Shot in the back.
On February 26, 1904, tree felling contractor Leonard Reeves Collinson did what he had done hundreds of times before. He sat down in a bush clearing to smoke his pipe.
Only this time he did not get up. Instead, his body was found, shot from behind from a distance of about 12 metres. The bullet had destroyed Collinson’s heart and exited out of his chest. His box of matches and unsmoked pipe were lying nearby.
Collinson was not born into the life of being a bushman. In fact, his parents appeared to have had much greater plans for him. Collinson was born in Islington, London in 1863, to John and Julia Collinson. As a teenager, Leonard was given the job of working as an assistant to his father who was receiving officer for the Great Northern Railway. It appears he was intended to follow in his father’s footsteps and take over the well-paying position in due course. However, in 1884, at the aged of 21, Collinson got himself into trouble with the law after he fraudulently obtained two bales of silk and a quantity of tea from the Midlands Railway Company. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in Wandsworth prison. According to newspaper reports, the theft had caused his wealthy family some grief and embarrassment and he was banished to New Zealand, leaving his younger brother Ernest to become their father’s successor. Far from the gentlemanly life his parents had planned for him, by 1890 Collinson was working as a labourer on remote Te Awaiti Station on the coast near Tora in the Wairarapa. Away from the crowded London streets, however, it appeared that he had left his troubles behind him – until he met James Ellis (aka John McKenzie).
Ellis was born in Wellington in 1861 and, like Collinson, at the age of 21 also found himself in trouble with the law, but on a much more serious and shocking charge. In 1882, under the name of James William Ellis, he was convicted of the rape of an 11-year-old girl in north Greytown and sentenced to 12 years in prison and 60 lashes. The sentencing judge described the rape as “one of the most brutal outrages” he had ever seen in his career . Ellis was released in 1891.
A year before the murder Collinson had hired Ellis as a contractor. Ellis was then calling himself John McKenzie. A few months later, when the new employee was accused of poaching stags, Collinson sacked him.
Ellis became an immediate suspect in Collinson’s killing. He had threated to do for Collinson after his sacking and had also been spotted around the bush camp in which Collinson and his crew of men were working at the time of the murder. Collinson and the other men had suspected that McKenzie was actually the brutal rapist Ellis, especially as he never shown his back to them lest they see the scars of the 60 lashes.
Police were called in from around the country to hunt for Ellis and a 100 pound reward was offered for information leading to his capture. Ellis had striking features, being described as 5ft, 3-and-a-half inches tall with sandy reddish hair, grey eyes, long thin pointed nose, small mouth, sandy moustache and slightly bow-legged, however, he managed to elude capture.
Numerous sightings of Ellis were reported, and several look-a-likes arrested, including one in Sydney, Australia, who remained in custody until a police officer, who knew Ellis, could sail from New Zealand to confirm the man’s identity.
Finally, nine months after the murder, on December 10, 1904, Ellis was captured in Kereru near the Ruahine Ranges in Hawkes Bay. Police found him asleep in a hut in which he had been hiding out (the hut, which was built in 1884, still exists and is now known as Ellis Hut, a tramping hut in the Gwavas Forest near Takapau). When arrested, Ellis had a .303 repeating rifle and a six-chambered revolver, both fully loaded.
After a trial lasting five days Ellis was, on February 11, 1905, found guilty of Collinson’s murder. The jury recommended mercy. Justice Denniston imposed the death sentence and 10 days later Cabinet Minsters considered the jury’s recommendation but decided to allow the sentence to stand. Ellis was hanged at 8am on a grey and gloomy 28 February 1905 at Wellington by executioner Tom Long (whose story we brought you earlier). Asked if he had anything to say before he died Ellis replied, “Nothing at all. Only that I am innocent. That is all I have to say”. Ellis is buried at Karori Cemetery. Collinson is buried in Martinborough Cemetery. His headstone reads: “In loving memory of Leonard Reeve Collinson who died at Colds Creek, Te Awaite 26 February 1904. (Erected by his friends)”.
By Deb Morris
Tomorrow, on Anzac Day, all over New Zealand people will be remembering those who fought for them in wars.
Most of them weren’t celebrated as war heroes. They were men and women who became our everyday heroes by doing their best against an evil threatening the Western world. Bruce Fowke was one.
Bruce was born January 19, 1915 in Dannevirke, the son of Herbert Fowke and Margaret Fowke, called Marwa, (nee Batten). His parents later moved to Pahiatua. His mother is in Dannevirke Cemetery and his father in Ashburton.
Of the records available, Bruce had two siblings - a sister called Ngaire who died young in 1919 and Bettie Russell (nee Fowke).
He enlisted in the NZ Army giving the address as Sedcole St, Pahiatua. He was listed as a painter.
He had married, and his wife Cicely May Helen Fowke (nee King) - known as Helen - later listed an address in Willow Park Road in Hastings.
Bruce joined the infantry of 22 Battalion of the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force, in 1941.
He died on December 15, 1944, aged 29, in battle as a sergeant.
In December that year he and the others were arrayed on the banks of the river Lamone. At the top of a rise in sight of the men was the Casa Elta - a pocket fortress with much of the area held by the Germans.
In the book 22 Battalion by Jim Henderson, he said the advance of Casa Elta was costly. All the leaders of 15 platoon were killed or wounded, and Bruce - then a Sergeant - took control. HIs nickname in the platoon was Doc.
But as they advanced he, and the platoon’s other sergeant, fell in a minefield.
The leaderless platoon went on to the right of Casa Elta, captured two defended positions and eight prisoners, severed telephone wires, which isolated Casa Elta, and later joined the last assault on the house.
Bruce is also mentioned in the book "Cowshed to Dog Collar (in conjunction with Rona Adshead) by Keith Elliott VC ,
"And what of "Doc" Fowke who refused to turn aside from his helpless best friend and did what he could for his mates until he was the only one left alive in that trench? No greater love hath a man than this …”
Bruce was buried - and later exhumed - to be reburied in the Forli Cemetery in Italy.
He exists now on 22 Battalion’s roll of honour, on the Pahiatua war memorial also on Palmerston North’s.
He was also my grandmother’s beloved cousin. His mother Margaret was sister to Myrtle Irene Batten - later Drinkwater, my grandmother’s mother.
Rest in Peace Bruce, like all the other everyday heroes, we remember you.
A short break from our regular stories for me to say Congratulations!
I got to watch my best friend and business partner Fran Tyler graduate with her doctorate in philosophy yesterday.
It’s sort of my fault. I recommended her for the job at Massey University teaching many years ago and all these years later this is the result. (She definitely thinks it's my fault!)
Since then we have gone through all the usual stuff, job changes, family losses, weddings and trips along with writing for an academic textbook and cooking - mostly dumplings - together.
And then last year COVID and the idea to start the business that is now Genealogy Investigations.
Most nights we have a (telephone) drink together, moan about our days, talk about triumphs and question our own sanity.
We have put families in touch with each other, traced out family histories, worked out who adopted parents are, found beneficiaries of wills and had fun hunting down the stories we tell here.
A big part of that is Fran’s determination and research skills gained the hard way, through working as a journalist, doing her own family tree and now her doctorate.
So, to Dr Fran Tyler - a huge congratulations. No matter how many times you doubted or told me you didn’t want to do this anymore, I always knew you would get there.
You can read more about Fran's research here:
John William Brady’s death was accidental and, as it turns out, amazing that it happened at all.
On April 25, 1939, Brady was driving two of his work colleagues home in a three seater car on the main highway on the Wellington side of the Paekakariki hill. At 9.45pm he suddenly slumped over the wheel. The car ended up against a bank.
His two mates, a Mr Davies and Mr Ryan from Lower Hutt, thought he had a fainting fit, but it turned out he had been shot in the back of the head. Both of the passengers received minor injuries.
Police suspected foul play.
