While looking for a certain grave in Dunedin's Northern Cemetery recently, I came upon a barely legible inscription on another grave. At first I thought the family name was Mitchener, and what intrigued me about it was that three of the death dates were the same - and one was not long afterwards. Later, at home, I looked for the name on the Council website but could find none in the Northern Cemetery. I changed the first letter of the surname and found a story.
FATAL FIRE IN CUMBERLAND STREET.
A fire, unfortunately attended with fatal results, occurred shortly after midnight. By the time the fire-bells rang out an alarm a glare in the sky in the direction of the Water of Leith indicated sufficiently the locale of the fire. A large two-storey house in Cumberland street, immediately below Dundas street, proved to be the scene. The house was occupied by Captain Kitchener and his family. About 12.25 a.m., while on duty in St. David street, Constable Dwyer noticed smoke issuing from a house near Dundas street, and on arrival at the burning building found Mr Robertson, a draper, who carries on business in George street, with his daughter standing on the footpath. They were the only persons about at the time, and they were endeavoring to arouse the inmates of the house. The constable at once burst open the gate, while a young man named Colvin who had arrived went round to the back door, but no entrance could be effected there on account of the smoke and flames. Meanwhile the constable had burst open the front door and found the passage one dense mass of smoke, and that flames were coming through from the ceiling. At that moment Mrs Kitchener with a child in her arms appeared at the foot of the stairs. He took one in each arm and laid them on the grass in front of the house. The flames had spread so rapidly that when Constable Dwyer sought to re-enter the house he was compelled to beat a hasty retreat. Mr W. H. Ash, a boarder, then burst open a window in the upper storey, and jumped into the constable's arms. Two boys named Harry and Charley were thrown out of the window by Captain Kitchener, who then jumped from the verandah himself, and received severe injuries by falling on the asphalt. Bridget Mullins, the servant girl, slept on the ground floor, and escaped by the window. Captain Kitchener was removed to Hutchinson's hotel in George street, where he was attended by Dr Coughtrey, who ordered his removal to the Hospital. Mrs Kitchener and the three children were removed to All Saints' parsonage, where they were attended by Drs Copland and Gillies. Mr Ash was taken to the house of Mr J. W. Jago in Leith street.
By this time the Brigade had arrived, and had thier hydrants in play on the burning building. It was soon reported that some children still remained in the house, and as soon as the flames were sufficiently got under to permit of a search being made this was done. By the aid of their lanterns the firemen came across what appeared to be the remains of a bed in one of the rear upper rooms, and after a little further search two bodies were found. Both were much charred, to such an extent as to render the bodies impossible of identification. It is surmised that these are the bodies of Susan, the eldest girl, aged eleven; and her sister Edith, aged six. These bodies were found in Mrs Kitchener's room, where the two girls, along with the baby who was saved, slept. The search was continued, for Sydney, aged eight, was known to be missing, and his body was eventually found on the ground floor beneath some sheets of galvanised iron which had fallen from the roof.
The bodies were removed to the Morgue, where an inquest will be held at eleven o'clock on Monday. On inquiry at the Hospital this afternoon we learned from Dr Roberts, the resident surgeon, that Captain Kitchener is out of danger, and is in no way delirious. He is badly burnt about the body and legs. Mrs Kitchener and the surviving children are progressing favorably.
ADDITIONAL PARTICULARS. Mrs Kitchener was the first inmate of the house to detect the presence of fire. She, with two of her daughters and the baby, occupied one of the bedrooms, and Captain Kitchener, with two of the boys, slept in an adjoining room. Mrs Kitchener was wakened by a feeling of choking and by hearing her children coughing. She at once got out of bed and rushed into the passage, to find that the flames were making their way upstairs. She called out that the house was on fire, and enjoined the husband to save the children. To return to her bedroom was the work of a moment. She snatched the baby from its cot and took it in her arms; then, linking the arm of her eldest girl within her own, and taking the other girl by the hand, she essayed to fight her way through the flames. Her progress in the blinding smoke was naturally slow, and the flames were now creeping along the staircase. She had scarcely gained the stairhead when she felt the hold of her elder girl loosen, and she saw the poor girl drop to the floor suffocated. What the feelings of the distracted mother at this terrible moment must have been can only be imagined-they are beyond description. At a glance she saw that retreat was impossible; that the only hope of safety for herself and the other children lay in pushing forward. In truth it was a race for life. She managed to gain the foot of the stairs, dragging the other child after her. By this time the front door had been burst in, and a policeman entering the passage met Mrs Kitchener at the foot of the staircase. The constable noticed that the child she held by the hand was dead from suffocation, and, disengaging the mother from the dead child, hurried her and her infant into the street and consigned her to the attention of the few who had gathered in the street. The body subsequently found at the foot of the stair was that of the second girl, and not of the boy, as has been stated. Mrs Kitchener, who was very badly burned, was taken to the All Saints' parsonage, where she now is. She was there attended as quickly as possible by Drs Gillies and Copland, and later by Dr Coughtrey. She retains full possession of all her faculties, and, beyond severe burns, has sustained a terrible shock to the nervous system. The infant has been taken care of by Mrs G. W. Eliott, a friend of the family.
Captain Kitchener, on being alarmed, took his two eldest boys to the front of the house, and, opening one of the windows facing Cumberland street, threw them into the arms of the people. He then endeavored to gain access to the room of his boy Sydney, who slept by himself, but the flames and smoke were impenetrable. Finding that any attempt at the child's rescue was hopeless, he returned to the window, got out on to the verandah, and jumped on to the footpath. Captain Kitchener has been severely burned, and is terribly bruised, whilst it is feared that he sustained severe internal injuries from his fall to the ground. He was conveyed first to the Prince Alfred Hotel, and then to the Hospital, but was delirious for some time.
Mr W. H. Ash, late editor and proprietor of the 'Mount Ida Chronicle,' but who is at present attending the University classes, has been staying with the Kitcheners since he came to town, a couple of months ago. He was awoke by the smell of smoke, and on getting out of bed lighted a candle and saw what time it was. He then went into the passage, but a rush of flame compelled him to take to the front of the house. He made his escape by the front windows and the verandah. His hurts are confined to bruises and severe cuts on the hands.
The servant girl, who got out of a window on the ground floor, and the two boys were not injured in any way.
The flames spread with such rapidity that none of those who escaped except Mr Ash, who managed to get his overcoat on, and the servant, who secured her box, brought a vestige of clothing out of the house. Every article of furniture was burnt. The house, which contained thirteen rooms, was the property of Mr M. W. Green, M.H.R., and was insured in the National Office for L700. There was no insurance on Captain Kitchener's furniture or effects.
Mrs Kitchener thinks that the fire orignated from a negligent use of colonial coal. On the other hand, the servant girl asserts that a fire was kept burning in the kitchen, and that last night some clothes were dried in front of it, and she surmises that these clothes ignited, the flames spreading quickly to the kitchen walls. The opinion of those earliest on the spot is that the fire originated in the kitchen or back part of the house.
From Dr Coughtrey, who has been in attendance on the other surviving members of the family, we learn that Mrs Kitchener is in grave danger, but she has shown decided signs of improvement during the day. The children are progressing as favorably as can be expected, the boys particularly are severely burned.
