Welcome to the First Year on the Thames Goldfield, a Thames 150th Anniversary project, written during 2017 - 2018. 150th blog click here Other Thames stories - The more you have it -the more you wantThames's season of madness ***NZ's worst civil ...
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Welcome to the First Year on the Thames... and more...

Welcome to the First Year on the Thames...

Welcome  to the First Year on the Thames Goldfield, a Thames 150th Anniversary project, written during 2017 - 2018.

150th blog click here


To continue to the 150th blog click here 


Books by Meghan Hawkes  click here

Please acknowledge and credit this blog with a source link if using any material from it.  Thank you.


The dreams of Mrs Briton

The dreams of Mrs Briton of Grahamstown, Thames, during the early hours of Monday 4 January 1875, were wretched with visions of the bodies of her family being eaten by fish.  As she surfaced from slumber, they left her with a sense of foreboding which she tried to dismiss.

Five months earlier, the family of Mrs Briton, the Whyte’s, from Renfrew, Scotland, arrived at the New Zealand Emigration Depot at Blackwall on the Thames, London.  The place was thronged with men, women and children from all over Great Britain – mostly farm labourers and domestic servants, referred to as the ‘agricultural poor’, with high hopes of a fresh start in New Zealand.  Some applicants were provided with free passages, others were assisted emigrants. A predominately male population in New Zealand meant young Irish and Scots women were urged to emigrate.

The Whyte’s long railway journey had passed by bleak stations, the grim conditions not helped by the fact that many of the passengers were still dressed in farm clothes dirty with mud.  Once through the Blackwall terminus they blinked at the hectic scene before them – the curve of a river busy with barges and boats, back dropped by large ships sliding slowly by.

Among the feelings of hope and expectation, a flicker of fear was felt by some.   Sea voyages were dangerous.  Bad weather, collision, flawed navigation or the most dreaded - fire - were common.  Wooden sailing vessels, combined with their often flammable cargo and primitive fire fighting equipment were a recipe for disaster.

The Whyte’s, a family of eight, including two small children, were assisted emigrants on their way to Grahamstown, Thames.   They would be sailing on the Cospatrick, a two decked, three masted sailing ship constructed of teak, built 18 years before.  

The Cospatrick 
 The Graphic 9 January1875
Public Domain

While the Cospatrick was readied for the voyage the family, along with hundreds of other emigrants, were housed at the Blackwall Immigration Depot located on the East India Docks.  Once a hotel, the depot now provided a safe and secure environment for the travellers in unfamiliar surroundings.  

Housed and fed by the NZ government many emigrants became healthier eating food superior to that which they were used to.   They were berthed in bunks and family dormitories in conditions similar to the overcrowding they would experience on the voyage out.  Prior to sailing they were inspected by the ship's surgeons – any signs of infectious disease cancelled out their passage.

While the Whyte family waited, the Cospatrick moored at the West India Export Dock  was loaded with her ‘colonial cargo’ - agricultural implements, haberdashery, medical supplies, crockery, furniture, tools, books, clothing and children’s toys.  Also brought on board were 257 tons of railway iron, large volumes of spirits, wine and beer, and quantities of varnish, turpentine, pitch and vegetable oil.

Carpenters, in a flurry of activity, converted the ‘tween decks into emigrant accommodation.   Ventilation was improved, bunks, seats and tables added.  Kitchen and privies were built as well as a small hospital area.  The alterations were made of inexpensive soft pinewood.

For the non-stop passage to Auckland via the Cape of Good Hope adequate provisions were bought in.   The Cospatrick’s water tanks were too small for the journey so a distillation plant was mounted on the upper deck.  Six boats, the minimum permissible for a vessel of Cospatrick’s tonnage, were on board.

A Downtown fire pump in a fixed mounting was located on the forecastle and a portable Downton unit with 125 ft of hose was also ordered, doubling the Cospatrick’s’ fire fighting capacity.  There were also 14 fire buckets although they were known to float instead of fill when dropped in the sea.

On 8 September the Cospatrick cleared customs on the East India docks.   A crew of 44 was under the command of 39 year old Captain Alexander Elmslie. The next day, taking the first steps towards their future, the Whyte’s embarked from Brunswick wharf.  On board were 479 people – 178 men, 125 women, 126 children (including 16 infants).

Passengers were segregated and the Whyte family were from then on separated. Single men were berthed in the forward section, families amidships and single women aft.  Children aged 12 and over were housed separately from parents and younger siblings, 12 being the age at which adulthood was considered to have been reached.

An Emigration Officer inspected the Cospatrick the following day, checking that the safety equipment and cargo complied with regulations.   A visit was also paid by a Chaplin who handed out school books and spiritually soothing bibles.

There was uneasiness about this voyage though.  Some passengers suddenly refused to sail and left with their luggage, a seaman inexplicably didn’t show and the wife of the Cospatrick’s second mate, Henry MacDonald, while seeing him off, sensed an “impending evil.”

On the last flood tide of 11 September, 1874, at 5am the Cospatrick sailed from Gravesend. Many miles, weeks and months away in Grahamstown, Thames, Mrs Briton read and re-read her letter.  Her family - mother, two sisters, three brothers, a niece and a nephew – were coming at last.

On 14 September the Cospatrick headed into the wild Atlantic and the emigrants adjusted to ship board life.  From the groups of emigrant’s cleaners, watchmen, constables, a school master, a nurse and cook’s assistant were appointed.  The emigrants spent most of their time helping the cooks or cleaning the living quarters. 

Twice a week clothes were washed in salt water and slung across rigging to dry.  At all times segregation by gender was strictly maintained. Smoking and naked lights were forbidden below decks. Despite the necessary discipline there were small pleasures - Divine Service was read on Sunday’s, card playing was common and King Neptune visited when the equator was crossed.  The Cospatrick’s emigrants were, for the most part, obedient.

The Cospatrick became becalmed in the tropics and cleanliness suffered.  Gastro intestinal complaints swept the ship killing eight infants.  On 28 October winds finally rose and for the next 20 days the ship averaged 150 miles a day towards the Cape of Good Hope.  During this time a child was born and Cospatrick sailed on, making steady progress.

Three months later a ship arrived at Auckland from London.  Mrs Briton travelled by steamer from Thames to Auckland in high expectations of meeting her family.  But it was the barque Glenlora which had arrived on 5 January.  She had left London 15 days after the Cospatrick, her passage having taken 101 days.  Ominously there was no sign of the Cospatrick.

Mrs Briton became very anxious and nervous about the long delay and suffered the dream that impressed itself upon her that the bodies of her family had all been eaten by fish.  She began frequently expressing her fears that the vessel was lost. Other concerned Thames residents who had relatives aboard included Messers Rawden, Baker and Townsend.When the news finally filtered through, it was unbearable.

On 18 November, around 12.45am, the night time card players in Cospatrick’s single men’s compartment had noticed smoke curling through a ventilation grill.  Panicked, they rushed to the upper deck but despite frantic efforts to put out the fire, flames erupted from the shaft. 

Henry MacDonald, second mate, whose wife had sensed impending evil, was startled from a state of semi sleep by cries of “Fire!” When he reached the forecastle head MacDonald was horrified by the sight of smoke streaming from the forescuttle.

The captain kept the ship before the wind so that the flames were driven forward rather than rushing down the length of the ship.  Signal rockets and fog gun ammunition were thrown overboard but the speed of the fire was extraordinary. 

