The centenary of the first radio transmission in New Zealand (Professor Robert Jack in 1921) and the first broadcast by a licensed radio station (1YA Auckland in 1923) prompted a look at those pioneers who, through the static and interference of the airwaves, were heard “on the wireless”.

Orators quickly realised they could project their words way beyond the pulpit or soapbox. Instrumentalists, either solo or in groups, and singers, performed in the 1YA “studio”, their sounds instantly heard in far-off places – radio was quickly taking over from recordings.

Research about those pioneers of the airwaves led me to an intrigue about those broadcasters of the times, particularly the music-makers and, to a lesser extent, those who gave talks. One speaker, however, stood out. He was the Reverend Jasper Calder, an experienced Anglican clergyman, who spoke on the station’s opening night, 13th April 1923. He was a keen social worker and in 1920 helped form the Auckland City Mission, going on to found health camps for children and, during the 1930s depression, he set up soup kitchens and emergency accommodation for the poor and needy.

Jasper Calder
Alexander Turnbull Library

Those hearing Jasper Calder and the others on radio for the very first time listened in disbelief – it was a miracle. And so, for 1YA’s inaugural broadcast, Calder chose the topic “A Modern Miracle” for his “wee sermon”, as he called his contribution.  “Anyone who is inclined to doubt the authenticity of the New Testament miracles would do well to ponder on the wonders of this wireless broadcast,” he said, before giving a homily to, especially, those listeners in Canterbury… and, in his inimitable breezy style, taking Wellington folk into his confidence and giving them the name of an in-form galloper – “a certain winner at Trentham races!”. It was the very first tip for horse-racing given on radio in New Zealand… and by a clergyman at that!

“The New Zealand Herald” agreed with Calder about miracles. In its review of the opening night’s programme, the newspaper said “A miracle was performed in Auckland last evening…  a miracle not of superstition nor of rioting imagination, but of clear, cold science  – authentic and completely verifiable. For the air was full of voices and singing and music and strange sounds and those who could hear them realised that the miraculous is nearer to every-day life than they had thought”.

And now to the music. Items that opening night included pieces for saxophone (H. G. Cater) , works for piano, and solos from vocalists Mrs Lewis Eady, Miss V. Lambert and Mr J. D. Swan. Several recitations, as well as Rev. Jasper Calder’s sermon-ette, rounded out the inaugural programme.


Newspaper advertisements had warned listeners that there would be a 5-minute interval, a silence, between performances. What they were not told was that this break in transmission was essential to allow the valves and circuits to cool, thus reducing risk of fire in the studio!

And there were other interruptions, without advance warning, caused by electrical disturbances in the vicinity of the studio. For instance, there was a background swishing noise whenever a tram-car traversed Symonds Street outside the studio, some passing motor vehicles caused similar noises, while the electric lifts in the building next door caused interference which at times drowned out the broadcast altogether. These were not the only technical difficulties. 1YA soon found that those wanting to buy radio receivers were up against a shortage of parts especially valves required for the station’s particular frequency. This must have frustrated the 5 radio retailers who supported the station under the name Auckland Radio Service Limited. 1YA was off the air for some 3 months during which ways were found to exclude the disturbing extraneous noises from the broadcasts. After transmission resumed there was an array of artists waiting to be heard on the wireless… Hawaiian groups, military bands, all kinds of soloists… and then, August 23rd 1923 was advertised as a “Mr and Mrs Cyril Towsey Evening”.

The intrigue grew as I traced this musical couple… Cyril Towsey on the piano that night accompanied  his wife, Mary, soprano.

Their stories are worth repeating, their lives interwoven with extraordinary performers of the time with whom they rubbed shoulders, both in the UK and at home…  notably a prince (or was he a chieftain?) a princess and more than a couple of Madams. And in the tension of live performance there’s evidence that some were, really, temperamental ‘madams’!

Cyril Towsey was born into a musical family: his father, Arthur John Towsey was a well-known musician the length and breadth of New Zealand from the late 1880s until his death in 1931. Cyril’s uncle, Edward, was, almost equally, another household name in musical circles, especially in Dunedin.

