Thursday, 26 April 2018

Finding the gravestone last for a change. Adam Blackwood, 1833-4/5/1894.

On a hillside on the edge of Dunedin's urban area is a long-abandoned farmhouse site.  I found it a few days ago on my phone - a rectangle of what looked like a long overgrown hedge, the right colour for pinus radiata or macrocarpa.  (Those are the common New Zealand names for what are known in California as the Monterey pine and Monterey cyprus.)

A quick look at my copy of a large 2 inches = 1 mile map from the 1920s confirmed a building site at the end of the road and a fence or wall shown where the rectangle of trees is found.  It's a little strange - this particular map usually has names attached to the farms it shows.

A look online at the local Council's webmap showing property boundaries and rights of way gave me a name for the road - Blackwood Road.  So perhaps it's Blackwood's farm at the end of it.  Council records also gave me a likely address where I can ask for access permission.  I went for a look last Tuesday.

Having gained permission - and some advice on road condition, I opened the gate and drove down Blackwood Rd...

...over a creek with a little mud, then up the rutted clay track.

From here I climbed a gate and walked, up a grassy lane between two fences.  A ditch on one side looked like it had been dug a long time ago.

Round Hill, with the Dunedin suburb of Roslyn behind.

On entering the rectangle of trees I soon saw this.  A small platform dug out of the slope of the hill.  It was the only artifact I was able to find within the rectangle.  A large portion of it is covered with thick gorse so perhaps there's something there.

At the uphill, western end of the rectangle it looked like the trees had grown on the line of an old stone wall which had been gradually brought down by stock.

Dunedin City from beside the farm site.

Near the SW corner of the trees, what looks like a collapsed stone wall with ditch beside.  

Continuation of the possible wall and trench parallel to the southern line of the rectangle.

I moved back down the hillside on the line of the northern row of trees.

Below the lowest, eastern line of trees I found a continuation of Blackwood Rd.  I followed this through younger plantation pine, escorted by local fantails.  I'd not remembered that the Council webmap showed this continuation of the road.  I followed it through the pines and onto steep pasture, where it petered out.

Back home, I looked online for traces of the Blackwood family.  This was one of the first I found, from 1894.

   Again courtesy of the local Council's site, I found Adam's grave here.  Unlike most of Dunedin's main cemeteries, the Northern has no collection of photos attached to its grave listings.  So I went to find Adam's grave, hoping it had a stone and legible inscription.  And here it was, "Adam Blackwood, father of above."

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

32745 Private James Gilbert Taylor, 1/10/1875-26/4/1918.

James Taylor had an unusual death for a Great War soldier.  He died at home, on Cutten Street in South Dunedin, with his wife Annie beside him.  He was 42 years old.

"Private James Gilbert Taylor was buried with military honors this afternoon. He enlisted in the 16th Reinforcements, and in camp contracted an illness which ultimately brought about his death. The Rev. R. Fairmaid conducted the service at the residence in Cutten street. Major Fleming and Captain Myers represented the military. The deceased leaves a wife and two children. .He was at one time in business as a butcher in Dunedin, and was afterwards employed at the freezing works at Burnside."  -Evening Star, 30/4/1918.

Annie was laid to rest beside James in 1930.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Alexandra Mathieson, "Lady Surgeon" 1900-12/1/1929.

"Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult." - Charlotte Whitton.

Alexandra Mathieson must have been such a woman.  Born a twin in 1900, she was a hospital surgeon when she died.  A bottle of carbolic acid (aka phenol) broke and she died of the chemical burns.  Its usefulness as a killer of germs did for her.

Her death was a tragedy in many more ways than the merely personal.  It must have been an easily avoidable accident.  And Dr Alexandra, though unsung by any publication I've been able to find, must have been a beacon for the hopes of the women of New Zealand.

It's a real shame that Alexandra's entry on the DCC "Cemeteries Search" website has her occupation listed as "Spinster," presumably because she wasn't married.  She deserves much better than that.