Within 15 minutes Cospatrick’s entire forward section was alight. Crude pine wood furniture, wood shaving mattress filling, stores of  highly flammable pitch and Stockholm tar, turpentine, varnish, paraffin and linseed oil, about 30 tons of coal and  6000 gallons of spirits became a lethal mix.   The fierce heat forced seamen to abandon the fixed Downton fire pump. 

To stop the fire taking hold in the foremast rigging, the foresail above the hatch was hauled up. This spelled the end for the vessel and her passengers.  Cospatrick swung leeward and turned bow to the wind, her steerage lost. A deadly cloud of smoke and embers blew the whole length of the upper deck towards those on the poop.

The burning of the Cospatrick off the Cape of Good Hope, 1874
Wood engraving by Samuel Calvert, 1828 - 1913
 Illustrated New Zealand Herald.. Ref: PUBL-0047-1875-09. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22817867

The terrified emigrants grabbed whatever came to hand - fire buckets, mess tins, tubs and dishes -    but the height of the bulwarks made it practically impossible to fill them.  A chain bucket brigade proved hopeless and was hampered by smothering smoke.  The portable Downton fire pump was inadequate - the inlet hose hardly reached the surface of the sea.  The fire, fueled by cargo and driven by the headwind, consumed the ship.

Captain Elmslie, preoccupied by the danger to his wife and child, wouldn’t put the surviving boats over the side but ordered that efforts to quell the fire be redoubled.

Hope, like the vessel, was relentlessly destroyed by the fire.   Segregated families searched desperately for each other and some emigrants, realising what was to happen,surrendered silently.  An ill chief steward retired to his cabin.  A mother, having given birth, remained below with her husband and four children.

Hospital patients were brought up and given water.  Women and children became dreadfully anguished.  Second Mate Henry MacDonald had women clinging to him, begging him to save them, deafened by their awful screams.

Two of the boats had been destroyed and a rush was made for the starboard boat.   The principle of women and children first was completely ignored.  As the starboard boat was lowered the stern fell into the sea, swamping the boat and capsizing it.  Most of the 80 occupants were tossed out.

Sheer panic followed.   Chicken coops, lifebuoys and anything that would float were thrown overboard by those on the Cospatrick’s decks. Many of the women were kept afloat by air trapped in their petticoats until they were saturated and became death traps.   The launch of a heavy longboat failed when it caught alight; the smaller captain’s gig was flooded and floated away empty.  Almost everyone in the water drowned.

Only the port lifeboat, with a capacity to hold just 30 people, remained.  It was practically barricaded as knives were drawn and sailors were admitted to the boat but male passengers weren’t. 

Suddenly the foremast slammed into the sea in a cascade of sparks and debris.  Flames spewed from the after hatch.  Captain Elmslie gave his final command “Let every man look after himself.” 

Distraught emigrants rushed for the port lifeboat but it was lowered away, leaving behind 350 people. Appalling cries filled the air; emigrants either hurled themselves into the boat or fell in.  The main mast hit the poop killing those who huddled under it. Parents threw their children overboard and jumped in after them.  Many emigrants drowned straight away although others survived a few more hours by clinging to floating spars.

Half an hour after the port lifeboat had got away 40 tons of spirits ignited and a billowing mass of blazing vapour roared over the poop.  The mizzen mast went overboard and the stern exploded.

It was 3am and the ship carrying the hopes and dreams of hundreds of emigrants was nothing more than a fiery wreck.

The port lifeboat stayed by the burning ship for the rest of the night.  It was packed with 35 people, including 14 crew members, one of which was second mate Henry MacDonald.   Half a sheep's carcasswas thrown out to make way for one more person.  They anticipated an early rescue, counting on the beacon of the pall of smoke and blaze from the fire. 

The starboard life boat, now the correct way up after phenomenal efforts to right it, drifted into view about noon.  It contained 29 men and boys.  A shuffle of crew and passengers still left both boats badly overloaded.

Cospatrick finally sank 40 hours after the start of the fire, taking with it the chance that a passing vessel would find the survivors.  They kept the boats together and headed for the Cape of Good Hope.  But they had no provisions, only one gallon of water and basic equipment was lost. The survivors were in great danger – they were exhausted, wet, cold, some naked. 

Over the next two days a bitter wind from the south blew, they couldn’t sleep and were saturated by sea spray.  They began to deteriorate, were driven to distraction by thirst and some began to drink sea water.   The evening of 21 November was stormy and both boats need constant bailing.  By dawn only one boat was left – the other was never heard of again.

Of the passengers in the remaining boat  one fell overboard.  Others drank seawater leaving them incoherent and delirious.  They tried to jump out before succumbing to a lethal stupor.  Only five were left alive at the end of ten terrible days.  Starvation led to the unthinkable. The survivors began eating the corpses.

They were rescued on 27 November by the British Sceptre.  It was clear to the rescuers that the skeletal survivors had been forced to resort to cannibalism.

Shortly after rescue two survivors died.  Of the Cospatrick’s  479 passengers and crew  only three survived - Henry MacDonald, aged 29, second mate, Edward Cotter, ordinary seaman, aged 17 and Thomas Lewis, Quartermaster, aged 46.

On Christmas Day, about 10pm, a telegram reached Shaw Saville’s London office, but the reports of Cospatrick’s loss took days to reach the newspapers due to the festive celebrations.  Bewilderment and disbelief met the headlines of 29 December when the details of the disaster became known.   The rural villages were badly affected – many of the immigrants were from the country.

On 11 January the news reached Auckland and the result was as harrowing as it had been in England.  Twenty emigrant’s had been nominated by friends or relatives in New Zealand.

The Auckland Star headlines were ghastly- “Four hundred and 57 lives reported lost – Only three men saved – Fearful scenes – Hundreds throw themselves overboard - Boat picked up with survivors – Many died raving mad.”

The impact on the community of Thames was extreme. Several families had relations on board coming out under the nominated immigrant system.    The Thames Advertiser  lamented "Never in these columns have we had to announce a more awful calamity than we have had to narrate our readers this day  ...”   For the families connected with passengers widespread sympathy was felt.  For those who had lost relatives “it is a shock that will not be forgotten during life.”  Mr Baker of Brown Street lost a sister and nephew.  Mrs Briton had lost most of her family and had scarcely a relation left. There was great grief and much mourning at Thames.

But then, on Tuesday 12 January, when a list of persons who did not sail was published, foremost on the list were the Whyte family. Mrs Briton grasped a thin thread of hope.  It seemed her relatives had not sailed, although they had written to her that they were on the point of going.   In order to make doubly sure, a friend of Mrs Briton’s telegraphed to Wellington for definite information and received a conflicting reply that the family of Whyte nominated at the Thames, had sailed on the Cospatrick.

The next day, in the hope that the Telegraph Association had some definite information, Mrs Briton’s friend telegraphed again –“Send particulars regarding White family, who, by your telegram last night, appear not to have sailed in the Cospatrick.   Reply immediately stating how particulars ascertained.”  A confusing reply came back - “As far as known by Immigration department here, the Whyte family did not sail.”

  Did they or didn't they?
Thames Star 12 January 1875

 The Thames Advertiser then came to the aid of Mrs Briton, immediately telegraphing the Press Association in Wellington, asking for an explanation of the telegram of Tuesday night – and received a reply to the effect that “the heads of the Immigration Office here state the White (sic) family did sail on the Cospatrick.”   The Thames Advertiser telegrammed back to clarify and received the reply “I fear Tuesday telegram was incorrect.  McCarthy (the manager) was out of town, I cannot find anyone who knows anything about it . . . 

