1. Unlike most of the people in this blog, Barbara Mulligan is very much alive. But if any of the pre-deceased deserves a spot in the folklore of Karori Cemetery, it’s her.

    For four years she has led guided walks in the cemetery, recounting the stories of those who lie there. For the past two she has spearheaded a project to clear and clean as many as possible of the graves of the 660 or so victims of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic buried at Karori, and to bring their stories to light.

    That project culminates this month – the centenary of Black November, when the flu was at its most deadly - with two Sundays of talks, walks and exhibitions in memory of the victims.

    Spanish Flu probably started in an army camp in Kansas, was shipped to Europe by the troops then spread worldwide as soldiers returned home from the battlefields in 1918. It definitely killed more than 50 million people, and possibly up to 100 million.

    It arrived in Auckland and travelled the country, killing between 8500 and 9000 people – half the number of New Zealanders killed in four years of war, dead in a few weeks.

    “We don’t remember,” says Barbara. “There’s no collective memory of the 1918 flu epidemic

    “We have war memorials throughout the country but we have very, very few – I think there are only eight – memorials in the whole country to people who died in the flu epidemic.

    “Our collective memory seemed not to be working so I thought ‘Let’s see if we can do something about it’.”

    ******

    It all started in 2009 with a small dog. Despite living cheek-by-jowl with the cemetery, it was only with the arrival of Dickson – “he’s got short legs but he still needs two walks a day” - that Barbara joined the ranks of cemetery frequenters.

    The mighty Dickson.
    Her interest was piqued by the grave of Jack Riddall – who, according to the inscription on his gravestone, “met his death whilst skylarking”.

    Curiosity got the better of her and she put her skills as a historian and hobby genealogist to use. Jack, she discovered, fell out of a fourth-storey hotel window in Willis Street in April 1919. While skylarking.

    There were many other interesting names, inscriptions and monuments. Barbara’s research blossomed in 2014 into Karori Cemetery Tour, through which - in arrangement with cemetery owner Wellington City Council - she leads guided walks and drives and recounts the stories of some of the permanent occupants.

    Those stories are many, varied and often fascinating, as befits the resting place of around 85,000 people, from executed murderers to Prime Ministers. But with the centenary of Black November approaching, the 660 became a particular focus for her energies.

    Back to the unfortunate Jack. Barbara noticed a concentration of graves near his which dated from 1918, particularly November 1918 – unusual in a cemetery which is not necessarily laid out in date order.

    As she and Dickson walked their walks, the idea formed. “I thought ‘Right - these people in various parts of this large cemetery, nobody knows anything about them, nobody goes anywhere near them as far as I can tell. They are rather neglected, they’re overgrown’.

    “We were already into the beginning of the commemorations of World War One, but the flu was a hugely important event in New Zealand and elsewhere. I thought ‘Are we going to do anything about it?’

    “I have good ideas - sometimes I regret them, sometimes I don’t. This one I haven’t regretted at all so far.”

    The idea was for a volunteer, community-based project - in partnership with the city council, supported by genealogists - to prepare the way for a centennial commemoration of Black November.

    Barbara talked it over with the council and a memorandum of understanding was drawn up. She sought out Professor Geoffrey Rice, whose book Black November is the definitive New Zealand account of the pandemic. In the 1980s he had compiled a list of all the New Zealand victims from their death certificates.

    “I contacted Geoffrey Rice and told him what we were doing,” says Barbara. “He offered to send us the Wellington portion of the list, for which we’re immensely grateful. It’s our Bible.”

    The early research brought home the scale of the disaster, and the task in hand.

    Volunteers in the Roman Catholic section during the almost-last working bee, a week before the centenary.
    Barbara calculated the project would take two years, so in October 2016 she started in earnest, rallying volunteers for working bees. “I can’t remember how I first appealed for helpers… but I was amazed when about 25 people showed up for the first one. They got stuck straight in, pulling weeds, rolling back leaf litter, before I could say ‘go’.”

    A monumental mason gave instructions on how to clean gravestones – no chemicals, just water, and a soft brush. Small trees were cut back, in keeping with council guidelines.

    They started in the Anglican section, which is relatively easy underfoot. Next came the Roman Catholic section, which was more of a challenge with its steep slopes. Finally they moved on to Gum Gully, the Public 2 section, where they were really put to the test.

    Gum Gully is dark, with giant eucalyptus trees interlocking overhead and dropping leaves, branches and bark on to the graves below. At and below ground level, their roots have cracked and shattered the monuments. Some of the paths are steep, the ground uneven.

    “We practised on the Anglican section, we were getting better in the Roman Catholic section and by the time we got to Gum Gully we were really ready to go.”

    The working bees were held monthly in summer, attracting 20 to 30 volunteers. Corporate volunteers from IT firm Datacom and Contact Energy pitched in with their own mini-bees, clearing paths.

    In the winter, the group held seminars and workshops. Barbara has also spread the word through numerous talks and presentations on the project.

    “I wanted it to be volunteer-friendly. I couldn’t see the point in making people work in the depths of winter, in the cold, wet and mud. And indeed we haven’t had to.”

    Work under way in the challenging surroundings of Gum Gully.
    The volunteers were never going to be able to tackle every flu grave, many of which were untraceable through faulty record-keeping or dilapidation, through plots being resold, or the occupants being disinterred and reburied elsewhere.

    They focused on formed plots, those with a degree of construction. They kept away from the Soldiers’ Section, where the graves are kept spick and span anyway.

    In some areas weeds reclaimed cleared plots and they had to be cleared again. But by this month the volunteers had cleaned and cleared around 450 graves.

    As well as getting their hands dirty, some also researched the stories of the victims, putting a human face on the statistics. They shed light on stories like those of Bob and Beenie - Robert Ballantyne and his sister Robina, from Kelburn, whose father was a butcher. Bob survived serious war injuries only to die of influenza, five days before Beenie.

    Many local families suffered as badly, or worse. Also buried at Karori are soldiers - the Soldiers’ Section saw six burials in the four months leading up to the crisis, and 99 in November and December 1918. And there are seamen who lie in the city where they died, sometimes far from home. One such is Captain John Drewette, of the passenger vessel SS Monowai, who never made it back to his home berth at Devonport. 

    Many individual stories have been posted to the project’s Facebook page, alongside photos of the work in action, and news and features relating to Black November. As the centenary has approached, the posts have included a daily record of the people who died on that day, 100 years ago.
    The grave of Captain Drewette, before and after receiving the attention of the project volunteers.

    While the hard work in the cemetery was going on, plans for the commemorations were taking shape. 

    “We didn’t do this work just for fun,” says Barbara. “We did it because we want people to come and remember there was this major event in which a lot of people died; one that affected this country and every other country in the world.”

    The commemorations at Karori cemetery – supported by the city council and Karori Historical Society – began on Sunday 18 November, the eve of the centenary of the cemetery’s busiest-ever day, which saw 63 burials.

    The opening was conducted by Mayor Justin Lester and Wellington MP Grant Robertson, before  Professor Rice gave a talk comparing the experience of the epidemic in Wellington with Christchurch, where better organisation and better availability of care resulted in a much reduced death rate.

    The commemorations - continuing on Sunday 25 November - saw the picturesque, historic Mortuary Chapel used as an exhibition and information centre. There were guided and self-guided walks in the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Public, Jewish and Soldiers’ sections. Flu graves were be marked with white crosses unless the occupant was, or was likely to be, non-Christian - a startling visual reminder, in some areas, of the scale of the disaster.

    Ramps and handrails were put in place to ease access in the more rugged areas. As a permanent feature, information boards will give future visitors an insight into Wellington’s experience of the world’s worst natural disaster since the Black Death.

    Barbara and volunteers, ready for action. Barbara had just finished leading an Armistice Day tour of the Soldiers' section.

    It all started with a small dog, and a man who met his death while skylarking. 

    Through Karori Cemetery Tour, Barbara will continue to connect Wellingtonians and others with their heritage. And through the influenza project she and her band of “wonderful volunteers” have done a remarkable job to raise into the collective memory a catastrophe that prolonged the agony for a war-weary and injured world.

    A startling visual reminder - Gum Gully.


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  2. On or near 29 September – the feast day of the Archangel Michael, the patron saint of police, among others - police across Oceania gather to remember those they have lost.

    Since the formation of New Zealand Police as a civilian entity in 1886, 32 police or Ministry of Transport Traffic Safety Service officers have been killed through criminal acts in the course of their duty.

    The youngest was just 21; the oldest 50. They were shot, or battered, or killed on the road; because they stood in a criminal’s way, or simply because of their uniform. Some died performing acts of heroism, others were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some died on the spot, others years later from injuries received.

    Their names are inscribed on plaques on the Memorial Wall at the Royal New Zealand Police College in Porirua, and form the centrepiece of an annual national Remembrance Day ceremony.

    Every recruit wing acknowledges their sacrifice with a heartfelt haka to the wall before their graduation. At other times, in contrast, family members visit to spend some quiet time with their memories.

    Karori Cemetery has links with five of the slain officers. Elsewhere, Underground History has told the stories of Constable Vivian Dudding and Sergeant John McGuire. This Remembrance Day we remember Traffic Officer John Kehoe, Sergeant Bill Hughes and Constable Jim Richardson.



    John Kehoe was 25. He is buried in the Soldiers’ section in acknowledgement of his service as an Able Seaman in the Royal New Zealand Navy during the Second World War.

    He joined the Traffic Safety Service in 1945 and, despite being from Wellington, was serving in the Bay of Plenty as a motorcycle officer.

    He had married his sweetheart Maureen directly after the war; they had a daughter and another child on the way when, on 31 January 1949, he set out for work for the last time.

    Kehoe, known as Jack, was talking to taxi drivers in the main street of Whakatāne at around 8.30pm when a motorcyclist passed by. The motorcyclist then returned and sped past at 60mph. Kehoe followed and pulled the rider over at Poroporo, a few kilometres out of town.