Captain Kitchener served for many years in the 41st Regiment, and during the greater part of that time was with his regiment in Jamaica, where he became acquainted with and married his wife (nee Land). In 1874 he was induced by his uncle, Colonel Kitchener, to sell out and come to New Zealand and settle. The family came to Dunedin shortly afterwards, and for some time Captain Kitchener managed his uncle's estate at Waihemo, near Palmerston. About two years ago he relinquished the management of the estate, and brought his family to town. At first they resided at Opoho, but about six months ago took the house in which the fire occurred. The only person who has resided with them is Mr Ash. Captain Kitchener has been exceedingly unfortunate since he came to the Colony, and this calamity not only deprives him of three of his children, but leaves him absolutely penniless. The deepest sympathy is felt for himself and wife in the terrible misfortune which has overtaken them. -Evening Star, 1/7/1882.
|Dunedin's Fire Brigade, 1880-1910. Hocken Library photo.|
A large sum was collected on Saturday for the assistance of the sufferers by the late fire. Captain Kitchener and infant are dangerously ill. At the inquest a verdict of accidental death was returned. The jury expressed an opinion that Constable Dwyer is deserving of praise for his exertions in saving life. -Oamaru Mail, 3/7/1882.
DUNEDIN, July 2.
Captain and Mrs Kitchener, who were severely burned at the fire on Saturday, are improving, and considered out of danger. -Globe, 3/7/1882.
We are informed that the furniture of Captain Kitchener was insured in the South British office for Ll50.
On inquiry this afternoon we learned that Captain Kitchener was slightly improved. Mrs Kitchener continues in a very low state, and the infant is sinking rapidly. -Evening Star, 4/7/1882.
We are glad to be able to report that the health of all the members of the Kitchener family who were injured by the late fire is improving. -Evening Star, 6/7/1882.
The infant child of Mr and Mrs Kitchener died at half-past four o'clock this morning. This makes the fourth victim of the fire. The child, besides being terribly burnt, was cutting its teeth and had bronchitis. The wonder is that its vital powers lasted so long. The two boys have quite recovered, and Mr and Mrs Kitchener are progressing very favorably. -Evening Star, 11/7/1882.
The vagaries of Mr Watt is a subject upon which I have formerly descanted. At the inquest upon the bodies of the unfortunate Kitchener children he out-Watted Watt. He told the jury they had nothing to do with how the fire originated; all they had to consider was how the children came by their death —accidentally, by murder, or by manslaughter. If the fire was an accident, death was accidental; if the house was purposely set fire to, death was by murder; if it was negligently set fire to, death was by manslaughter. How on earth the jury were, for instance, to bring in a verdict of manslaughter without knowing how the fire originated Mr Watt did not explain. Happily the occurrence was so patently accidental that the jury had no trouble to find a verdict. All the same Mr Watt in his charge once more has showed how perfectly unfitted he has become for the exercise of judicial duties. -Cromwell Argus, 11/7/1882.
Captain Kitchener, who was injured by the recent fire is not now progressing so favorably as could be liked. -Southland Times, 19/7/1882.
DEATH OF CAPTAIN KITCHENER.
Another has been added to the number of victims of the Cumberland street fire. Captain Kitchener is the fifth who has succumbed. He died at 9.40 this morning at the Hospital, at the age of forty-six. For several days all hopes of his recovery had been abandoned, but it was hardly expected that the end was so near. He had been suffering considerably of late, though at the time of his death he did not appear to be in great pain. His death was a happy release. There is not much to be said at this juncture. The particulars of the dreadful tragedy are well known, but we may mention a few facts concerning Captain Kitchener's career. He was born in England, and it was first intended that he should follow agricultural pursuits. With this object be passed through a course of study in an agricultural college in England. He did not, however, carry out his idea, but entered the army. Shortly after joining he was ordered to Jamaica, where he remained for a number of years, and subsequently married there, his wife being a daughter of a planter on the island. Captain Kitchener also served at Gibraltar, in Scotland and Ireland, at Aldershot, and other places. He was never in active service. He remained about twenty-five years in the army, advancing to the rank of captain, and retired on compensation some seven years ago. He was extremely popular in the army, and was twice a recipient of valuable presentations. He was accounted a first-class drill instructor, and was for many years the adjutant of his regiment, the 6th Foot. On leaving the army he obtained from his uncle, Colonel Kitchener, the appointment of manager of the Waihemo station. As a sheep-farmer he was not, however, successful. Indeed, his whole life in New Zealand seems to have been a failure. He was essentially a soldier, and he could not adapt himself to colonial life and methods. His friends agree in the opinion that he should never have left the army. He was always a popular man, liked by everyone, and for some time he occupied a seat at the board of the Waikouaiti County Council. He has a large circle of friends to sorrow at his death.