For Mrs Briton the anguish caused by this bumbling can only be imagined.  The Thames Advertiser called it a case of gross carelessness which had all the appearance of a disgraceful hoax and a state of affairs which was highly discreditable to the NZ Press Telegraph Association.  The unpardonable stupid blundering of the Press Association added much to families’ grief.

A final definite reply was received – “McCarthy (the manager) got the information from the Post.  It was incorrect.  The Whyte family did sail.  The official list is correct.”

Newspapers were scathing in their opinion of the Press Association agent in Wellington, blaming the effects of the New Year holidays on those who supplied very untrustworthy information.  McCarthy, the manager, disappeared on holiday and was berated for having committed a grievous error in reference to the Cospatrick passenger list before he left for the country.  “We hope he will resume his duties refreshed and invigorated and that the agency will then exhibit signs of improvement,” spat the Thames Advertiser.

For Mrs Briton all hope was gone.  She had clung to the thought that her family had delayed their departure and perhaps sailed on the Warwick or Diharee instead.  There was still a faint expectation that the missing boat with survivors would be discovered.

Auckland grieved for weeks and it was feared that the event would seriously interfere with assisted or nominated immigration.

Towards the end of January Mr James Jeffry, fruiterer, Brown Street, Thames, was pronounced to be of unsound mind by two medical men and committed to the Lunatic Asylum.  He had been acting eccentrically for days.  The immediate cause was not known.  His business affairs were free from embarrassment and he was not without money.  It was said that he sustained some domestic affliction by the loss of the Cospatrick.

On 3 February, in England, the Board of Trade inquiry into loss of Cospatrick grappled with the lack of physical evidence of the wreck and survivor’s scanty testimony. Blame was laid at the feet of emigrants or sailors for plundering cargo and dropping a match or candle.  The volatility of “colonial cargoes” was ignored.   Universal shock greeted this finding.  Emigration to New Zealand plummeted.

On 1 April the Auckland Star was given a copy of the Glasgow Herald. which arrived by San Francisco mail, containing the startling news that two more Cospatrick survivors were aboard a ship which arrived in the West India Docks on February 8.  The story has no foundation whatever -– beyond the fact that a man named Java, who was suffering from dysentery, was in hospital with McDonald, Lewis and Cotter.  A shouted message from Captain to pilot had been misunderstood. 

The promise of a new life -  Grahamstown, Thames in the early 1870s.

Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections NZG-19040430-32-2


The sinking of the Cospatrick is considered New Zealand’s worst civil disaster.

It is unknown if any of the Whyte family made it into one of the lifeboats.

Of six emigrants in one life boat, three or four were women, whose names are not known.

I believe Mrs Briton was married to John Briton a well-known Thames contractor/engineer who erected mining batteries and machinery at the Thames to great praise.  He would have had the finances and been able to offer employment to his wife’s family members

Various spellings of names in reports were White – Whyte  - Wayte - Britten, Briten, Briton. Britan.

“The lack of lifeboats and the inability to launch them successfully at sea caused public outrage, but little was done until after the loss of the Titanic in 1912” - Wikipedia


Assisted Emigrants Single Women 

Mary Whyte (or Wayte)                                  58         Renfrew           Housekeeper
Jeanie (Jane) Whyte (or Wayte)                    32         Renfrew           Cook

Assisted Emigrants Single Men

Robert S Whyte (or Wayte)                              25         Renfrew            Engineer
Andrew Whyte (or Wayte)                                19         Renfrew            Joiner

Assisted Emigrant Families

William Whyte                               27                            Renfrew             Farm Labourer
Isabella Whyte                              27                            Renfrew
William Whyte                               2 years                    Renfrew
Elizabeth Whyte                            8 months                 Renfrew

Women and children Last – the Burning of the Emigrant ship Cospatrick by Charles R Clark  - Otago University Press
Papers Past
Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cospatrick_(ship)

© Meghan Hawkes 2019

Please acknowledge and credit this blog with a source link if using any material from it.  Thank you.

The Thames Sensation

“The day you marry, the day you die, the day you marry, the day you die,” sang the train wheels to John Lennox as the Thames train steamed and whistled its way to Paeroa in August 1902.  Short,  but well built,  the dapper young man sported cropped hair,  a dark moustache that gave him an almost foreign appearance, ready-made but well fitting dark clothes, neat india rubber shoes and a straw hat.  He also wore a white stand-up collar and black tie.  Nothing unusual apart from the pale, untanned skin perhaps, but no-one took notice as the cars gently creaked behind the engine, steam and smoke streaming back towards Thames.

Michael Whelan knew John Lennox but had not recognised him the night before.  As the hotels emptied, Whelan, aged 25, a coach wagon driver who usually lived in Karangahake, made his way to his mother’s house at the back of the telegraph office in Kirkwood Street, Thames. 

The turn of the century night echoed with footsteps, voices and laughter backlit by windows fitful with candles and kerosene lamps. Michael Whelan reached his mother’s door and raised his hand to knock. There was no light at all in Kirkwood Street.  The person who slowly approached him from the back of the house uttered not one word. 

“Hallo Earnie old chap are you getting home? Have you been on the drink old chap?” asked Michael Whelan before jumping off the vernadah and playfully wrapping his arms round the person.  “I thought he was having a lark with me,” Michael said later after the pull of a trigger scored a bullet’s path across the side of his head. 

“The affair wrapped in mystery.  A silent would-be murderer,” the Thames Star would shout the next day.

Detective Miller, with elementary tools of trade and gut instinct, labouring under a cloud covered night, examined the scene, traced the marks of blood and looked carefully at the spot where the scuffle occurred.

 At 7 the following morning an overnight boarder at the Warwick Arms Hotel, Shortland, who had declined breakfast saying he had too much to drink the previous night and who had since left for Paeroa by train on a single first class ticket, slid into Detective Millers suspicious view. 

There was little time to spare, the boat left for Auckland that afternoon.  He wired Paeroa, the reply was unsatisfactory, so he hired a buggy and made rapid progress by changing horses at Hikutaia.  One hour and 50 minutes later he was there and on the telephone to the shipping company’s office asking for a five minute delay of the departure of the steamer, Taniwha.

Within moments he was on the wharf and aboard the boat.  The deck passengers were closely scrutinised but his quarry was not there.  The saloon, upholstered in red velvet, panelled in polished kauri with cedar sideboards, was searched unsuccessfully.  It was in the smoking room he discovered John Lennox lying down on the lounge with his face turned to the wall. 

Detective Miller, finding the answers incriminating, arrested not ‘John Lennox’ but 38 year old Mrs Myra Taylor for the attempted murder of Michael Whelan.  “Dressed in male attire,” the scandalised headlines would gasp.

On the deck of the Taniwha Myra Taylor made a sudden move and Detective Miller feared she was reaching for the revolver, but a bottle of laudanum, three parts filled, fell harmlessly to the deck.  The cork came out and its contents spilled.

At Paeroa police station a search of her portmanteau revealed a change of male clothes, a brown bowler ‘Dr Jim’ hat and, secreted in her pockets skin and hair pigments.  The revolver and a box of cartridges were on their way to Auckland hidden under the cushions of the Taniwha’s smoking saloon.

Myra Taylor, former manageress of a boarding house and refreshment rooms at Grahamstown which she ran with her husband, was brought back to Thames by buggy and lodged in the local goal.  She said “I was mad to do such a thing, I think it must have gone off itself.  I did not know it had touched him till I saw the blood.”  She was in a state of high nervous tension and still wearing male attire.  She had had nothing to eat for three days.  
Solicitous Sergeant Clarke and his wife persuaded her to have some food, but she took very little.  