    The rider drew a .38 revolver and shot Kehoe several times. A farmer who came to investigate was shot and wounded. Kehoe died shortly afterwards.

    The offender escaped and, for days, there was fear that he would strike again. A week after the killing, however, the man was found dead in an orchard at Awakeri. He had shot himself. Two revolvers, a pistol and 74 rounds of ammunition lay nearby.

    The killer was Richard McGill, aged 19. He was a local mill worker who, it emerged, had an unhealthy interest in firearms. When police searched McGill’s bedroom, they found two rifles and a shotgun.

    He had previously been sent to borstal after firing a stolen rifle at neighbours. At the age of 15, it was reported, he had used a picture of a police officer as a target for airgun practice.



    Bill Hughes was 48 when he died in May 1951. He was married with two sons and had served in Police for 26 years.

    He joined Police in 1925 and, after three years in Wellington, he transferred to Stratford. After 13 years there he moved – briefly – to Rotorua, then was promoted to Officer in Charge at Otaki.

    Hughes was a keen sportsman. He was president of the Railway Bowling Club and he coached at the Rahui Junior Football Club. He was a member of the local Masons and was widely liked in the town.

    On 27 May Hughes was called to a home in Otaki where a violent domestic dispute was playing out. Three women and two children in the house were being terrorised by a gunman.

    As he went to their aid, Hughes was shot in the wrist and was unable to use the Police-issued pistol he carried. The children managed to escape but Hughes was unable to keep the gunman - Noema Raana Rika – out. Rika forced his way into the house and shot Hughes and the women dead before killing himself.

    Hughes’ funeral service at Otaki Anglican Church on 30 May was attended by the Minister of Police, Police Commissioner John Young, the local Member of Parliament and numerous senior police officers from across the country.

    A memorial service in the afternoon at Karori Cemetery was attended by Prime Minister Sid Holland. Hughes was cremated and the whereabouts of his ashes is uncertain.




    The death of Jim Richardson was one of a series of events which brought fundamental changes in the way police in New Zealand go about their business.

    Richardson was 25 years old and had been in Police only six months. On Sunday 3 February 1963 he set off to start his 5pm shift. “Don’t wait up, I think I might be late,” he told Marie, his wife of nine months.

    He arrived at Lower Hutt Police Station early. When a call to a ‘domestic’ came in he told a colleague whose shift was due to finish that he would handle it – no point in copping all that paperwork so close to home time.

    Richardson and his partner Constable Bryan Schultz, 22, pulled up outside the house in Herbert Street, Alicetown, at around 5pm. Before Schultz could even turn off the engine, a volley of shots came from inside the house and they died where they sat.

    Inside the house was toolmaker Bruce McPhee, 27. He had been drinking and taking pills and had argued with his wife, who was unhappy with the job he was making of plastering their kitchen. At about 4.40pm she had gone to the local dairy and called the police.

    The room from which Constables Richardson and Schultz were shot.
    Their car is visible outside.
    McPhee was overpowered in the driveway by neighbours and went quietly when police reinforcements came. He admitted what he had done but had little explanation other than “I went wild and silly and shot two men".

    Richardson - a keen outdoorsman and tramper - and Schultz were well-liked and their killing stunned their colleagues at Lower Hutt Police. Many had been sent to Northland to help police the Queen’s forthcoming visit to Waitangi. Others were on holiday or just enjoying a sunny weekend - but staff poured back to the station on the Sunday night in shock and grief.

    Constable Bryan Schultz
    "I think most of us are asking the eternal question - why?” mused Rev Lionel Shotlander at Richardson's funeral at St Augustine's church, Petone. “We are reminded that there is a price to be paid for upholding the law. We are not always mindful of how much the police are required to give."

    Richardson and Schultz were the 17th and 18th officers slain on duty since 1886. Police nationally were still reeling from the 15th and 16th – the shooting of Detective Inspector Wallace Chalmers and Detective Sergeant Neville Power in the Waitakere Ranges the previous month.

    There had to be a better way of dealing with armed or potentially armed offenders – and work began on creating a team with specialist training in dealing with firearms incidents. The first Armed Offenders Squad became operational the following year.

    There was also a significant day-to-day change: since 1963, the practice for officers attending domestic disturbances has been to park away from the address and approach it cautiously.

    Bruce McPhee was the first New Zealander convicted of murdering a police officer – previously offenders had been shot, had killed themselves or been declared insane - and was jailed for life. After serving 11 years, plus 10 years on parole, he moved to Australia, then back to New Zealand. He now lives quietly in Auckland.

    Marie spoke to the Dominion Post for a feature marking the 50th anniversary of the murders. "When I first saw the Memorial Wall at the Police College, I thought ‘I hope there are never any more names put up’. Sadly there have been quite a few."

    Jim Richardson was cremated at Karori Cemetery on 5 February 1963. Bryan Schultz was buried in Purewa Cemetery, Auckland, alongside Neville Power and Wallace Chalmers, where their graves are tended by Neville's daughter Gwyneth, among others.


    On and about Remembrance Day, you may see Police staff wearing a pin in the form of a huia tail feather, emblazoned with a Police chevron. It signifies something precious, and lost.

    Huia e! Huia tangata kotahi. 
    He totara kua hinga. 

    The feather of the huia, for someone special 
    The dear departed. 


    Kehoe - Soldiers 17 S/3 (Record no: 90627) 
    Hughes - Record no: 10610 
    Richardson - Record no: 22593 

    We remember - Remembrance Day on the New Zealand Police website
    Click here for the full list of police officers slain in the course of duty.

    With special thanks to Rowan Carroll, Director of the New Zealand Police Museum
    Other sources: New Zealand Police; Dominion Post/Evening Post; Wellington City Council.
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  3. Well, not heaven perhaps, but Otari-Wilton’s Bush is a very special slice of Wellington.

    From the pristine botanical garden on the upper slopes to the river flowing through native bush below, from the treetop boardwalk to centuries-old giants growing beside the bush walks, it’s a remarkable place to find 5km from centre of the capital city.

    It owes its existence largely to the vision of two men: a farmer who resisted the slash-and-burn practices of early colonial agriculture; and a self-taught botanist who loved the place so much that he’s still there. 

    Job Elijah Wilton was six years old when he arrived in New Zealand on the migrant ship Oriental in October 1841. He was one of 14 children born to Robert and Elizabeth Wilton, of Montacute, Somerset, six of whom are listed alongside their parents on the Oriental’s passenger manifest.

    Job Wilton

    The family settled in the Wairarapa, near Castlepoint. As a young man Job decided to try his luck prospecting in Australia, but soon returned. He moved to the West Coast of the South Island but found it did not suit him and came back to Wellington, settling in the Wadestown area.

    He worked as a blacksmith, travelling by horseback every day to work at the E W Mills foundry at Sayes Court, off Aurora Terrace. Given the uncertainty of settler-Māori relations, in 1860 Job was drafted into a local militia but fortunately they were not called into action. In that year he married Ellen Curtis and bought a 108-acre (44-hectare) plot in the Kaiwharawhara valley.  

    The place was called Otari, meaning ‘place of snares’, and the lush podocarp forest had long been a hunting ground for local Māori.

    The Wilton farmhouse, by John H Alexander.

    Job built a small cottage at what became 116 Wilton Road and set about the business of farming, felling trees and ploughing up the land. However, he was so disturbed by the loss of native forest – ancient trees were being felled at an alarming rate to provide timber for the growing city – that he fenced off 17 acres (seven hectares) of the bush to preserve it.

    Job encouraged settlers to visit ‘Wilton’s Bush’ to picnic in the forest and take advantage of the stream and bush walks. He took pains to ensure that fires weren’t lit and that timber wasn’t taken from the reserve.

    The value of Wilton’s Bush was officially recognised – and it was given official protection – when it was gazetted as a forest reserve in 1906 and put under the administration of the Department of Health and Tourism.

    The Wilton family flourished. Between 1861 and 1879 Job and Ellen had 11 children – including a son with the magnificent name Ardent - and in 1883 their small cottage was greatly extended, with a second storey and a large wing added. In a small stream near the house Job installed a waterwheel to provide power to grind maize.


    Ellen died in 1909 and was buried at Karori Cemetery. Job died on 23 November 1916 at the age of 82 and joined Ellen in the grave on the edge of Gum Gully, facing the Roman Catholic section across the driveway.

    Two years before Job’s death, Dr Leonard Cockayne and his wife Maud had moved to Wellington. Cockayne was said to be forthright in his views and quick to anger. He was also a brilliant botanist and the leading authority on New Zealand flora.

    He was born near Sheffield in 1852 and, being much younger than his six siblings, was a lonely child who passed his time observing the plants and animals near his home.

    He was a teacher when he came to New Zealand in 1881, but his father’s death in 1884 left him an independent income and the ability to leave teaching. In 1885 he bought a small farm near Christchurch and started collecting plants.

    Dr Leonard Cockayne.
    In 1892 he bought a property near New Brighton and established an experimental garden, sowing thousands of exotic plants obtained from botanic gardens around the world, sending local plants in exchange.

    He travelled extensively in the early 1900s - the Chatham Islands, the West Coast, Ruapuke Island, Milford Sound, the Auckland and Campbell islands, Kapiti Island, the Waipoua kauri forest, Tongariro National Park and Stewart Island.

    He was a prolific writer of scientific books and papers and a great believer in popularising science, writing newspaper articles and giving public lectures. He won many awards and held positions in many scientific and conservation organisations. His 1921 book The Vegetation of New Zealand was the standard reference book for 70 years.

    Cockayne had stayed in Wellington while convalescing from illness in 1904. He had noted its potential for botanical purposes but hated the famed Wellington wind and was happy to escape back to the south.

