Wednesday, 31 July 2019


 Stories from Mercury Bay cemeteries 

                           The accidental death of William White -page 4


                                          The untimely end of Cornelius O'Shea - page 8

The tragic tales of Mercury Bay's Eyre family -

Death at the Mercury Bay Hotel

Life and death on the gumfields

The short lives and tragic deaths of sister's Connie and Gladys Harsant 

Page 14

Watery graves at Mercury Bay

Whangapoua cemetery stories -

White family success marred by tragedy 

Beware the berries
Page 23

The story of 'Dummy' - Henry Ring - Whangapoua

Strange stories from Mercury Bay cemetery 

Fatal dash driven by heartbreak 

Mercury Bay deaths at sea

The accidental drowning of Peter Lynch

The schooner Rapid tragedy  - Page 8

The casualties of Gumtown (Coroglen)

The unfortunate fate of the Mayman family -

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. 

Monday, 29 July 2019

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 children with,  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 -

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 goldmine
Goldrush Online - The Gold miner's database -
Inquest Source Citation State Archives NSW; Series: 2764; Item: X2088; Roll: New South Wales, Australia, Registers of Coroners' Inquests, 1821-1937 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc.

© Meghan Hawkes 2019

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