**TRIGGER WARNING: This blog talks of infant death and sex work**
Time forgives and forgets, dulling the harsh effects of first-hand accounts of shocking life events to a point where one can laugh at unfortunate events, or even become engrossed in the salacious accounts of someone’s long gone, some would say best forgotten, life. This ‘best forgotten’ approach to unfortunate historical events means history tends to present the winners in life, the successes, and the ideals of what a ‘good life’ is, skewing many a family history and leaving many questions and surprises for those who decide to delve.
In many of the histories we research we do get the opportunity to write about Canterbury’s success stories, but we also research the residential lives of the average colonial settler brought out to a new world. Despite the Canterbury Associations’ self-assured hubris, campaigning for the ideal Anglican settlement, life did get in the way. The need for immigrants to help play out the grand scheme of things brought working class innovations: the good and, in the Victorian’s eyes, the morally questionable.
Enter the world of a smallish new street, a right of way in the beginning, in the residential northeast of the city. It was a patchwork of small worker’s cottages with dodgy drainage. Most of these cottages were leased, and some were sold to those who ventured to better themselves by owning a property. Little was happening on this street during the early 1860s, but by 1868 the section we are going to focus on in this blog was sold, and a small cottage was built. The property went through a few owners with little fanfare. In July of 1878 the property sold to Mr John Hannan, who already lived in the new street. Hannan, hoping to extend his property portfolio, took a mortgage out with a Mr Michael Murphy. Hannan’s property empire wasn’t to be and, as mortgagee, Mr Michael Murphy, took over the property in 1879. It was from this time that life started to get interesting in the new street – yes you can cue the ominous music now (LINZ, 1860).
Michael Murphy, according to George Ranald Macdonald in his Macdonald Biography of Canterbury Project, along with his brother John ‘were two of the greatest rouges in the history of Christchurch’ (MacDonald, 1952-1964: M753a). It’s quite an accusation but Macdonald did go on to say, so vast and numerous were their appearances before the courts it was too much to record in the biography project. So, with this opinion of Mr Murphy and his brother in mind, the following events could be deemed unsurprising.
The year of 1879 for Murphy was relatively quiet year regarding court appearances. In July 1879 Murphy was fined 10 shillings and costs for allowing a cow to graze on Cambridge Terrace (Lyttelton Times, 15/7/1879: 3). Later in the same month Murphy was sued by a C. Hensley for the recovery of £15 for a dishonoured cheque. A Mr McConnell represented the plaintiff (Hensley), and Mr Izard represented the defendant (Mr Murphy). Murphy obtained £15 from his brother John in exchange for a cheque of the same amount. When John went to use cheque, it was returned endorsed with ‘payment stopped’. John then paid away the cheque to Mr Howe in liquidation of an account, and then Mr Howe paid away the cheque to the plaintiff, Mr Hensley in settlement of wages (still with me here?). Hensley made his way to the bank to deposit his wages, not noticing the endorsement, and duly had the cheque returned to him unpaid. Murphy disclaimed liability stating the cheque was given for a gambling debt. This resulted in some ‘very hard swearing’ and Murphy, in a peremptory manner, stated he could provide independent witnesses to state the contrary. It is at this point, dear reader, we find out that Murphy, true to form, had called in at his so-called witnesses’ office that morning to cross question him about the cheque and said if he leaned towards Murphy that it would be ‘worth his while’. Once the witness had stated the account to the court Murphy’s defence lawyer, Mr Izard, picked up his hat and quit the court room leaving Murphy to defend himself. Murphy then wondered if the Magistrate could adjourn the case stating, ‘I am left to myself’, with the Magistrate replying, ‘I don’t wonder indeed’. This left Murphy asking irrelevant questions of the incorruptible witness before asking for a verdict deeming, he had proved his case that the cheque had been produced under the influence of alcohol to pay a gambling debt. The Magistrate failed to see the case with Murphy having to pay all costs (Lyttelton Times, 18/7/1879: 6). This was a case among many of the Murphy Bros, sealing their reputation in Macdonald’s dictionary.