    By 1917 he was living in Ngaio, a short distance from Wilton’s Bush. Since 1906 it had been added to and in 1918 the Department of Health and Tourism handed it over to Wellington City Council. The same year Wellington appointed its first Director of Parks and Gardens, J G Mackenzie.

    Cockayne and Mackenzie worked together to realise the potential Cockayne had noted two decades before, and in 1926 they established the Otari Open Air Native Plant Museum.

    Cockayne’s plan was to establish a collection of New Zealand native plants, displayed in family groups or as recreated ecosystems representing different regions and environments. This he did: the plants are still arranged in collections - an alpine garden, a fernery, lancewood plantation, a rock garden, a coastal garden and more.

    The Cockaynes' resting place.
    He was one of the first botanists to understand the damage caused to native ecosystems by introduced flora and fauna. In 1928, after originally downplaying the damage done by possums, Cockayne started a programme of possum control at Otari. This is thought to be the first systematic attempt to manage the pest on a reserve.

    Cockayne died at his home in Ngaio on July 8 1934, at the age of 79, and Maud died on Christmas Eve the same year. They were both buried at the head of the lawn in the centre of Otari’s botanic garden.


    “In that beautiful sanctuary of primitive flora he was most fittingly laid…” wrote James Cowan in the New Zealand Railways Magazine in April 1937. “His works live after him; his memory is revered by thousands who never knew him but through his faithful and loving labours in the cause of the beauty and the treasures of the real New Zealand."

    Job Wilton and Leonard Cockayne both left a deep impression on Wellington and New Zealand. Wilton’s farmland was eventually subdivided to form the foundation of the suburb which bears his name. His house still stands and is on Heritage New Zealand’s list of significant and valued places of historical and cultural heritage. He also left 49 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

    Cockayne’s name, appropriately, lives on in the very fabric of our natural history: through the Cockaynea grass genus and nine other species of New Zealand native including koromiko (Hebe cockayniana), a mountain daisy (Celmisia cockayniana) and the mountain Astelia (A. cockaynei). On a larger scale, the Cockayne Reserve in Christchurch and the Cockayne Nature Walk near Otira on the West Coast are named after him.

    Waterfall on the Kaiwharawhara stream.

    The memorial plaque on Cockayne's grave carries in his own words a challenge to future generations. "Will our descendants prize this unique heritage from the dim past and preserve these sanctuaries intact?" 

    So far, so good at Otari. Today Otari-Wilton’s Bush covers 100 hectares of native forest, and five hectares of the only botanic garden dedicated to native New Zealand plants. Job Wilton’s original seven hectares of bush lie at its heart and still supply most of the seeds used for propagation.

    It is rich in native birds – including kereru, tui, kaka and even kakariki parakeets which have crossed the fence of the nearby Zealandia sanctuary. In complete contrast to the near-extinction caused by pre- and post-colonial hunting, the city council recently saw the need to erect road signs warning drivers of the danger of low-flying kereru on Wilton Road, on the approach to the place of snares.

    The Kaiwharawhara stream has a regenerating population of long-fin eels. There is a network of bush walks across the slopes of Otari, including one which takes visitors past a magnificent 800-plus-year-old rimu.

     Magic, on the number 14 bus route.



     Job Wilton - PUBLIC 2, 212H (69798)


    Sources: National Library of New Zealand; Wellington City Council; Historic Wellington, by John H Alexande r (1959, AH and AW Reed); nzhistory.govt.nz; BMD Online; Victoria University of Wellington (Famous New Zealanders; The Resident Botanists); Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand; Oriental passenger list - http://www.donegalgenealogy.com; www.geni.com; www.heritage.org.nz

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  4. Trundling up the hill from Lambton Quay to Upland Road, the Wellington Cable Car is the capital's best-loved icon.

    It combines rumbling charm with the prospect of stunning views from the top - on clear days, anyway. It’s a must-do for visiting cruise ship passengers, who rub shoulders with weary commuters and footsore shoppers heading home from the city.

    We owe it to James Fulton, an engineer from Otago who left an indelible mark on his adopted hometown. 

    A turn-of-the-century Wellingtonian travelling home to the new western suburbs would have climbed from Lambton Quay to Kelburn on the Fulton-designed cable car; crossed the Fulton-designed Kelburn Viaduct; then shortly found themselves going through the Fulton-designed Karori Tunnel.  

    Around the country people crossed Fulton-designed bridges linked by Fulton-designed railways. Fulton was one of the people who enabled New Zealand’s growth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and much of the infrastructure he laid down in his years in both public and private practice is still in use today.

    James Edward Fulton was born at Outram, Otago, on 11 December 1854. He was the second of eight children of James - a landowner and politician who served in both houses of the New Zealand Parliament – and Catherine, a philanthropist and social reformer.

    As a young man he worked in a flax mill, where by 1873 he was in charge of the engine and machinery, before following his older brother Arthur into the Public Works Department in Wellington. In 1878, after four years as a cadet, he became an assistant engineer. For two years he undertook survey work in Hawke's Bay – where he was Assistant Engineer in Napier – and the Bay of Islands, and worked on the proposed Kaihu Valley railway scheme in Northland.

    When the Wellington-Palmerston North railway was being built by the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company it was something of a Fulton affair, with James appointed resident engineer on the Waikanae-Longburn section, and Arthur in the same position on the Wellington-Waikanae section. 


    Fulton's Longburn Railway Bridge, the longest bridge on the Wellington-Palmerston North railway.
    The line required some major civil engineering, including tunnels, earthworks, swamp drainage and a crossing of the Manawatu River at Longburn. It was completed in 1886 and Arthur was appointed manager and locomotive superintendent for its whole length. Fulton succeeded his brother in the role after Arthur's early death in 1889.

    In the dying years of the 19th century Fulton was in private practice in Wellington. At this time, the Upland Estate Company - with influential directors including Kirkcaldie and Stains founder John Kirkcaldie - were developing the new suburb of Kelburn on the former Upland Estate. They set up the Kelburne & Karori Tramway Company (before Kelburn lost its final 'e') with a view to providing transport to their development and capturing the most direct route to the growing settlement of Karori. 

    The plan envisaged a tramway from the city to Kelburn, linked by carriage along a new road – now Upland Road – to Karori. Land was bought and a $1000 donation helped bring Victoria University of Wellington to nearby Kelburn Parade, guaranteeing a good flow of passengers. This caused an outcry, particularly among those with an interest in the university’s previously mooted site in Mount Cook. As the arguments went back and forth, chief engineer Fulton got on with the job.


    The original Kelburne Viaduct

    He was responsible for selecting the route and deciding how the tramway would work. It was a challenging construction job with a line rising 120m over a length of 612m at a gradient of 1:5.06; with three tunnels, three bridges, retaining walls and five stations. Construction began in 1899 and three teams worked around the clock. According to legend, whenever a tunnel was excavated, Fulton’s young daughter Vera was the first to walk through – though the inherent risks to life and limb make this unlikely.

    Fulton’s solution to the workings of the tramway was to construct a hybrid of a cable car and a funicular railway. The two cars gripped a looped haulage cable but were also attached to a funicular-style balance cable, meaning as the descending car was hauled downhill, the ascending car was pulled up. The steam-powered winding gear was housed in the original winding house, now the Cable Car Museum, at the upper terminus. The landmark Kelburn Kiosk was added in 1905, to be burnt down in a suspicious fire in 1982.


    Karori Tunnel under construction in 1897
    The line opened to the public on 22 February 1902, by which time the Kelburn Viaduct – a timber structure which was replaced by the current incarnation in 1931 – and Karori Tunnel were already open. The last link in the journey to the western suburbs, the Cable Car was instantly popular - it attracted 425,000 passengers in its first year and within ten years it was carrying a million passengers a year.

    Across the city, Fulton designed Miramar Wharf, built in 1901. On a smaller scale he designed what was described as “an admirably contrived telephone switchboard, as effective as it is handsome, and as simple in manipulation as it is intricate in appearance” which he put to use in his office. 

    From 1903 he was employed as engineer-designer by the Taupo Totara Timber Company, which was building a narrow-gauge railway from Putaruru to Mokai. This called for a crossing of the Waikato River at Ongaroto - a 230-foot-long timber arch bridge, which was completed in 1905.

    He built many bridges for local and central government and private companies. These include Ballance Bridge in the Manawatu Gorge, opened by Premier Richard Seddon in 1904. He built bridges at Otaki, Ohau, Rangitikei and Lower Shotover. In 1906 he visited the USA and Europe to study new techniques, returning to build Cambridge High Level Bridge and Victoria Bridge in Hamilton, among others.

    In 1881 Fulton was elected an associate member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, England, and in 1888, a member. He was a founding member of the New Zealand Institute of Surveyors and served as its president. He became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, in 1888 and was elected a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1910. He became a member of the New Zealand Society of Civil Engineers in 1915, and was a Fellow of the Royal Society. He continued to act as a consulting engineer in New Zealand until his retirement in 1926.
    The Fulton family grave.

    He died aged 73 at his home at 27 Grant Road, Thorndon, on 6 December 1928, and was survived by Charlotte – who he had married in 1885 - and Vera. “Very general and sincere regret was expressed in the city today at the death of one of its best known and most highly respected citizens,” reported the Evening Post the following day. His funeral at St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral was followed by a private burial at Karori, the suburb he had done so much to open up. Charlotte, Vera (full name Jessie Marion Vera) and granddaughter Ngaire followed him into the grave in 1931, 1948 and 2006 respectively. 

    Many monuments to Fulton still stand in the form of the infrastructure he designed. When the Kelburn terminal was rebuilt in 2013 - a striking modern structure designed to make the most of the celebrated views - it included a plaque commemorating Fulton and his "engineering achievement of outstanding heritage significance". The family engineering genes endured - Julius Fulton, son of Fulton's brother Herbert, was co-founder of the engineering firm Fulton Hogan.

