s, they began to accumulate residential sections on Sumner Road. By 1874, they had purchased two neighbouring town sections –  one to live on, and the other to keep as an investment. The first record of their occupation of Sumner Road was in 1872, and this placed the Fletts as residents on the section that was adjacent to our archaeological site. This is where the couple would spend most of their time for the next few decades (H. Wise & Co. 1872-1884).

Detail from a photograph taken between 1876 and the early 1880s showing a number of small cottages present along the Sumner Road in the vicinity of our site. Image: Bradley, c.1876-1880.

Robert Flett was a ship’s carpenter, who went into partnership with a fellow named Peter Loutitt, in the construction and operation of a patent slipway on Dampier’s Bay Road. From this slipway, the pair launched and repaired many ships in the Lyttelton Port, and their company name featured heavily in the local newspapers throughout the 1860s as a common place to fix up one’s boat (Globe 16/6/1875: 3; Press 25/9/1872: 3; Star 17/2/1869: 2). However, despite its popularity, the specific location of this slipway is not exactly known – articles mention that it was situated near the gasworks and “near the bathing sheds” on Norwich Quay and an approximation of what we’ve deemed as its most likely location (based on this description), is shown below.

1860s plan of the western Lyttelton Port showing the approximate future location of Robert Flett’s patent slipway near the gasworks and the “bathing shed” (Lyttelton Times 25/9/1872: 2Sun 3/12/1915: 11). Image: Rice 2004: 28.

During their time in Lyttelton together, Robert and Isabella featured in the local newspapers several times. Most of these reports weren’t happy ones, as things began to go wrong for the couple a few years after they started buying their properties. They experienced great loss when Robert’s brother, ship Captain William Flett, died a tragic death in 1873. He drowned ten miles of Godley Head on a voyage from Picton, then Isabella’s father also died three years later (back home in the Orkney  Islands), at age 78 (Press 31/12/1873: 2; Lyttelton Times 14/12/1896: 2). Through all of this, the Fletts were also experiencing some trying times socially. Robert Flett’s acquaintances described him as “an inoffensive quiet man”, who had a “frank and cheerful disposition, and [was] much esteemed by all who knew him (Press 21/8/1890: 4).” But despite his this, his character was called into question in court when he was charged with assaulting one of his former tenants in 1867, with whom he had had many grievances (Lyttelton Times 15/2/1867: 2).

Isabella is documented as experiencing her own petty troubles, with her incessant letter writing battles with the local drainage board over the drainage of their properties, the retaining walls and the maintenance of the Sumner Road street frontage (Press 2/4/1890: 3, 4/12/1894: 6; Star 23/2/1886: 3, 9/3/1886: 3). The tone and quantity of this correspondence suggests that she wasn’t very popular with these local bodies. She’s also recorded offering a reward for her lost, precious heart shaped greenstone brooch in 1875 (Globe 9/9/1875: 2). It was lucky that she didn’t lose more one day in 1890, as a sketchy door to door salesman arrived on her doorstep one afternoon peddling his wares. Isabella purchased an album of views from him, but this was immediately after he allegedly broke in and entered a neighbouring house and stole eight pounds from a pocketbook (Press 24/2/1890: 3). Close call.

Some ink bottles found on the property. With this much ink, one can write many letters… to drainage boards etc… Image: C. Dickson.

Despite all their major and minor personal troubles, the Fletts were managed to amass themselves a tidy little property empire in Lyttelton by the end of the 1880s. Their tenant seeking efforts were well recorded in local newspaper advertisements, and the article below shows just how well they were doing by 1889, with no less than seven properties to Robert’s name! (Star 29/2/1888: 3).

The Flett estate for sale! This advertisement of their seven house mini property empire notes Robert Flett’s intention to sell up and leave the colony… for good? (Star 2/3/1889: 4). The property business seems to have been going swimmingly, as they were all let to good tenants.

Perhaps having not found the perfect buyers for all of their properties, Robert and Isabella left Lyttelton in April 1890 to visit their hometown of Birsay, Orkney Islands (without selling their empire). However, the events surrounding their departure are a little strange – the above advertisement seems to suggests that it was Robert’s intention to emigrate back to Orkney permanently. He even held an auction at their Sumner Road home in March of 1890, in an attempt to sell all of their household furniture as “he was leaving for England.” (Press 18/3/1890: 8). But despite these attempts to sell up, it was later reported that the Fletts were merely holidaying in the Scottish Isles? I suppose one way of financing your summer holiday would be to sell everything you own… but it seems a little short-sighted, don’t you think?

