Archive for the 'Andy Palmer' Category

The country’s dark corners

Police photographs of Bill Bayly, January 1934 (click for image credit)

Police photographs of Bill Bayly, January 1934 (click for image credit)

Recently the Listener had a story about Bill Bayly and the case against him – as they described it: ‘A grisly double murder on a Waikato farm 80 years ago was the start of modern crime-scene investigation.’

I have, at various times over the years, read a bit about infamous New Zealand criminal history but can’t remember having come across that case before. It’s a bit of an occupational hazard, but of course having read the article I immediately went online to see if Te Ara had anything about it. Sure enough William Bayly appears in our Biographies section.

It got me thinking that Te Ara biographies, most of which were originally published in the Dictionary of New Zealand biography, aren’t just of the great and the good but are also of the disreputable, the evil and the nasty.

Death masks of three of members of the Burgess gang (click for image credit)

Death masks of three of members of the Burgess gang (click for image credit)

There are the obvious inclusions, such as Richard Burgess, leader of the notorious Burgess gang, perhaps the most famous of our colonial period murderers; anti-(non-European) immigration campaigner Lionel Terry, who murdered Joe Kum Yung just for being there and being Chinese; and of course baby farmer Minnie Dean, who is still providing inspiration for musicians, artists and writers today.

But there are other, lesser-known, characters to be found amongst our biographies, for example poisoner Thomas Hall, ‘the vilest criminal ever tried in New Zealand’ – though I suspect that epithet has now been passed on to some other person. Maybe Daniel Cooper, the Newlands baby farmer and abortionist, or career confidence trickster and convicted wife murderer George Horry.

It is also interesting to uncover cases that have parallels to today, such as ‘manslayer’ Alice Parkinson, who killed her lover and whose ‘case highlights the social and economic vulnerability of contemporary women and reveals the double standard of sexual morality common at the time.’ Or the suggested ‘failure of the state’s handling of juvenile delinquents’ that was implicated in the actions of Edward Horton, who, after his death, was upheld by some as proof that ‘no man was beyond redemption.’

There are many more stories to be uncovered in our biographies, both of ‘bad’ people and the ‘good’ people who brought them, or others like them, to justice. But, as Brian O’Brien writes at the end of his biography of Robert Butler (who was found not guilty of murder in New Zealand but hung for a later murder in Australia), ‘How many people like Robert Butler, living lives of crime and violence and yet exhibiting considerable capacities at need, passed through New Zealand will never be known. Butler’s career affords a glimpse into one of the country’s dark corners.’

Family connections

When it comes to family history I’m quite lucky; decades ago a distant relative wrote up a lot of mine. I’m also quite lazy; I’ve never read that whole thing, just random pages here and there. What this means is that, while there’s no logic to my ‘research’, there are moments of satisfying serendipity, and moments of sadness and disappointment.

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about the sad state of affairs regarding the church and cemetery where some of my ancestors are buried. As a child, one summer, we spent a few days in Kaikōura seeking out dead relatives. It didn’t mean much to me then but as I’ve gotten older I felt compelled to revisit the church.

As David Swain writes in our entry on Genealogy and family history, family histories ‘provide a sense of belonging and identity.’ With that in mind, on a recent trip to Nelson I did a bit more haphazard family exploration.

The Gables, 1995

Back in 1995 I took the above photo of a house in Waimea West, on the outskirts of Richmond. Only recently did I discover that that particular house not only has a Historic Places Category 1 listing but is also part of my family history. So another visit to the site was deemed necessary.

The Gables, 2013

According to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust: ‘Dating from 1865 The Gables is an interesting example of an early accommodation house in a quiet country area and which also served as a store. It functioned as the third Waimea West Hotel with bush licences to serve liquor until 1875. Thereafter, its owner, John Palmer continued in business as a storekeeper, probably until his death in 1898.’

