Auckland residents were on high alert in September 1925 after the terrifying news that a female leopard had escaped from the new zoo.
The zoo, at Western Springs, had only been open three years and its first director - and the man behind the animals - was Louis Thomas Griffin.
Griffin was born in England in 1871, in Royal Tunbridge Wells. He was an ichthyologist (the study of fish), curator and Egyptologist among other things.
He came to New Zealand in 1910.
It was also Griffin who in 1923 went to Africa to get animals for the zoo.
In his time as curator/director at the zoo he consulted about animals all over New Zealand and was brought odd animals to identify, including what was termed a sea serpent - that turned out to be a Great Oarfish.
The female leopard had come from India and had only been at the zoo for three days when keepers noticed her enclosure was empty on September 16. The theory was she had slipped through her bars and out into Auckland without anyone noticing.
For 27 days people kept their doors and windows shut, did not walk alone, and were regaled with tales of sightings around St Luke’s.
Several people saw it but could not get near it.
Worried, and alert to recent reports in newspapers of the day of man-eating leopards from the wilds of Africa, the council offered a £20 reward.
It was on October 11 that it all came to an end when four young men out fishing found her, floating and drowned off Karaka Bay beach in Glendowie.
It was Griffin who said he thought she may have been stuck in the mud behind a tannery and caught by the rising tide.
An investigation into the escape by Internal Affairs showed the bars were mostly 11.4cm apart but in one small area they were 12.7cm.
Along with that an inquest was held for the big cat with the finding that it drowned.
Exactly how it escaped is still a mystery.
It was by no means the only escape from the zoo in the first years. Along with the leopard, a Tasmanian Devil was lost, an agouti and a young sea lion - not nearly as scary.
Griffin, who was also the assistant director of the Auckland War memorial museum director died in 1935 and is buried in Purewa Cemetery.
Pic by Geran De Klerk.
Edward Harper was looking for gold.
Specifically he was looking for a fortune in gold coins that went to the bottom of the sea when the cargo and passenger steamer the SS Elingamite sank in 1902.
The 2.5 tonne Australian steamer started service in Sydney in 1887. With 100 first class berths and a top speed of 11 knots, she was popular and the Victorian government picked her to be an armed cruiser, loading her up with four Armstrong guns.
Early on November 5, 1902, the Elingamite left Sydney for its regular run to Auckland with 136 passengers and 58 crew.
On board were 52 boxes of coins for New Zealand banks including 6000 gold half-sovereigns.
On November 9 the ship ran into thick fog. Despite the care of Captain Ernest Atwood, creeping along at half speed, the ship struck West Island, one of the islands in the Three Kings group about 65 km off New Zealand.
The ship foundered and sank in only 20 minutes. Most aboard managed to get to lifeboats, some making it to islands while others made the mainland.
One boat however was never seen again. In total 45 people were killed.
Captain Atwood was found guilty of grossly negligent navigation at a court of inquiry, and his master's certificate was suspended.
It was only eight years later that it became known that the map showing the Three Islands he was relying on was wrong.
The location of the wreck of the ship was well known and there were attempts to recover the gold from it over the years, even by famous showman Felix Tanner who we have already written about.
One of the first recovery efforts was in 1907 when Edward James Harper dived on the Elingamite.
Harper was born in London and became a well known diver, completing many salvage missions all over the world.
Diving off the schooner the Huia, Harper went down several times, bringing up £1500 in coins, some of it gold.
He brought up more over several days but on his last dive on January 22 he complained of chest pains and collapsed, dying of what was thought to be a heart attack (but may have been decompression sickness).
He would be the 46th death attributed to the Elingamite but not the last. A year later a Mr Clarke died having dived three times and complaining of cramp in his legs and arms.
Further salvage operations continued over the years, including, in 1965, efforts by Kelly Tarlton (from Underwater World fame) and Wade Doak, a famous marine conservationist, along with two others, who began the first of many expeditions to recover what they could. But much was left behind. The wreck is now privately owned.