 Arthur John Towsey – Cyril’s Father

Arthur John Towsey, (1847 – 1931) was born at Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. At an early age he showed a marked talent for music. At the age of 7 he commenced the study of piano with E. H. Thorne, the organist, and three years later, went to Sir F. Gore Ouseley’s College, at Tenbury. He studied alongside Arthur Sullivan: they became life-long friends and Towsey was later to stage Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas. Continuing tuition, he subsequently studied the piano and organ under Sir John Stainer and Langdown-Colborne and had the privilege of receiving lessons in harmony from Ouseley personally. On leaving the college he studied with H. C. Deacon, of London, and held an appointment as organist. In 1866 Arthur Towsey emigrated to Dunedin, engaged as choirmaster and organist at St Pauls Cathedral. He was just 19 years of age. After marrying and having two children he returned to England in 1879 for further study.

Arthur John Towsey
Trove, Australia

On his return to New Zealand he made many church, and lay, connections with music in the likes of Dunedin, Christchurch, Wanganui, Auckland and in the Waikato. In his later years the press said “…his efforts in the interests of music have him now recognised as one of the Dominion’s foremost figures”.

Madame Favart, Arthur Towsey conducting

He was prominent in the Christchurch Amateur Operatic Society, founder of Auckland Liedertafel in 1892 (later became the Royal Auckland Choir), responsible for the early successes of the Auckland Operatic Society, life member of the Cambridge Competitions Society, conductor and life member of the Orphans Club Orchestra and he was musical director leading New Zealand’s contributions at the South Seas Exhibition in Dunedin, 1889.

Giant Incomparabilis

A keen horticulturist, he had a daffodil named after him, one of the Giant Incomparabilis type, described as “of good form and texture: a splendid flower in every way”.

When he died at Cambridge in June,1931, the newspaper “Waikato Independent” declared that there was no better-known identity in musical circles in the Dominion than the late Arthur Towsey, who spent a lifetime fostering the art”.

Arthur married Jesse Mackay in Dunedin in 1876 and they had 2 children, Mary and (Arthur) Cyril.

Cyril Towsey

Born in Dunedin in 1878, Arthur Cyril Towsey (to use his full name) he was imbued with music from an early age: he was 11 years old when he took part in the chorus of Moors, Crusaders and Saracens at the Anglican Fair and just 2 years later he and his father Arthur opened a concert in Dunedin’s City Hall which the “Otago Witness” newspaper said was “a brilliant pianoforte selection, Brahms’ duet, “Hungarian Danses”. Cyril’s career had been launched as an instrumentalist performing in public.

He travelled to London in March 1892 with the idea of studying in Germany to further his calling and, if successful, to return to England’s concert platforms. Back in Auckland in 1894 he began starring as piano soloist in concerts and it was at this time Cyril made his first, and – as far as I can tell – his last appearance in a play. He was Bassanio in “Merchant of Venice”. By 1897 Cyril was accepted as an accomplished pianist in his own right receiving favourable reviews whether playing at a club, in concert, helping a fund-raising event or at a formal ceremony.

In September 1898 Cyril moved to Wellington for further training under Maughan Barnett, a composer and himself a virtuoso on the keyboard, having studied in London. Cyril set up as a teacher of pianoforte and was eagerly sought as a piano accompanist by the capital’s musical community and ventured to regularly play the organ at several churches.

In 1900 he accompanied artists at a ‘patriotic’ recital promoted by Rev. Charles Clark at which Mrs Fanny Howie, contralto from Christchurch, was down to sing two classics. The critic from the “The New Zealand Times” wrote: “Mrs Howie roused the audience to enthusiasm by her admirable singing, remarkable for its power and its wonderful range of effective notes. Mr Cyril Towsey, at the piano, accompanied with excellent perception”.

Fanny’s reputation grew. For her and Cyril it was the first of many performances sharing the concert hall.

In 1901 Cyril Towsey visited Auckland, often performing there with his father, and then at home in Wellington his talent on the organ was increasingly recognised.

