Cars are everywhere now and they make us fume. From traffic jams to road rage.
But there was a time when there were only two.
William McLean, in March 1898, imported the first two cars New Zealand had ever seen. Two Benz, made for him in Paris, arrived in Wellington to newspaper headlines. One could seat three passengers and the other two.
McLean, born in Scotland in 1845, was the youngest son of John McLean, a shoemaker in Grantown, Scotland. He arrived in Dunedin on the Dauntless. He tried gold mining, being a teacher then moved to Wellington 1884 where he was an auctioneer.
He was also a Liberal Party Member of Parliament.
The McLean Motor Car Act of the same year laid out the rules by which cars could operate - going no faster than 12mph and being lit after dark.
Even then McLean managed to also have the first car crash in New Zealand - driving one of those imported cars for the very first time. With spectators watching in awe he started off on Kent Terrace, promptly failed to take a bed and hit the Basin Reserve fence.
It wasn’t until two years later that the next cars came to Auckland.
But this isn’t about William McLean (he’s buried in Karori cemetery).
It’s about Janet Meikle, who inadvertently became famous for being the first person directly killed in a motor car accident in the country on September 8, 1906.
Janet was the daughter of William Wright and Janet Kerslake.
She was driving a 8-hp De Dion Bouton - the most common model in the country at the time - when she lost control while negotiating a steep narrow muddy descent on the family farm Table Downs in the Washdyke Valley, about 5km from Timaru.
While cars were slow they had little in the way of safety features.
An account in the Otago Witness newspaper said Janet was driving and while descending the bank the car went over the edge and through a wire fence. Her husband John was thrown out but she was pinned underneath and suffocated from the weight.
Janet had been an experienced driver, many rural women were, out of necessity.
The South Canterbury Automobile Club expressed its regret and sympathy and asked that its members attend the funeral three days later – ‘without cars’.
Janet was 38 and she and her husband had one child.
Her headstone in Timaru Cemetery records that she died from a motor accident.
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