James Collins lived almost unnoticed for most of his life before suddenly becoming famous at the age of 91.
Three days after the Hawke’s Bay earthquake in 1931, when hope was fading of find anyone alive, the nonagenarian was pulled alive from the rubble of the Park Island Old Men’s Home in Taradale.
The home was one of 15 buildings in Hawke’s Bay whose collapse led to the largest number of fatalities.
Obviously a sturdy chap, even at that age, Collins tried to run when the earthquake hit, but was knocked face down on to a mattress as the building collapsed around him. It saved his life.
Three days after the quake, a police officer heard someone calling out and a rescue team uncovered Collins, who while injured, was in remarkably good condition.
Born in Tipperary, County Cork, he traveled as a military man in India. He had been in what was then known as Zululand and in Capetown.
Something of an athlete in his young days, he won prizes for high jump, long jump and running.
While he was recovering in hospital he recounted his time buried and waiting to be rescued being terribly thirsty and wishing for a gallon of beer.
Sadly, shortly after his rescue he was admitted to Dannevirke Hospital and died in November 1931.
Even sadder, his grave, one of the earliest ones in Dannevirke’s Mangatera cemetery, has no headstone. He was believed to have no family.
Of the eighty people at the Home, 80 survived and 14 died in the earthquake, although a few died later.