In November 1904 Cyril’s engagement to Miss Smith was announced but there’s no mention of marriage. He was, however, sought after for two important “openings” in Wellington.

He was accepted as a progressive on organ, a friend of Arthur Hobday, who manufactured instruments and gave improved voice to old ones. Hobday manufactured the organ for the Basilica in Hill Street, Wellington (now the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Sacred Heart and of Saint Mary) and in August 1905 Cyril Towsey played it for the opening service and concert.

Sacred Heart Basilica, Hill Street, Wellington, 1901 – New Zealand Graphic

“I have no hesitation in saying it’s the best organ in Wellington,” Cyril said, but the “New Zealand Times” newspaper had a superlative, saying “…the 3-manual instrument is not only the finest in the city – perhaps it’s the best  in the colony”. Hobday, maker, had triumphed.

Just a month later the Wellington Town Hall was officially opened, and Cyril was a soloist during the concert that followed the formal ceremony.

Wellington Town Hall, September 1905
Muir and Moodie postcard, Te Papa Collections

This began numerous concerts in the building’s Municipal Concert Hall.

Cyril travelled to provincial centres giving concerts and one of these was a “family reunion” in Wanganui when his sister, Mary Towsey, was part of the programme singing two numbers… she sang so sweetly, the newspapers said, that an encore was a natural course, “Wanganui is indeed lucky to possess such a fine singer”.

Wellington Town Hall Organ
New Zealand Graphic

In March 1906 Cyril gave his first public concert on the new organ in the Wellington Town Hall. The newspapers reported that “not just anyone is offered the opportunity to play the new 4-manual organ, but last night Cyril Towsey mastered it, despite such a short time to familiarise himself with the instrument”. It was a resounding success, closely followed, at the same venue by a “Grand Vocal Recital” to welcome home a contralto soloist who had just returned to New Zealand after years performing in British and European concert halls.

It was Mrs Fanny Howie and the mayor, himself, gave permission for the organ to be used to accompany the diva…or should that be to accompany ‘the Princess’?

She was one of the most interesting with whom Cyril rubbed professional shoulders.

We leave the story of Cyril Towsey to follow Te Rangi Pai’s life: we will return to Cyril later.

 Mrs Fanny Howie nee Porter aka Te Rangi Pai

Born Fanny Rose Porter at Tokomaru Bay in January 1868, (Te Whanau-a-Apanui/Ngati Porou), she also used the maori version of her surname, Poata. Fanny studied music with her family at home and then at school in Gisborne.

Fanny Porter (right) with her sisters Belle, Minnie, and Ada
New Zealand Ministry of Culture and Heritage

And  then she became Mrs Howie when in October 1891 she married John Howie, a public servant.

John and Fanny Howie
Nelson Provincial Museum

They settled in Nelson. Fanny’s training paid off: she was developing as a strong contralto. She continued her singing with the amateur operatic group in Nelson, notably as Katisha in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado”, repeated to acclaim in Christchurch.

Fanny Howie in “The Mikado” Nelson 1897
Nelson Provincial Museum

Her performance was heard by touring theatrical managers, Robert Sparrow Smythe and the Reverend Charles Clark, who suggested the promising contralto return to Australia with them for tuition, after which, in 1898, she appeared in a series of concerts in many main centres, including Perth where the concert was billed as “the youngest soprano in Australia (Miss Hetty Holyroyd) and the gifted Anglo-Maori contralto (Mrs Howie)”.

Te Rangi Pai

It was on this tour that Fanny Rose Howie chose and adopted a stage name, the maori Te Rangi Pai (the beautiful spirit or the beautiful sky), a shortened version of her mother’s name.

The experience of the successful concert tour in Australia resulted in both singers going to Europe… Hetty Holyroyd to study in Milan where she was later engaged in opera and Te Rangi Pai to take lessons in Britain. Robert Smythe had advocated Fanny travel abroad with him, but she voyaged to England in March 1901 with her husband who took leave from his position to accompany her. Once in England she immediately reached into her maori ancestry and added the title “Princess” to her stage name. She became Princess Te Rangi Pai.  This caused the “Free Lance” newspaper in New Zealand to remark, in August 1901,  “…a large portion of the inhabitants of England believe that this country is governed by a Maori monarch with a large Royal family to help him. A Maori lady in London has been created Princess by the press, and her entrance into London Society is chronicled as an event of some importance. The Princess Te Rangi Pai is her name, and she made her first appearance at the annual New Zealand dinner. Her singing of ‘Home, Sweet Home,’ in the Maori tongue, literally brought the house down”.

Mrs Fanny Howie, Princess Te Rangi Pai
Nelson Provincial Museum

She furthered her studies and took to the concert stage in provincial England, starting in Liverpool. And then in April 1902 she sang in a St Patrick’s Day concert in London’s Royal Albert Hall billed as Madam Fanny Howie, the Princess Te Rangi Pai. “The Auckland Star” newspaper reported that her two songs were well received, adding “…by the way, Mrs Howie would do well to drop the Princess Te Rangi Pai title if she wishes to be considered an artist rather than a musical curiosity”.


Her first concert in the Queen’s Hall, August 1902, attracted a raft of complimentary press reviews with one correspondent summing them up – “…it was a genuine artistic triumph… …all eminent critics agreed in testifying the greatest admiration alike for the magnificent voice of the New Zealander, and for the skill and expressiveness of her singing. With the two exceptions of Ada Crossley and Clara Butt, there is no contralto at present singing who can hold a candle to Mrs Howie”. New Zealand Premier, Richard Seddon, was present at the concert to see Te Rangi Pai and other New Zealand soloists plus a contingent of Maori, coincidentally in Britain to perform at King Edward the Seventh’s coronation. The group enacted a Haka which was twice encored by the audience. There was later controversy when it was found the troupe should have returned home rather than incurring more costs delaying their departure to appear in the London concert.

Fanny Howie’s father, Colonel Thomas William Porter, a decorated soldier, also attended the concert, his presence prompting the press to write up his story of life near Gisborne, involvement in the pursuit of the rebel Te Kooti, his part in the Land Wars and his military service in South Africa commanding the New Zealand Contingent. He returned to New Zealand in September 1902: Fanny decided to stay on in England, studying and singing.

In keeping with the title “Princess”, Mrs Howie said, when challenged, that she was entitled to wear a Huia feather in her hair and the press, obliging with an exclusivity, observed that she was “one of the few adorned by the rare feather”.

The Princess and the Chieftain

In June 1903 Princess Te Rangi Pai and baritone, Bantock Pierpoint, went on a tour of provincial England with the Hinemoa Band, or New Zealand Band. Accompanying the band was tenor Edward Tuahina Rangiuia, (Ngati Porou, Te Aitanga a Hauiti) who was said to have been a music teacher in Gisborne and who had achieved some reputation as a ballad singer following his appearance at theatres and music halls in New Zealand and Australia. He was billed as “Chieftain Rangiuia” who was  “apparently noticed while performing for the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall during their visits to New Zealand” and decided (or was encouraged) to travel to England to further his singing career. He was a last-minute addition to the passenger list to travel with the Hinemoa Band following an eleventh-hour invitation from his uncle, cabinet minister, James Carroll. Newspapers were critical –  “… The latest Government enterprise is to send home with the New Zealand Band, Rangiuia, an undersized Maori with a thin, piping voice. He was at Rahotu (in outback Taranaki) with a strolling concert company when he was ‘sent for’ by the Hon J. Carroll and packed off to London as a sort of side show in connection with the Band performances”.

Rangiuia (centre)
Alexander Turnbull Library

He was again billed as Chieftain Rangiuia, so the New Zealand touring show he joined now had both a Maori Princess and a Maori Chieftain, the first time the two shared the concert stage. The company set out on a tour, performing for charity, the highlight of which was a command performance before the Prince and Princess of Wales. The Chieftain must have been upset when his native costume did not turn up in the baggage in London and he had to perform in a borrowed Korowai, feather cloak. Perhaps the impressive publicity he was given made up for it: “…the first Maori singer to perform in England”.

