Superstitions of Criminals

These generalised recountings of superstition and folklore, presumably from Britain but not clearly marked as such (for example in this article where only the first incident, which states it’s location, in clearly labelled as having come from an overseas source) are made interesting by how common they are as a feature of the pre-war press in New Zealand. The lack of clear delineation as to the location of these beliefs, along with the ubiquity of accounts of them , raises the question of the effect of this kind of reporting on the population at large


With thanks to the National Library of New Zealand

Posted in FolkLore, International | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

House of Dreams



With thanks to the National Library of New Zealand

Posted in Storytelling, Symbolism | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maori Prophet and Temple

Tūhoe prophet, Rua Kēnana Hepetipa, and his temple, 1908.


Posted in Alternative Religion | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Cold Blooded Murder

A further story from John Wilson’s ‘Reminiscences of the Early Settlement of Dunedin and South Otago‘. The context suggests this story takes place in the 1860s.

A report of a double murder at Switzers reached 
Blatch at Clutha. Two brothers, named Tibbetts. had a 
station at Switzers. which they sold to a man named 
Switzer, who was a bootmaker in Dunedin. and from 
whom the place gets its name. Tibbetts Bros, haa another 
run near the former, and their horses always went back to 
the old run. The shepherds hunted them home with dogs, 
and one morning one of the Tibbetts found his favourite 
mare with her leg. broken. He said the shepherds had 
done it. and he would shoot the lot. Taking a double- 
barrelled gun. he walked to Switzers. where he arrived 
in the evening. He went to the hut, but the men had 
heard that he was coming, and they all cleared out. A 
woman with a child walked several miles to another 
station. The men hid in the scrub, from which they watched 
Tibbetts go into the hut, where he lit a fire and had his tea. 
About dark he went outside and called. "Aren't you coming 
in? You'll have to come some time." He stayed all night, 
and had his breakfast in the morning. It was a frosty night, 
and the hidden men had nothing on but shirt and 
trousers. After breakfast he went away up a gully, and 
one man. a German, who was cook, saw him going, but. 
being shortsighted, could not see him far. He thought 
he had gone, and started for the hut. Tibbetts turned 
and saw him. When he got near the poor fellow saw 
him and ran for the scrub, but Tibbetts shot him dead. 
He then turned away, and had some more breakfast with 
some men who were making a road near. One asked. 
"Been shooting?" "Oh. not much," said he: "only 
shot an old German affair." Some settlers then sent a 
mounted messenger to Blatch. but he had not gone far 
when another messenger overtook him and told him that 
Tibbetts the murderer had been shot by his brother. On- 
Blatch's arrival, he found that Sergeant Morton, who was 
on his way from the Lakes, had heard of the murder, and 
had gone to Tibbetts' house. He found the brother there, 
and they went to Switzers to look for the murderer, but 
did not succeed in finding him. They returned home, and 
in a little while saw him coming across the river. They 
saw him looking at the horses' tracks, and carefully scan- 
ning the place. There was a calico door to the hut. so 
they put the table against it, and cut loopholes to peer 
through. When he came near, the brother told him to lay 
down his arms and come into the hut. "Who is with 
you?" was the reply. "Oh. nobody that will hurt you. 
Lay down your gun." ''What for?" "Because you 
have shot one man, and I don't want you to have any 
more shooting." "Yes, you - . and I'll shoot you. 
too," was the reply. He fired at the door, but, finding 
from the sound that there was something solid against 
it, he aimed his gun again. The sergeant said, "now's 
our time; fire, or he'll shoot us." The brother fired, and 
shot him dead. He then tried to shoot himself, but Mor- 
ton, after a sharp struggle, managed to get his revolver, 
which went off in the tussle, and he was wounded in the 
hand. Blatch went for Rich, and an inquest was held, 
when in the one case a verdict of murder was brought in 
against the dead Tibbetts, and in the other one of justi- 
fiable homicide. 
Posted in Crime, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Omens of Succession

Another tale from John Wilson’s ‘Reminiscences of the Early Settlement of Dunedin and South Otago‘.