Harper is buried in Northland’s Leigh Cemetery.
Convicted killer Frederick Patrick Mouat was careful to stipulate in his will that his body be buried after his death. He showed no such care to his wife when he killed her, dismembered her body in the bath and incinerated the pieces in the garden of their Christchurch home in 1925.
Frederick, a mining engineer and hotel keeper, was skint, and when his wife Nellie began to question where all their money went, she disappeared.
Frederick was born in Purakanui, near Dunedin in 1878. He was one of the youngest of a long line of children born to Peter William Mouat, a settler from the Shetland Islands, and his wife Maria nee Driver.
As a young man Frederick headed to the West Coast where his older brother William, was an engineer. He found employment at the Garden Gully Mine, but soon decided more was to be made in the mines in West Africa.
By 1907 Frederick had emigrated to England and was working stints in a gold mine near Seccondee, Ghana. In 1910 he married Ellen Louisa Merrett (known as Nellie) in Catherington, Hampshire, England. Nellie was also a New Zealander. She was born in Turakina, near Wanganui in 1886, the youngest daughter of George Merrett and Phillis (nee Whittington).
After the wedding Frederick returned to the mines in Ghana and Nellie, after a short time in England, returned home to New Zealand. Shortly after, Frederick joined her and convinced her to go back to Ghana with him. By 1922 the couple decided to come back to New Zealand permanently and they settled in the small town of Glenavy, on the banks of the Waitaki River and bought the Glenavy Hotel. After a year, they sold up and moved to 10 Beckford Street, St Martin’s, Christchurch under a rent to buy arrangement.
But by February 1925 their money was running out. Frederick had some work on a drainage project, but it was not enough to cover their spending. On February 19 the Mouat’s landlady called around to pick up the mortgage cheque, which Frederick later admitted he had told Nellie would have bounced. They then went to visit some friends returning home later that night. It was the last time Nellie was seen.
The following day Frederick told neighbours that she had gone to visit her brother and would then travel with him to Dunedin to visit his mother. However, Frederick never left. Instead, neighbours noticed fires in the garden and smoke from the Mouat’s kitchen chimney. When Frederick was questioned about Nellie’s whereabouts, he first said she had gone away on holiday and then later said he did not know where she was. But Frederick did not report her missing. That was left to Nellie’s brother John who contacted police on March 2.
Police made a search of the Beckford Street house and property and discovered her hand bag, false teeth and all her clothing was still there. They dredged the nearby Heathcote River and dug through the ashes of the fires – locating small pieces of bone. Frederick was interviewed by police, but allowed to go free on the condition he return to the police station the next day. He didn’t, and like his wife, just disappeared.
On March 9, dishevelled and hungry, Frederick was arrested. He had been sleeping rough in the Port Hills. He was charged with Nellie’s murder and the following day made his first appearance in court. Mouat’s first trial was held in April. The evidence seemed overwhelming. The jury were told: that many of the bones uncovered in the ash were human; that Mouat had pawned Nellie’s jewellery the day after she disappeared telling the pawnbroker that he had no use for the items; that blood and flesh was found under the rim of the bath; that blood was found on blankets and sheets from the bed and that blood was found congealed in the drain under the bath. But the jury could not agree. A second trial was held on August 24 and this time he was found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter – the defence counsel had given the jury a stern warning that if Nellie turned up alive Frederick would have hanged for nothing.
The sentencing judge appeared to have no qualms over Frederick’s guilt, sentencing him to 17 years in prison, with hard labour.
An inquest into Nellie’s death was not held – the coroner decided that the bones did not constitute a body, so her death was never officially recorded.
In 1929, Frederick petitioned Parliament to quash his conviction – it was refused.
Frederick was released from prison on August 10, 1937. He moved to Glenfield in Auckland where he took a job as a fitter and turner. Frederick died on October 18, 1959 and is buried in Birkenhead Cemetery - as per the instructions in his will.
The bone fragments ended up at the Police Museum and in 2017 the mystery of what really happened to Nellie Mouat was finally solved. Forensic testing by Otago University confirmed that the bones were in fact Nellie’s mortal remains. The bones were buried with her parents in Linwood Cemetery 92 years after her brutal death.
Photo: New Zealand Police Gazette
Alexander Aitken’s phenomenal memory was both his biggest asset and his greatest horror.
He was able to do complex maths in his head, recite Pi up to 707 places and is still considered one of the fastest lightning calculators in the world.
But because of his memory, he also couldn’t forget his wartime experiences.
Alexander Craig Aitken - called Alec, was born April 1, 1895 in Dunedin, the oldest of the seven children of Elizabeth Towers and William Aitken.
His grandfather had emigrated from Lanarkshire in Scotland in 1868.
Aitken freely admitted arithmetic bored him, and he wasn’t any good at it at school until suddenly at the age of 14 at Otago Boys’ High, something clicked when he had one of those teachers who inspire us.
He began practising mental calculation from memory, training himself.
He was the school dux and won the Thomas Baker Calculus Scholarship in his last year at school.
Aitken went on to the University of Otago but his studies were cut off when he enlisted in 1915 for the First World War. He left with the Sixth Regiment, Otago Infantry.
He saw a great deal of combat, serving at the Gallipoli landing, and in Egypt and then in the Battle of the Somme in France.
He often astounded his fellow soldiers with his memory, and when the platoon book was destroyed, he was able to recite the names and numbers of all the members of his platoon.
He was also remembered for playing the violin he had been gifted by a friend who won it in a raffle. Many nights in the muddy trenches he played.
It was at the Battle of the Somme that he was seriously wounded and spent three months in Chelsea before being invalided out.
He returned to New Zealand where he completed a degree at Otago then was briefly a teacher.
His next stop was the University of Edinburgh and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
His mathematical lectures were unusual. A bit of clear lecturing, five minutes of jokes and five minutes of tricks.
Aitken spent his entire career at Edinburgh working in statistics, numerical analysis and algebra - with a break during World War Two when he worked at Bletchley Park decrypting the Enigma Code.
In psychological tests in Britain he took thirty seconds to multiply 987,654,321 by 123,456,789 and produce the correct answer: 121,932,631,112,635,269.
Aitken married Mary Winifred Betts - herself astonishing as a lecturer in biology and the first female lecturer appointed at the Otago University. They had a son and daughter.
His skill at mental arithmetic was such he is still considered the greatest ever living lightning calculator.
An accomplished author he wrote a book, Gallipoli to the Somme - his wartime memoirs.
But he was never, thanks to his memory, never able to escape his memories of the war. They never faded for him like they did for some others.
His memory made his career but it also meant his wartime experiences haunted him for the rest of his life until his death in Edinburgh, Scotland, on November 3, 1967, aged 72.
He was cremated at Warriston Crematorium in Edinburgh.
William Snodgrass was there one minute and gone the next.
Which might not be unusual in a missing person’s case except he was on the ferry between Wellington and Nelson at the time.
William Wallace Snodgrass was born in Liverpool in England in 1870, the son of Robert Snodgrass and Dorothy Barker. He attended school there until, aged 10, his family moved to Nelson, New Zealand.
In 1896 he married Sarah Annie Frankham and they had three daughters and two sons - one of whom was All Black Wallace Frankham Snodgrass.
Snodgrass worked as a member of his father’s merchant firm R. Snodgrass and Sons in Nelson. He also became a city councillor and then contested the mayoralty several times before being elected mayor from 1917 to 1921.
He was appointed to the Legislative Council by the Governor-General in 1921, reappointed in 1928 and again in 1935.
He was also president of the Nelson Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Nelson Harbour Board, Patriotic Society, and War Funds Council.