Her husband had deserted her, sailing for England about a month before, taking with him one of two daughters.  The youngest daughter had been left with Myra in Auckland.

Detective Miller was praised for the clever manner in which the accused was traced, her identity ascertained and her arrest effected.  

Michael Whelan was married that afternoon, although he was suffering some pain.  It was thought at first the ceremony would be postponed, but he was determined to “see the thing” through. Miss Maggie Potts married him for better.  Or worse.

“The Thames sensation . . . Accused appears in female attire,” the headlines cried.

A large crowd trying to catch a glimpse of Myra Taylor gathered at the Thames Police Court.  She wore a black skirt, tartan blouse and high white collar with a white bow.  Her hair was cropped very close under a gem straw hat.  She sat with head bowed, one hand hiding her face, trembling, mute. The clatter of carriages and clop of hooves outside faded as the drama unfolded within. 

Myra was charged with attempting to murder a man with whom she had been carrying on immoral intercourse for many years.   Michael Whelan had told her he was going to be married and she told him he would be sorry for it if he did.

“Strange and romantic episodes,” promised the Thames Star.

“I was not fond of her.  The affection was all on one side – hers.  I frequently resented her affections.  I told her dozens of times I had had enough of her,” Michael Whelan, head bandaged, said. 

For five and half years it had been going on, at Grahamstown, Thames.  Myra was married and had one child aged about 8 ½ when he first met her.  Other children were born during the time he knew her, two of which were spirited away, put out to nurse in Auckland.  They were never in Mr Taylor’s house.  

During his evidence a court window was lifted with a bang and Whelan shot round as though he was expecting another attack, causing considerable laughter. 

He denied writing to Myra in Auckland or calling her “my darling”, asking her to come to Karangahake or signing letters “lovingly.”  They had not corresponded for 18 months. 

He used to visit her in Thames because if “I didn’t see her she would have been down the street after me.”  “Because you are so fascinating Mr Whelan,” said Mr Clendon, wryly, during cross examination.

“We parted bad friends.  I said I was about to be married and that I did not want her to be running about after me.  I also said that I intended to settle down.  She said ‘All right my boy.  The day you marry the day you die.’”  

Myra cried out hysterically – “Oh how can you tell such lies.  It is a wonder God does not strike you dead.”   Tears were frequent as she upbraided Whelan in court.

“Erring woman:  Mean Man, decided the Southland Times.

Myra pleaded not guilty at the Supreme Court in Auckland, miles from the Grahamstown boarding house.  Michael at last admitted improper intimacy over a considerable period, the last occasion being July in Karangahake, a month before the shooting and a month before his wedding.

He did not know if he was the father of Myra’s children. “A foolish reply,” thundered His Honour. The Defence argued “Whelan was a man whom she loved for whom she had lost home and children and husband.  She was in his arms, her head was on his shoulder, and the facts are consistent with her intention to shoot herself and not him.” 

In his summing up Justice Conolly said “She had not only been deserted by this man with whom she had been carrying on immoral conduct, but also by her own husband but the evidence is inconsistent with a suicide attempt . . .Juries must not have sympathies but decide on evidence.” 

The jury were not long in finding a verdict of ‘Not Guilty.’  And Myra Taylor, head bowed, hand shading her face, all but disappeared and the excited clattering presses stopped printing her name.

The wheels, like those of justice, turned then suddenly skidded precipitating wagon, passengers and horses 18 feet over the Snake Hill embankment, between Waihi and Waikino.  It was three years on and he left a widow and three young children.  Michael Whelan was found with one of his team of horses standing on him.

Micheal Whelan's grave Shortland cemetery, Thames.


National Library, Papers Past

Originally published for 
2012 Memoir and Local History Competition.
1,500 word limit


© Meghan Hawkes 2019

Please acknowledge and credit this blog with a source link if using any material from it.  Thank you. 


The Miracle

When the startling news broke of the capture in the Australian bush of a seven foot tall wild man whose matted hair was coiled in four feet long ropes the news reverberated all the way back to Thames, New Zealand.

It was Sunday 25 October 1908 at Carcoar, NSW, and a sensation was caused in the township when Sergeant Lord and Senior Constable Bleechmore were seen, leading between them, a creature who appeared to be scarcely human.

For years there had been a legend in the district that a hairy feral man dwelt in the bush. Like the tales of the Bunyip these stories were dismissed with a nervous laugh or regarded as a bogey to frighten childrenwith,  but there had been a strange persistency to the stories and now here, indeed, was the ‘hairy man’ who had so often caused consternation.

But behind the scandalised headlines of a shaggy giant who lived in a cave and carried with him an enormous axe was 74 year old John Bernard Fitzgerald, a one time miner at Thames.

His shoulder length hair was then bright auburn and at 6ft 2 or 3inches tall he cut a remarkable figure on the goldfields where he arrived with his older brother, Augustine, soon after the field opened in 1867.

The Fitzgerald brothers, from Dublin, Ireland, were both magnificently built men known for their athletic prowess, particularly in wrestling.

Augustine (Gus) was the eldest, but it was John, the taller of the two, who caught the eye.  Also known as Jack, the big miner lived up the Waiotahi.  He had what were regarded as odd ideas and his mystical views were usually beyond the understanding of his more practical mates.  He foresaw many astonishing changes - his favourite prediction being that people would be able to hear, see, speak and transmit photographs by means of electricity.

He said he was in communication with the unseen and was a mesmerist who studied the occult - all of which gave him an aura of having supernatural powers.  His long red hair he would not cut off, saying it would make him lose strength.

Wrestling tactics

Wrestling matches at the Thames were popular and always caused great interest among the miners especially at the annual Christmas sports.  In December 1868 these were held on ground near the hospital, almost midway between Shortland and Grahamstown.  In the collar and elbow wrestling match John was a winner and divided the stakes with another contestant.

In December 1871 at the Thames Christmas sports, wrestling prizes included a handsome silver cup presented by the Irishmen of Thames. John Fitzgerald was a hot favourite as an experienced wrestler and money was flowing freely to back him.  Although there were only four entrants the wrestling demonstrated a splendid display of strength.  

The match between Fitzgerald and H H Maning, a promising young wrestler, started off cautiously until at last Fitzgerald attempted to force the fight.   After some skirmishing he gave Maning a chance but the next moment lay flat on his back.  Some gentler  play followed in the second bout,  when suddenly the men locked, struggling desperately for a moment, and then by effort of sheer strength, Maning forced his heavy adversary down and fell over him,  winning the first prize amidst a tremendous outburst of cheering. 

A good deal of money changed hands over this event.  Fitzgerald was said to have been a ‘heavy loser’ having been thrown by Maning twice in succession.  

At the Tararu Christmas sports in December 1872 the wrestling was won by Fitzgerald.  He threw his opponent beautifully and added another laurel to the many victories he had won on the goldfield. But by December 1873 the sports, despite a good programme, were not well attended and it seemed John Fitzgerald’s prowess was also failing – he came a dismal third in the Cornish wrestling. 

After 1873 the Fitzgerald brother’s disappear from Thames although there is perhaps a faint impression left of them - a bemused Daily Southern Cross correspondent watching entertainment at the Christmas sports observed  “ a 6 foot fellow dancing with the utmost gravity with a little girl of six or seven summers.”   

The brothers re-surface ten years later, in 1883, working at the Nymagee copper mine in NSW, Australia.   