Whether it was Fletts intention to emigrate back to Orkney for good or just to holiday, we will never know for certain. But during their time in Scotland, tragedy struck again for their family when Robert fell off a cliff to his death! (Archives New Zealand, 1891; Star 20/8/1890: 3). The events surrounding his fall were also a little unusual… like something out of  a dramatic movie scene. Local news reports of the incident depict Robert dangling over a cliff in an attempt to reach a lost gun. How Robert managed to lose his firearm off the edge of a cliff face isn’t known – he had gone out shooting alone early that morning, and an unnamed witness had spied him on a nearby beach fetching a boat hook to snag the gun from wherever it had fallen. But the coastal winds were probably blowing hard that day – Robert was not seen falling off the cliff but he also wasn’t ever seen again. His body was not even able to be found after the accident due to a fierce storm that hit the next day, which caused the loss of even more lives in the sea below.

The tragic story of Mr Flett’s death… and some other tragic deaths (Star 20/8/1890: 3). It seems Isabelle Flett was still avidly penning letters at this time.

The unfortunate Mrs Flett, now a widow, returned to Lyttelton alone, where she had no other family. Perhaps she preferred to change her immigration plans and go back to where she and her late husband had enjoyed success together in their property development schemes, especially now that her father was no longer home in Scotland? The Sumner Road properties remained in her ownership until her death in 1915, and the 1907 Lyttelton Valuation Roll, indicated that Mrs Flett had four houses on Sumner Road that year (Sun 3/12/1915: 11). The age of these houses was recorded as being between 30 and 50 years old at this time and this provides a construction date for the four dwellings between 1857 and 1877 – proving them to be the same legacy left by Robert to Isabella (Archives New Zealand, 1878: 80). The map of Lyttelton drawn by J R Williams in 1910 shows the footprint of the four houses on Mrs Flett’s land, including a dwelling at the modern address of our Sumner Road archaeological site (Figure 4). This dwelling does not have the same footprint as the extant building on this section so it must have been demolished sometime in the 20th century.

Detail from 1910 map of Lyttelton showing the land owned by Mrs Flett on the Sumner Road (outlined in red) and showing the footprint of a cottage present on our section (outlined in blue). Image: Williams, 1910.

This probably happened around 1917, when the trustees of Mrs Flett’s estate, Thomas Taylor and Andrew Kirk, advertised for the removal of “three cottages fronting the Sumner Road”, in January 1917 (Star 27/1/1917: 4). A few days after this, the advertisement was taken out in the newspaper because one of the dwellings previously owned by Mrs Flett had burnt down before it could be removed (Star 6/1/1917: 10). The rest of the cottages also appear to have been removed later that year as there are no residents recorded in the 1918 street directories on the land previously owned by the Fletts (H. Wise & Co. 1918: 567).

Detail from a photograph of the Sumner Road taken between 1919 and 1925, showing a new house on the section where the artefacts were found (indicated with red arrow), while the location of adjacent site where the Flett’s once lived is vacant (indicated with a blue arrow). Image: Anon, c.1919-1925.

As the small assemblage of artefacts that were found at this site were located within the boundaries of the neighbouring section to the Flett’s, it’s probable that they were dropped or thrown away by one of their tenants. The manufacturing dates of the artefacts we showed you at the start of this post suggest that this tenant was most likely Edward James Norris (who we know very little about). But regardless of this gap in the historical record, we were able to stumble across this intriguing narrative about Mr and Mrs Flett and their story in the early history of Lyttelton.   

Chelsea Dickson

References

Anon, c.1919-1925. Lyttelton wharves, Canterbury, showing harbour, ships, houses and buildings. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, 1/1-009876-G Available at: https://natlib.govt.nz/records/29946642 [Accessed October 2017].

Archives New Zealand, 1891. Probate, Robert Flett Lyttelton Christchurch, Canterbury. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch Regional Office, CAHX-2989-CH171-65-CH2083/1891. Available at < https://familysearch.org/ > [Accessed October 2017].

Bradley, c.1876-1880s. Overlooking Port Lyttelton and Township. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, PAColl-6407-57. Available at: https://natlib.govt.nz/records/23220714 [Accessed October 2017].