The concert tour took in many parts of England and Wales. Cardiff’s ‘Western Daily Mail’ newspaper published new genealogical details revealing that Princess Te Rangi Pai was a direct descendant of the celebrated Maori maiden Hinemoa, from whom the touring band was named, and that “during her performances the contralto wears the exact greenstone charm worn by Hinemoa herself, handed-down”.

While the tour was an artistic success it was a financial disaster. Poor management, inconsistent advertising, and bad vibes among the bandsmen let down the visitors and most returned to New Zealand out of pocket. It was noted that Mrs Howie and Mr Pierpoint were the only ones to receive regular payment, but she told newspapers that she, too had suffered financially: several engagements had been cancelled because agents did not book loss-making artistes.

Rangiuia stayed on after the disastrous tour and, writing home to the local Poverty Bay newspaper, November 1903, he advised that he was studying “under Carter at the Royal Albert Hall,” and asked his readers to  “… remember that there are plenty in London who came expecting to make great hits, and have not so far succeeded. The competition is very keen, and one has to keep the ‘nose close to the helm’”. (The Carter referred to was Hilton Carter, manager and secretary of the Royal Albert Hall in the early 1900s).

Rangiuia, thus, probably didn’t mind extra publicity when he was noticed in the American “Journal Examiner” despite the article’s absurdity, even the more so in New Zealand where his parentage and antecedents were well known. The question is where did the writer source the ridiculous material? Maybe from Rangiuia?

“The New Zealand Times”, September 1904, reprinted the article from the “Journal Examiner”. “Its illustrated sketch of the wandering Maori’s life depicts a person decked out like a Solomon Islander, surrounded by fashionably-dressed females. This individual is said to be Rangiuia, a bare-foot cannibal, who is the newest pet of London society. Another picture represents the “father of the young prince, who has been won away from his cannibal habits”.

Tawhiao, second Maori King
Te Papa Collections

“The New Zealand Times” went on – “The picture of the “father” is really a print of Tawhiao, the grave-visaged old Maori king, who died not long ago. The letterpress accompanying the ridiculous picture is grotesquely amusing. It pretends to set forth Rangiuia’s career, but every line is perjury. It is stated that Rangiuia’s mother is a maiden of the gods, and a Maori Queen, and his father a “mighty power” in the land of crocodiles and coconuts!”

Another representation of Rangiuia – “London’s newest pet”: T. S. Donne’s scrapbook cutting
Alexander Turnbull Library

The “Journal” outrageously continued – “Only a prince of the Royal house of Rangiuia can wear the sacred feather cloak he possesses, attired in which he looks with melting eyes on the great lords and ladies in drawing-rooms”. New Zealand newspapers repeated the ‘Journal’s’ amusing statement concerning the ‘discovery’ of Rangiuia, the tenor, by the Princess of Wales at Rotorua, and the manner in which he studied at Napier under the great Professor Winkleman”. “Truly”, the newspaper concluded, “Rangiuia is getting on since he left Gisborne and Auckland, oh… and this ‘story of his life’ mentions, by the way, that he is an M.A. of “Wellington University””.

Hyperbole in stories about show-business people knew no bounds! The London publication, ‘Sketch’ also obtained fanciful “facts” about Rangiuia. “He is a chief of chiefs, with authority over nearly 10,000 natives,” along with other strange romancing that has no foundation at all in fact.

In 1909 he was being described by London’s “Sphere” periodical as “the Maori Caruso”.

A New Version of Music Hall

In 1911 Rangiuia seemed to be behind a plan for a Maori Music Hall troupe in London. He had assisted a group of 40 Arawa Maori, while it was on a concert tour of England. It included well-known Whakarewrewa Guide, Mākereti (or Maggie) Papakura (Margaret Pattison Thom). Financially, the tour had been a loss. When it came time for the party to return home about 20 members, supported by Rangiuia, decided to stay on in London: they had plans to continue performing in music hall, remaining against stern advice from the High Commissioner and Maggie Papakura. Then there was some consternation in New Zealand when the party returned, minus the 20 who stayed-on in London and another who had died on-tour. Maggie Papakura was left to explain the situation. It appears the music hall venture did not succeed: the only advertisements show the group playing Putney. Maggie, however, did prosper.