The mine was established in 1880.  By February 1883 it employed 500 men, including 109 miners and 200 woodcutters and carters.    Many of the miners lived on the mine property in an area called Cornish Town. Houses were built by the company and leased to the miners at a modest rent.  Beyond these were other houses and humpies constructed by the miners themselves.

Wickham Clarke, who had known ‘Jack’ Fitzgerald at the Thames, now also worked at Nymagee, and admired the steady, hardworking man.   Fitzgerald was the strongest man Clarke ever came across, being able to lift logs to the furnace which two ordinary men could not even up-end.

It was now Augustine who was the acclaimed wrestler and by July 1885, at the Cornish Challenge Cup in Nymagee, he was praised as remarkably quick man and clever at the game.   His wrist had been badly sprained and looked very sore and swollen but he refused to wait a match or two and then challenge as he could have done.   The best Cornish wrestler was first matched against him and Fitzgerald, weighing 13 stone and 8lb, threw him in one the grandest falls ever seen.  Many of the Cornishmen cheered him, and his opponent immediately challenged Fitzgerald for the next match.  In this match Fitzgerald floored him a couple of times, and seeing he had no chance, his opponent left the ring.   Six standard wrestlers were saved up and matched against Fitzgerald.  He threw them all, hardly raising a sweat.  He then handed the prize to the Catholic Orphanage. “These are treats that make his wins so popular among all classes,” approved the Freeman’s Journal correspondent.   The Challenge Cup, valued at fifteen guineas, was presented by Mr Harris, one of the leading citizens of the town.

Browns Creek

By the late 1880s the Fitzgerald brothers were at Carcoar - over 500 kilometres from Nymagee,  working at Browns Creek, a goldmine discovered in 1867.  Plummeting copper prices had led to the Nymagee company cutting back operations and laying off most of their employees.   This major blow resulted in a great departure from Nymagee.

But by 1888 the Browns Creek goldmine was in trouble too, with problematic water fllow leading to closure.

Carcoar 1904

This is likely when John Fitzgerald, now 54, weary from mining and an established eccentric, went bush. 

He lived in a small crude bark hut just large enough to accommodate him lying down.  He grew vegetables and fruit, and ground corn and wheat to make a type of gruel.  Local’s supplied him with milk.

He was still an astonishing figure – wearing an oilskin coat belted with rope, and clogs on his feet.  His hair over time grew to 4 ft long and snaked in great matted plaits around his head.  Several curls on his forehead however he carefully looked after.

He lost none of his strength, keeping himself fit by swinging a 34lb  iron battle axe he had made, and by working dumb bells which he constructed from the axle of a dray.

Coming across him in the bush was frightening but he was a gentle man and despite his reclusiveness he interacted with neighbours.  One family he entertained by playing his tin whistle; they sang and danced and found him great fun.

Twenty years or so after John Fitzgerald went his own way he was found on a late October Sunday lying in the bush at Brown’s Creek very ill.

The police were called and had extreme difficulty in getting him into the vehicle. He believed he was under arrest, and demanded that a warrant should be read to him.

He was brought before the Police Court for being a person of unsound mind and remanded to the gaol hospital at Bathurst. His arrival at and from the courthouse created much interest with many ladies viewing him. He was an exceptionally tall and large bodied man, one overwhelmed reporter judging him to be nearly 7 ft high. Despite the tussle the police had with him when they first came across him he was subsequently co-operative.

On being admitted to hospital he was suspected of having bronchitis. He was ordered spirits, but absolutely refused to take any alcoholic liquor, saying he had never tasted it and never would.

His wonderful growth of hair was a sight to behold.   It hung from his head in great strands and was so plentiful that if it were combed out it was thought it would cover the whole of his body.  Coil upon coil of more hair was wound around his head.  He had locks which would make any woman envious.  He stated that he had been growing his hair for eight years but the bountiful quantity suggested at least 20 years growth.   Eight years, however, was the last time Fitzgerald said he had washed or combed it. It was his intention to grow his hair another two years.

John Fitzgerald announced he was a ‘miracle’ and defied the world to produce anyone else who could grow such hair.  No woman, he stated, could ever plait hair in the way he plaited his.  It was in deference to his mother’s wishes that he had plaited it in such a manner. 

The hospital nursing staff had great trouble in trying to get him to take the regulation bath.  It was not until the assistance of two police officers was called in that he could be washed, and then only by sheer force.  He stated that he looked upon bathing as “a sham and a delusion.”   A bath, in his opinion, was unnatural and he had never had a bath since his mother attended him in that respect.   When he had finished his bath he was told to put on a clean night shirt which only came to his knees.   While walking to his bed in the ward he looked down and said “that’s a nice thing to keep a fellow warm.”

He got it into his head that the hospital authorities intended to cut off his hair, and he wrote a letter to the Mayor of Carcoar demanding protection. Only on one condition would he allow his hair to be cut off, and that was if he was suffering from a fever.  He grew his hair as the  Biblical Samson had done, believing if it was cut he would lose his strength.  It was decided by hospital authorities not to cut off his hair.  It was thought it would have a very bad effect on him and probably bring about his death. 

Large audiences crowded round Fitzgerald to listen to his declarations.  From his vocabulary and general features he appeared to have at some stage been accustomed to a home of refinement.  He gave the impression of having had a good education in his youth, but now he seemed unbalanced. 

He stated he had been a follower of the Lord for 10 years, a follower of Samson for a similar period of time, and a follower of Hercules for eight years.    He would follow Hercules for a further two years and then his hair was going to be cut off, sent to England and transplanted on the head of King Edward.  When this was done he expected to receive money enough to make him independent for life.  He said he been sent out to NSW 50 years ago because King Edward knew he stood to win £10,000 and  the King would not allow it. 

When asked why he had such a heavy axe, Fitzgerald said that Brian Boru had swung such an axe at the battle of Clontarf and he intended to go home to Ireland and beat that record.



Brian Boru at the Battle of Clontarf

Fitzgerald said had arranged to get married on three occasions.  The first occasion he considered romantic.  He had not seen the woman he was to wed, neither had she seen him, the marriage being arranged by their mothers. But somehow the marriage fell through. 

He claimed to be related to the Geraldine family – an Irish aristocratic and royal dynasty - something the government medical officer, to whom Fitzgerald confided this, said he would not be in the least surprised if it were true.

As the days passed John Fitzgerald became a little better and began eating.  He signed his photograph for the nursing staff.  He did not give much trouble at the hospital but still talked in an erratic manner. A small strand of his hair that had been taken off had been washed, and was as fine as silk. 

He received a communication from Mr Shaw, proprietor of the Melbourne Waxworks, asking to allow himself to be exhibited.  If he would forward his photograph and a brief history of his way of life, said Mr Shaw, he could offer him an engagement at the Waxworks at a good salary and board and lodgings. Eroni Brothers also  made an offer to Fitzgerald of £3 for a week to travel with their circus.  The president of the Carcoar hospital received a telegram from the NSW Manufacturers Exhibition stating that if Fitzgerald was sane and unshorn they would pay £20 for a two week engagement of feats of strength.

He was far from being a 'creature' who needed ‘capturing’ but the newspapers were still gasping in astonishment at the 'Wild Man of Carcoar'  - a 'vegetarian giant’ and speculating that “Fitzgerald ought to make a good subject for some writer of sensational fiction .”

As for John Fitzgerald, enjoying long forgotten comforts in the Bathurst Gaol hospital,   he was secure in the knowledge that he would not die until he reached the age of 78 years, an event that had been foretold.

But John Fitzgerald died five days after his apprehension, shortly before 11pm on October 30.  He was in a weak condition when hospitalised and gradually sank.  He was found to be suffering from a heart affliction.  He had been pronounced insane by two medical men and was to have been sent to Parramatta Lunatic asylum  - treatment that surely would have been too cruel.

There was great surprise at Carcoar at the news of his death.

At Thames the news provoked warm recollections of an unconventional miner who in far off days had danced with small girls with a solemn dignity and great kindness.


John Fitzgerald's' inquest states that he had a bank deposit of £4 12s 3d with the Sydney Post Office Savings Bank.  Other almost illegible notes appear to say that death took place in bed.

Augustine Fitzgerald at the time of John's death was an old age pensioner, aged 76,  living at Blayney, near Carcoar, NSW.  Both were remembered as  fine athletic men and exceedingly strong wrestlers.  Augustine died in 1912, aged 80.
Despite newspaper reports  John Fitzgerald was not 'caught', he did not live in a cave, he was 74 not 72  and he was not 7 feet  tall - although at over 6 ft he was tall for the time.

Wickham Clarke stated he was a former manager of the Nymagee copper mine but there is no evidence of this.  It may have bee mis-reported.  He evidently did work in Thames and Nymagee mines with John Fitzgerald.

The Fitzgerald/FitzMaurice (Geraldine) dynasty are said to have beenpeers of Ireland since at the least the 13th century and are described as being "more Irish than the Irish themselves".

In Biblical accounts Samson was given immense strength to aid him against his enemies and allow him to perform superhuman feats, including slaying a lion with his bare hands and massacring an entire army using only the jawbone of a donkey. If Samson's long hair was cut he would lose his strength.

Hercules was a Roman hero and god famous for his strength and numerous far ranging adventures

The Battle of Clontarf, Good Friday, 23 April, 1014, was the culmination of two centuries of strife and treachery between Irish Kings and Vikings. It lasted from sunrise to sunset.  Brian Boru was killed as were his son and grandson.

John Bernard Fitzgerald was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1834. His brother Augustine Fitzgerald  was born in 1832. Their parents were John Fitzgerald and Catherine Kirwan/Kirwin.


John B Fitzgerald Miner's Rights and claim details, Thames 

from Goldrush Online - The Gold miner's database - https://kaelewis.com/

01 October 1867
BACL 14358 1a

19 June 1868
BACL 14397 1a
Claim Register Thames

Above - Name of claim: WATERFALL

Location: Upper Waiotahi Creek, bounded by the "Great Republic", "Fearnaught", "Lizard", "Banbury Cross" and "Duke of Edinburgh" claims.

Claimholders: 7 men`s ground. Alfred HOLMES, Walter A. DALGETY, Frederick WOODS, John TRETHEWAY, Edmund TOWNSEND, John A. KINDER, Alexander CARSON, Francis INNES, William PARDON.

The location of this claim is shown in the book GOLDRUSH TO THE THAMES: New Zealand 1867 to 1869 by Kae Lewis PhD p358.

06 July 1868
Karaka Creek
BACL 14397 2a
Claim Register Thames

Above - Name of claim: ROYAL MINT

Location: Upper Karaka Creek, adjoining the "Lucky Hit" claim.

Claimholders: 7 men`s ground. William John ALEXANDER, Charles BROWN, Alfred KIDD, John E. FORSTER, Thomas M. ROBERTS, Samuel HOLMES, George HOLMES.

The history and location of this claim is in the book GOLDRUSH TO THE THAMES: New Zealand 1867 to 1869 by Kae Lewis PhD p236.

05 August 1868
BACL 14397 2a
Claim Register Thames

Above - Name of claim: VICTORIA

Location: Upper Waiotahi, just above Punga Flat, bounded by the "Great Republic", Golden City" and "City of CORK" claims.

Claimholders: 7 men`s ground. Micheal H. McGINLEY, Frederick SMITH, John THORP, Duncan McALPINE, Daniel O`SULLIVAN, Michael GARVEY, Martin McINNERNEY, James McGUIRE, James GARVEY, John B. FITZGERALD.

The location of this claim is shown in the book GOLDRUSH TO THE THAMES: New Zealand 1867 to 1869 by Kae Lewis PhD p358.

07 October 1868
BACL 14358 2a

Nymagee copper -
Browns Creek goldminehttps://anlscape.com.au/blog/environmental-restoration-of-an-abandoned-gold-mine-in-blayney
Goldrush Online - The Gold miner's database - https://kaelewis.com/
Inquest Source Citation State Archives NSW; Series: 2764; Item: X2088; Roll: 34Ancestry.com. New South Wales, Australia, Registers of Coroners' Inquests, 1821-1937[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc.


© Meghan Hawkes 2019

Please acknowledge and credit this blog with a source link if using any material from it.  Thank you. 


Damned with faint praise

Two pig-headed Scotsmen arguing for nearly an hour over whether the title of the Thames Miner’s Guide was correct was one of the milder reactions to a book that caused great indignation when it was published in September 1868.

General opinion was that the book should be entirely remodeled into a more convenient size, the type changed and the many errors corrected.  The guide largely consisted of extracts from Phillips ‘Mining and Metallurgy of Gold and Silver’ - information which should have been left out altogether; it was of no use and little interest to the miner. 

The miscellaneous section contained pointless statistics regarding the Californian and Australian mines.  The historical account of the discovery of gold in Australia and New Zealand was incomplete and superfluous.  What did the Ballarat riots have to do with anything?  

The population of the Thames was calculated at 18,000 – a wild over estimation.   The description of claims was nowhere near complete as to number, quality or yield.  Several of the well-known rich claims were not even mentioned. The maps were inaccurate and incomplete.

The Rules and Regulations of the goldfield should have been included; a synopsis of Warden’s Court decisions would also have been helpful. How claim holders could form themselves into companies could have been included.  How to peg out a claim, work a claim and forms of the various schedules required by the Goldfields Act suggested themselves as being suitable for a Miner’s Guide but were sadly lacking. The book did not come up to what ought to have been provided for the price.

The Thames Miner’s Guide and Pocket Companion was judged a failure.

The author of this beleaguered book was anonymous and was to remain that way for the next 100 years.

In 1978 a letter written by Edward Clarke in Parnell, Auckland, to his aunt Mary Ann (or Marian) Evans in London was published.  It was dated 31 July 1868 and detailed his progress in writing the Thames Miner’s Guide and Pocket Companion. 

He found it hard to acquire first class literature in Auckland and his main expense was the high price he had to pay for scientific books.  He needed Dr Ure’s Dictionary of Science, Arts and Mining, Kaustel on Mining and Machinery used in quartz crushing mills and J A Phillips on Mining and Metallurgy – all published by E and A Spon, London.  He had written to a family friend in England, Dr Kittermaster, for the books suggesting that as his aunt lived in London and was associated with publishers she may obtain them at retail price for him.

This was Edward’s first attempt to write a book, an occupation most familiar to his aunt Mary Ann who was also known as George Eliot, a popular novelist admired the world over,  but restricted  by the times to write under a male nom de plume.

George Eliot by Samuel Laurence c 1860
Public Domain
Edward Clarke was born in 1838 in Meriden, Warwickshire, England.    His father, also Edward Clarke, was a surgeon.  His mother, Christiana (nee Evans), was George Eliot’s sister.

Edward’s childhood was marred by the family’s fluctuating finances, sibling deaths and parental ill health.  Edward’s father, although a surgeon, went bankrupt in 1845 not long after the sixth of his nine children was born.  He died suddenly in 1852 leaving Christiana barely solvent and alone with five surviving children. 