(Per United Press Association.) GORE, January 12. A sad accident resulting in the death of Dr A. Mathieson, resident lady medical officer of the Gore Hospital, occurred at that institution at 11.15 o’clock this morning. Dr Mathieson was working with carbolic acid when by some means the bottle was smashed. The acid was splashed over her body and face and immediately began its deadly work. Dr  Mathieson also suffered severely from shock and in a short while became unconscious. Dr Lillie was immediately called in and resuscitation efforts were continued for three hours. These efforts were of no avail. Dr Mathieson slowly sank and death occurred, between 1.50 and 2 o’clock this afternoon. Dr Mathieson came to the Gore Hospital from Dunedin some four or five months ago, and proved herself a very popular and efficient officer.
Dr Alexandra Mathieson was a daughter of the late Inspector W. Mathieson, of the police force. She acted as house surgeon in the Dunedin Hospital for some time before she went to Gore.   - Otago Daily Times, 14/1/1929.

Southern Cemetery, Dunedin.

"The late Dr. Alexandra Carson Mathieson, who died at Gore Hospital on Sunday, as the result of an accident, was a twin daughter of the late William Mathieson, Superintendent of Police, who died at Dunedin some two years ago. Dr. Mathieson, who was 28 years of age, received her education at the Mornington Public School and the Otago Girls' High School. She subsequently attended the Medical School at the Otago University, and in 1927 graduated M.B., Ch.B. Early last year she was appointed medical officer at the Gore Hospital, prior to that having acted as house surgeon at the Dunedin Hospital. She was an efficient officer and was popular with the patients and staff. Dr. Mathieson is survived by her mother, who resides at Moriiington, Dunedin, her elder sister, who is married to Mr W. W. Millar, Invercargill, and her twin sister, Annie, who is unmarried, and lives with her mother.  The Press, 15/1/1929.

Albert Vernon Campbell of HMS Neptune

HMS Neptune was a 1930s vintage light cruiser crewed mostly by New Zealanders and South Africans.  It was of the same class as the HMS (later HMNZS) Achilles and was part of the the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet.


Neptune took part in the Navy's first engagement in the Mediterranean since Napoleonic times, the inconclusive Battle of Calabria in July of 1940.  Neptune took some damage and inflicted some, too.  The ship's next action was the First Battle of Sirte, in December, 1941, which was also a draw.  Neptune's next action, off the coast of Libya, was its last.  Leading a force of cruisers on the night of December 19-20 to intercept an Italian convoy bound for North Africa, Neptune struck two mines, one of which damaged the bow.  Reversing at full steam out of the minefield, Neptune hit a third mine which blew off the propellors, leaving the ship dead in the water.  

Two of the escorting destroyers were sent into the minefield to try and tow Neptune out.  One hit a mine and began to drift.  The other was signalled to retreat.  Neptune then hit a fourth mine and capsized, killing 737 crew members.  Thirty men survived the sinking, but weren't picked up by the rest of the force.  When their float was spotted by an Italian torpedo boat five days later, Neptune had only one survivor.  As might be expected, it is unknown exactly when Albert Vernon Campbell died.  He was one of the 150 New Zealanders who died with their ship.

Southern Cemetery, Dunedin.

Albert Campbell was a manufacturing chemist who joined the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy.  He died in a disaster which was the greatest loss of life in New Zealand naval history.

HMS Neptune, Imperial War Museum photo. © IWM (FL 2929)

At the time of writing, the wreck of the HMS Neptune has been found by the Royal Navy survey ship HMS Enterprise.  The exact position of the wreck has not been revealed but it lies in deep water, outside the 12 mile Libyan territorial limit.

My thanks to The Neptune Association for this and other information.

The Steamer Basin, Otago Harbour

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

53291 Private Robert William Weir, 21/4/1887-18/4/1918.

Gimmerburn Cemetery.