Donaldson, B., Hume, G. and Costello, S., 1990. Antique Bottle and Containers of Christchurch and District. Christchurch Antique Bottles and Collectibles Club, Christchurch.

H. Wises & Co. 1866-1954 [online]. Available at http://home.ancestry.com.au/.

Rice. G. 2004. Lyttelton: Port and Town. An Illustrated History.

Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. 2017. Metal cigarette tin used in Antarctica 2017, Museum of Applied Arts &amp; Sciences. [online] Available at: https://collection.maas.museum/object/257736. Accessed 20 November 2017.

 

Anecdotes from the appraisalists

Call us appraisalists, historical researchers, or even cyber archaeologists. Most of our day consists of using a wide variety of historical material to pull together the histories of sites around Canterbury (and to make sure those archaeologists in the field are digging in the right spot). It is only a matter of time in the course of our research before we come across some unusual and quirky stories in Christchurch’s history. Some of these stories from the early times of Christchurch stay with us, and we are often heard exclaiming about some exploit of the early colonists in our office.

So today we thought we would share a couple of the not so successful exploits of the early settlers of Christchurch. We enjoyed the research and hope to post more of these stories later in the year (on a lighter note maybe?)

A poor remittance – the life and times of Horatio Parkes
Horatio John Parkes was the cousin of British diplomat based in China, Sir Henry (Harry) Parkes. Horatio was a ‘remittance man’ (Christchurch City Libraries 2016: 7–8). Those who were identified as receivers of a remittance were often immigrants to British colonies financially supported by family back home. Reasons for this support varied from those wishing to seek their fortune, establishing a base for family to follow, or safety from personal tribulations such as legal or family troubles. In Horatio’s case we think the latter applies as he was shipped out on one of the four first ships, the ‘Sir George Seymour’, in 1850. Horatio was supported by his cousin, and lived on a section purchased for him in Christchurch called the ‘Grange’. Part of this section would eventually be sold to the government for the ‘Roimata Settlement’ which now forms part of Woolston today (Christchurch City Libraries 2016: 7–8).

Horatio is first mentioned in the local papers in 1853 for escaping with his life in the swollen Selwyn River in 1853. Sadly, however, is also noted that the very expensive horse and dray that he was borrowing were swept away (Lyttelton Times 7/5/1853:6). Over the course of the next thirty years Horatio would appear in the local magistrate’s courts for drunkenness, a tussle in a pub, unlicensed dogs, and even supported a friend in court when his ducks were unlawfully shot (Lyttelton Times 25/2/1860:4; Star 27/1/1886:3; Press 29/7/1889:3).

It seems that for all intents and purposes Horatio was a good guy who, unlike some remittance men, wanted to live a simple quiet life. Unfortunately for him, his run of bad luck (and possibly bad decision making) all came to a head in 1897 with a tragic death and an arrest for murder!

‘The Woolston Homicide’ took place in January 1897. Michael (or Patrick, newspapers were conflicting in the name) Ryan had been released from gaol months prior with nowhere to stay. As the story goes, Horatio allowed Ryan to stay a couple of nights, but it seems that Ryan outstayed his welcome. It is noted in one newspaper that Ryan used to arrive home drunk and abusive. On the night in question, Ryan assaulted Horatio with an axe. Horatio then managed to wrangle the axe from Ryan and responded with two blows of the axe, killing Ryan. Horatio maintained it was self-defence and at the age of 71 was charged for murder and, later, manslaughter (Waikato Argus 23/1/1897:2; Star 22/1/1897:3; Timaru Herald 25/1/1897:3). The coroner’s jury returned a verdict of justifiable homicide and the Grand Jury at the Supreme Court threw out the bill against him. Horatio died 25 June 1898, aged 73, and is buried in the Woolston cemetery (New Zealand, Cemetery Records [Woolston] 1898Star 27/6/1898:1). Not much was recorded after this incident, apart from the Public Trust and the settlement of his estate in 1898 (Press 16/7/1898:10).

So, just remember that tucked away somewhere in the suburb of Woolston is the site of an unfortunate murder of circumstance. It could be said that bad luck followed Horatio Parkes to the ends of earth, or maybe just the outer reaches of the British colonies.