Mākereti (Maggie) Papakura
Auckland Libraries Collection

While in England on tour she was engaged to be married to a well-to-do Englishman whom she met when he visited Rotorua. Maggie went back to England in June 1912 to marry him, Richard Charles Staples-Brown, settling near Oxford where she continued work, promoting Maori and studying Maori anthropology at Oxford University. She died in April 1930. Her thesis, published years after her death, uniquely explores the life and customs of the Arawa people from a woman’s viewpoint, debunking much detail which had previously been written by men.

Edward Tuahina Rangiuia died in London on October 18th, 1918, survived by a wife, a son and a daughter. Among his enduring credits are several compositions and adaptations in te reo.

Princess Te Rangi Pai  and Oratorios

Meanwhile the diva changed tack slightly in her studies, training as an oratorio soloist and then appearing in a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s  “The Mikado” as Katisha, a role she had played with great success back in New Zealand.  Then, in October 1904, she led the bill in a concert which almost exclusively featured New Zealanders. There were good reviews but one columnist of the New Zealand ‘Free Lance’ called out Mrs Howie. “She still continues to pose before the British public in the absurd role of the Princess Te Rangi Pai of New Zealand.  A cutting from the Court Journal tells of ‘a delightful concert’ given at Steinway Hall by the pseudo princess and other artistes from New Zealand. I expected to find the name of that other bogus scion of Maori royalty, “ Prince ” Rangiuia among them, but it was not there. The Court Journal says: “The Princess is an exceptionally gifted musician and poet, who should be heard in a larger hall by all lovers of music. Her Maori songs are quite beautiful, especially the lullaby, ‘Moemoe Ra e Hine,’ which she composed… and she sings with much charm in Maori, English and German”.

‘Hine E Hine’ –  by Princess Te Rangi Pai

Te Rangi Pai composed this gentle lullaby with original lyrics in te reo in 1904 while she was in England, the song becoming popular after she performed it during the concert in the Steinway Hall in October that year and then published the following year by Beal, Stuttard and Company of London. ‘Hine e Hine’ (as ‘Moemoe Ra e Hine’ became) was said to reflect and console the diva’s loss when her mother died and her suffering homesickness.

The gently-sung lullaby was included in practically all her concerts and its constant request in encores encouraged her to add other maori  songs to her repertoire.

There have been many versions of ‘Hine e Hine’ over the decades, some sung by leading vocalists, others performed by instrumentalists.

The tune arguable became the best-known Maori song in New Zealand when, some 70 years after it was written, TV2-South Pacific Television adopted it in 1975 as the channel’s theme to end each night’s transmission. The music accompanied cartoon characters, a cat and a kiwi, preparing to retire for the night and then switching off the transmitter and going to bed in the satellite dish.

The cat and the kiwi: lulled asleep by ‘Hine e Hine’.

False Alarm

In late 1905 Mrs Howie had been in touch with New Zealand Government officials seeking cooperation for a Maori operetta she wanted to stage in London. She said she was shortly expecting to be asked to perform before the King and a musical sketch with a Maori storyline would be very acceptable. She was asking for 10 maori men to be sent to England for the production’s haka. In May 1906 it was reported in New Zealand newspapers that the performers, to be absent for upwards of a year, had been recruited and were booked for passage on the liner ‘Turakina’. The New Zealand Government, it was reported,  was defraying their expenses.

This was a brave and ambitious venture by Te Rangi Pai: she was yet to receive the Royal Invitation and the financial ruin of the ill-fated tour by the Hinemoa Band must have been fresh in her memory. The ‘Free Lance’ columnist revealed some time later that an excited group of Maori boys left Poverty Bay, got as far as Wellington only to be intercepted by “common sense Cabinet Minister James Carroll” who advised there was no funding, no passage to England booked and no maori operetta. He sent the disappointed men home.