    There is also a significant living memorial in the form of the Fulton Bequest to the New Zealand Society of Civil Engineers. Fulton-Downer Gold and Silver Medals are still awarded annually by the Society’s successor organisation IPENZ to mark outstanding service to the profession and the public: a fitting legacy of a life and career that changed the face of a capital and districts far beyond.


    CH ENG2, 316J (32955)

    National Library of New Zealand; Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand; Wellington City Heritage; Museums Wellington; Architecture Now; www.wellingtoncablecar.co.nz; Wikipedia pages on James Fulton and Wellington Cable Car; NZETC - The Cyclodedia of New Zealand; Wellington City Council.
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  5. Phyllis Freeman may have been the girl next door, but sweet and innocent she wasn’t. 

    She was born on 8 October 1914 to Selina and William Freeman, who farmed at Enfield, near Oamaru, North Otago. Among their nearest neighbours were Hector and Joyce Morrison, a hard-working farming couple in their forties. 

    Unknown to Hector, mousy Phyllis developed a huge crush on him. Unfortunately for Joyce, by 1942 she was prepared to commit murder to get her hands on him. 

    Phyllis was a regular visitor and knew the Morrisons’ movements well. She knew Joyce was on the fundraising committee of Enfield Presbyterian Church. She knew Hector was in the Home Guard and was often at parade. And she knew where to get strychnine, which was commonly used for pest control. 


    The Morrisons' farm.
    On 3 October 1942 Hector and Joyce had lunch, then Hector went off to parade. Phyllis arrived to deliver a letter for Joyce that was ‘mistakenly’ delivered to the Freemans. It was supposedly from the secretary of the church women’s group confirming Mrs Morrison as a collector for the church’s annual fund-raising appeal, though the secretary later denied writing such a letter. 

    Phyllis offered to make a cup of tea, which she served up with cake she had brought. Joyce was quickly stricken, suffering seizures, excruciating muscle spasms and lockjaw. Phyllis looked on.
    When Joyce was dead she went to a neighbour to raise the alarm, returning as Hector arrived home. The doctor listened to Phyllis’s description of Joyce’s symptoms. Phyllis said she had complained of feeling tired, with a severe pain in her head and neck. 

    The doctor was not prepared to sign a death certificate and rang the coroner, who thought it sounded like an aneurysm. No autopsy was ordered, the death certificate was signed and Joyce was buried two days later in the Oamaru cemetery. 

    With a sudden vacancy in the Morrison household, Phyllis suggested she keep house for Hector. He agreed and sought Mr Freeman’s consent. Phyllis was to be paid a small monthly sum as well as her board and keep. 

    Four years passed. Phyllis kept house for Hector; he slept in his bed, she slept in hers. Then a cloud appeared on her horizon in the shape of Hector’s cousins Ina Pearce and Rosie Hill, who were threatening to come and visit. 
    The cousins.
    Soon both women received slices of cake in the post, claiming to be from an anonymous friend and with a note saying “I will see you soon”. Ina and her mother tentatively tasted the icing. It tasted disgusting and they threw it away. Rosie had been unwell and left the parcel for some time. When she felt better she risked a bite. She spat it out but not quickly enough – she became sick but at the time associated it with her previous illness. 

    Still arrangements for a visit progressed. Ina and a family member were travelling in the North Island and arranged to come and stay with Hector on their way home to Southland. 

    Phyllis went to Oamaru Police Station, said she was Rosie Hill and needed to make an urgent radio broadcast to the Pearce family, travelling in the North Island, that a relative was gravely ill and they needed to return straight away to their home – without deviation. They heard the broadcast and phoned home. There was no emergency and the visit was still on. 

    On 13 May 1947 Ina Pearce arrived at Hector’s front door, planning to stay a couple of days. She was interested in finding work in Oamaru. The first day Phyllis, Hector and Ina chatted and that night Phyllis and Ina shared a bed. The next day Hector went off to plough a field, within hailing distance, and Phyllis and Ina went about some chores. 
    Detective Sergeant Joseph Hill

    After taking Hector his lunch, Phyllis made Ina a cup of tea and offered her a coconut-frosted jube. Ina took it and instantly regretted it – it tasted bitter but she was too embarrassed to spit it out. Within minutes her body went rigid and she was racked with muscle spasms. Ina pleaded with Phyllis to call for Hector. Phyllis made a pretence of it but claimed he hadn’t heard. She offered Ina a painkiller - and tried to force Ina to swallow some pink powder with a glass of water, saying “This will fix you!”

    Ina vomited. Hector came in and, seeing Ina’s distress, rang for Dr Fitzgerald who diagnosed an attack of nerves and admitted her to Oamaru hospital. She tried to tell the staff she had been poisoned but was not believed. She wrote to her father, outlining her suspicions, and he contacted Oamaru Police. 

    Detective Sergeant Joseph Hill was a methodical and intelligent detective. The case, with its anonymous, evil-tasting cake, and made-up broadcast messages, rang alarm bells. 

    The constable who arranged the radio message confirmed Rosie Hill was not the person who requested it. Hill then found Phyllis Freeman had signed for a bottle of strychnine – a precautionary measure she seems not to have thought significant - in 1942 from the Thames Street UFS dispensary. 

    He turned his attention to Joyce’s death. Her body was exhumed and strychnine was found in her body, enough to point to a fatal dose. Hill struggled to find any strychnine around the farm - until he drained the pond and unearthed a sealed metal box containing a strychnine bottle wrapped in newspaper from 1942. 

    Throughout her sworn statements, Phyllis stuck to her stories until confronted with contradictory statements from other witnesses. Then she said she didn’t know why she did it, that she was just being a silly girl. She was 33 years old by this stage. Hill decided she was insane, but also clever and cunning and driven by a desire to marry Hector - and she claimed he had promised to marry her. 

    Hector was questioned about his relationship with Phyllis, and Hill gave evidence that there was no evidence that that their relations were other than that of master and housekeeper. 

    Phyllis went to trial twice. The first jury was unsure about the bottle of strychnine after hearing evidence that the style of bottle and label were not available in 1942. However, in the second trial a local pest destruction board employee stated that he had bought a bottle of that style that year. 

    Phyllis was convicted of murder in the Dunedin Supreme Court and sentenced to life, during a five-year hiatus in capital punishment. There was no further trial for the attempted murders of Ina and Rosie. 

    Phyllis was sent to Arohata Women’s Prison, north of Wellington, where she was described as a quiet, model prisoner and worked out most of her sentence, ironically, in the kitchens. She was released on probation on 1 September 1959 after just 11 years. 


    Phyllis Freeman at the time of her release.
    After her release Phyllis remained in Wellington. She boarded at 44 Hobson Street, Thorndon, and later a boarding house at 25 Brougham Street, Mount Victoria. She died at the age of 77 on 29 November 1991. She left her worldly goods to the Wellington Presbyterian Social Support Association and her savings to her brother and his wife, who had remained in Enfield. 

    She is not buried at Karori Cemetery, but it’s fair to say she was last seen there. She was cremated at Karori on 3 December 1991 and has no known grave.
    Record no 62380

    • Many thanks to Rowan Carroll, Director of the wonderful New Zealand Police Museum, for her great generosity in sharing the fruits of her research into this case.  
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  6. Kime Hut is one of a string of tramping huts providing shelter along the Southern Crossing of the Tararua range, north of Wellington. At 1400m it is the highest of the Tararua huts and is rarely described as comfortable.

    Despite a number of rebuilds it has remained unheated, and has been called ‘The Fridge’ or even ‘The Freezer’. Yet it has undoubtedly saved the lives of many who would otherwise have been exposed to the often savage conditions on the tussock slopes so far above the bush line.

    The third Kime Hut on a good day. Top picture: in winter
    The first Kime Hutt was built in 1930, eight years after the death of the man it memorialises. The surprising thing about the story of Esmond James Kime is not that it ended in tragedy, but that it almost didn’t.

    Kime was 24 and lived at 177 Daniel Street, Newtown, Wellington. He worked for the Post and Telegraph Department and it was with a colleague and friend - Allan Bollons – that he set out on Thursday 8 June 1922 to cross the Tararuas from Kaitoke to Otaki Forks, south to north.

    Kime had made the crossing three times, once with Bollons. They intended to take photographs of the winter mountain landscapes, and expected to reach  Otaki by Saturday night or Sunday morning.

    All was well to start with and they spent Friday night as planned at Alpha Hut, setting out at 7am on Saturday to cross Mount Hector and head for Otaki. However, after around five hours, with thick fog, snow and a bitterly cold southerly wind, they decided to turn back to the hut.

    The first Alpha Hut, built in 1915. 
    The going was extremely hard and exhaustion set in. They reduced their packs to the essentials of food and blankets and pressed on. Bollons later told the newspapers: “After proceeding a little farther, Kime, who is a good stayer but not a fast walker, wanted me to go on ahead and get help. I refused to leave him for a time, but a little while later I agreed to cut along to the Alpha hut and get a fire going while he followed on.”

    Kime had the food, Bollons had the blankets. In the fog Bollons missed the track to Alpha Hut and ended up in a river valley. With night closing in, he rolled up in his blankets and set out again the following morning. He tried to follow the course of the river but was forced to turn back and spend a second night in the valley. On the Monday morning he fought his way up through thick bush – losing his blankets in the process - until he reached the track to Alpha. There was no sign of Kime. Bollons spent Monday night at Alpha then set out again south and east, reaching the now-removed Tauherenikau Hut that evening. At 11.40pm rescuers found him there “insensible through hardship and privation”, wrapped in an old sailcloth for warmth. “I think I should have been dead if the search party had been delayed for another day,” he remarked. Two of the rescuers stayed to look after him while the others continued to look for Kime.

    The Tararua Southern Crossing. Map: www.occasionalclimber.co.nz 

    Bollons was brought down to safety as the search continued. Food and men were sent out to bolster the search parties, which had set out from each end of the crossing when Kime and Bollons failed to reach Otaki. Among the reinforcements was a Mr WD Ansell, who had been a member of Shackleton’s first Antarctic expedition.