The Nicols, father and son. took a contract to build 
a bridge and an accommodation house at the Mataura 
River. Not having seen the place, they had to trust to 
the particulars given by the Government Department, 
and their estimates were made up from the information 
supplied, a good deal of which was misleading. Mr. 
Nicol, senr.. engaged men and a bullock driver, and. 
having secured a pair of first-class bullocks and sledge, set 
out from Dunedin for Mataura. Walter Nicol had now 
his first experience as a bullock-puncher, as the others of 
the party left him in charge. The road was only a track 
in many places, and in others there was hardly anything 
to guide the plucky new-chum driver. Nothing daunted, 
he set off, and after five days reached Caldervale, Kaihiku. 
then occupied by Alex. McNeil, where the others joined 
him, and the bullocks were handed over to their proper 
driver. The first day's trip had been as far as Saddle 
Hill; the next to Taieri Ferry; the third to Mathieson's. 
at Toko ; the fourth to Balclutha. and the fifth to Kaihiku. 
After leaving this place they managed, by taking a long 
day, to reach Trumble's place at Otaraia, but received 
a very surly welcome, neither food nor lodging being at 
first forthcoming. Ultimately they persuaded Trumble 
to give them food, and they lodged in the stockyard 
among the calf-pens. The seventh night found them at 
their destination the Bush about two miles below the 
present Mataura township, where there was a Maori settle- 
ment. Work then began. All the timber had to be cut in 
the bush and taken to the bridge site, a distance of about 
two miles. Soon a difficulty presented itself. The bridge 
had one span of fifty-two feet, and they could find only 
one tree in the bush which would square the size required. 
They had to go to Steel's bush. Edendale. for the other, 
and this entailed a great deal of extra labour. The bridge 
was a foot and horse bridge, six feet wide, and the spans 
were to rest on two Mat rocks, almost in mid-stream. It was 
found that the plans were here far astray, the proposed 
bridge being found to be twenty feet short, and some time 
was wasted in getting authority from Dunedin for the in- 
creased length. Provisions ran short, and the bullock 
team was sent to Invercargill for flour. It was away a 
fortnight, and then brought only one bag. The men were 
in a sad plight. Rich, a station-owner near, was away 
from home, and his foreman refused to sell them any 
meat, and if it had not been for the Maoris they would 
have starved. These Maoris gave them a few potatoes, 
and they managed to get some wild pigs. On Rich's 
return he soon had a bullock killed, and they were in 
clover. They then shifted camp to the bridge site, and 
were ready to start, when a flood came, and showed 
them that something would have to be done to prevent the 
bridge when built from being swept away, as the water 
rose right over the rocks where it was supposed to rest. 
The authorities were communicated with, and instructions 
sent to drill holes in the rocks and put in bolts, which 
were fixed by having melted lead poured in. After the 
work was completed, the river rose again, and the water 
flowed over the bottom of the bridge. Some time after- 
wards the bridge was swept away just when Southland 
separated from Otago and this accident made the sepa- 
ration complete. The accommodation-house was soon com- 
pleted, and the party returned to Dunedin. 
Posted in Nature Worship, Symbolism | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reminiscences of Knife Fights with Wild Dogs

A recollection from John Wilson’s ‘Reminiscences of the Early Settlement of Dunedin and South Otago‘.

The following account is 
given by Mr. Matthew Marshall, a passenger by the 
"Philip Laing" in 1848, and relates to the time 1852) 
when he was shepherding for Edwin Meredith on the 
Popotunoa Run. 

In those early days there were, in the Popotunoa 
Bush, a few wild dogs, which were a source of never- 
ending trouble to the shepherds., who had to gather the 
sheep together every night, and tie their dogs at suitable 
places round them, not only to keep them together, but 
to give the alarm when the wild dogs attacked. One 
night the wild dogs got in before being seen. and. while 
some attacked the sheep dogs, others went after the sheep. 
Hearing the noise, the shepherds rushed out, but had great 
difficulty in driving off the wild dogs. Meanwhile the 
sheep had scattered in all directions. For many hours the 
work of collecting them proceeded, and. although ulti- 
mately successful, it was found that many had been killed, 
while others were so badly maimed that they soon died. 

It was a strange thing that, if a sheep were bitten by 
a wild dog, it never recovered. No matter how small the 
mark made by the teeth, blood poisoning set in. and the 
animal was sure to die. It was also a strange thing that 
the dogs would never make a meal of a sheep, and the 
shepherds never saw the remains of one that had been 
eaten. They seemed to be content with worrying the poor 
brutes to death. 

In the following year the sheep were taken to Fuller's 
place at Hilly Park for the shearing, the whole flock being 
shorn in the stockyard, and the wool taken to Port Moly- 
neux, where it was shipped to Dunedin. After shearing, 
the sheep, which were divided into two flocks, were 
camped in two separate places, one being in the valley 
between the Awakiki Bush and the hill, the other on the 
Clinton side of the bush. 

Dent's time being now up, and he refusing to re- 
engage, Hobbs went to Dunedin for another man. while 
Marshall was left in charge of the sheep. In about a 
week Hobbs returned, bringing a tall, strapping man. in 
the prime of life, named Sandy Gordon. 