"Dick" Weir was born in Naseby and grew up on the farm named Eden Bank in the Gimmerburn area. He worked as a motor mechanic in the Naseby area, not far to the south of his birthplace.  He was called up early in 1917 and appealed to the Military Service Board for time to settle his affairs, which was granted.  One of the things for Robert to settle was to marry Emily Marie Howell, from Lee Stream, which he did the very next day at the West Taieri church.  It must have been a bittersweet time for Dick and Emily.

He embarked with the 27th Reinforcements in the middle of that year.

He was transferred from the Otago Infantry Regiment to the 2nd Entrenching Battalion at the end of March, 1918 and was with the Battalion at Meteren.  He was one of the 42 New Zealanders killed on that day.

Otago Daily Times, 16/5/1918.

WEIR —In loving memory of my dear husband, Private Robert William Weir (27th Reinforcements), who was killed in action "Somewhere in France" on April 18, 1918. 
In a hero's grave he sleepeth, 
Somewhere in France he fell; 
How little we thought when we parted 
It was the last farewell. 
— Inserted by his loving wife.  -Otago Witness, 20/4/1920

Meteren Military Cemetery, France.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

32907 L/Cpl James Skinner, 23/2/1896-16/4/1918.

James Skinner was born at Makikihi and enlisted from Papakaio where his family was then based.  He left New Zealand with the 19th Reinforcements in July, 1916.

He was initially drafted into the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, then transferred to the Otago Infantry Regiment in March, 1917.  He was promoted to Lance-corporal at the beginning of 1918 then assigned to the Entrenching Battalion the following March.

James went missing after the fighting and surrender at Meteren (see entry for William Taylor) and was posted as missing, possibly a prisoner for six months.  Finally in January of 1919, a Court of Enquiry ruled that he was officially dead.  His parents were Peter and Ellen Skinner.  Their wait must have been a long one.

SKINNER — In loving memory of Lance-Corporal James Skinner, Papakaio, 19th Reinforcements (Entrenching Battalion), killed in action in France on 11th April, 1918; aged 22 years. At peace. Inserted by his sorrowing parents, sisters and brothers.   -Oamaru Mail, 16/4/1919.

Papakaio Cemetery

Papakaio Cemetery

Friday, 13 April 2018

34947 Private William Peter Taylor, 19/10/1895-14/4/1918.

William Taylor was a farm labourer at Totara, south of Oamaru when he joined up in August of 1916.  He left for the war at the end of December and was one of the Otago Infantry Regiment reinforcements marched into Sling Camp on the third of March, 1917.  He left for action in France at the end of May.  He served with the Otagos in the deadly days of Paesschendaele and was with them as they awaited the Germans in early 1918.

William was attached to the 2nd Entrenching Battalion at this time and he struggled with his unit against what the Official History describes as "the extraordinary traffic which the tide of a rear-guard battle promotes and swells — the hurried forward march of supporting troops, the columns of motor-lorries and ambulances, the passage of artillery and transport, and, unforgettable above all else, the stream of civilian refugees fleeing from the threatened destruction."  They had orders to dig in behind the village of Meteren but the situation worsened and before they could get much digging done they were ordered to become part of the defence.  The line was stretched and communication between units difficult.  So, when the Germans were reported as having taken the nearby village of Bailleul, British troops to the left were withdrawn.  But the Otago boys weren't told.

On the morning of the 16th word came to them that the Germans were expected to attack, in which case a fighting withdrawal was to be made.  The attack arrived at daybreak.  The Germans, finding no resistance on the Otagos' left, soon had them under fire from three sides.  With ammunition running out, surrender was the only option.  More than 200 New Zealand troops were taken prisoner.  It is most likely that Peter Taylor was one of them.

His war record available through Archives NZ states that he was killed on the 20th, newspaper reports and other records say the 14th.  However, newspaper reports themselves are dated from early May of 1918.

It was a confused period of war, in which the making and keeping of records was much less important than the holding back of the enemy.  So it is possible that William was one of the many New Zealanders taken prisoner near Meteren and kept in the place which became known as "The Black Hole of Lille."

The "Black Hole" was an old French fort, Fort MacDonald, which was used as a prison by the German army.  Prisoners were shoved in the underground area for a very good reason - it was the easiest place to guard with the limited resources at hand.  And food would have been a limited resource also.  It might have been a temporary measure only but the "fog of war" made it a five week ordeal which was seized on by the papers as yet another German atrocity to be added to the horrors of gas warfare, sinking of passenger ships by submarines, shooting of Belgian civilians, etc, etc.

Fort MacDonald was described at the time as a calculated attempt to break the will of their prisoners, a prelude to their being used as forced labour.  This could also be true - there is an account of another prisoner who was encouraged to write about his treatment because it was a reprisal for German prisoners being treated in a similar way - and being made to work within the range of German artillery in contravention of the Geneva Convention.  It has been reported as holding Australian prisoners in similar appalling conditions after their capture in the Battle of Bullecourt in April, 1917.


Australian and N.Z. Cable Association (Received Dec. 10, l.30 p.m.) 
LONDON, Dec. 9. Some war prisoners give horrifying details of the Black Hole of Lille, a huge underground cavern. There were 270 confined for five weeks in an unspeakable state of neglect, famine, and disease. They had no clothing or covering except that in which they left the battlefield. They were only allowed in the upper air for ten minutes daily. Twenty were taken to the hospital suffering from dysentery. Vermin had to be scraped off their clothing with knives. The place was not cleaned during the five weeks. The food was so foul and uneatable that the men practically went mad.  They used to be on the ground killing vermin and singing hymns. The men used to fight to reach a 1atticed window ten feet above the floor to get air. They were compelled to bathe their wounds with coffee.  -Marlborough Express, 10/12/1918.

Oamaru Old Cemetery

TAYLOR. — In loving memory of Private William Peter Taylor, Kia Ora, 20th Reinforcements, killed in action "Somewhere in France." on 14th April, 1918. 
"Sleep on, dear Willie, in your foreign grave,
Your life for your country you nobly gave;
Gone and forgotten by some you may be.
But dear to our memory for ever you'll be."  -Oamaru Mail, 14/4/1919.

William Taylor is also commemorated by one of the many oak trees planted in the Oamaru area.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

The Kaitangata mine explosion of 1879

The "Evening Post,  February 22nd, 1879:

At Kaitangata, at about 9 o'clock, a dull, long report was heard by those working at the place where the coal is loaded outside. The first thing they saw was a cloud of dust which came out of the mines at the mouth of the bay. Edward Dunn, who is supposed to have been outside the entrance of the mine, was blown a distance of about 150 ft. He lived for about five minutes, but was never sensible. The horse was blown nearly the same distance, and though still alive, is, of course, seriously injured. Mr. William Barn was the first to run to the township for hands, but the people, having heard the report, met him on the road. Nearly everyone in the township was at the mine's mouth in a few minutes. Men, women, and children were all gathered at the mine's mouth, and the scene was something awful. The air was filled with lamentations of women. 

Rescue attempts were immediately made.  Men from nearby mines gathered to try and rescue their fellows but found their way hampered by falls of rock and the need to restore ventilation.  "After damp" - the gasses produced by the blast - and fire damp made the mine more dangerous than before the explosion.

By noon the first body had been found - fourteen year old Charles MacDonald, who was so badly burned that identification was made by his clothing.  By that evening 24 bodies had been recovered and 24 Green Island miners arrived by special train to help the tiring Kaitangata men.  Thirty bodies had been recovered by the end of the day and four men were still missing.

