More district mischief

It’s that time once again! At the Ashburton Museum we often come across some strange things from day to day, including odd and interesting stories from the archives.

Over recent years we have published articles discussing anomalous photographs, unusual crimes such as tree theft, and various strange incidents and experiences.

This week I am happy to present some more things that confused us, amused us, and just seem completely out of the ordinary.

A grave mistake

While going through a box of Chertsey and Mayfield cemetery materials which were put on the wrong shelf a few months ago, I had a quick flick through the Chertsey cemetery board minute book which has entries dating from 1879 to 1948.

Looking through, I found something interesting in the meeting minutes for the 21st of June 1894, which read:

“It was agreed to instruct the Secretary to write to Mr. W and ask him to be careful in future to have the graves of sufficient width so that no hitch may occur such as happened at Mrs. V’s funeral.”

I have omitted the full names involved, but the gist of it is that the sexton had been digging the graves a bit too small, which resulted in some awkward interments.

An annotation in the margin next to this entry summarises: “Sexton to be careful in future.”

In the papers

At the top of the Evening Echo local news on the 17th of May 1878, one insert that we assume was written by the editor gives us a sense that it might have been a bit windy:

“If we outlive the gale at present tearing away so grandly, we will be able to publish to-morrow. If there is no issue of our paper, subscribers may be sure that we and our establishment have gone with the hurricane where we observe several fences, etc., have already gone – to smithereens.”

In past articles, we have discussed crime and punishment in early Ashburton, and New Zealand altogether.

Something that I have always found surprising is the severity of some sentences, while crimes that seem worse in comparison to others often get a lighter sentence.

In one of the earliest issues of the Ashburton Herald we have the cases of John A. C. and John J., whose offences seem pretty similar in a lot of respects.

John A. C. was charged with using obscene language at the Railway Hotel at Winslow, while John J. had the full package – resisting police, using obscene language, and being drunk and disorderly.

You would think that John J. would have gotten the harsher sentence, but due to the fact that John A. C. had a history of indecent behaviour, this was not the case.

John A. C. was sentenced to three months imprisonment with hard labour, while John J. was ordered to pay two pounds and the cost of damage done to the constables’ uniforms, or go to prison for eight days.

You may now be wondering – why did John A. C. get three months for “language most obscene and indecent”, while John J. laid hands on a police officer, also used obscene language, and only got a fine and eight days?

The paper briefly mentions that John A. C. had been a repeat offender, and incidents like this one had occurred in the past, but this sentence still seems pretty severe to us!

Dog days

The last story I want to share is a bit of a morbid one – the tale of Mr. Edward Gates’ dog.

A set of articles published in the Guardian through the 1890s give us an idea of just how lucky, and unlucky, Gates’ dog was.

In 1894, the poor collie had been buried under a wheat stack for a whole month and survived, and it took some time for him to be nursed and fed back to health.

Unfortunately in 1896, just when things seemed to be getting better for the dog, he fell victim to the “dog fiend” of Ashburton – some sick person who was seemingly infamous for poisoning dogs around town at the time.

Various reports of a dog poisoner – whether they were the same person or different people – can be found throughout the Herald and the Guardian from 1880 up to the 1920s.

Disturbing reports of a man, or men, laying poisoned bait all around the district make it hard for us to imagine a reason or motive – all we can do is wonder and grimace.

By Connor Lysaght

This article was modified for this blog and was originally published in the Ashburton Guardian, 3rd of March 2020.


1) The funeral procession of Henry Davis, Mayor of Ashburton, 1917. Thankfully, this high-profile funeral went off without a hitch!

2) Extreme weather was a fact of life in the Ashburton District – this photo shows storm damage in Westerfield, October 1914.

3) This snippet from 1878 clearly tells us that if you wanted a good time, the Railway Hotel was the place to be!

4) Edward Gates’ collie, before he sadly fell victim to the “dog fiend” of Ashburton.

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