The sheep were then taken to Popotunoa. Some time 
afterwards Meredith arrived from Tasmania, but was 
greatly disgusted with the small returns. He ordered the 
mob to be divided into two flocks again, and Marshall 
was sent with the ewes and lambs to Moa Hill, Kaihiku, 
while Gordon remained at Bedding Hill with the wethers 
and dry sheep. Sandy Gordon was a very conscientious 
man and exceedingly careful with the sheep, but was 
terribly harassed by the wild dogs, often having hardly 
a night's rest for weeks at a time. One day Hobbs. on his. 
return to Moa Hill, after a visit to him, told Marshall that 
Gordon was in a terrible rage, and that his ultimatum 
was: "Just you look here. now. Mr. Hobbs. if you will 
not send me up another man, I shall just leave the sheep, 
and vou can do whatever vou like with them." 

It was then decided to shift the sheep to Wharepa 
to try to get rid of the dogs, so they were all mustered, and 
the trip started. However, the dogs seemed to think 
something was up. and actually followed them for some 
distance. The first night they reached Albert's Cap, 
where they camped on the banks of the Piawhata Creek. 
Hobbs and Gordon then came on to Marshall's hut at Moa 
Hill, where they stayed the night. On their return next 
morning what was their disgust and rage to find that the 
wild dogs had been among the sheep, which were scattered 
in all directions, some fifty being either dead or badly 

The remainder were collected and arrived safely at 
the Wharepa Bush, where Gordon built the first white 
man's hut in the district. It was built on the site of the 
present house, in front of which is still to be seen the 
stump of the first tree cut in the bush by a White man. 
It may here be said that Gordon afterwards purchased 
the section, and lived for many years in the original hut. 

For some time both flocks of sheep were not troubled 
by the dogs, and the shepherds thought they had now got 
rid of them. However, one clear frosty night in the 
winter time, when Hobbs and Marshall were in bed at 
Moa Hill, they heard the sheep running about. There 
was no barking of dogs or any other noise, so they did 
not suspect wild dogs. Getting up. they had a look 
round, when, to their amazement, they saw some dogs 
rounding up the sheep. The leader of the mob was a 
white bitch -a perfect devil and there were three other 
dogs, a black one and two reddish-coloured ones. This 
mob had originally consisted of seven dogs, but three had 
been killed at Bedding Hill. 

Hobbs had a grand collie bitch which had already 
accounted for two of the mob, and this night she led the 
chase. She managed to bail them up on the banks of the 
Kaihiku. and when the men reached her the white bitch 
was sitting on the ground, fighting viciously. On seeing 
them she dashed into the water, but the men were deter- 
mined she should not escape. Whenever she came out of 
the water their dogs tackled her and drove her in again. 
Hobbs' dog followed her, while Hobbs himself took one 
side of the stream and Marshall the other. Up and down 
the bank she dashed, but every time she was checkmated 
in her attempts to escape. At last she was played out 
and caught in the water. Marshall had a pocket knife 
with which Hobbs stabbed her to the heart, both men with 
grim satisfaction then watching her bleed to death. 
Owing to the excitement of the chase they had not felt 
the intense cold, but on returning to the hut. when they 
took off their trousers they found them so frozen that they 
stood up by themselves in the middle of the floor. 

Next morning being Sunday. Marshall went to pay 
Gordon a visit. When he told him the story, Sandy replied : 
"I'll not believe a word till I see her," so both set off 
for the Kaihiku. On reaching the spot where the body 
lay. Sandy stood looking at it for a few minutes with a 
grim look on his weather-beaten countenance. Then he 
jumped on the body, dancing about till there was not 
a whole bone left in it. He then skinned it and 
took the skin to his hut. where he cured it, keeping 
it for several years as a relic of the early days of shep- 
herding in the Clutha.
Posted in FolkLore, Storytelling | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Suicide Bombing at Murchison, 1905

Murchison suicide bombing a world first

Forget Islamic extremists or anything to do with the Middle East, the world’s first strapped-on suicide bombing happened in Murchison.

Joseph Sewell was a 57-year-old farmer from Longford when he strapped himself with sticks of gelignite and blew himself up outside the Murchison Courthouse on Friday 14 July 1905. It was an event that got reported worldwide as “The Murchison Tragedy”….

Whatever his mindset at the time, Joseph Sewell had developed an unshakeable belief in the efficacy of explosives to settle virtually any dispute. Some years before he had unsuccessfully sued the Buller County Council for damages to his property sustained by a careless cart driver along its road. After Westport solicitor Edward Harden sent Sewell three accounts with a final demand for payment for having represented him in the case, Sewell marched into his office.

“Do you intend to actually get this money?” asked Sewell.

“Certainly, people in my line of business do not usually go to the trouble or expense for nothing,” replied the solicitor.

“Then we shall go to hell together!” expounded Sewell, who then produced from under his coat a package of dynamite with a detonator attached. The solicitor jumped up saying actually there was no hurry for the money, in fact he wouldn’t bother if it was never paid, but it still took some persuading for Sewell to finally settle down and leave.

Posted in Crime, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment