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June 11, 2018 June2018, Regular Features No Comments

Not the place to be in 1904

A newspaper of the time reported that Martinborough and the Lower Valley supplied more tragedies that any district of it’s size. Many of the disasters were down to the weather, the year had started with a very hot dry summer which was followed by a cold, extremely wet winter with huge floods. 

The calamities began with  a murder of  Leonard Collinson at Te Awaite  Station in February, indeed the continuing tragedies coined the phrase ‘the  Collinson Curse’. Collinson was a scrub cutting contractor who had employed William Ellis. Ellis was reported to have been seen at various times shooting station deer and sheep for food and was subsequently sacked. 

Ellis – also know as Jimmy or Jack McKenzie – had been sighted in the vicinity of the Station prior to the shooting and was known to be a great marksman who could live off the land. 

Within  two days there were around a hundred police and hunters looking for Ellis. At the start police offered a reward of a hundred pounds  (2018 = $17,644) for his capture. This was  later increased to four hundred pounds ($70,576) without any result. 

While the search widened one policeman remained at Te Awaite while  over the following months false sightings came in from Pirinoa, Gladstone, Pahiatua and Hunterville and investigated. An interesting one from Kianda Australia) which when checked  to not only look like Ellis but had worked alongside him around Martinborough.

Mean while Ellis lived in the bush moving through the district helping himself to food he found in the various huts and shelters in the back country. His luck ran out on December 10th when he  entered a hut in Waipawa’s Urenui district, to his surprise two policemen happened to be staying there, he was captured eventually found guilty and subsequently hanged for the crime.

The next tragedy was in April  The sad fate of a deerstalking guide J.C Andrews whose group had made camp in the Whatarangi bush in cold, wet, foggy weather was  described in last month’s ‘Know your town article’. Andrews died after having climbed up into the Te Munga area where he became lost and fell down a steep gully. He fired off shots to get attention, these were heard but  presumed to be from another hunter. He was not found until three days later by which time he had died. 

To be continued.

Mate Higginson

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