Mrs Howie, feeling recent family bereavements and her own ill-health, interrupted her studies and concert schedule to return to New Zealand for a brief visit in October 1905.  And while home she could, in person, ask the Government to help her create and manage “the entertainment audiences at Home are just yearning for – the Maori operetta”.

Fanny and Cyril Once Again

While home the diva consented to performances in several centres, including Wellington. It would be a reunion with accompanist Cyril Towsey. In 1900, it will be recalled, they had performed together in the capital’s Exchange Hall when the contralto first came to notice, introduced to the audience as Mrs Fanny Howie. Now, in 1906 the ‘world-renowned’ singer, ‘returned from acclamation in the concert halls of Europe’ needed no introduction, billed as Te Rangi Pai. The publicity for her homecoming included all the detail of her career to date: her appearances in Royal Albert Hall, Queen’s Hall, St. James’s Hall, and Crystal Palace, London. They all got a mention in the advertising: notable, then, that she dropped the title ‘Princess’ for her New Zealand tour. Had the ‘Free Lance’ newspaper assisted this move when it chided that “…calling herself Princess Te Rangi Pai is all very well on the other side of the globe, but only raises mirth here in the colony”?

Programme for her Wellington concert: “Princess” had been dropped.
James MacMahon

But Te Rangi Pai had the last word while on the concert platform in Wellington’s Town Hall. “The New Zealand Times” declared “…her voice is something to marvel at. Her compass is, perhaps, not so great as that of some contraltos who have been heard in Wellington, but her intonation is pure, her enunciation distinct, and her expression and phrasing artistic to a degree that no other artist we remember can claim superiority over, and few – very few – equality with”.

The critic did not ignore Cyril Towsey. “The piano accompaniments were played with musician-like skill and expression. There are some pianists who deem it sufficient to play the notes placed before them. This gentleman evidently regards the accompaniment as an integral portion of the composition submitted, which it is, and the instrument under his hands fills its proper place. It is not too subservient nor yet too obtrusive”. The new Town Hall organ was exercised by Mr Towsey accompanying Te Rangi Pai when she sang ‘The Lost Chord’.

The concert was repeated, with variations, in other centres.  In Christchurch, where she had earlier graced the stage before embarking overseas, ‘The Star’ newspaper gave a glowing notice – “Te Rangi Pai revealed the excellences of her art… and the maintenance of the pinnacle she has attained was to be an easy task”. The other city where she had  performed earlier, Dunedin, also gave her a warm welcome. The “Otago Daily Times”  said, “lovers of music will hear one of the finest singers that have visited Dunedin. She has something quite exceptional in the way of voice, and she knows how to manage and use it with telling effect”. In her home province so many fans wanted to hear her in Gisborne’s His Majesty’s Theatre that an extra concert was hastily scheduled.

In Auckland it was a well-received recital in the Choral Hall… and a revealing interview with a reporter from The New Zealand Herald. Te Rangi Pai confirmed she was not staying in New Zealand. “It’s great to be in the Motherland but the travel bug has bitten, and I plan a long trip back to England so I can perform in many different countries”. She reaffirmed that she was preparing musical arrangements which would be included in a programme of Maori items that she had planned to stage in England “…all London will flock to see the show!”

Te Rangi Pai
Tauranga City Library Collection

The concert tour morphed into a series of farewell performances in many North Island towns. In Wellington she was once again accompanied by Cyril Towsey at the organ for what was billed her “farewell performance before travelling abroad”.

In June the diva had reached Sydney to begin the first of her many concert tours en route to England. But this was cut short by an illness requiring immediate medical treatment with a recommendation to return to New Zealand – so she travelled to Greymouth to join her husband. She obliged her many friends with a concert of sacred works in the town in August, she found her health again and proceeded on yet another concert tour of many centres. By February 1907 the performances were once again being called  “a farewell song recital”: she intended resuming her grand concert tour on her way to London.

Te Rangi Pai appeared before a packed house at Gisborne’s His Majesty’s Theatre on June 20th 1907. Shortly after this appearance it was reported she was convalescing after further illness and “it is doubtful she will ever appear on the concert platform again.”  But the diva proved this account wrong and gave further concerts in provincial centres in Poverty Bay. Other reports that she had retired were countered in the Press by notices of further singing engagements. In September 1909 it was reported that Te Rangi Pai was “contemplating an extensive tour of the Dominion”.  Meantime she performed locally, such as the concert in Opotiki in February 1910  to help raise funds for telephones in the district.

