Are you hoping for chocolates under the tree this Christmas?
After all, who doesn’t like chocolate?
Well, chocolate has been used as a weapon before.
New Zealand had three cases of poisoned chocolates being sent through the mail and one of poisoned chocolates as a Christmas gift.
In Blackball, on the West Coast in September 1934, Ethel Bragg and Jean Clark, both 20, received an exciting and unexpected gift. A box of chocolates with a note signed from Jim. It was addressed to both of them.
A friend of theirs, Maggie Smith, worked next door at Dumpleton’s Bakery in Blackball’s main street.
When they offered her chocolate she took it. In fact more than one.
It would prove fatal. While Ethel and Jean both tasted the chocolates, they complained they were bitter and spat them out.
Maggie later collapsed and died within an hour.
The chocolates had been tampered with, with strychnine crystals added to them. Several of the chocolates had little holes on the bottom.
John Skikelthorp Page - a miner, was charged with murder and attempted murder. But it was clear he was insane and he was committed to the Seacliff Mental hospital.
Less than a year later in Hawke’s Bay Alma Keith received a box of chocolates. With it was a note that appeared to be from a farmhand she was friendly with, Jack Masters.
Alma’s mother was suspicious and they took the box to the police station.
The poison this time was arsenic.
Two months after that in 1935 Phyllis Marshall, 18 was charged with attempted murder. Masters had been paying attention to both the women. Marshall denied it, saying she just wanted to give the other woman a good scare.
She was found not guilty when her defence pointed the finger at Masters as the mastermind.
But the strangest case came from Blenheim, when Alma Rose confessed to sending herself strychnine laced chocolates. She could not offer a proper explanation but the Magistrate at the time thought it was “a morbid yearning for sensationalism.”
A copycat perhaps, after a year of publicity about similar poison chocolates.
She was put on a good behaviour bond for a year.
The last case in 1951, James Mayo was found not guilty of poisoning chocolates with strychnine resulting in the death of Harold Palmer. Rita Osbourne had gone to the police when she became aware of the death to say that Mayo had given her poison to kill a dog at one point.
Police also used hand writing analysis to prove the writing on the Christmas label on the chocolates was Mayo’s but it was discredited by the defence lawyer who instead pointed the finger at Rita Osbourne. It worked and the jury acquitted him.
Still want those chocolates?
Charles Barraud was an extraordinary man.
Chemist, artist, businessman and a philanthropist, his family name is memorialised on a street in Lower Hutt.
Born in London, England, he was the 10th child of 12 and wanted to be a doctor but after his father died when he was young the family could not afford the training and he became a chemist instead.
After marrying and producing six sons and three daughters, the family emigrated to New Zealand arriving in Wellington in 1849. He set up a chemist shop on Lambton Quay.
He was a success, opening another in an octagonal building on Manners St called the Pill Box along with branches in Napier and Whanganui but by 1880 his shop was on the corner of Molesworth St and Hill St, Wellington.
By then he had set up a meeting that led to the formation of the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand and became its first president. That led to the Pharmacy Board which, for the first time, registered pharmacists and set standards to protect public health and the reputations of chemists against fakers selling drugs.
When his Lambton Quay store was destroyed by fire in 1887 (for the second time) he retired and devoted his time to his other love, art.
He won recognition for his painting, working mainly in water colours but also in oils.
Many of his works are in the collection of Te Papa, including a painting of the White Terraces which were believed destroyed in the eruption of Mt Tarawera.
His works can still be bought today. In 1882 he was the principal founder of the Fine Arts Association - now the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts and due mainly to his efforts was the building of the first gallery, the forerunner of the National Art Gallery.
Along with that he was the chairman of the Wellington Sailors Rest and treasurer of the Wellington Hospital Convalescent Fund.
As if he didn’t have enough to do he was a churchwarden at St Paul’s and painted the illuminated texts that decorate the nave.
He is buried at the Bolton St Cemetery.
At the beginning of December 1876, John and Sarah Duff of Wellington had a family of six apparently healthy children, then one by one, over a period of 11 days beginning just three days before Christmas, five of them died, all falling victim to diphtheria.
John, a cabinetmaker, and Sarah were the pity of the town when day after day the funeral cart of undertaker W. Nicholson arrived at their Lambton Quay home to take the children’s little coffins to the Bolton Street Cemetery for internment.
The first signs of illness arrived at the Duff home on December 7, when three of the children became ill. The Duff’s decided to treat the children with home remedies, and fearing for the safety of the other children, sent the healthy ones away.