Waikato Argus 23-1-1897 pg2

Figure 1. Waikato Argus 23/1/1897:2

The severed hand – a mysterious case
On 16 December 1885, the Godfrey brothers, Elisha and Frederick, discovered a severed hand whilst fishing at Taylors Mistake (Star 17/12/1885: 3). This discovery precipitated one of the most widely reported and sensationalised criminal cases in 19th century New Zealand. Inquest into the severed left hand began the following day, and the gold strap and buckle ring found upon one of the fingers identified the owner as Arthur Robert Howard (Press 18/12/1885).

It was reported that on 10 October 1885 Howard had gone for a swim at the Sumner beach and had drowned. His clothes were found neatly folded on the beach the following day (Evening Post 19/12/1885: 2). His wife, Mrs Sarah Howard, soon sought to make an insurance claim. However, the insurance companies were suspicious of a mechanic who earned £150 per annum but whose life was insured for £2,400. They refused to pay without proof of his death. Mrs Howard quickly advertised a £50 reward for the retrieval of his body (Figure 2).

$50 Reward

Figure 2. Star 13/10/1885: 2

Little was heard of the case again until two months later when the severed hand was discovered. The Sumner area was relentlessly searched for Howard’s body, all to no avail (Star 19/12/1885: 3). The police were soon suspicious of the convenient discovery of the hand. To begin with, the hand showed little of the signs of decomposition which would be expected for a hand floating in the ocean for nearly two months. When medical experts were brought in to examine the limb, little consensus could be met as to the cause of the hand’s severance. Some believed the hand showed signs of being severed by a shark, while others noted blows which looked to be created by a sharp instrument. Other examiners even questioned the sex of the hand, believing it to look quite feminine (Press 22/12/1885: 3). The gold ring found on one of the fingers had the letters “A. H.” engraved on the inside, further identifying Arthur Howard as its owner. However, when jewelers examined the ring, they noted that the rough burrs around the engraving indicated it was done within the last fortnight and, while done with a sharp instrument, it was not made with an engravers tool (Press 23/12/1885: 3). On 21 December Elisha and Frederick were arrested for conspiracy to defraud the insurance companies (Star 21/12/1885: 2). Mrs Howard’s arrest soon followed (West Coast Times 23/12/1885: 3).

The case was further sensationalised when the supposedly dead Mr Howard was arrested in Petone, just outside of Wellington on 4 January, 1886 (Press 5/1/1886: 3). Mr Howard’s story was soon uncovered. Following the faking of his own death in October 1885, Howard had removed to Waitapi in the Wairarapa district, where he worked on the Cameron’s station under the pseudonym of “Watts”. In December he moved to Wellington, where he donned a dark wig and mustache and went by the name of “John Watson” (Press 6/1/1886: 3). Howard also wore a black glove on his right hand, with gutta percha stuffed in the inside of the thumb to disguise the missing appendage he lost while fighting in Mexico (New Zealand Herald 8/1/1886: 5; Press 15/1/1886: 3). When Mr Howard was arrested his trunk was searched and a secret drawer containing a plethora of wigs and pigments to assist in forming disguises was found (Star 8/1/1886: 4).

On April 8, 1886, Mr and Mrs Howard, along with the Godley brothers, appeared before the supreme court in Christchurch. Arthur Howard was convicted of attempting insurance fraud. He received the maximum penalty of two years in jail. Mrs Howard and the Godleys, however, were acquitted (Press 8/04/1886: 2). Despite a number of graves being exhumed in in the Christchurch, Wairarapa and Wellington area, no handless body was found (Southland Times 22/1/1886: 2). The owner of the hand that was found on the beach remains unidentified to this day.

The story of the severed hand created a sensation throughout New Zealand. Companies jumped on the band wagon of the media hype and used the case as a means of advertising their products (Figure 3). People even complained that unless an article was headed “Severed Hand” no one would even read it (Star 18/1/1886: 3). Even before the case reached the supreme court, advertisements for a copy of “The Severed Hand: A full account of the Howard Mystery” appeared in the Star, complete with illustrations of all the conspirators (Star 29/1/1886: 2). This tale continues to intrigue readers today, with many readers still wondering whose hand it was…

point the finger

Figure 3. Star 21/1/1886: 2

Lydia Mearns and Annthalina Gibson

References

Ancestry, 2006-2016. [online] Available at www.ancestry.com.au.  

Christchurch City Libraries, 2016. Christchurch Street and Place Names. [online] Available at www.my.christchurchcitylibraries.com/christchurch-place-names/.

Papers Past. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.