After the way in which Captain Kitchener and the baby have succumbed, it is not easy to acquire confidence in Mrs Kitchener's recovery, but we are informed that, humanly speaking, her recovery is really assured. She had been prepared for the possibility of her husband's death, and we are glad to hear that she bears her bereavement with considerable fortitude. It is satisfactory to know that through the liberality of New Zealand friends and the prospective, though certain, aid of others in England, Mrs Kitchener and the two surviving boys will be in fairly easy circumstances. -Evening Star, 21/7/1882.
FUNERAL NOTICE. THE Funeral of the late Captain KITCHENER will leave All Saints' Church for the Northern Cemetery THIS DAY (Saturday), the 22nd inst., at 4 o'clock.
CRAIG & GILLIES, Undertakers, 18 George street and 11 Great King street. -Otago Daily Times, 22/7/1882.
|The Kitchener family's stone, enhanced as well as I am able. The inscription reads: "Henry Kitchener, Capt. 6th Regt, aged 45 years. And his children, Susan Mary aged 11 years, Frank Sydney, aged 8 years, Mabel Edith...|
|...aged 6 years, Harold Gordon, aged 6 months. Who perished by fire July 1882.|
Also of William Henry Kitchener, son of the above, who died 8th Aug, 1895, aged 25 years.
Mrs Kitchener, who has lately lost her husband and four children by the disastrous fire at Dunedin, is the daughter of Thomas Land, Barrister, of Montego Bay, Jamaica, brother-in-law to the late James Coates, one of our earliest settlers, whose widow, with her family, now reside at Parnell. -Observer, 5/8/1882.
THE CITY COUNCIL
PRESENTATION FOR SAVING LIFE.
Inspector Weldon wrote that the Commissioner of Constabulary had approved of Constable John Dwyer receiving the medal which the Council desired to present to him for his services at the fatal fire at the late Captain Kitchener's residence in Cumberland street. Constable Dwyer, who was present, was then called upon by the Mayor to receive as a gift from the Council a medal, and in making the presentation His Worship said: Constable Dwyer, on behalf of the City Council, representing the citizens of Dunedin, I have very much pleasure in presenting you with this medal for the valor you displayed on the occasion of the disastrous fire that occurred in Cumberland street in July last. Though a very handsome testimonial, its money value is not very great; but I trust you will receive it in the spirit in which it is given, not as a pecuniary reward for the very great service you rendered in saving lives, but as a mark of esteem and respect for the brave deeds you performed in risking your own life to save others. I believe I speak the feeling of every member of the community when I express the wish that you may long live to wear it, and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing you have earned the respect and admiration of your fellow citizens.— (Applause.) The medal was of silver, and in the form of a Maltese cross, the ends of which were united in a circle. It was inscribed as follows:— "For valor. The Mayor and Councillors, Dunedin, N.Z., John Dwyer, 1882." On the reverse: "For saving life from fire in July, 1882." -Evening Star, 9/11/1882.
Kitchener — On the 8th August, at Dunback, W. H. Kitchener, son of the late Capt. Kitchener, 6th Royal Regiment. -Otago Witness, 15/8/1895.
SIR H. H. KITCHENER.
PARTICULARS OF HIS EARLY CAREER.
INTERVIEW WITH HIS SISTER. (excerpt)
AN INTERESTING FAMILY HISTORY.
After dinner, we all went to the House, Mrs Parker being interested in politics; but at the supper adjournment we met again and chatted on till nearly midnight. I mentioned that, as a boy, I remembered the late Captain Kitchener, of the Grange, and had seen the charred remains of his four children taken from the ruins of his burnt house in Dunedin. This turned the conversation on the history of the Kitchener family — in many respects a remarkable and most interesting one. The Captain Kitchener I referred to was a cousin of the Sirdar. Mrs Parker told me the rest of the history of his family — a very sad one indeed. At the fire be bravely saved his two sons, but afterwards himself died as the result of the injuries he received. The mother and the two sons caught fever and died. The other son came to New Zealand, and secured an appointment in the Bank, through the kindly offices of Mr James Coates. One day he was found dead in the Bank, having shot himself, for no earthly reason, as far as could be found out, with a toy pistol. Now, only the widow is left, and her cup of bitterness surely must have been filled to the brim. Mrs Parker and her family have French blood in their veins from their mother's people, who came over to England with the Huguenots. The family name was Chevalier. Agriculturists have all heard of tthe famous Chevalier barley. Well, it was one of the Chevaliers, the Sirdar's great uncle, who first cultivated it. He picked up two or three ears and cultivated the seed in a garden in Suffolk. Mrs Parker was the only daughter in the family, but besides the Sirdar she has three other brothers. The eldest is also in the army. At present he has a staff appointment in Jamaica, being second in command. Another brother was, until quite recently, in New Zealand, looking after a station, but he is really a mining engineer, and hated sheep; so he left for Celebes, where he is now pursuing his profession. The third brother has some staff appointment under the General, and will now be at Omdurman. Lieutenant Parker, of whom we have been hearing some little time ago in all the newspapers, and who is about to be decorated for his work on the Indian frontier, is Mrs Parker's son. He is attached to the second battalion of the Royal Sussex, and as he appears to be taking after his uncle and is only 22, we may watch his future career with some degree of interest. -Press, 12/9/1898.
The death in 1916 of Captain Kitchener's more successful uncle prompted a number of stories in the New Zealand press which included details of the local connection with the family. From one of them we learn the fate of the Captain's surviving family.
Local and General
It may not be generally known that a tragedy in which members of the Kitchener family were concerned took place in Dunedin many years ago, says the Otago Daily Times. At midnight, on July 1, 1882, a fire broke out in a twostorey fifteen-roomed building situated in Cumberland street, near Dundas street, and three children of Captain Henry Kitchener, 6th Regiment, were burned to death. The children's names were Susan (aged eleven), Sydney (aged eight), and Edith (aged six). Captain Kitchener was also severely burned, and was removed to the hospital; and Mrs. Kitchener, who was badly burned altout the face, with her remaining two boys and a baby, were taken to Dean Fitchett's. A day or two later the baby died, and on July 21 Captain Kitchener succumbed to his injuries. Mrs. Kitchener remained for several weeks at the residence of Dean Fitchett, where she was attended to with the greatest devotion by the late Dr. Coughtrey. She was, however, disfigured for life. Mrs. Kitchener subsequently returned to Jamaica, where her husband had previously been stationed. Whether she is still alive is not known, but information was received in Dunedin some years ago that both of her remaining sons had died. A report of the inquest, published in the Daily Times, states that Captain Kitchener, in 1874, owing to changes made at that time in the army regulations, sold his commission, and was offered the management of the property of his uncle (Colonel Henry Horatio Kitchener), Waihemo. He accepted the offer, and came to the colony accordingly. About two years previously he had relinquished the management and brought his family to Dunedin. Colonel Kitchener himself lived in Dunedin for some time, but at the time of the fire his third son — Arthur Buck — who gave evidence at the inquest, was looking after the station at Shag Valley. Henry Horatio Kitchener, colonel 9th Foot (who was twice married), had four sons — Henry Elliott Chevallier, Horatio Herbert (Kitchener of Khartoum), Arthur Buck and Frederick Walter. At the inquest subsequent to the fire Constable Dwyer (now Superintendent Dwyer, of Christchurch) was complimented by the coroner on the good work he had done in helping the inmates out of the burning building. -Taranaki Daily News, 19/6/1916.