The Duff’s struggled on, but by December 21, it was clear they needed assistance from medical professionals. John sent for Drs Driver and Kemp, who arrived to find the children in an extremely unwell condition, suffering from, what Kemp described as, malignant diphtheria. That same day, one-year-old Hannah, succumbed. Her death was followed the next day by that of her eight-year-old sister Agnes. To the Duff’s relief, 10-year-old Margaret appeared to be making a recovery. On Christmas Day the other children returned to the house, but it was clearly not a day for celebration, as they too had symptoms of the disease. Three days later Margaret too died. The two doctors battled to save the two other sick children who were declining quickly, and on December 29, a third doctor was called in to advise. It was to no avail, as on January 31, 11-year-old John died, followed the next day by six-year-old Edith. The Duff’s had just one child left, three-year-old David.
Before vaccines became widely available, diphtheria was the leading cause of childhood death globally. Diphtheria is caused by bacteria, which can affect the respiratory system and may cause blocked airways, heart, nerve and kidney damage as well as paralysis. Even with today’s treatments, which include antibiotics and antitoxin, about one in 10 people who contract the illness die. Without treatment the mortality rate increases to about 50 percent.
New Zealand has had several outbreaks of the disease, the worst being in 1892 when 281 people died. The most recent outbreak was in 1941-42. According to NZ public health data, the last reported case of respiratory diphtheria in New Zealand was in 1998 in Auckland.
Despite the setback of losing so many children, John and Sarah went on to have four more children; another boy they named John in 1877, William in 1879, Arthur in 1881 and Duncan in 1883. The Duffs owned a number of properties in Wellington including the Britannia Hotel in Willis Street. In 1897, Sarah was granted a separation order from John, who had moved to Gisborne in a failed property venture. He was declared bankrupt that year and, according the newspapers, died in 1899 in St Helier, Jersey. Sarah remained in Wellington and is buried with her five young children in Bolton Street Cemetery.
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Hangman Tom Long helped many into their grave but his own is mysteriously missing.
He was famous in New Zealand but for something no one else wanted to be known for.
He was the hangman, called upon to kill his fellow man, those sentenced to death by hanging.
Many of those who he hanged are buried in former prison graveyards but no one knows for sure where Tom Long himself was buried.
Time and again Long stepped up when called upon to carry out a duty that no one wanted to do.
By all accounts he was good at it, a little too good because boasting about it sometimes got him into trouble.
Tom however was an old hand at trouble. And mystery.
He said he was born in Ireland, although his date of birth is uncertain. One prison release records he is said to have been born in 1841 or 1851.
Long is described as a man with sandy grey hair and grey eyes with a crucifix and anchor tattoo on his left arm in 1890, although in one record it had changed arms.
He claimed to have served in the Navy and was an artilleryman during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 where he said he learned his skill as a hangman.
On finding his way to New Zealand he was often a labourer and bushman. In 1877 he was hangman for the first time for William Henry Woodgate for the murder of the child of his niece in Marlborough.
He asked Woodgate if the rope was comfortable or too tight and wished him a pleasant journey.
For each hanging he got £25.
Tom was barely able to keep out of prison himself and several times was taken out of prison and escorted to the area where he was to carry out his duties. He may well have been in the same prison as those he was to hang, most often for charges like drunkenness and obscene language.
The most famous of those he hanged was Minnie Dean, the only woman ever hanged in New Zealand in Invercargill. He allegedly demanded her clothing and shoes as part of his payment.
After Tom took the train away, he told a travelling football team about it. Upset, they tried to string him up from the hat rack but he was saved by the conductor.
Tom hadn’t learned his lesson though, because he had another close call at the Tauherenikau Hotel, where after he lost money at the horse races he tried to auction her boots.
While it is not certain, he was the current hangman at the time Rowland Herbert Edwards was hanged at Napier Prison for killing his wife and four children and then understood to be buried standing up in the prison yard.
The last man Tom hanged was James Ellis, known as John McKenzie who had killed Leonard Collins. He was hanged at The Terrace gaol in Wellington.
Only three years later Tom was dead. He was crushed by a tree which fell on him while he was working in the bush at Kauangaroa near Whanganui in 1908.
His death made headlines in newspapers across the country with the New Zealand Times running the headline Exit Tom Long.
But here’s the weird bit. Nowhere is there a record of where he was buried, just a cryptic mention that he was buried or lost at sea. An old newspaper report says he was buried at Neil Bros cemetery which might have been on private property but there is no note about where that is.
Please let us know in the comments if you know more. We are dying to know.
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