    On Friday 16 June came what appeared to be impossible news: Kime had been found – conscious and well enough to ask how his friend Bollons was. ‘Kime found alive’, trumpeted the Evening Post. He would be brought down to Greytown, on the Wairarapa side of the range, the following day. However, the news the following day was very different.

    The search leader, Tararua Tramping Club chief guide Fred Vosseler, spotted Kime sheltering under a rock, near where he and Bollons had parted company but down from the exposed ridgeline on the sunny side of the range. A member was sent for medical assistance. The rescuers stripped Kime and give him some of their own warm clothing, noting his severe frostbite. They gave him some beaten egg, brandy and hot cocoa.

    They massaged his limbs for around 90 minutes before deciding he had improved enough to be carried to Alpha Hut. It was a three-hour tramp through snow and, at Alpha, Kime was given more ‘stimulants’ and warmed by a fire. He seemed to improve but died shortly after arriving at the hut. The following day’s Evening Post broke the news to a public who were expecting to read about a miracle rescue.


    Kime was buried at Karori on Sunday 18 June. The Post and Telegraph Department were well represented. Also present was Bollons’ father, Captain Bollons, and members of the search party, including Vosseler.

    The following day, Kime’s family published their thanks. “Words fail to express their gratitude to Messrs. McGregor, Vosseler, and those who so heroically tried to save the life of Esmond James Kime, lost on the Tararuas while journeying with his friend, Alan Bollons,” the notice read.

    The argument for putting a hut on Mount Hector began immediately, and was boosted in July by the coroner’s finding that paths and signage on the crossing should be improved and a hut should be provided in the area. By June 1923 the Tararua Tramping Club was able to report that members had built a small emergency hut near Mount Hector, among other improvements.

    The first permanent Kime Hut followed in June 1930, the opening ceremony marked by a minute’s silence for Kime from the assembled trampers. It has been replaced three times, and reopened in its current form in 2014.

    The 1978-built third Kime Hut stands by as its 2014  replacement 
    takes shape. Photo: Tararua Tramping Club
    The question remains of whether the rescue party hastened Kime’s death. After five nights exposed on a mountain in winter, Kime was undoubtedly very close to death. But could anything more have been done to save him?

    In the 21st century brandy, cocoa and rapid heating in front of a fire are not recommended for someone in the extremes of hypothermia. But these were experienced mountain men, doing the best they could within the bounds of the knowledge and equipment available to them. They might not have known about blood-warming transfusions, but if you needed to be rescued from a mountainside in 1922, Fred Vosseler and co are the ones you’d want to do it.

    The technology has changed, but the dangers on the mountains remain the same. In 2009, Te Papa director Seddon Bennington and his friend Rosie Jackson died after being caught out by bad weather, despite being well prepared for what should have been a routine tramp. Their bodies were found about 1km short of their intended destination, Kime Hut.


    401 I, PUBLIC 2 (70568)

    Sources: National Library of New Zealand; Wellington City Council. I’m also indebted to, and highly recommend, two excellent blog posts:  In Search of Esmond J Kime, by Mike McGavin (Windy Hilltops) - a telling of the story through newspaper reports from the time; and Who was E J Kime? by Paul Maxim (Tararua Tramping Club), which seeks to uncover the man behind the tragedy.
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  7. Only two of the 17 men who died when the SS Ripple sank have graves. The other crew and passengers were scattered, full fathom five or probably deeper, wherever the currents and tides chose to take them. The phrase ‘lost at sea’ has rarely been more true.

    The Ripple was a 141ft (43-metre) coastal steamer, built in 1905 in The Netherlands. She was operated by Richardson and Co of Napier and for 13 years plied a weekly route between Wellington and the East Coast ports of Napier and Gisborne. 

    At 3.30pm on 6 August 1924 the Ripple left Wellington, loaded with 500 tons of cargo. The weather was inclement but was not considered bad enough to keep a reliable vessel with an experienced crew in port.

    Not only was the Ripple reliable, she was a record-breaker: over ten years she had carried more cargo out of the capital than any other vessel. However, despite her achievements, the Ripple had suffered some bad luck.


    SS Ripple. Top image - Ripple in Wellington Harbour.

    Captain Johan Norling was her fifth master in little more than a year. Her long-serving master, Captain John Carlson, died in May 1923 from peritonitis after collapsing during a run to Napier. His successor, Captain Fletcher, died a few months later. Another master, Captain A Haraldsen, was taken ill and replaced by Captain HE Smith. Norling took over from Smith but had to spend two months ashore because his wife Florence was seriously ill. The Chief Engineer, Mr J Glover, missed the fatal sailing because he was dangerously ill in hospital and died the same night as his shipmates.

    Norling was back in command of the Ripple on 6 August but would no doubt have been thinking about seeing Florence – they lived in Wellington but she was staying in Napier where the climate was more beneficial to her fragile health. They had married in 1917 in Napier but Florence was dogged by ill health. In 1919 their son Peter died at six hours. In 1922 a child was stillborn.

    By contrast Norling, who was born in Sonderheim, Sweden, and came to New Zealand in 1911, was a big man of impressive physique. He was considered a first-class sailor and had wide experience, having commanded other Richardson vessels in the dozen years he had been with the company. Previously he had worked ships between Gisborne and Auckland.

    Chief Officer was Captain Thomas Nicholson, who had survived the torpedoing of the Union Steamship Company’s cargo ship Waitemata during the First World War. Second Officer was Captain Don McAllister, who had retired but at nearly 70 had returned to sea. He lived with his wife in Napier and was said to be one of the best-known figures steaming the coast. The unfortunate Mr Glover had been replaced as Chief Engineer by James Beaumont-Neilsen, who had survived days adrift after a shipwreck off his native Scotland as a young man and who had been well known as a rugby player in Wellington in his day.

    The other crew members were born variously in Wellington, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Scotland and England; they were single, married and family men, generally living in Wellington or Napier. There were also two passengers: Wellington accountant Robert Taylor – who arrived late and only managed to board at the last minute - and a Mr P Leuden, an American skin-buyer en route to Gisborne.


    Cape Palliser lighthouse and the sometimes treacherous seas beyond.

    After leaving Wellington Harbour the Ripple headed east and into a heavy south-easterly gale. At around midnight Arthur Page, the keeper at the Cape Palliser lighthouse - on the southernmost point of the North Island - spotted the Ripple’s lights about three nautical miles away in the heavy seas. Around 20 minutes later the Ripple signalled that she needed assistance and a wire was sent to the Richardson superintendent in Wellington. At about 1am the Ripple signalled again, asking if help was on its way. Before Page could signal back that a tug was en route, the Ripple's lights had disappeared.

    An extensive search was launched but nothing was found of the Ripple. Search parties ashore found no survivors but noted a strong current running north as the storm continued. On 10 August, wreckage was found along the Wairarapa coast. A lifeboat with ‘Ripple, Napier’ painted on it was found washed up north of Castlepoint and nearby – in some reports in it - was the body of a heavily built, heavily tattooed, red-haired seaman, wearing a lifebelt but little else. Bruises to the body and damage to the boat indicated they had hit rocks. 


    Otahome Beach

    On the same day Constable P Berthelson, of Tinui, and a search party found another body at Otahome Beach, south of Castlepoint. It was quickly identified as that of Captain Norling. His body was lying below the high-tide mark, with the wreckage of a surfboat nearby, so the searchers moved him further up the beach. They went to speak to others on the beach and returned to find the body had been disturbed by a landslip from the cliffs. Some reports had it that Norling appeared to have reached shore alive only to be killed by falling rocks. Berthelson and another man carried him more than three miles to Castlepoint, his 15-stone frame making the going difficult.

    Edward Benson, a fireman who had left the Ripple’s crew that week, identified the other man as Swedish-born crew member Erik Anderson. Norling and Anderson were buried at Karori Cemetery on 12 August, 100 metres or so apart. Their near-identical gravestones were paid for by Richardson and Co.


    The gravestones of Johan Norling, left, and Erik Anderson

    A Marine Court of Enquiry in September 1924 found the Ripple was seaworthy when she steamed out of Wellington, with her cargo properly stowed below and on deck. She was manned by experienced officers and men and the weather did not justify delaying sailing. The Court came to no conclusion about what caused the disaster.

    That was not good enough for some of the grieving families, particularly Maud Nicholson, widow of the chief officer. In November 1925 she sued Richardson and Co for £1500 over the loss of her husband.

    She claimed the ship set out into what was known to be a severe storm with a dangerous list because the cargo on the deck was not properly stowed. She produced witnesses to support this, even though it was pointed out that it was her husband, as chief officer, who was responsible for the cargo. Other witnesses supported the view expressed to the Court of Enquiry that all was well when the Ripple steamed out.

    Mrs Nicholson’s claim failed, though the jury made an order for costs against Richardson and Co. The jury added a rider recommending “that steps be taken by the Government to secure radio information from ships and places away from New Zealand”.

    The question of whether lives could have been saved if the vessel was equipped with radio arose very quickly after the disaster. With the search still under way, the future Labour Prime Minister Peter Fraser raised the issue in Parliament.


    Peter Fraser in 1922
    “I rise to speak of one matter only, and it is a matter of life and death," he said, going on to demand that Prime Minister William Massey make wireless compulsory on shipping "so that the men who go down to the sea in ships and battle with the waves, and upon whom so much of the prosperity of the country depends, and who always play their part nobly and well, will have their ships equipped with a most scientific and up-to-date method of communication”.

    More than a year later new regulations were introduced – against considerable opposition – making wireless compulsory on sea-going vessels carrying more than 12 passengers or 25 including crew. Many owners carried on regardless but in July 1926 Richardson and Co announced it would fit all its vessels with radio.