That John Palmer was brother of my great-great-grandfather Charles, and one of his direct descendants is Sir Geoffrey Palmer (we are seventh cousins, twice removed … from memory).

The Gables, 2013

Although the building is on private land, we had a bit of a look around (with permission of the current owner), and it appears that very little has changed since its heyday; though apparently it is somewhat unsafe inside, especially on the upper levels.

St Michaels Anglican Church sign

Just down the road from The Gables is St Michael’s Church, where a large number of Palmers are buried, including the aforementioned John and his mother (who came to New Zealand late in life, accompanied by a couple of younger sons).

St Michaels cemetery

Due to the haphazard way in which I’m exploring my family history, it was only after leaving the area that we discovered that Charles built his house just down the road at Appleby, though it’s doubtful that the house is still standing. Obviously that’s for another trip.

Before we left Nelson for Maruia Springs, we did pop in to the Nelson Provincial Museum and purchase a number of prints from their photographic collection. While they have quite a few Palmers in their collection, it’s likely that they are all distant relatives seeing as my lot left Nelson for Kaikōura in the mid-1860s.

I think that as a photographer I’m especially interested in the physical – cemeteries, buildings, etc – but I know that these people and places have stories too, some of which can be found online, and it’s there that the real treasure lies.

And so I’m thinking it’s time to stop being disorganised and start researching their stories, try to find out about them as people. Along with the useful links on Te Ara, for me a good place to start would be the Kaikōura District Museum. It was closed last time through, but I’m hopeful in there we will find fascinating material about their lives, and secretly hope that amongst it will be some scandal and intrigue.

Christchurch revisited

In between the two recent large Seddon earthquakes I revisited Christchurch. The joke at the time was that I was going to escape the earthquakes. Of course, I didn’t escape them. And in Christchurch, even two-and-a-half years after their big one, it is impossible to escape the earthquakes. The tremors may have stopped but there are reminders of the tragedy nearly everywhere.

We were staying just east of the city centre where the roads are consistently wonky, houses abandoned, and work crews are ubiquitous.

On a walk around the central city I was taken aback by the state of things. I don’t know how any one could fail to be; it just looks wrong. But one pleasing, and surprising, thing that did strike me was the number, range and scale of deliberate (or inadvertent) installation art works.

And the art isn’t confined to the streets. A number of artists and documentary photographers have taken to exploring the city and recording the experience – Auckland-based Wayne Wilson-Wong, Christchurch-based Tim Veling and Christchurch-born, Auckland-based David Straight.

Some are even turning waste into art. And I’m sure there are numerous other artists responding to the earthquakes and their aftermath too.

Back to my walk around the city, there was one place I had to visit: the Christchurch Cathedral. I shed a couple of tears when I saw the condition of it; up close was quite shocking.

We left just a few days before the official opening of the replacement cathedral, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to poke my head in, but a walk by was mandatory.

Quake quiz

A grave concern

St James Church, Kōwhai

St James Church, Kōwhai

In the new year, while heading home from a bit of a road trip around the lower South Island, I popped in on my relatives at Kōwhai, near Kaikōura, as I’m wont to do when able.

The last time I was able to pop in was in early 2007, so there was no surprise that things had changed in the intervening six years. However the extent of the change was surprising.

You see, my relatives can be found in the grounds of the old St James Church, and since my last visit the property had been sold by the Nelson Diocese to a private individual.

The church and its grounds are listed by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) as a Historic Place Category 2, meaning it has ‘historical or cultural heritage significance or value.’

The following is from the NZHPT register for the church:

Historical Significance

The building has historical significance as the first Anglican church at Kaikoura, and for the reminder it provides of the importance of Kaikoura’s hinterland in the early decades of settlement in the area. It also has historical significance for the interdenominational co-operation of the local Anglican and Presbyterian congregations that led to the church’s construction in 1873, and characterised its early use.