The same evening, four young men were travelling in a lorry returning to Wellington. The men had been out shooting rabbits and on the way home one of the men, Robert Alexander Martin, aged 20, picked up a gun intending to put it in its case.
He did not remember pulling the trigger but the gun went off, ejecting the empty shell to the floor of the lorry.
In an extraordinary coincidence, that shot killed Brady.
Martin had thought he had fired all the ammunition during the rabbit hunt. It was also very dark that night and he never saw Brady’s car.
Two days after hearing about the accidental death, two of the men, including Martin, came forward to police and went to the place where they thought the shot was fired.
A police arms advisor, Gregory Gerard Kelly, advised the inquest into Brady's death that the pull on the trigger was too light. When questioned about the shooting, Martin denied firing at the tail lights of the car to give someone a scare.
The coroner, Mr Gilbertson, returned a verdict of death by accident.
Brady was 26, a labourer employed by the then Hutt Country Council. He is buried in Masterton’s cemetery in Archer Street.
An extraordinary tale of war-time escape and piracy took place in New Zealand by Count Felix Nikolaus Alexander Georg Graf von Luckner - or The Sea Devil.
It’s the sort of story Hollywood movies are made of.
Von Luckner was born in Dresden on June 9, 1881, part of the aristocracy. But he wanted adventure and at 13, ran away to sea.
His adventures were nearly immediately over, on his first voyage he fell overboard and it was only because the first mate defied the Captain’s order that he was rescued.
In Australia he jumped ship and worked a series of jobs - kangaroo hunter, circus worker, professional boxer, assistant lighthouse keeper and barman. He narrowly escaped outraged fathers, broke his legs, spent time in a Chilean jail for stealing pigs but in the end went back to Germany.
Once there he joined the Imperial German Navy and in January 1912 was on his first ship. By 1916 he took the helm of the Seeadler or Sea Eagle.
In WWI he proved his extraordinary skill and cunning aboard the three masted Seeadler, seeking out and capturing 17 ships in an eight-month-period.
His skill was extraordinary, for all those crews, only one person died. Von Luckner preferred not to kill.
In 1917 the ship was unexpectedly wrecked in a storm and the crew reached Mopelia, an island now known as Maupihaa.
Von Luckner and his crew then rigged a long boat and began an epic open water journey 2000 miles until they came to the Fijian island of Wakaya - the same journey Captain Bligh made after the mutiny of the Bounty 150 years earlier.
There they were arrested and shipped to Auckland arriving on October 7, 1917 to hostile crowds - who believed them to be responsible for the sinking of the cargo steamer Wairuna.
It was later learned that a cruiser called Wolf had sunk it.
Von Luckner was detained at the Devonport naval base and the four seamen shipped off to Wellington’s Somes Island. Von Luckner and another officer Lieutenant Carl Kircheiss there soon sent to Motuihe Island in the Hauraki Gulf.
Von Luckner recruited a bunch of German ship cadets interned there. They already had an escape plan, which included stolen tools and charts of the Hauraki Gulf.
The initial plan was to steal a boat and go for it but von Luckner went further. He went to the camp commandant and asked permission to organise a Christmas play.
The prisoners made fake bombs and guns and fashioned a German flag out of flour sacks.
Two real pistols with ammo were stolen and a sextant assembled from parts.
They struck on December 13, stealing down to the water and commandeering the island’s motorboat the Pearl.
Von Luckner was dressed as a NZ Army officer, including a sword and scabbard stolen from the camp commandant. The escapees cut the telephone wire to Auckland and lit a fire in the barracks as a diversion.
They then headed for Red Mercury Island where they hid for a few days, while boats were scouring the area looking for them.
But von Luckner wasn’t done - he began to plan piracy. Back to sea they went and he encountered two log scows, the Rangi and the Moa. He chased them in the Pearl. The Rangi escaped and instead he boarded the Moa and raised a German flag making it a vessel of the Imperial German Navy.
Off he set for the Kermadec Islands where the New Zealand Government maintained a cache of provision for shipwrecked sailors, which he plundered.
