John Branks’ wife Rachael tragically died after the branch of a tree he was felling landed on her.
The pair were early settlers, coming to New Zealand from Scotland in 1840 aboard the Bengal Merchant, ending up living in a cottage on the Old Porirua Road just down the road from the St John’s Anglican Church.
John worked for the landowner Thomas Drake. They began raising their family, William, Catherine and John Jnr.
John was in the throes of buying some land to secure their future when the branch fell on Rachael breaking both her legs. She was the first patient admitted to the new Colonial Hospital in 1847. Fifteen days later Rachael died after contracting tetanus.
John was left with three young children, which must have been hard. How the next two years passed is not known. But the next records on the Branks family was the terrible news that he and his children were dead. Murdered.
Police found all of them had been hacked to death with an axe. John was on the floor and the children on the bed.
Wellington was horrified and a £50 reward was offered. In a short period of time Henare Maroro was arrested.
Maroro was an angry man. He had been in prison previously for four months - although it's unclear what for - and he wanted that time back. He had vowed to get back at pākehā and the Branks family were who he came across.
It didn’t take long for a court to find Maroro guilty and he was sentenced to death.
At the time executions were carried out in public and Roman Catholic Father Jean Baptiste Comte attended Maroro at the Wellington jail and took his confession. He admitted the killing, which he carried out alone and without anyone else telling. He had no idea who John Branks was.
In April 1849, Maroro was taken outside the jail where a scaffold had been put up. About 500 people gathered to watch as he was hanged.
Maroro was to have been buried in the prison but since it was destroyed by an earthquake, it was decided to bury him elsewhere. Like a great many murderers, his final resting place is a guess but it would most likely be the Bolton Street Cemetery or Mount Street cemetery given the year.
John, Rachael and their children are listed in New Zealand Cemetery records on the St Paul’s Church of England burial register and are listed as being buried in the Bolton Street Cemetery. The family are also shown as buried in one grave in the St John's Anglican cemetery in Johnsonville.
Photo by Tamara Gore.
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