    The year 1925 saw two bizarre footnotes to the tragedy. In May came word from the Chatham Islands that the Ripple’s noticeboard had washed up on a small uninhabited island about 20 miles south of the main islands. On one side was written “SS Ripple sails for… at…” and on the other “No admittance”. Mr T McClurg, owner of the island, decided to use it as a tally board in his woolshed. “The flotsam and jetsam of wrecks find queer and out-of-the-way resting places,” mused The Press.

    In December came a darker episode when a message in a bottle was found at Mohaka Beach, Hawke’s Bay. The note read: “SS Ripple, engine trouble, dark and stormy night, sinking fast. One boat got away, but don't think it will reach shore.” It was signed “Engineer Neilson”.

    It was swiftly denounced as a cruel hoax – “the product of a person with a perverted sense of humour”, reported the newspapers. Not only did the handwriting not match that of James Beaumont-Neilsen, the writer had spelt his name wrong.

    None of this would have concerned Florence Norling. Five months after her husband’s death she succumbed to her chronic health problems. She died, aged just 29, of heart failure caused by subacute bacterial endocarditis on 6 January 1925. She joined her Captain, and their infant son Peter, in the grave at Karori two days later.


    The Norling, left, and Anderson graves.

    Other SS Ripple crew members (as reported by The Evening Post, 9 & 11 August 1924):

    • WJ Meban, of Murphy Street, Wellington; Second Officer; married.
    • Bernard ‘Barney’ Johanson, of Wellington; b Antwerp, 1887; rating AB, believed to be single. Has relatives in Wellington. 
    • O Dyedale, of Napier; rating AB; married.
    • Percival G Cavey; of Newtown, Wellington; b Wellington, 1886; rating AB; single.
    • Bernhardt Gustaffson, of Wellington; b Sweden, 1884; rating AB; single, believed to have no relatives in the Dominion. 
    • Nils Thomason, of Wellington; b Norway, 1886; rating AB; was married about a fortnight ago.
    • Robert Williamson, of Norway Street, Wellington; b Scotland, 1888; rating AB; unmarried. 
    • Robert Nelson, of Wellington; b Glasgow, 1881; fireman; unmarried.
    • John J Way; of Wellington; b London; fireman; believed to be married.
    • Charles John Offer, of 31 Grafton Road, Roseneath; b London, 1890; fireman; married man. Well known on the West Coast, where he was a miner for many years before taking up seafaring.



    Johan and Florence Norling: 254K, PUBLIC2 (64147 & 64148)
    Erik Anderson: 457 J, PUBLIC2 (72769)

    Sources: National Library of NZ; rootsweb.ancestry.com; Otahome Beach picture by MAP (https://ssl.panoramio.com/user/6720951); Cape Palliser picture by Mark Gee (https://vimeo.com/203675470)


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  8. November 1918. November 1918. November 1918. In Row H, an overgrown path in the Public 2 section of Karori Cemetery, there are many reminders of the world’s worst natural disaster. 

    Grave after grave bears a date in November 1918. The date is repeated in neighbouring rows, throughout the cemetery, in the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Jewish sections, on family graves, on concrete, marble and on military granite. But nowhere else at Karori does the Spanish flu pandemic make its presence felt quite so dramatically as in Row H, Public 2.

    Spanish flu killed an estimated 50-100 million people worldwide. It claimed more lives in weeks than either the Great War or the Black Death did in four years. It is estimated that about a third of the world's population was infected with the H1N1 virus, and up to six percent died.

    In New Zealand it killed more than 8600 people in six weeks; in Wellington 773. On 19 November there were 63 burials at Karori, the most ever in one day. In that week 340 people were buried, contributing to the 708 burials which made that Black November the cemetery’s busiest month.

    The flu hit New Zealand in two distinct waves. In August-September it came as an unpleasant but not extraordinary winter outbreak. It gave no hint at the horror which was to follow.

    Row H, Public 2
    By late October the virus had mutated and it was clear this was flu like no other. It was particularly virulent; it attacked the young and strong more than the weak and vulnerable; and it was a ferocious killer – an estimated 10-20 percent of sufferers died.

    Death rates varied from city to city, suburb to suburb, town to country. Within towns and cities, poorer, more crowded areas fared worse. So did isolated rural communities, where help was hard to come by. Māori suffered worst of all, with a death rate around seven times that of Europeans.

    The average death rate for Pakeha New Zealanders was 5.8 per 1000 people. In Wellington the average was 7.9, but that ranged from 1.9 in Miramar to 18.9 in Porirua, including its mental hospital. In military camps the death rate was in the 20s. For Wellington’s Māori it was 35.1.

    Nurses at a Maori hospital, 1918 (photo: NZHistory.net) 
    In communities which had been hit by the first wave many people had immunity to the new one. But everywhere it was noted that the young and fit bore the brunt while the very young, the old and infirm escaped more lightly - the reverse of the usual pattern.

    This may have been in part due to a quirk of timing - an absence of serious flu outbreaks in the 1890s meant a generation of people who were in their late teens or 20s in 1918 missed out on the immunity conferred by a childhood dose. But possibly more significant is the nature of the Spanish flu itself.

    Studies of the virus and its effects have established that infection provoked a massive over-reaction from the body’s own immune system, a ‘cytokine storm’ which caused the body to attack its own healthy tissues.

    The healthier the victim, the stronger their immune system and the more devastating the reaction. In 2006 scientists infected mice with a resurrected form of the virus: so overwhelming was the immune response that it continued for days after the mice died.

    The flu was often accompanied by pneumonia, which has been described as the real killer of 1918-19. The virus weakened the airways and let the pneumonia take hold. The sufferer would effectively drown as their lungs filled with fluids, their bodies turning purplish-black through a process known as cyanosis.

    Death could come in hours. The symptoms were so unusual and severe that some cases were misdiagnosed as dengue, cholera, or typhoid.

    Wherever the flu originated, it wasn’t Spain. It gained its popular name because the Spanish King Alfonso XIII was among sufferers – and news of the outbreak flowed freely from Spain, which was neutral in the Great War and lacked the wartime censorship in place elsewhere.

    Flu sufferers from Fort Riley, Kansas, undergo treatment.
    Early cases have been traced to military camps in the United States – for example an outbreak in March 1918 at Fort Riley, Kansas - from where the disease was taken to the battlefields of Europe and the long-suffering civilian populations. With the outbreak of peace in November 1918, it began its worldwide march.

    In Europe, the military base at Etaples has been identified as playing a key role in the spread of the second wave of the disease. This was a temporary home, training base and clearing house for thousands of troops heading to and from the front, and the harsh conditions had sparked a famous mutiny the previous year.

    Its reach was truly global, from Inuit Eskimo settlements above the Arctic Circle to the South Pacific. Millions died in India. Pacific Islands suffered terribly as the New Zealand government failed to stop infected ships reaching them. In the former German Samoa, for example, 8500 people – 22 per cent of the population – died after the arrival of the New Zealand ship Talune in Apia on 7 November. In 1947 a United Nations report declared Samoa’s suffering “one of the most disastrous epidemics recorded anywhere in the world during the present century”.

    The troopship Tahiti (photo: Te Papa)
    The first New Zealanders known to be affected were among the 1117 men who sailed from Wellington on 10 July aboard the troopship Tahiti, some of the last reinforcements to be sent to the battlefields.

    When they reached Freetown, Sierra Leone, there were reports of illness ashore and the men were confined to ship. However, supplies were brought on board by local people, and officers attended a conference aboard another ship which had reported flu cases in previous weeks.

    On 26 August – the day Tahiti left Freetown – the first flu cases were reported. By the time the ship reached Plymouth on 10 September 68 men had died. It was estimated that more than 1000 of the men had been infected. The mortality rate of 68.9 people per 1000 makes it one of the most severe outbreaks in terms of infection rate and death toll. Overcrowding and poor ventilation contributed.

    In a recently discovered diary, one of the men on board – a soldier who contracted but survived the flu - complains on the first day of the journey about the overcrowding. He records the first flu cases on 26 August. On 2 September he reports six burials at sea.

    The strange thing about this sickness is that the big strong men seem to get it the worst and are the ones that die,” he writes.

    Memorial to George Mervyn Ross
    On 4 September the victims included Fitter George Mervyn Ross, who is memorialised on the family’s grave elsewhere in Karori Cemetery (Public 2, 64O). On the following day, the diarist writes: “More deaths and burials total now 42. A crying shame but it is only to be expected when human beings are herded together the way they have been on this boat.”

    The arrival of the second wave in New Zealand was traced by many to the arrival in Auckland of the RMS Niagara on 12 October. Flu cases were reported on board – and among the passengers were Prime Minister William Massey and Deputy PM Sir Joseph Ward. The suggestion that the virus made it ashore because politicians pulled rank to stop the ship being quarantined gave the story currency. Never mind that they had insisted on being treated like any other passenger.

    It is likely, however, that the Niagara was carrying ordinary flu. Had it been the source on 12 October, given the pattern of the disease, it’s likely the killer epidemic in New Zealand would have reached its peak around 7 November. In fact it peaked around two weeks later, indicating a later arrival on one or more of the returning troopships.

    Many families suffered multiple losses.
    The infection spread among the returned soldiers in the military camps and followed them home. Some carried it with them, others got home to find their families already in mourning, sometimes for multiple members. Around a third of doctors were still overseas with the armed forces, meaning the country was simply not medically up to the challenge. The medics that were available – like Dr Mathew Holmes - sometimes paid the ultimate price for their dedication. The situation in Wellington was not helped by confusion of roles between the City Council and the Departments of Public Health and Defence. 

    Health Minister George Russell circulated all local authorities to take the initiative in relief efforts. Areas were divided into blocks, administered by local committees that reported to a centralised committee. With St John and other medical resources stretched ever thinner, the effort relied heavily on volunteers who did everything from providing nursing care to taking away the bodies.