He tried to sail away but ran across the Iris - an armed cable laying ship. She fired on him as he tried to evade and was he forced to surrender
His next imprisonment was on Ripapa Island together with Kircheiss. Von Luckner dreamed up an escape plan involving getting into a tar barrel and floating in the harbour until rescued, at which point he would steal his rescuer's vessel.
After the war in 1919 he went back to Germany where he was a hero.
Years late, in 1938, he returned to New Zealand with his then wife Countess Ingaborg.
Von Luckner died in Malmö, Sweden at the age of 84 in 1966. However, his body was returned to Germany and was buried in the Main Cemetery Ohlsdorf, Hamburg.
The sextant used in the escape is at Te Papa.
The Wahine disaster needs little introduction. It is still considered one of the most tragic maritime disasters in New Zealand’s history.
Fifty-three people died, 51 immediately, one several weeks later and another much later from ongoing issues from injuries.
Hector Gordon Robertson was the captain of the Wahine on the day of the tragedy - April 10, 1968.
Always called Gordon, he was born February 4, 1911, in Wellington, the second of six children. He married Anne Marie Robertson who was a Canadian passenger on a ship he was working on.
The Wahine was a 8948 ton roll-on roll off passenger ferry, which sailed a regular route between Wellington and Lyttleton. It was the largest ship of its kind in New Zealand at the time. On the evening of April 9, there were 734 passengers and crew aboard for the sailing from Lyttleton to Wellington. New Zealand was in the grips of tropical storm Giselle, which whipped up strong winds and treacherous waves.
At 5.50am the next morning, on April 10, Captain Robertson decided to enter Wellington Harbour. He was a very experienced captain and had made the trip many times before.
But what the captain could not have predicted was the storm front meeting a cold southerly front.
Just as the Wahine entered the narrow funnel to the harbour, the wind increased to 100 knots. A huge wave slammed into the ship, throwing many aboard off their feet.
The Wahine was now side on - and being pushed toward Barrett Reef.
Robertson fought, trying to turn his ship back out into the open sea but with the radar out, the ship reversed into Barrett Reef and knocked the starboard propeller off and the port engine then stopped.
The captain ordered all watertight doors closed and both anchors dropped.
The signal station at Beacon Hill was notified and the crew prepared life saving equipment.
Flooding was causing serious concerns about the stability of the ship, water pouring into the car deck.
By now the Wahine was dragging its anchors and drifting.
The tug Tapuhi had reached the ship, but attempts to secure a line failed.
The Wahine began to list and the order was given to abandon ship, but it wasn’t that easy.
Lifeboats were launched and one was swamped, passengers jumped into the sea.
Rescuers desperate to help stood helplessly on Seatoun’s shore watching as the massive ferry foundered in one of the worst storms ever seen.
Saving them was difficult in huge seas. Two lifeboats ended up in Seatoun with a third in Eastbourne.
Pictures of people being rescued from the sea became part of the national consciousness.
Two hundred made it to shore.
Captain Robertson (and tug pilot Captain Galloway) was the last to leave his sinking ship.
A subsequent inquest said there were errors of judgment aboard and on shore.
Captain Robertson bore the brunt of the blame, but it’s now widely thought there was little he could have done differently.
A Court of Inquiry found no serious omissions or defaults on Robertson's part, but it took a toll on him. He had told the inquiry he had never been in weather that bad before.
Hector Robertson’s quiet resting place at Taita Cemetery tells only that he was the Captain of the Wahine and a solemn little verse “In his duty prompt at every call. He watched and wept and prayed and felt for all.”
So, Fran and I went on an Easter road trip around the Wairarapa looking for stories. A lot of tramping through cemeteries and lots of fantastic finds. We are set to bring you several stories including ones about Tui Brewery, founding families, and murders and accidental deaths that just boggle the mind.
One of the oldest people we have ever discovered in a cemetery was Te Koro Neho Arona.