Physical Significance

St James Anglican Church has architectural significance as an example of a simple gothic revival building that has grown organically in order to accommodate a larger congregation. As a consequence of additions in 1882, the church’s plan is unorthodox. The ‘T’-shaped church has transepts but no chancel, with the altar situated at the intersection.

Cultural Significance

St James has social and spiritual significance for its early practical ecumenicalism, and as a focus of Anglican worship in the Kaikoura hinterland for more than a century (1873–1987). The former church also has social significance for its role since 1987 as the home of the Kaikoura Art Society. The graveyard has social, spiritual and historical significance as the resting place of a number of St James’ early parishioners.

I’m a fifth-generation New Zealander. My branch of the Palmer family arrived in Nelson in 1843 aboard the barque Phoebe, the first vessel sent out by the New Zealand Company at the reduced terms of passage (which basically means it was a bit cheaper). By the mid-1860s the family had relocated to Kaikōura, stock and all, and started exploring greater district … and discovering moa eggs.

The family plot

The family plot

Three generations of my family are connected to St James Church. My great-great-grandfather (and one of his brothers) and my great-grandfather are buried there, and my grandfather’s ashes were sprinkled there in 1985.

Alongside that, it is likely that my great-great-grandfather was involved in the building of the church, having rented out farm buildings for services prior to the church’s construction, and due to his involvement in local body affairs as a member of the North Canterbury Hospital Board and as a Kaikōura county councillor.

Clearly St James is not just another old church, but a regionally important old church, and obviously it has personal significance too, not just to me and my wider family but to the families of the other people buried there.

Gate, with family plot in background

Gate, with family plot in background

But, because of the sale of the church and lands, access to the graves is now difficult … unless you just march on as we did.

As the news article linked to above states, providing public access to the graves was a condition of sale. Here are the legal details from the encumbrance:

a.   All existing rights, if any, of those who have purchased burial rights in the Burial Ground are preserved for the duration of the term of this Encumbrance subject to those persons and their families being responsible for all regulatory requirements of burial;

b.   For the purpose of visiting the Burial Ground and/or exercising any existing burial rights, access -to the Burial Ground is granted on the following terms:

i.    By foot on the designated path along the northern boundary of the Land;

ii.   Between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday to Friday inclusive;

iii.   On other days or times with specific permission of the Encumbrancer,

And yet, as of our visit over two years after the lodging of the encumbrance, there was no ‘path along the northern boundary,’ and only signs saying no access. There was nothing explaining the right of access, or how to contact the ‘Encumbrancer’ in order to seek specific permission on other days.

This situation has upset me in ways which I wouldn’t have expected. The shock of finding that I was no longer freely able access to my ancestors’ graves left me dumbfounded. And the feelings and thoughts I have had since have demonstrated to me a greater connection to my ancestry than I expected.

Seeing what the current owner had done to the grounds nearly brought me to tears. She has, in my opinion, disrespected the graveyard and made changes to the grounds that are in no way in keeping with the heritage value of the site.

Obviously this is a personal issue, but I imagine I would be having some of the same thoughts and feelings regardless of those ancestral links. Selling a church is one thing, selling graves is a different matter entirely.

I believe that the destruction caused by the construction of the Wellington motorway would no longer be considered a reasonable action. I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone in saying that there ought to be a sacredness to graveyards, whether Māori, colonial or contemporary.

Ancestral gravestone

Ancestral gravestone

This situation has caused me to ask a number of questions, some of the new owner, and some more generally.

The first, and trickiest, concerns the weight we give to preserving our heritage, not just the big and the famous but the lesser-known and regionally important.

The second concerns the power that individuals and authorities have in ensuring that, should sites like St James Church fall into private ownership, there are processes in place that ensure public access (preferably without the limitations of the St James encumbrance), and that any changes to the site, whether it’s the building or the grounds, are in keeping with the heritage values of the site itself.

Not everything can be saved and preserved, nor indeed should it be, and these are big questions with no easy answers, but they are issues that need to be addressed.