Isaac Evan’s, brother of Christiana and George Eliot, allowed Christiana to live in a house, once her own, which he had inherited, but did little to provide for her children.  The family lived in miserable austerity overseen by their parsimonious uncle.

In 1853 there was talk of an orphanage and there were plans to send 15 year old Edward to Adelaide, Australia.  Mrs Whichcote, a patient of his late father’s, offered to place him under suitable protection there. 

George Eliot strongly recommended Christiana accept the offer and went as far as to buy a book on the colony to encourage the decision.   George Eliot also contemplated taking them all to Australia to settle them and then return but this  plan never eventuated.

A year later, in 1854,  Edward, 16, and his brother Robert, 15,  had prospects of satisfactory situations in Birmingham and Leicester but disaster struck the family again in 1855 when  Robert, who had been rather a handful was sent to sea and drowned aged 16.

The use of the pen name George Eliot was not only a way to avoid stereotyping Marian Evans' writing; it was also a cover for her private life.  George Eliot was living with the married George Henry Lewes and outraged society had shunned her.

In 1857 when George Eliot finally confessed the situation to her brother Isaac he immediately disowned her and induced their sister Christiana do the same.  Edward’s already precarious formative years were now overshadowed by a sense of shame and family fallout.

In 1859, when Edward was 20 he was causing his mother considerable anxiety.  Christiana, who had been almost perpetually pregnant bearing nine children, was exhausted and underfed.  She contracted TB and died in March 1859.  The pages of George Eliot's journal were left blank following the news of her sister's death.

One month later in April the now orphaned Edward finished his apprenticeship, which was likely along clerical lines.

In another blow, his sister Catherine died in 1860 aged 13, leaving just three survivors of a family of 12 - Edward, Christopher and Emily.

Said to be Christiana Evans, mother of Edward Clarke, sister of George Eliot 
Unknown Artist.
Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery

In 1861 Edward, aged 23 left England for Australia.  He endured many hardships and was unsuccessful in his endeavours, which are not clear, but they were possibly connected with the gold rushes which had begun 10 years earlier. 

Three years later, in November 1864, he arrived in New Zealand, aged 26. The Auckland economy was seriously depressed following the government’s removal to Wellington in 1865, and the departure of the British troops.  

Edward began working for the New Zealandernewspaper as a shorthand reporter.  The New Zealander was first published in 1845 focusing on the interests of settlers and with an emphatic inclination towards Maori.  By 1859 it was New Zealand’s leading newspaper, becoming a daily in 1863.

The New Zealander's pro-Maori stance suited Edward who was also sympathetic to their plight.  He found them superior to the lower class of Europeans, considering them a warm, honest and frank people when justly dealt with who had been treated disgracefully by the NZ government.

By 1864, the year Edward Clarke joined the New Zealander the paper was losing influence and support.  Its correspondents were mostly amateur, reporting rumour as fact and regurgitating stories from competitors the NZ Herald and the Daily Southern Cross.  Staff were poorly paid and sometimes not at all.

Despite these seemingly hopeless employment prospects, in February 1865 Edward Clarke married Ellen Nicholls at the Otahuhu Church of England.

Ellen was the daughter of William Nicholls, a Cornish man Edward admired as a worthy settler, well positioned in society who owned substantial property.

Ellen made Edward a good wife, although she was very high spirited and had a quick temper. She was a first rate housekeeper and they were both very comfortable.   He also described her as a ‘great screw’ which presumably had a different meaning in that era.

Edward loathed ‘lower society’ and was happiest when tucked away in the sanctuary of his study or a library. He was friends with Mrs Octavia Rumsey a well traveled linguist, wife of the famous architect Edward Rumsey.

Edward Clarke took great pleasure in receiving letters from family in England which he longed to visit again. He hardly ever read a novel, but he had read most of George Eliot's.

By 1865 the New Zealander had toned down its unpopular sympathetic approach to Maori but it couldn’t keep up daily publication and reverted to bi-weekly.   In May 1866 the office burnt down and the New Zealander was no more.  An inquiry suggested arson.

Edward worked a short engagement, possibly as a tutor to Octavia Rumsey's three sons before starting work for the Daily Southern Cross as a shorthand reporter and temporary subeditor.  The Cross was struggling financially and making a loss.  The rival NZ Herald was rapidly increasing its circulation and securing advertising.

Thames goldfield 1867
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 4-856

In 1867 gold was discovered at Thames resulting in a major rush to the area.  On the back of this the Auckland economy finally began to improve. 

Newspaper reporters eagerly awaited the return to Auckland of steamers from Thames.   A flagpole at Mt Victoria ran up a signal whenever a vessel was sighted. Reporters raced to the wharf and hired boatmen to row them out to the incoming steamers to be the first to get the news.  When the ship was reached parcels of papers and notes were tossed over and caught then rowed back to shore and into print.

Edward Clarke was swept up in the Thames frenzy,  buying a share in one claim for £40 the value of which jumped to £600; in another he made £90.  He eyed up other claims which yielded an average 8 ozs to the ton of quartz.

In the space of one short year Thames had transformed from swamp and wild peach groves into a large flourishing town. Quartz rose in stacks everywhere waiting for machinery to crush and free the gold from it.

Whenever Edward approached Thames by steamer the gold bearing ranges looked to him like an enormous rabbit warren. The men going in and out of the tunnels reminded him of his youth when he used to watch the rabbits in Packington Park in Warwickshire, England.

In June 1868 the Daily Southern Cross announced that arrangements were being made for the publication of a ‘pamphlet’ entitled The Thames Miner’s Guide and Pocket Companion, written expressly for the inexperienced miner and others interested in mining operations. A guide such as this was very much wanted at the diggings.

The Cross  stated it would receive the names of subscribers but if 200 applications were not forthcoming previous to 29th July the author would not consider it worth his while to incur the expense of publication, as he did not wish the price of a single copy to exceed 5 shillings. 

Edward spent many sleepless nights studying scientific books and papers.  He called on the help of Captain Hutton, the government geologist, and Dr Robert Maunsell, a noted missionary and Maori scholar.   Now 30, Edward’s hair began to turn grey, brought on he thought by the hard study and anxiety caused by writing the guide.

He was optimistic though as large numbers of orders had come in and he was confident it would be a financial success.   Captain Hutton was to revise his work before it went to press. Mr Wayte, the only publisher in Auckland, was bringing out the book which was to be bound in cloth.

Edward even planned another, larger edition which would include undeveloped newly opened goldfields.

He also had a series of articles to write regarding the ‘Great Question of Education in NZ’ which he felt was inadequate, the poor having no means of educating their children.

Edward Clarke’s time was fully occupied, he spent full days working on the guide and also preparing articles for the Cross.   His marriage, though childless, seemed settled although Ellen‘s health fluctuated.

Letters from home had dried up despite Edward’s repeated entreaties for news. His brother Christopher had arrived in Australia shortly after Edward left there for New Zealand but there had been no contact between the brothers.  Edward had written to his sister Emily faithfully every month and invited her to come out to New Zealand, even offering to pay £50 towards costs.   He disliked the thought of her being dependent upon anyone when he had the means to provide for her.  

Despite his employment at floundering newspapers Edward seemed financially secure - perhaps his gold speculation boosted the coffers.   News had reached him that Emily didn’t want to come to New Zealand.  She was very bright and reluctant to leave her books, regarding the far flung colony as lacking in intellectual society.