Thirty four men were killed by the explosion of the Kaitangata Railway and Coal Company's mine.  The 34 miners left behind them twenty widows and one hundred orphans.  One of the widows was the wife of James Molloy.  As well as her husband, she lost her  sons, John and Edward, who were eighteen and sixteen years old.  She had no one and nothing left.  The Beardsmore family lost five men - between them they left behind four wives and sixteen children.  In all, the grand total of the dependents left by the disaster was 17 wives, 82 children and one elderly man.  A round figure of one hundred bereft people.

Kaitangata Old Cemetery

From a commemorative poster.   Hocken Library photo.                                   

Kaitangata Old Cemetery.  The Cemetery was very run down by 1963 and all legible gravestones were collected and mounted on concrete in one corner.  The rest of the Cemetery is now grass.

With no witnesses to the actual event, the inquest into the disaster had to rely on the evidence of the explosion's effects and the positions and condition of the victims' bodies.  It was concluded that most had survived the explosion but succumbed to what was called the "after damp" - the carbon monoxide and dioxide produced by the blast.  

As to the cause of the explosion, it was found that it began in an abandoned area of the mine and that the body of the mine manager's brother and deputy manager was found in that area carrying a naked flame for light.

As the Bruce Herald put it: 
"Two hypotheses have been started to account for the act by which poor Archibald Hodge brought death upon himself and others. One is that there were a number of disused rails lying in the old workings, and that, needing them for use elsewhere, he went to see how best they could be removed. Another describes him as an eccentric man, not altogether in his right mind, and tells how he looked upon the old workings as concealing some mystery which he was determined to unravel."

The jury for the inquest into the disaster returned the following verdict: "First, that Archibald Hodge, by entering the old workings with a naked light, caused the explosion and the death of 34 men and boys. Second, that William Hodge did not take the necessary precautions in the management of the mine." 

They added a rider to the effect "that, seeing there is no law for inspection and supervision in the conduct of mining, we express the necessity of measures being adopted whereby mining accidents in future may be averted."

The lessons of Kaitangata were learned hard but slowly.  Mine managers required certification in 1886.  The miners' unions were a main driver of state inspection regimes and safety precautions.  Sadly, as New Zealanders well know, the lessons had to be learned all over again.

Hocken Library photos, from the Kaitangata Borough Council Jubilee publication of 1927. 
The date seems to be a misprint.

From a commemorative poster.   Hocken Library photo.
Mrs Spiers.  Hocken Library photo.

47716 Rifleman Alfred Hugh Dungey, 28/12/1895-12/4/1918.

Alfred Dungey grew up in Dunedin the son of a coach driver and was enrolled in the Otago Infantry Regiment on enlistment.  He was transferred to the 3rd Battalion of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade in February, 1918.  Unfortunately, the Official History of the Brigade has nothing to say about the events of April 12, the day of Alfred's death.  

It seems the Brigade were preparing to meet the German onslaught in this period as part of the policy of "active defence," - holding off the Germans and waiting for the expected reinforcements which would allow them to take advantage of the then exhausted state of their enemy.  Alfred was "killed in action" during this period and a paragraph in the Otago Witness of June 19, 1918 refers to this - it gets his middle initial wrong but his father's name fits: "Mr J. Dungey has received word from Chaplain Harvey, France, that his late son, Private A. D. Dungey, was returning from a working party, and had almost reached camp, when a shell burst, killing him on the spot. He was buried the same afternoon by the chaplain, one of his officers, and a firing party."

Alfred was 22 years old.

Private A. H. Dungey, who was killed in action on April 12, was the fourth son of Mr Dungey, 20 Anderson Bay road. He was educated at the Lawrence District High School, and on coming to Dunedin he worked for some time with Mr J. Hancock, grocer, South Dunedin. At the age of 18 he was sent to the Otago Heads to do garrison duty. On coming of age he enlisted, but was not allowed to leave. He was later called in the ballot, and left with the 25th Reinforcements. Of his other brothers, Jack left with the 10th Reinforcements, and was wounded at Armentieres, and returned some time ago. The other two — Gordon and Bert — enlisted, but were both rejected. The deceased had been about eight months in the trenches when he was killed.  - Otago Witness, 8/5/1918.


Before proceeding with the business the Mayor moved that the Council place on record its sympathy with Mr and' Mrs James Dungey and family in connection with the death of their son and brother Private Alfred Dungey. The motion was carried in silence.   - Borough Council Report, Tuapeka Times, 15/5/1918.

Andersons Bay Cemetery, Dunedin.  DCC photo.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

45195 Rifleman Peter Drummond, 19/2/1895-9/4/1918.

Rifleman Peter Drummond who died on April 9 from wounds received while in action in France.  He was the fifth son of Mrs Elizabeth Drummond of No. 3 France street, Dunedin. He was born at Glasgow, and came out to New Zealand with his mother and the other members of the family about 12 years ago. The deceased soldier was a stone mason by trade, and for several years was in the employ of Messrs J. and W Faulkner. He then went to Sydney, and after working at his trade there for about two years returned to Dunedin, and entered the employ of Messrs Browns. Ltd., as storeman.  He enlisted in January, 1917, with the 24th Reinforcements, and on reaching France was transferred to the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. Cable advice received by his mother stated that he was admitted to the Third Canadian General Hospital at Boulogne on April 8 suffering from severe gunshot wounds in the head, arms, and legs, and the sad news was received last night of his death on the date stated. The deceased was about 30 years of age. and at one time played soccer for the Maori Hill Club.  -Evening Star, 15/4/1918.

There are a couple of inaccuracies in the above report.  The home address of France St seems to be a misprint of mistake on the part of the official source of the news of Peter's demise - I'm sure it was Frame St in North East Valley.

Also, the date of his admission to hospital as recorded on his army record is April 6th.  This would put him with his Brigade near Colincamps when the German Army attacked and were stopped by the Rifles on April 5 - see the previous story "A hot day."

Andersons Bay Cemetery, Dunedin.  Allan Steel photo.

Friday, 6 April 2018

27498 Private David Albert Grant, 9/3/1888-7/4/1918.

David Grant grew up on Cray Farm near Outram and volunteered for the army at the end of 1916.  He was detached in France to the NZ Light Railways Operating Section for a time then returned to the Otago Infantry Regiment. He died near Colincamps, after surviving the Battle of St Quentin which marked the end of German hopes for success in their great spring offensive.

From the Official History: "The 2nd Battalion of the Regiment took over its former front line sector, from "Y" Ravine to Hamel, on the night of the 7th. Enemy activity on the 8th was confined to trench mortar fire, but on the following day, between 10 a.m. and 12 noon, the front and support lines were heavily bombarded with high explosive and 77 mm. shells, and during the afternoon low-flying aeroplanes patrolled the system apparently with the object of determining the damage done."

From Archives NZ

As you can see from the above image, he died of multiple injuries caused by gunshot wounds: Fracture of the left leg, the right thigh, and the right arm.

GRANT. — On April 7. 1918, died from wounds "Somewhere in France" David Albert Grant (volunteered 17th Reinforcements), third dearly beloved son of David E. and Margaret Grant, of Cray Farm, West Taieri; in his 30th year. 
He was quiet and unassuming, 
His life was straight and clean; 
In duty to his parents 
No better could have been. 
He died for his country. -Otago Daily Times, 27/4/1918.

GRANT. — In loving memory of Private David Albert Grant (17th Reinforcements), who died from wounds received in action, April 7, 1918, ."Somewhere in France"; aged 29 years and 4 weeks. 

Silence is no certain token 
That no hidden grief is there, 
Sorrow that is never spoken 
Is the hardest grief to bear. 
— Inserted by his loving parents, sisters, and brothers.   -Otago Daily Times,7/4/1919.

West Taieri Cemetery. Allan Steel Photo.