He had received an MBE for his patriotic work during World War I and the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal.
All of which he would be remembered for - except for the strange way he vanished.
Snodgrass was aboard the Arahura, a steam powered passenger and cargo ship that routinely ran between Wellington and Nelson.
On March 20, 1939, Snodgrass was travelling to Nelson. He had supper with the Master, Captain Hay and retired to his cabin. He was sharing it with a Walter S Dillon who said when he went to bed Snodgrass was in his bunk reading.
But in the morning Snodgrass was not there. All his clothes and belongings were still in his cabin.
Ironically during his time as Nelson's mayor he often spoke out and campaigned for a better ferry service between the two islands.
Oddly three years later his daughter, Florence, also died at sea. She had married Colonel C. S. J. Duff, Commander of the New Zealand Artillery and had been serving in the WAAF in England. She lost her life when SS Port Hunter was torpedoed and sunk by U-582 in the Atlantic north-west of the Canary Islands on 11 July 1942.
We usually say where someone is buried but of course, official records list Snodgrass as lost at sea.
There were clear signs that something was not right with Duncan Munro right up to the moment he bashed in the heads of his family with a flat iron. Sadly, the signs were missed or ignored
It was the milkman who, while doing his early morning deliveries on February 10, 1892, found Munro’s wife Grace and his four children lying in pools of blood in their Tauranga home. Only one survived.
Munro was born in Australia in 1861 and as a young child his parents James and Jane Munro (nee McPhail) moved their family to New Zealand. James Munro died in 1865 in the Waikato. In 1866, Jane, now a widow with four children, quickly remarried to James Bodell a recently discharged Waikato militiaman, with a reputation for being a tough, heavy drinker. (Bodell would in 1888 become the Mayor of Tauranga).
Munro began to exhibit signs of severe mental health problems from a young age and these grew worse as he grew older. He suffered from bouts of religious mania. In 1885 he became engaged to Grace Freeman. According to news reports, Grace was warned by friends and family to hold off on the marriage for a year to see if Munro’s mental state would improve. She ignored the warnings and on March 10 that year the couple married.
Eleven months later their first child, George was born, followed a year later by their second child, John, then two years after that a third son, James Alexander, was added to the family.
Soon after James Alexander’s birth Duncan had a fit of mania which was witnessed by a nurse who was looking after Grace. She said Duncan smashed a clock, because it offended him, and then tried to smash a kerosene lamp over the baby’s head to anoint it with oil. The nurse complained to police and in July 1889, he was sent to Whau Lunatic Asylum in Auckland for treatment.
After six months of confinement, Munro’s mother Jane arranged for his release from Whau, promising that she and his younger brother Peter would care for him. Munro returned to Tauranga to his wife and children and all seemed to be going well for a while, but then the fits returned. He was kept locked in the house until they subsided.
In 1891 a daughter, Lilly, was added to the family.
Munro’s bouts of madness continued and he was moved to the back bedroom of the house where he was locked away at night.
The day of the tragedy, February 9, Munro was found in the school grounds suffering from another bout of religious mania. He was taken to his mother’s house and, after he appeared to recover, his mother and brother took him home to his own house. They left him there, his mother waiting on the other side of the road to make sure all was quiet. Grace locked Munro in his back bedroom.
About 7am the following day the milkman saw Munro on the beach behind the house wearing only a nightshirt and heading out into the waves. Fearing the worst he went into the house and discovered a scene of absolute horror.
Authorities were alerted and found Grace and George lying in a pool of blood in the kitchen, James Alexander was in his cot in the front room covered in blood and Lilly and John were lying on the double bed. All had massive injuries to their heads, inflicted with a cast iron flat iron. All were still alive, but within hours, John, George and Lilly died.
By the following day accusations of blame were flying. An inquest on the three children found that Munro had wilfully murdered his three little ones. The inquest jury took the unusual step of including a rider blaming his mother and brother for the tragedy. They said Munro “should not have been discharged from the asylum and that since his discharge proper precautions have not been taken by his family or the present calamity would not have happened”. The jury had a clear view of Munro’s condition as part way through the inquest he had to be forcefully removed when he started singing hymns.
Munro was taken to Auckland and readmitted to the asylum. The following day, February 14, Grace died. This time the inquest jury urged that the Government should hold an enquiry to determine how Munro came to be released. Possibly anticipating such an inquiry, Dr Moir, Munro’s former doctor, spoke to the NZ Herald saying he had warned the family of the dangers and said he had also seen them tie him down with ropes during a bout of mania.
On March 9, Munro was sent to trial for the murders, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was sent back to the asylum where he died on October 27, 1904. He is buried in the Presbyterian section of Waikumete Cemetery, Auckland. Grace, George, John and Lillian are buried in Tauranga Cemetery in the Bodell family plot. They have no headstone to mark their deaths.
Remarkably, little James Alexander recovered from his injuries.
Sir Bernard Freyberg was known for many things; as an extraordinary soldier, Governor-General and champion swimmer.
But one of the most astonishing things he did was completely alone and naked.
On the troop ship the Kennet, young Freyberg was detailed to take a platoon ashore at the Gulf of Saros, the morning of April 25, 1915, at the start of the Gallipoli campaign.
The platoon was tasked with lighting flares on the beach to distract the enemy from the main attack, but Freyberg, a champion swimmer, asked to do it. He was sure his swimming ability would help.
So, naked, except for a revolver and a knife, oiled up and blackened, he slipped over the side and began the swim in icy waters towing a raft filled with flares. At one point he was aware of something big swimming with him.
He made the shore, slowly making his way up the beach, getting close enough to the enemy lines he could hear them talking.
Crawling along he lit the first flare. Immediately he was surrounded by gunfire but continued lighting more as he went.
Then he got back in the water and swam back.
It worked to divert the enemy from the main landing.
What was even more astonishing was the night before he had spent most of the night helping to dig the grave of young English poet Rupert Brooke.
Freyberg was born in Richmond, London on March 21, 1889, the youngest son of James Freyberg and Julia Hamilton. The family came to New Zealand in 1891.
He attended Wellington College. He was not academic but made his mark as a swimmer, being the 100 yards champion in 1906 and 1910.
At first he wanted to be a doctor, but instead trained as a dentist, practising in Hamilton and Levin.
In 1914 he set off for San Francisco but at the outbreak of war went to England.
He was wounded badly several times and during the first battle of the Somme he so distinguished himself in the capture of Beaucourt Village that he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
He continued to fight despite being wounded a number of times. He ended the war by leading a squadron to seize a bridge at Lessines in Belgium - one minute before the armistice came into effect.
On June 22, 1922 he married Barbara McLaren, a widow with two children and would have a son with her.
At the outbreak of the Second World War he took command of preparing troops and in 1939 was appointed to command the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
He was badly wounded in 1942 and again in 1944.
In 1945 Freyberg accepted an invitation to become New Zealand’s Governor General.
He later left in 1952 to return to England where he was made Baron Freyberg of Wellington, sitting in the House of Lords.
He died on July 4, 1963 from complications from a wound he sustained at Gallipoli and is buried in the churchyard of St Martha on the Hill.
On Saturday I had the honour of going to the unveiling of William Lee’s headstone.
We don’t often get the chance to see the outcome of our work. What our clients do with the information we give them is up to them. And we don’t always find out if our Facebook stories have an impact.
But William Lee is the welcome exception.
When we write a Grave Story we often start with an event and find someone to write about. Which is what happened here. I was looking at the Esk Valley flood. Initially I was looking at the history of a family who was driven out of their home by a landslide when I found the little mention of William Lee who had been pinned to his bed by a beam in his house.
It started a sequence of events. The New Zealand Remembrance Army asked for what I had found on Mr Lee - I was able to provide the records, and they started the ball rolling to get a headstone.
It was also wonderful to see the family of Mr Lee was able to attend.
RIP Mr Lee. We will remember.
Otari-Wilton’s Bush would have been irresistible to young botany student Jean Marie Martin.
So it wouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone that she went for a hike there on April 8, 1945.
But what happened next was extraordinary.
She vanished. Without a trace.
Yes, people go missing all the time but often something is known or suspected.
But Jean Marie was just gone. Nothing of her was ever found.
Jean Marie was born in 1922 to Waipawa dairy farmer Montague Martin and his wife Ethel.
She was the eldest of six children and had moved to Wellington where she was working as a laboratory technician and studying botany part-time at Victoria University.
She had been living in Glenmore Street, near Wellington’s beautiful botanic gardens.
On April 8, 1945, she and a companion went for a walk in the native reserve of Otari-Wilton’s bush.
About 3pm her friend left and she kept going.
A little later in the afternoon, near a farm, Jean Marie spoke to someone and indicated an interest in the Crow’s Nest, a 166m hill. It wasn’t considered a simple walk and it was already late in the afternoon.
She was never seen again.
Jean Marie was five foot two with short curly black hair and prominent teeth. She had been wearing a blue jumper, grey skirt, fawn overcoat and a green scarf. She was also supposed to have been carrying a black patent leather handbag.
Not a single piece of that was ever found.
The search that followed was huge. Police and search and rescue style teams began and were augmented by 70 police recruits and students from Victoria. The search extended as far afield as Makara and Ohariu Valley. Students from the Teachers Training College also joined in, Jean Marie’s sister was going to the college at the time.
Her father offered a £100 reward for any information.
There was concern because Jean Marie had a breakdown the November before and her family was worried she had lost her memory.
Police eventually decided she had died of exposure.
Months later however there were two sightings of women in Ponsonby who looked like Jean Marie in Auckland - but neither sighting came to anything.
Many years later in 1967, there was another sighting which turned out not to be her.
And since then nothing more is known.
Both Montague and Ethel died never knowing what happened to their eldest daughter. Both are buried at the Waipawa Cemetery.
Charles and David Howden brought their golf clubs from Scotland when they emigrated to New Zealand. They were both passionate players but there was a problem.
There were no golf courses in New Zealand.
Charles and David were from Edinburgh, Scotland, the home of the modern golf game.
Charles was born on October 25, 1838 and David on May 1,1846 to Peter Howden, a wine merchant and Jessie Ritchie.
Charles came to New Zealand in 1871, aged 23, and began working on sheep runs in Otago. He later started a wine and spirit business in Dunedin and started the New Zealand Distillery Company making whiskey. But after it closed, he turned to golf.
In 1871 he and some friends started a golf club and Howden became the first Club Captain of the Dunedin Golf Club (later the Otago Golf Club). In 1872 the City Council gave permission for a course to be laid out and it was Howden who was the designer.
It closed down and Howden returned to Britain on business but on his return in 1889 there was renewed interest in golf.
Meanwhile in Wellington brother David helped set up the Hutt Golf Club in 1892. Golf was first played at the Hutt Park Raceway.
During attempts to create a club in Wellington, David and Ethel Duncan (one of the first woman golfers) had their eye on land at Miramar. They and others leased the land from the Crawford family who owned it and created the golf course with an official opening in 1895.
Later the club left that course and created the one at Heretaunga in Upper Hutt.
One of the oldest golfing trophies in the South Hemisphere, the St Andrew’s Cross, presented by Charles to his club on St Andrew’s Day for an annual competition is still going.
While Charles is called the father of golf in New Zealand - it took both brothers to establish the sport - and many golf courses around the country.
Charles died on August 28, 1928 and was cremated at Waikumete in Auckland. David is buried at St John's Church in Trentham, Upper Hutt.