By the end of July 1868 Edward was tired.  He wrote the leading article for the Cross to coincide with the first anniversary of the opening of the Thames goldfields.  It was a lengthy piece published on 1 August 1868, trumpeting the success of the goldfield -   “It does not seem an exaggeration to say that it is the most singular and richest goldfield in the world – the ground is but scratched – the field only begun to be opened.  The prospect, therefore, is one of extraordinary and bewildering brilliancy.”

The Thames Miner’s Guide and Pocket Companion was published in September 1868. E Wayte, publisher of Auckland and Shortland, announced copies would be available to subscribers from September 22.

Three days later a scathing review of the guide was published, astonishingly by author’s employers, the Daily Southern Cross.

In fairness to Edward Clarke, he was well aware of the guide’s shortcomings and said as much in the preface asking readers to “excuse the numerous errors which the first edition of a work of this kind must almost necessarily contain.”  Concealing himself behind the umbrella term of “the authors” he admitted much information was condensed from The Mining and Metallurgy of Gold and Silver by J. A. Phillips. He regretted that the description of claims was not more comprehensive, that some of the best claims had been accidentally omitted and that the historical portion was not more complete.  Authentic information on the subject had been difficult to get.  It was hoped future editions would rectify these errors.

The Miner’s Guide did have its supporters – a letter to the Daily Southern Cross headed 'The Poor Miner’s Guide' from ‘A Reader’ stated it had  been roughly handled and really the authors, proprietors or compilers are sincerely to be pitied for the amount of abuse they are receiving from reviewers and other critics.  The work is clearly a maiden production and although it is far from being what it was expected to be, it might have been worse, very much worse.”

The author remained anonymous.

The tepid reception of the Miner's Guide must have been a blow to the self-esteem of Edward Clarke, particularly with his employers at the Daily Southern Cross  disingenuously distancing themselves from him.   That his aunt was a famous author and he had failed in this area would have stung.

He also lost money in the endeavour - he wanted the price to be 5 shillings but it blew out to over 10 shillings. 

There is an interesting possibility that Edward Clarke wrote the unfavourable review himself, well aware of its shortcomings and trying to short circuit the anticipated backlash.

He evidently continued working for the Cross in the months after the Miner's Guide fallout as articles on education in New Zealand  were published through to 1869.

A late review of the Thames Miner's Guide printed in the Lyttleton Times in April 1869 
may have been a salve of sorts.  It said the work "contains a great deal of valuable information on the subject of gold mining generally with, of course, special reference to the Thames quartz reefs.  The maps alone are worth more than the price charged for the book."

Edward re-surfaced at Hamilton, Waikato, in 1871 as a rate collector for the Highway Boards Agency. Highway Boards were an early form of local government which collected revenue to develop roading across the country. They had limited powers, few staff, restricted funds for improvement and the areas under their control were frustratingly of differing sizes with inconsistent boundaries.

Edward oversaw rate and debt collections, and organised tradesmen’s accounts.  He attended court hearings to chase up debts.   One of his annual tasks was to prepare an assessment list of owners and property.

By 1873 Edward Clarke was the secretary of the Hamilton Institute (library). Eighteen seventy three was also the year his wife Ellen ominously fell ill again with consumption.

Edward remained with the Hamilton East and West Town Boards until a sudden dramatic development in early June 1874. Advertisements announced his appointment as collector to the Board was cancelled. He was accused of neglecting to perform his duties in gathering rates. Receipts that Edward had issued were to be collected to ascertain any deficiency in his accounts.

With a sickly wife, an undoubtedly struggling marriage, the shadow of the wretched Thames Miner’s Guide and now a job loss shrouded in shame Edward appears to have left New Zealand.

News of Edward’s disgrace reached England and in June 1875 G
eorge Eliot, writing to Edward’s sister Emily refers to him as “the unfortunate Brother’ and mentions how painfully distressed family friends would be to hear of his “trouble.”  Silence, she advised, was probably for the best.

For a family leery of public scandal, ostracising Edward was their default course of action.

Edward’s wife Ellen died of consumption at the age of 32, on 19 September 1875 at her father’s home in Mangere, Auckland. Edward Clarke does not seem to have been involved in funeral preparations or even present in New Zealand, although death registration details state she was the wife of Edward Clarke, rate collector.

Edward may have gone to America but by the end of 1877 he was visiting his sister at Brighton, England.  He hoped to be invited to his Uncle Isaac’s for Christmas, but the distant and miserly Uncle Isaac of his childhood sent a frigid response – he did not want to see Edward, it would be too distressing. Edward could communicate by letter only.

There is no trace of Edward Clarke after 1877.  Uncle Issac's letter says he is glad Edward is "doing well in America" and after Issac's rebuff Edward may well have returned there. 


George Eliot died on 22 December 1880. She left Edward’s sister Emily £5,000 in her Will but Edward was not mentioned.

Edward's brother Christopher Charles died in June 1913 at Penrith, NSW, Australia, aged 68.   He had managed a tweed mill at Regentville for about five years, and was a leading member of the Penrith Dramatic Club.   He was active in fundraising and remembered as an above average actor.  Later he was employed for 12 years as a railway clerk at Penrith.  He left a wife and a son, who was manager of the Penrith NSW Savings Bank.   His small obituary remarked "The authoress, George Eliot, was the late Mr Clarke's aunt." 

Edward's sister Emily Susannah died in July 1924, aged 80, at Thanet, Kent, England. She was unmarried.


The belligerent Scotsmen were pointlessly arguing over whether the title should be “miner’s”  in the possessive singular or  “miners’” in the possessive plural. 

George Eliot was variously known as Marian, Mary Anne and Mary Ann.

The true population of the Thames by the end of its first year has long been a point of contention. The number of between 18,000 and 20,000 repeated in various writings is patently incorrect and has been erroneously used ever since, having originated from Edward Clarke's over estimation originally published in the Thames Miner's Guide.  

In letter to his Aunt Mary Ann he again perpetuates the myth by writing "There are more than 20,000 miners at the Thames alone."

The Daily Southern Cross, sub-edited by Edward Clarke, also repeated this fallacy.

According to the statistics collected by Daniel Joseph O’Keefe, auctioneer and mining agent,  by August 1868  "the goldfields population amounts to about 12,000, the greater proportion being able bodied men, engaged in mining and other pursuits."

There is a great analysis of the Thames population here https://timespanner.blogspot.com/2011/01/counting-heads-in-auckland-and-thames.html



The Thames Miner's Guide and Pocket Companion by Edward Clarke. 


Papers Past

The George Eliot Letters – edited by Gordon S Haight, published Yale University Press.  The letter revealing Edward Clarkes identity was published in 1978 in volume 8, pages 421 -424  

George Eliot - A biography by Frederick Karl

The life of George Eliot – a critical biography by Nancy Henry

A secret sisterhood by Emily Midorikawa & Emma Claire Sweeney

The George Eliot  Archive - https://georgeeliotarchive.org/  

Thanks to Beverley Rilett, George Eliot Archive

Lasting Impressions - The story of New Zealand newspapers 1840 - 1920 by Ian F Grant 

Goldrush Online - the Gold miner's database - https://kaelewis.com/

Archway - Inwards letters Auckland Provincial Govt– 18 April 1873 – appointment of Edward Clarke as ‘collector’ in place of Edward Mullion (resigned)
Inwards Letters 16 Sept 1973 – Edward Clarke appointed collector
Inwards Letters 8 and 18 Nov as above

Ancestry. com

First Year on the Thames Goldfield - http://www.firstyearthamesgoldfield.co.nz/

© Meghan Hawkes 2019

Please acknowledge and credit this blog with a source link if using any material from it.  Thank you. 

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