Mr Arona was born in 1800, nine years before the first European settlers arrived in Russell in the Bay of Islands, and he lived to the truly impressive age of 111. There is very little information about him, as he was born long before records started in New Zealand.
Although his headstone is much faded it reads that Mr Arona was of Ngāti Kaumoana.
At the age of 16 he was christened by the Reverend Samuel Marsden - the man credited with bringing Christianity to New Zealand.
The changes that happened during Mr Arona's life must have been truly astonishing for him. From the 1830s he may have watched settlers arriving on huge sailing ships, and in the 1840s watched settler towns being established in and around Wellington. To put it in perspective, he would have been about 40 when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, 45 when Hone Heke chopped down the flag staff in Russell, 67 when Maori men were given the right to vote, 70 when the first game of rugby was played in New Zealand, 86 when Mt Tarawera erupted destroying the Pink and White Terraces, 98 when NZ introduced the old age pension (the first county in the world to do so), 99 when New Zealand troops went off to fight in their first overseas conflict - the Second Boer War in South Africa, 101 when Queen Victoria died and 111 when Amundsen reached the South Pole.
He must have seen so much of his world change.
Mr Arona died at Ouwaka, Lansdowne on October 7, 1911.
While Maori had been in the Wairarapa since the 14th century, Masterton was established in 1845 - and Mr Arona is buried in one of the oldest parts of Masterton’s cemetery in Archer St.
We have much more to come.
During the 1930s in New Zealand, it was not unusual for a newspaper headline to read “Slippery Sam at it again”.
The prolific burglar was often blamed for house break-ins in Auckland and, let's be honest, it is a great name.
But was anyone ever properly identified as the high profile criminal?
Who was Slippery Sam? Was there a group of burglars? One daring man (or woman). Or was it all just a myth?
Police believed all of those at one point or another.
Some of the first headlines from November 1931 saw a burglar active in Dominion Road, Auckland, but police were not sure it was Slippery Sam.
Then in 1932, a store on Karangahape Road was burgled and several pairs of shoes were stolen.
Notes from the burglar, left for police on a desk, read: “Slippery Sam trying a new racket” and “Thanks for the sneakers (canvas shoes) I will be back again.”
After a short period of inactivity, police thought he might be in prison.
Then in 1934 Sam hit several houses in Kingsland getting small amounts of money and making a narrow escape from one house.
Sam is believed to have hit a Grafton Road boarding house and searched three rooms, pocketing a small amount of money while the residents were sleeping. But one resident awoke to find a man standing at the foot of the bed. With an out cry residents chased him off down Moehau Street with three boarders in pyjamas in tow - but he escaped.
At one point Sam burgled six houses in Kingsland in 90 minutes.
Then a series of houses in Ponsonby and Grey Lynn, slipping into the houses silently while residents slept, to search for cash.
A man wearing a hat pulled down over his eyes was seen nearby and ran when a woman yelled, making off through the grounds of Sacred Heart College.
At one point in 1934 Sam was even believed to be a she after a milkman saw a woman wandering nearby in the early hours of a morning.
By 1935 Sam was believed to have been a myth - or more than one person.
Any description was vague. The arrest of a man that year was thought to be a breakthrough in the case, but another outbreak of house burglaries occurred while that suspect was in custody.
Several people - believed to be the notorious burglar were caught by the police and imprisoned - only for more burglaries of the same type to happen.
Slippery Sam had a modus operandi. He wore quiet rubber shoes and did not work on Sundays. He often got in to a house then opened a back door to allow him a quick escape and was known to be especially agile.
Then in 1936 a man who newspapers thought might be Slippery Sam ended up in the courts. Victor Royden Curline pleaded guilty to 36 charges of breaking and entering and theft along with possession of an unregistered revolver.
But there was no evidence that Curline was actually Slippery Sam other than the fact he was charged with a lot of burglaries. In a different city. Over a thousand kilometres away.
Curline died in 1970 - and was buried in Dunedin.
And the real identity of Slippery Sam is still unknown