    Ambulances at Wellington Town Hall (photo: NZHistory.net).
    In many cases they were able to draw on lessons learnt in the years of supporting serving and returned servicemen, with home-front warriors such as the doughty Hannah Murphy able to turn their energies to the new battle.

    In Wellington, as elsewhere, steps were taken to curb transmission by restricting public gatherings. Schools were closed. Pubs, billiard halls, theatres and other places people met were closed. Some employers shut their businesses – sometimes because of depleted numbers, sometimes to free staff up to take volunteer roles. The Watersiders’ Federation stopped members working on shipping at any port.

    A throat spray in action
    (photo: Christchurch City Libraries)
    Attempts were made to mass-medicate. The Public Health Department approved the use of ‘inhalation sprayers’ in public buildings to squirt a zinc sulphate solution into a recipient's throat. It was thought to ward off the virus and may have brought some reassurance but is regarded as medically useless. In Christchurch 14 trams were stationed at strategic points to spray the solution through the hoses of their compressed air braking systems.

    Companies in the remedy business did their bit, but whether their motivations were humanitarian or commercial is open to debate. Nevertheless: “The influenza germ is afraid of Baxter’s”, the makers of Baxter’s Lung Preserver told newspaper readers. Likewise Nazol, Quin-Sal Tablets, Formalin Throat Tablets and Forsythe’s Vigor Tonic were among the purported flu-beaters put before a desperate and paying public in late 1918.

    Horrific though it was, the crisis passed relatively quickly. By the end of November the rate of infection was greatly reduced and by the end of the year the epidemic was all but over.

    With danger passed, questions were asked at the highest level and a Royal Commission was established. The most positive aspect of the soul-searching was, in 1920, a new Health Act. It was, writes historian Geoffrey Rice, “widely recognised as a model piece of health legislation, said to be the best of its kind in the English language”.

    Nearly a century later it’s hard to imagine how it was to live through such times. The horror of November 1918 is largely forgotten, blurred as it is with the losses of wartime and the tumult of the war’s end. But under the tunnel of trees that is Row H, Public 2, it's possible to sense the desperation of war-weary and traumatised people who must have wondered whether the suffering would ever end.



    Sources: National Library of NZ; Influenza background - NZHistory.net; RMS Tahiti diary; RMS Tahiti background; recent science - National Geographic,  Medical News Today; Black November: The 1918 influenza pandemic in New Zealand, by Geoffrey Rice; Wellington City Council.
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  9. The influenza epidemic of 1918 struck a traumatised world that had suffered enough, and people who deserved better.

    Troops who survived the carnage of the Great War took it home with them from the battlefields. It bred in troopships and struck them and their loved ones down when they should have been safe at last.

    Among the 773 people killed by influenza in Wellington in the Black November of 1918 was Lt Col Mathew Holmes. He had joined the New Zealand Medical Corps (NZMC) on the outbreak of war. He served in Samoa, Gallipoli, Egypt and France, damaging his own health as he saved others.

    He was invalided back to New Zealand in late 1917 and died aged 39 on 15 November 1918, in the week the epidemic reached its peak.


    Holmes, second son of James Stuart Holmes, of Awamoa Stud Farm, Oamaru, was born on 2 November 1879. He was educated in Oamaru, at Otago Boys' High School and Otago University before heading to the home country, Scotland.

    He gained his Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MB ChB) from Edinburgh University in 1902, became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1905 and an MD in 1906. His university career was described as brilliant.

    He had been Resident Surgeon at Chalmers Hospital for Children in Edinburgh since 1903 and gained a reputation as “a notable practitioner for children”. But, now fully qualified, he returned to New Zealand and registered as a medical practitioner in Wellington on 2 April 1907.

    He married Elsie Rawson at St Paul’s, Wellington, in 1909. They lived at 196 Willis Street, where Holmes had his practice, and had daughters Beatrice and Catherine in 1910 and 1912. Later the family lived in Hobson Street, Thorndon.

    The family was well connected in the capital. Mathew’s grandfather was the Hon Mathew Holmes, a highly respected settler and Member of the Legislative Council who represented an Otago electorate but made Wellington his home. Miss Katherine Holmes, a pillar of Wellington’s arts and literary scene, was an aunt.

    Holmes was Honorary Surgeon at Wellington Hospital at the outbreak of war in August 1914. He volunteered immediately with the NZMC and, at the rank of Major with No 4 Field Ambulance, led the medical section of New Zealand’s expedition to capture the German radio facilities in Samoa. 

    Among the challenges he faced was filling the void left when Apia Hospital’s German staff downed tools and were deported. However, he did much to improve healthcare on the islands before returning to New Zealand in November.

    In early December Holmes went to Egypt, in charge of NZMC reinforcements for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) which was at first training, then defending the Suez Canal from Turkish attack. In April began the Gallipoli campaign, though Holmes remained in Egypt. In June he was given a temporary promotion to Lt Col and appointed to run the New Zealand Base - but he relinquished the job in July at his own request to serve in Gallipoli. There, one obituarist wrote, “he saw a great deal of the worst of that ugly campaign”.

    Mathew Holmes and Frank Davision
    at Gallipoli
    Also in Gallipoli was Jack Rawson, Elsie’s brother and another doctor. Another of Rawson’s brothers-in-law, Frank Davison, was also there. Davison, a Lieutenant in the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, was killed leading a bayonet charge on Sari Bair.

    While Holmes was working ashore, Rawson was being kept busy on the hospital ship HMHS AsturiasOh by the way,” Jack wrote in July 1915. “After leaving Ballipolithe I heard from an Australian Army Medical Corps orderly who came back with us from Alexandria that Matthew (sic) was with the Australians in charge of a Field Hospital at a place called Gabademe on the Peninsula and that the Turks had been shelling it very heavily.”

    Even free of the threat of shelling – Rawson wrote that the Turks did not target hospital ships – his writing gives a glimpse into the ordeal the medics faced. As well as heat, flies, disease and awful wounds, they faced what they called ‘gas gangrene’ – “a frightfully rapid process of mortification spreading from perhaps quite a trivial wound and causing the death of a patient in about 12 hours”.

    The Battle of Chunuk Bair, 8 August 1915, by Ion Brown
    Holmes was central to the evacuation and treatment of the wounded in the fierce fighting for Chunuk Bair, which saw nearly 300 members of the New Zealand Infantry Division killed and more than 1000 injured in less than a week that August.

    Away from the carnage of the fighting, troops were dying of dysentery and enteric fever – in August the Field Ambulance admitted 1693 sick and 1435 wounded. As the heat of summer gave way to autumn, soldiers were being killed by exposure and sometimes drowning in flooded trenches. Holmes too became sick, spending two weeks on Malta before returning to the battlefields.

    NZMC staff at Gallipoli
     After the evacuation of the allied troops from Gallipoli, Holmes was posted back to Egypt. Here his health was again a concern and he spent time in hospital in Alexandria in November for treatment for bronchial catarrh. This sounds minor but was a symptom of cerebro-spinal fever, a little known but lethal disease – in July it had killed 22 of 32 men suffering from it at Trentham Military Camp.

    He returned to New Zealand in December and was formally removed from the NZEF’s strength, but the respite from the war was relatively short: in May 1916 Holmes reported for duty again with the NZMC. He was posted back to Egypt with the Field Ambulance in August and was there when it was announced in October that he was to be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

    In December he was transferred to England and by January he was on the Western Front, commanding New Zealand’s No 1 Field Ambulance, based in Rouen. Through early 1917 Holmes’s teams were evacuating wounded men from the fighting around and across the French-Belgian border.

    In May a mumps epidemic struck the otherwise healthy New Zealand Division, and Holmes opened a mumps hospital at Ravelsberg – but orders came to clear it and increase accommodation as preparations were made for what became the Battle of Messines.  With Kiwi troops in the forefront of the fighting for Messines Ridge in the second week of June, Ravelsberg became one of the clearing points for the wounded, with minor injuries patched up and the men returned to their units and the more seriously injured shipped out.

    An advanced dressing station at Messines.
    A primary objective of Messines was to clear the enemy from the ridge so preparations for the big push that was the First Battle of Passchendaele could take place unobserved. Holmes, however, was to play no part in that slaughter – again because of his health. On September 23 he was admitted to hospital in London where renal calculus – kidney stones – was diagnosed. This painful condition was the end of his war. On 17 October he was transferred to the New Zealand Officer’s Convalescent Home at Brighton. Six days later he was declared unfit for general service and within a month he embarked the hospital ship HMHS Marama at Avonmouth, near Bristol, for the long journey home.

    Back in New Zealand, Holmes remained on the Territorial Army’s roll and was appointed to a special TA medical board. But he was also picking up the threads of civilian life. In March the North Otago Times reported how he had visited his old school, Otago Boys’, and presented them with “a highly-coveted war trophy; in the form of a large German flag, handsomely embroidered, with the Imperial arms; which was captured by the New Zealand Expeditionary Force”.

    In June he was back in business as a family doctor, with the Evening Post announcing he had resumed his practice at 196 Willis Street.

    In August and September he would have been kept busy by a wave of influenza cases, but this was just a hint at what was to come. In October troopships arrived in Auckland carrying cases of the so-called Spanish Flu which was devastating populations in Europe.

    The illness spread through the military camps and infected many in the civilian population, then travelled the country as the troops made their way home. This second wave was unprecedented in its ferocity, with a 22 percent mortality rate. Many cases included pulmonary complications and in these cases the death rate soared to 42 percent.

    The epidemic reached Wellington in the first week of November. As a hardworking doctor Holmes was in the front line and on 16 November came the news that he had died of pneumonic influenza after a week’s illness.

    Mathew Holmes' grave and memorial.
    On 17 November his coffin was borne to Karori Cemetery on a gun carriage. The pallbearers included a Major-General, the Surgeon-General and two colonels. Among the mourners the Mayor rubbed shoulders with representatives of the military and medical professions and the Returned Soldiers Club. A bugler played The Last Post.

    “Dr Holmes was a practitioner widely esteemed for his skill and his excellent personal qualities,” wrote the Evening Post. “The Dominion can ill afford to lose such gifted and comparatively young men,” observed the Free Lance.

    Andrew Dillon Carbery, author of The New Zealand Medical Service in the Great War 1914-1918, noted that five NZMC officers, one nursing sister and at least 14 other ranks of the NZMC died fighting the epidemic. “Amongst the officers was one well known to us, Lieut.-Col. Mathew Holmes,” he wrote, having chronicled Holmes’s work at a number of points in the publication.

    Holmes was, Carbery noted, the first officer to embark a medical unit in the war – the expedition to Samoa. “He had given good services to the New Zealand Forces in Samoa, Egypt and in France, but constant ill health ever militated against that full participation in the active work of the NZMC which he so much desired.” 

    In 1920 – the year of a new Health Act arising from the lessons of the epidemic - Elsie had a sundial in her husband’s memory installed in the military section at Karori. It is inscribed in his memory and includes the motto ‘Ora et labor’ (‘Pray and work’).

    The Mathew Holmes sundial and, right, the Carillon appropriately illuminated in April 2015 for the centenary of the Gallipoli landings.
    Wellington hosts one more monument to Lt Col Mathew Holmes. One of the 49 bells originally installed in the Carillon which forms the centrepiece of Pukeahu National War Memorial Park is inscribed to Holmes and to Frank Davison. It was gifted by their father-in-law Herbert Rawson when the Carillon was built in 1932 and is called Sari Bair.

    In 1936 Beatrice married Major Austen Bertram Knight MC in London. Three years later Catherine, by then a driver in the London’s wartime Auxiliary Fire Brigade, married Herbert Gillman – a general’s son and Royal Artillery officer – in Chelsea.

    Elsie lived on in Wellington until 1960. Her ashes were buried with her husband under the magnificent Celtic cross which stands tall among the many graves that bear witness to the national and individual tragedies of November 1918.


    Sources: National Library of New Zealand; The Prow - Jack Rawson at Gallipoli; The New Zealand Medical Service in the Great War 1914-1918 by A D Carbery; Wellington City Council
    Photos: Mathew Homes - Capital and Coast District Health Board; NZMC cap badge - thetreasury.org.nz; Mathew Holmes and Frank Davison - Jack Rawson at Gallipoli; NZMC at Gallipoli/Chunuk Bair - NZhistory.net; Dressing station at Messines - ww100.govt.nz
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  10. On Eileen Duggan Green, near Eileen Duggan’s South Island birthplace, stands a smart marble memorial acknowledging her as a ‘world-acclaimed poet’ and quoting a stanza of her most famous poem The Tides Run up the Wairau. By contrast, you have to look twice to spot her resting place at Karori - the monument is a handsome granite Celtic cross but Eileen’s name is almost shyly tucked away on a side panel.

    In her day she was New Zealand’s most important poet, finding acclaim in the wider world with lyrics combining her vision of New Zealand life with her staunch Roman Catholic faith. However her style was rejected by Modernist poets and she virtually withdrew from the literary world for the last 20 years of her life to earn a living through more prosaic writing.

    Eileen Duggan's memorial at Tuamarina
    Eileen May Duggan was born on 21 May 1894 in Tua Marina - now Tuamarina - a small farming community in Marlborough, at the top of the South Island. She was the youngest of four daughters of John and Julia Duggan, Irish immigrants who met in Wellington after coming separately to New Zealand. Eileen suffered ill health as a child but the landscape of her upbringing had a lasting effect and infused her work, most famously in the case of the Wairau River.

    After schooling in Marlborough she crossed Cook Strait to enrol at the teacher training college in Wellington, following the example of her teacher sister Evelyn. After a spell as a student teacher back in Tua Marina she returned to Wellington to continue studying, both at the teacher training college and as an undergraduate at Victoria University College. In 1918 she graduated with a Masters degree with First Class Honours. In a letter, the then Professor of Classics wrote of her as ‘in some respects the most brilliant woman student it has been my pleasure to teach … with quite remarkable powers of expression”.

    She made a go of teaching, first as a history teacher in Dannevirke, a rural outpost around 200km from Wellington, and later in Wellington itself at St Patrick’s College and Victoria. She disliked teaching, however, and the frailty stemming from her childhood illness made the rigours of the classroom unbearable.

    By the early 20s Eileen was living with her parents – who had left Tua Marina after all four daughters moved to the capital - in Lawrence Street, Newtown. In 1921 she was devastated when Evelyn, her closest childhood companion, died of nephritis at the age of 29.  ‘A most keen and sudden sorrow, my first sorrow, has crushed my brain,” she wrote to a friend. Two years later her parents died within months of each other. Eileen moved in with her sister Mary and her husband, later moving to a Catholic hostel in Wellington. Here she met Julia McLeely, who became her close friend and companion for the rest of her life.

    Eileen Duggan, left, and Julia McLeely
    Over the years Eileen turned down two marriage proposals, citing her poor health and the need for an artist to be devoted to her craft. In 1931 she and Julia moved back in with Mary after the death of her husband. At other times they lived in the inner city in Glencoe Terrace, one of the small streets sacrificed to the Wellington Urban Motorway in the 60s and 70s; and finally in Imperial Terrace, overlooking Lyall Bay on Wellington’s South Coast.

    Eileen had begun writing as a young woman, seeing her earliest poems published in the Roman Catholic journal The New Zealand Tablet, which in 1921 published her first volume, Poems. She published individual works in New Zealand, Australia, England and the United States. By the 1930s she was New Zealand's best-known poet at home and abroad – and there was even an Eileen Duggan Society in America.

    Her early poems were often concerned with the sufferings of Ireland, but later it was New Zealand which preoccupied her, In 1926 she passed up the opportunity to visit the family’s homeland.  

    In 1929 she published the hugely popular New Zealand Bird Songs, which she described as “simply rhymes on their birds for the children of our country” but which was received with what has been described as “an embarrassing level of nationalistic fervour”. Her 1937 volume of poems included an introduction by the British poet Walter de la Mare, with whom she maintained a lifelong correspondence. New Zealand Poems followed in 1940, and More Poems in 1951. She was virtually New Zealand’s poet laureate, and wrote a poem when Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage died in 1940. In 1942 she was awarded a small state pension by his successor Peter Fraser, a personal friend.

    She received an OBE in 1937, was admitted to the Gallery of Living Catholic Authors two years later and was made an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1943.

    Despite her popularity, the tides of literary fashion were running as implacably as the tides in the Wairau. She had been one of the leading contributors to a 1930 volume of New Zealand poetry called Kowhai Gold – a volume which was derided by the Modernist poets coming to prominence in the following years. They baulked at the predominant ‘Georgian’ style of the works, a degree of formality and wordiness which was undeniably old-fashioned. They called it sickly, sentimental and clichéd; they criticised the use of words in Te Reo Māori as a gimmicky, transparent and clumsy attempt to create a New Zealand poetic voice.

    In 1960 poet Allen Curnow – one of the chief critics of Kowhai Gold - published his hugely influential Penguin Anthology of New Zealand Verse. Eileen had fallen out with Curnow over his selections of her work and refused to let him include her in the collection. She felt far removed from the literary establishment and her 1951 volume proved to be her last.

    She continued living quietly with Julia, making a living from writing for a range of publications on historical and religious subjects, criticism and journalism. Since 1927 she had been ‘Pippa’, a columnist in The Tablet – and so efficient was she at filing copy that her work continued to appear for a time after her death, at the age of 78, on 10 December 1972. Her passing at Calvary Hospital – now Wakefield Hospital – in Newtown had none of the impact of the death two months earlier of James K Baxter, a giant of the literary world she had turned her back on. She was buried in the Roman Catholic section at Karori on 12 December, alongside Evelyn and their parents.

    The Duggan grave at Karori


    Eileen’s death did little to restore her reputation. A century after she began writing, it seems she is remembered mainly as a writer New Zealanders of a certain age learned about at school: yet she deserves more. She was a truly New Zealand voice at a time when most of her compatriots wanted the country to be nothing more than a southern clone of its imperial parent.

    Though she often fell prey to Georgian excesses, much of her work – particularly what she termed her peasant poems – depicts the harshness of pioneer life in stark simplicity. She brilliantly fuses her childhood landscape with human emotions in a masterpiece such as The Tides Run up the Wairau. Even her supposedly simple bird poems display extraordinary rhythmic diversity and some hauntingly beautiful and at times startling imagery – the tui “mad with the honey and the noon at his throat”; the stately, extinct huia: “Under what sky is it dreaming now?”; the shag, thief of the twilight: “After your line flew down / A nest in Hell was empty”.

    Writing of Eileen, Professor Peter Whiteford, from her alma mater Victoria University, says: "It may have been her misfortune to have been the last of the New Zealand pre-Modernist writers, but she was also the most important, and the most accomplished.”



    Wellington's own tribute to its adopted daughter is set in stone - almost - on the city's waterfront, where her short poem The Acolyte is one of the 23 sculpted texts of the Writers Walk. It portrays daybreak as a religious ceremony, the dawn laid upon the altar of a hill while the wind is a flustered serving boy, "running up the sky". The language is spare and the imagery vivid; a fitting tribute to put before the thousands of Wellingtonians who pass it daily as they get from A to B in this famously hilly, windy city of sometimes heavenly sunrises.

    ROM CATH 142R (76665)

    Sources: Professor Peter Whiteford, in Kōtare 7, no. 3 (2008), and Dictionary of New Zealand Biography; New Zealand Book Council; The Prow; Wellington City Council. Photos: Main image - Te Ara Encyclopedia of New ZealandEileen Duggan and Julia McLeely - New Zealand Electronic Poetry CentreEileen Duggan memorial in Tuamarina by Janine Faulknor
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