A day in the Magistrates Court… you can only imagine! Image: Addle-headed Justice on the Auckland Bench. Hangum J.P. (to smashed-up plaintiff): it serves yet tight far goin’ inter theae sort et ‘oases; so, let this be a warning to yer. The prisoner is discharged without a stain on ‘is character. ‘ (Observer, 27 May 1899). Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/5813200
So back from that brief interlude to characterise Murphy, to our property in the new street. Murphy, as the ‘mortgagee’, decided to sell. Three freehold sections were advertised for sale in the new street; all had been in the ownership of Hannan and all had three-roomed cottages (Lyttelton Times, 7/3/1879: 8). The properties did not sell, and it was the property’s next appearance in the newspapers that sealed its fate. In April of 1881 in the magisterial column of a Saturday paper it noted ‘Larrikin Prostitutes’, Josephine Ellen, Nellie Ross, Alice Hulbert, and Jane Wilmot, all but one being of a young age, were brought up under the ‘Vagrancy Act’ and charged with having no lawful visible means of support. It was deposed that they lived at a house, in the new street, owned by Mrs Michael Murphy (it has to be said that Murphy himself was in Lyttelton gaol awaiting a perjury trial). The arresting sergeants disposed that the girls’ occupation of the property caused great disturbance to the neighbourhood. The accused were described as prostitutes, with one neighbour, Mr J. McDonald, who lived near the house, disposing that orgies had taken place at the property. The Bench responded in a severe manner about the degradation of the neighbourhood by the defendants, who were then sentenced to prison for three months with hard labour (Globe, 9/4/1881: 2; Lyttelton Times, 11/4/1881: 3). Another newspaper article said the prisoners had flippantly informed the Bench that indeed they did have support, so much so that they had considered purchasing the house they rented from Mrs Murphy (Star, 9/4/1881: 3). Josephine Ellen, the elder of the women and deemed the keeper of the brothel, exclaimed ‘Vel, vot am I do mit my little dorgs!’ (New Zealand Herald, 21/4/1881: 3). It was not known what happened to the dogs and no further records could be found regarding Josephine Ellen, her name likely to be an alias. Mrs Murphy continued to let cottages in the new street and in October of 1881 one of the cottages burnt down (Star, 31/10/1881: 3).
In 1882 Murphy sold one of the properties to an Eva M Boyd (LINZ, 1860: 600). You could surmise it may have been the now empty section, as Boyd already lived in the street and had purchased a property with a shared boundary in 1881 and another later on in 1897. Boyd styled herself as ‘Mrs Boyd’, ‘Ada Boyd’, and ‘Mabel Ada Boyd’. Nothing was found with current research regarding a Mabel Ada Boyd prior to this time or an Eva Mabel Boyd.
‘Mrs Boyd’, as she was referred to, is noted in newspapers linked with the street from March 1881 where she was associated with a court case of a Frederick Walter Berry on a charge of vagrancy. It was deposed during the court case that Berry had been cooking for Mrs Boyd (Star, 20/5/1881: 3). Mrs Boyd started to make regular appearances in Magisterial proceedings where her home was described as a ‘house of ill-fame’ and a ‘brothel’ (Globe, 14/6/1882: 3; Star, 14/6/1882: 3). It seems Mrs Boyd picked up where Josephine Ellen left off. The following is a little unsettling, so reader beware.
Things came to a head in the street in 1883 when three people, Alice Hulbert, Ada Willett, and Alice Willet, were arrested on a charge of disposal of a body of a child. A woman, Boyd, also had a charge of concealment but had yet to be arrested. The body of the child was found ‘secreted’ in the garden adjoining the house occupied by Mrs Boyd. Some boys playing in the garden found the body concealed in brown paper. The body had been buried. It was not known at the time if the child was still born (Star, 3/5/1883: 3). As the court case progressed, Mrs Boyd was eventually found in Dunedin and arrested. Boyd was later noted in court attacking a Constable Neale, the principal witnesses in the case. The constable was said to have ‘parried’ off the attack very skilfully, suffering no injury from his ‘formidable assailant’ (Star, 15/5/1883: 2). As the details of the case transpired, it was a girl named Amy Dyson, a lodger with Boyd, who had died and had been pregnant. On hearing that the boys had found the body, the Willets, and Hulbert removed the body and reburied it elsewhere. None of the witnesses testified to have seen or buried the child (Evening Star, 5/5/1883: 2).
It was in these reports of the case that Mrs Boyd was referred to as Mabel Ada Boyd (Star, 15/5/1883: 3). Later, in the police gazette, it is recorded that the four women were charged of the offence of concealment of birth, but in consequence of a legal difficulty, the Crown Prosecutor presented an indictment (New Zealand Police Gazette, 8/8/1883: 140).
From 1884 Mrs Boyd appeared to have a consistent account of keeping a disorderly house and being described as a ‘nuisance’ in the new street. In a Magisterial hearing, Mabel Ada Boyd was accused of acting as the mistress of a house of ill fame. Her lawyer, Mr Joyce, even suggested she lease the property and close her business. One neighbour across the road from her property described the goings on as a ‘regular terror to the neighbours’ and it was a ‘very bad house’. Another neighbour also offered his property for sale to Mrs Boyd, in order to escape the bad character of the neighbourhood. Mrs Boyd stated that she did not live in the house. Mrs Boyd was noted as living on the corner of the street in a rental property belonging to a Mr John Goston, which incidentally had recently burnt down (Press, 9/4/1884: 2; Lyttelton Times, 24/4/1884: 3). In 1885 another fire in the street burnt down a four-roomed cottage owned by Mrs Mabel Ada Boyd. The dwelling was considered old and had not been inhabited for 12 months. It was also stated that Mrs Boyd had gone to Wellington, and the property was to be leased to Mrs John Hannan. In a strange twist, this was the wife of the same Hannan that owned the properties originally (Lyttelton Times, 7/2/1885: 5; Star, 7/2/1885: 3).
After this eventful phase in the street, things seem to have settled down. Mrs Boyd was gone, having moved to Wellington and styling herself as Ada Boyd. Again, Mrs Boyd is accused of bringing down the tone of a neighbourhood, this time in Boulcott Street Wellington. The newspapers titled Boyd as a ‘notorious woman of ill-fame’ in an article titled ‘A Den of Iniquity’ (New Zealand Times, 10/9/1885: 3). Boyd was charged with keeping a disorderly house, frequented by idle and disorderly persons, and having no lawful visible means of support. Apparently, the nuisance had been tolerated by residents of Boulcott Street for some time, and it was hoped that it would be abated. The house was located in a very respectable area of town and close to two schools. The house was owned by a leading citizen of Wellington, no other than Mr John Plimmer. Plimmer stated that the lease was held by another woman called Farris. A Detective Chrystal gave evidence that Boyd kept a brothel with three girls called Carrie Williams, Sarah Williams (with an alias of Brighting), and Clara Mitchell. A woman called Woodroofe, from Christchurch also resided at the property. It was stated that Boyd had been convicted of similar charges in Christchurch (New Zealand Times, 10/9/1885: 3). Boyd was later charged on remand and by 22 September had left the house in Boulcott Street (Evening Post, 22/9/1885: 3).
As for the new street? By 1891 it was renamed and the mysterious Eva Mabel Boyd, now listed as an Auckland spinster, seems to have purchased another section of land in the street in 1897. By 1899 the property was acquired by a building firm, who quickly subdivided, and developed the property into respectable residential sections – deemed no doubt by the Victorians as a more palatable enterprise for a new street.
-The Historian, Underground Overground Archaeology
Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser, 1877-1839. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers
LINZ, 1860. Canterbury Land District Deeds Index – A/S – Subdivisions of Christchurch town sections. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch office.
Lyttelton Times, 1851-1920. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers
Evening Star, 1865-1947. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers
Globe, 1874-1882. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers
MacDonald, G.R., 1952-1964. Macdonald Dictionary of Canterbury Biography project. [online] Canterbury Museum. Available at: <https://collection.canterburymuseum.com/objects?query=maker_name%3A%22George+Ranald+Macdonald%22>.
New Zealand Police Gazettes, 1877-1945 [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers
New Zealand Herald, 1863-1945. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers
Star, 1868-1920. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers