William Harrington Atack was exhausted. A Canterbury rugby referee, he had spent hours running up and down yelling himself hoarse at players
At some point he put his hand in his pocket where the whistle for his sheepdogs was and an idea struck him. He used whistles on them, so why couldn’t he use whistles on rugby players?
Hoping they did not think he was treating them like dogs, at the next game he refereed, in June 1884, he got the teams to agree.
And for the first time a whistle, so common now, was used in a game of rugby.
The International Rugby Board, in 1892, made it a requirement for a referee to carry a whistle (although there were only 10 accepted usages for it.)
Atack was born in England in 1857. He, his parents William, a painter, and Mahala came to New Zealand in 1959 aboard the Cornwall, along with his sister who did not survive the trip.
Atack was an excellent student, going to Christ’s College, often winning scholarships.
He was an excellent rugby and cricket player, representing Canterbury at cricket after leaving school.
He also won a university scholarship but instead opted to go into journalism, starting at the Lyttelton Times in 1875. He was a dedicated sports reporter.
In 1886 he married Ada Mackett and moved to Wellington where he became the general manager of the United Press Association - which later became the New Zealand Press Association. He held that job for an astonishing 44 years.
It was during his tenure that UPA took the huge step of ordering its first typewriter.
Atack retired from the NZPA in 1930 aged 74, and died in 1946, aged 89. He was cremated at Karori Cemetery.
A bite in the night
Fifty-one-year-old Wellington delivery man Malcolm Fraser lived a fairly ordinary life, but one small native New Zealand spider gave him 15 minutes of fame – in death.
On February 5, 1891, Fraser became one of only a handful of recorded cases of fatal katipō spider bites.
Fraser immigrated to Wellington from Edinburgh, Scotland in 1880 with his wife and children. He lived in Tasman Street, Mt Cook and worked as an expressman – a person responsible for packaging and delivering goods.
In January 1891 he attended a two-day Wellington Racing Club event at Hutt Park. He slept overnight in a tent at the racecourse and awoke on January 24 to see the spider inflicting a painful bite to his right forearm.
Fraser returned home and spent an agonising night in his bed. On January 26, with his condition worsening, he consulted Dr McCarthy, who found the arm much inflamed. The doctor, noting his patient appeared to be suffering from blood poisoning, prescribed a Turkish bath to sweat the poison out. Despite the treatment, Fraser’s condition continued to deteriorate and on January 29 he was admitted to hospital, where he died seven days later.
A postmortem was performed by Wellington Hospital’s medical superintendent, John Ewart, which revealed Fraser was not a well man before the bite. Dr Ewart told the inquest he did not believe it would have proved fatal to Fraser if his liver and blood had not been in such poor condition due to the habitual use of alcoholic spirits.
Fraser’s wife Elizabeth and their children were left destitute following his death and the Evening Post newspaper began a subscription for their support. The newspaper reported that Fraser, who was the family’s breadwinner, had not worked since the nationwide maritime workers strike which ended in November 1890.
While a bite from a katipō spider is an excruciatingly painful experience, the little spiders have a lot more to fear from humans than we do from them.
Spider expert, Lincoln University’s Dr Cor Vink, told GI that New Zealand’s katipō population is in steep decline. Katipō live only in coastal sand dunes and much of this habitat has been lost or modified since European settlement. Katipō also face competition from the fast-breeding invading South African spider Steatoda capensis, commonly known as the false katipō, black cobweb spider, brown house spider or cupboard spider, which has become widespread throughout New Zealand, as well as in sand dunes. The introduced Australian red back spider, which is related to the katipō, is also a threat as male red backs and female katipō can breed and produce viable offspring.
According to Dr Vink, one thing we can do to help keep katipō safe is not to take driftwood from beaches as this is one place the little spiders make their nests. Trail bike riding and four-wheel driving on dunes is also harmful to the spiders and their habitat.
If you are unlucky enough to be bitten, ice and painkillers should be enough to get you through. For serious cases, an antivenom is available
Records of fatal katipō bites are sketchy. There are reports of some fatalities among Māori pre-European settlement. In fact, the Māori name katipō translates as ‘night stinger’.
Seven cases of fatal bites were recorded in New Zealand newspapers pre-1950, but it appears only Fraser’s death, which was attributed to erysipelas consequent on the bite of a katipō spider, was confirmed by a postmortem and inquest. Fraser is buried in Bolton Cemetery in Wellington.
Bill O’Leary - better known as Arawata (now Arawhata) Bill - spent most of his life looking for treasure.
Legends of hidden treasure had circulated around Westland, especially of a sea chest of gold worth £30,000 buried near a river mouth by pirates who had fled the Australian goldfields or of a ruby mine, long since lost.
Neither has ever been found.
William James O’Leary was born October 8, 1865, the second child of a family of eight to Timothy O’Leary from Prince Edwards Island in Canada and Mary O’Connor who came from County Clare, Ireland.
They had come to New Zealand in response to the discovery of gold in Otago.
It was a hard life.
The family lived first at Tuapeka where gold had been found before moving to Weatherstons near Lawrence.
Like a lot of kids at the time O'Leary's formal education was minimal.
He worked on stations in Maniototo county before heading to Queenstown where he started prospecting, moving around South Westland for 14 years before taking a job with the Westland County Council as ferryman on the Waiatoto River. He resigned in 1929 and the rest of his life was spent prospecting the river valley from where he got his nickname.
But his obsession with gold might have come about as the result of a prank. A companion pretended to find a nugget which Bill refused to believe was planted.
O’Leary also claimed to have found - then lost - a ruby mine in the Red Hills area.
He was the perfect bushman, completely self-reliant. Happy with his own company, he was not, however, a hermit. He enjoyed meeting people.
He finally retired in his mid-70s but still made prospecting trips. Still searching.
In 1943 he went into a Dunedin home for the aged but hated the lifestyle and made several attempts to return to Arawhata. He never found any significant gold - or indeed - his ruby mine.
He died in Dunedin Hospital on November 8, 1947. His name lives on as two passes, one in the Mt Aspiring National Park and west of Lake McKerrow bear the O’Leary name.
He is buried in Andersons Bay Cemetery, Dunedin with a simple headstone, funded by a public appeal, that records both his names.
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.
Every day commuters walk through the beautiful front foyer of Wellington’s railway station without seeing the plaque on the wall that commemorates a war hero.
Leslie Andrew was a Wanganui boy but he was adopted by Wellington after he worked as a clerk at the Railways Department office before volunteering to serve in the Great War in October 1915.
Born on March 23, 1897, in Ashhurst in the Manawatu, the son of the headmaster of a local school William Andrew and mother Frances Hannah, he grew up in Whanganui. After completing his schooling he worked for a solicitor before moving to the New Zealand Railways Department.
He had gained valuable military service experience with the Territorial Force as a cadet which led to his eagerness to go to war.
He wasn’t supposed to, he was underage at 18 and lied about it to join the New Zealand Expeditionary Force shipping out in May 1916.
By September 1916 he had arrived in France and fought with the 2nd Wellington Battalion on the Somme before being wounded.
During fighting around the tiny village of La Basseville, near Messines, in Belgium, then Corporal Andrew was leading men to destroy a machine gun post. He noticed a nearby machine gun post that was holding up the advance of another platoon. He diverted his force and removed the threat then led his men on to the original target. Despite being under continuous gunfire Andrew and Private Laurence Robert Ritchie kept going, taking out the post. He received a flesh wound to his back.
He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his “cool daring, initiative, and fine leadership, and his magnificent example was a great stimulant to his comrades”.
At 20 years old, he was one of the youngest New Zealanders to be awarded the VC.
After further action he was sent to England for officer training and was there when the war ended.
It was there he met Bessie Ball from Nottingham and married her. They had five children.
Andrew opted to become a professional soldier and came back to New Zealand where he was appointed adjutant of the 1st Wellington Regiment.
At the outbreak of WW2 Andrew, now a major, was seconded to the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force then appointed commander of the 22nd Battalion. They sailed in May 1940 to the Middle East but were diverted by the invasion of (then) Holland and Belgium.
From there he went to Egypt and then Greece leading the battalion through the Battle of Greece.
Evacuated to Crete, Andrew was ordered to hold Point 107, the dominant hill overlooking the airfield. Heavily bombed and with communications lost, they eventually had to withdraw
After heavy losses in Crete. The battalion withdrew to Egypt to rebuild.
When his commander was captured in 1941, Andrew was given temporary command, earning a Distinguished Service Order for his leadership.
In 1942 he gave up his command in order to return to New Zealand where officers were needed to oversee home defences with the entry of Japan into the war.
He led the Wellington Fortress Area for the rest of the war.
Andrew died on 8 January 8, 1969 at Palmerston North Hospital after a brief illness and is buried at the Levin RSA cemetery.
His VC was one of the ones stolen from the National Army Museum in Waiouru and later recovered.
A large number of his descendants were at the unveiling of the railway station plaque 100 years after the battle for which he was awarded his VC.
As a wild storm bashed the country this week, some needed to be evacuated, some recorded snow in Wellington, roads were closed and people shivered.
New Zealand has had its fair share of horrible storms, with the collision of two storm fronts in 1968 sinking the Wahine ferry being one of the most memorable.
But there have been plenty of others.
In February 1938, it did not seem like there was a storm. The worker’s camp on the banks of the Waiau stream, in the Kōpuawhara Valley at Kaiangapiri near Mahia, set up for the workers on the Napier-Gisborne Railway line, was bedded down for the night when disaster struck.
The stream was already in flood, but at 3am a huge wall of water five metres high carrying logs, rocks and bridge timbers, created by a cloudburst, swept through, taking most of the camp with it.
In its aftermath 20 men and one woman had died.
A workman, who was awake, Tom Tracey, 44, tried to warn the camp by banging on the cookhouse gong.
He could have escaped but chose to stay and try to alert the camp. He tried running around the camp banging on doors but to no avail. He was swept away in the waters.
Many tried to take refuge on the roof of their huts but the huts themselves were swept away by the force of the water.
Only those who managed to get on to the roof of the cookhouse survived. One man, Frank Fry, 51, left the safety of the roof to look for 22-year-old Martha Quinn but was swept away. He is buried in Wairoa.
The Cameron family, caterer Harold, his wife, daughter Joan and son Harold, 17, managed to escape, with Harold junior rescuing another man. Daughter Joan was saved by elderly Hugh McCorquodale who tied himself to a hut and held her above water for an hour.
Five kilometres away was a second camp. They managed to survive because they had more time although a man camping nearby was killed.
At an inquest, much inquiry was made about where the camp was placed. A railway engineer said he had considered the floodplain when he put the camp up and there was no sign of any flooding. The event was considered unprecedented.
Two bodies, those of Ivan Martinac, 31, and Roderick Douglas Neish, were never recovered.
Martha, a waitress in the cookhouse was the only woman to lose her life.
A mass grave at the Wairoa Cemetery holds 11 of the dead.
Martha is buried at Taruheru Cemetery in Gisborne where her parents lived.
A huge amount of damage was done to bridges, lands and roads totalling well over $5 million in today’s terms.
It’s been a year since we launched Genealogy Investigations and then started telling you stories.
The ones here are interesting people and facts we have come across but everyday as part of our business, we hear stories that never make it public.
So we thought we would tell you a few - carefully edited to protect the privacy of those involved.
Late last year we were able to reconstruct a whole family history - from arrival in New Zealand to nearly modern day for a client whose family had been split up and children adopted into different families. They had lost all the little things we all take for granted. We were delighted to be able to tell them that some of their ancestors were world famous in New Zealand and where they could see the portraits of their family members.
We have found the father of an adopted client - who was himself adopted - which meant quite a bit of hard research to put dates, time and places together.
We have searched for people up and down the country and overseas, putting families back in touch with each other sometimes.
We tracked down a chap in Australia, during a full lockdown, who was unable to work, and were able to put him in touch with the lawyer who was looking for him as a beneficiary of a will to give him the inheritance left to him.
We hunted for the beneficiaries of a New Zealand estate in Ireland (with some help from some new Irish friends!).
We found the heirs of a long-since deceased land owner from more than 150 years ago for a lawyer to see what they might be entitled to.
We managed to find one Smith (turned out to be spelled Smyth) out of millions.
And just last week, in the midst of a new Covid panic, we found a homeless guy who had not been in contact with his family for 25 years.
And along the way we have uncovered many stories and reunited many people.
The year has taken us places we never thought about and we are always learning new things.
We love finding people!
We would love to hear your own success stories finding your own people.
It was a chance argument between his father and a neighbour that made Eric Honeywood Partridge interested in words, becoming New Zealand’s world famous lexicographer.
A large slow bee flew past the pair and one called it a bumblebee and the other a humblebee.
Fascinated, young Eric, who only that year had learned to use a dictionary, found both had been in use for hundreds of years.
It was the start of a career in words that would define him.
Eric was born on February 6, 1894, in the Waimata Valley, north of Gisborne, the oldest son of John Partridge, a glazier, and Ethel Norris. He was the first caucasian born there.
His father was better educated than most farmers, he knew Greek, Latin and French and passed his love of learning to his son.
The family moved to Queensland, Australia in 1908 when Eric was 14, and for the first time heard a lot of different slang.
He got himself a notebook and wrote down all the new words he learned.
Eric studied classics before going to the University of Queensland.
For a short time he worked as a school teacher but in 1915 he joined the Australian Imperial Forces and served in the infantry during World War One where he was wounded in the Battle of Pozières in France. He was leading a group across No Man’s Land at the time.
While there, Eric became interested in how soldiers talked and gathered up all the strange expressions he heard.
He returned to the university in 1919 receiving a Bachelor of Arts.
After becoming a travelling fellow at Oxford University in English he went on to do a Masters of romantic poetry and comparative literature.
Eric taught at a grammar school briefly before taking a lecturing position at the Universities of Manchester and London.
From 1923 he occupied a desk in the British Museum Library for 50 years.
Eric married Agnes Dora Vye-Parminter and had a daughter.
He founded a publishing company and wrote under the pseudonym Corrie Denison.
But his biggest work, in part because of the bumblebee incident, was on slang and went on to write the 1230-page Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English.
He returned to war during the Second World War serving in the RAF’s correspondence department.
He wrote over 40 books on English language and tennis, which he loved to play.
He never returned to New Zealand but called himself a loyal New Zealander. He died in Moretonhampstead, Devon in 1979 aged 85.
Eric once said he was tired of being called the dictionary man or the word man so instead great American literary critic Edmund Wilson dubbed him The Word King.
The large memorial at Bastion Point is testament to how loved first Labour Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage was.
But in 2003 when the memorial tomb was opened 63 years after his death, the coffin was gone.
Startled beyond belief, the team of experts who had gone in to determine if there was any damage, had to report he wasn’t there.
Savage was born March 23, 1872, in Australia, the youngest of eight children and came to New Zealand in 1907.
A trade unionist, he was elected as Auckland Trades and Labour Council president and supported the formation of the Labour Party. He was elected leader unopposed in 1933.
He then led the party to its first electoral victory in 1935 and then again in 1938.
He won public support for economic and social welfare policies.
His government joined Britain in declaring war against Germany in 1939.
He was however in declining health, suffering from colon cancer. He died on March 27, 1940.
A state funeral was held with a requiem held at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Hill St, Wellington before his body was taken to Auckland by train, stopping frequently for people to pay their respects.
He was temporarily interred in a harbour gun emplacement then moved to a side chapel at St Patricks Church while a design was created of his tomb at Bastion Point. He was finally laid to rest there.
But when archaeologist Doug Sutton and a team went to check 63 years later, they were dumbfounded to find his coffin missing.
Savage had originally been there, the coffin visible through barred windows in the doors. But by the time the memorial was opened he was gone.
For two years the hunt for his body was on.
A radar scan failed to reveal it and there was even a fear that the body had been hidden to prevent it being taken by the Japanese during the war.
Then it was thought he might be beneath the floor after a note was found in correspondence between Internal Affairs and the Public Works Department
But it wasn’t until a large fissure opened in on the northern side of the memorial that the experts began to wonder.
Using geo-technical instruments they began searching and found it in a vertical shaft below the sarcophagus. And there he was 200m down, where it remains to this day.
Mystery Creek is best known now as the usual home of Fieldays which has its last day today.
But as it turns out how the area got its name is a mystery in itself.
One of the least spooky tales is one of gold robbery in 1867. Waikato War veteran Christian Hansen lived on a farm on the main section of the main route to Hamilton via Ōhaupō to Te Rore. It was remote and at night, very dark.
He was used to travellers knocking on his door to ask directions. But when two men entered his home, threatened him and took his savings of 21 gold sovereigns (a huge sum back then!) he reached for his rifle.
It all went wrong when one of the robbers grabbed it and instead shot him in the left wrist. They took off and Hansen was left to make his way to Orum’s Hotel where they sent for the doctor. The hand had to be amputated (without anesthesia!).
The robbery itself was a mystery, made even more so when a few months later when another settler, looking for a lost cow, found the body of a man that had been strangled. The working theory was one of the thieves killed the other and took off with the money.
But it's not the only story.
Another was the sudden disappearance of a soldier, seen crossing the gully, only to disappear, never to be seen again.
Yet another is about a murder committed nearby and the fugitive hid nearby. When a police constable went to find him, neither one of them was ever seen again.
A saddled horse apparently called Mystery found wandering in the gully is another one. No rider was ever found.
There is also an intriguing story about the attempted murder of a bank clerk but that was much later and we’ll have more about that in another post.
What we can say is that since the records of newspapers began Mystery Creek was already called that. One of the earliest news stories in which the name was used was from 1870.
One more little mystery is what happened to Mr Hansen. There are no records of his death or where he is buried.
Do you know another story about Mystery Creek?