It is her last reported performance. Her health deteriorated, likely exacerbated when she led legal action on behalf of the family to contest her father’s transactions involving ancestral lands.

Mrs Fanny Rose Howie, Te Rangi Pai, nee Porter (Poata) died in Opotiki  on 20th May 1916 aged 48. Her grave is at Maungaroa near Te Kaha.

We resume Cyril Towsey’s story.

Mr Cyril Towsey  

He saw in the early years of the 1900s with a series of appearances … his own recitals or accompanying singers on either the piano or organ… and it’s plain (as one columnist put it ‘…he of the shapely mop…” became the ‘go-to’ musician, the accompanist, for these concerts”.

The newspaper “Truth” also remarked on Cyril Towsey’s luxuriant curly hair

In June 1906, not long after Te Rangi Pai’s welcome-home concert, a concert he gave in Wellington was noted as “…being his last before he proceeds overseas to complete his training”.

“The Free Lance” acknowledged Towsey had been a late starter after long academic studies, but “…at length he took the bit between his teeth and the result was a recital given in the Town Hall in conjunction with soprano Amy Murphy. It was a great success and since that time Cyril has never looked back, and only recently he astonished his most enthusiastic admirers by the mastery he so quickly gained over the new Town Hall organ”.

In August Wellington musicians and supporters staged a farewell benefit concert for Cyril. Notably his father, Arthur, conducted the orchestra and in Beethoven’s Concerto in C it was observed that Cyril, on piano, closed his music book, playing from memory to concentrate, to give his best possible interpretation. He succeeded. “The Free Lance” critic wrote “The pianist, feeling that something extra was expected of him, gave a remarkably fine rendering of a difficult piece”.

Cyril Towsey sailed for England mid-August 1906, his departure marked by a large crowd of musicians and fans on the Wellington wharf to see the liner leave. These were the folk who all contributed one way or another towards his successful farewell concert: he benefited by more than £100.

Once in England his first letters home advised that he had been taken seriously ill with an abscess and was in hospital. Then in 1908 word circulated that he had died, only to be corrected by a friend of Cyril’s in London who wrote that the patient had been discharged from hospital in March, much improved.

Cyril went on to accompany many named soloists in tours of England – “the provinces, I hate them, give me London!” he wrote home.

In August 1908 his engagement was announced in London to Mary Cooper whose stage name was Marie O’Connor. Also known as Mamie Cooper, she was a mezzo-soprano from New Zealand studying in England.

About this time Cyril toured with diva Nellie Melba’s company, with violinists Haidee Voorzanger and Joska Szigeti and then he was accompanist for Clara Butt in her London recital. “The Observer” newspaper reported “Cyril Towsey, son of Arthur of that ilk, whose beauteous mop of hair was at one time the envy of Ponsonby maidens, is keeping up the family traditions in the musical world, showing that colonially trained musical talent can hold its own among European artists”. In late 1909 Cyril toured in the company featuring Alice Verlet, the grand diva of the Paris Opera Company.

Alice Verlet
Rotary Photographic Company

From a wintry London his thoughts were turning to home with a return trip to New Zealand, and then news of a “farewell concert” in London’s Bechstein Hall for Mary Cooper, accompanied by Cyril on piano.

Bechstein Hall which became Wigmore Hall… and endures

Did Miss Cooper’s “farewell” also mean her fiancé, Cyril, was also on the move? Yes. From the concert platform she announced that she had been in England for 3 years studying under Mademoiselle Tremelli and Mr Gregory Hast and it was time to take a break.

Mademoiselle Tremelli
Bridgeman Images

It was with the greatest regret that she would be leaving London in April 1910 with Cyril Towsey to make an extensive concert tour of the Dominions. Cyril later added that after the concert tours he hoped to settle in New Zealand.

Miss Mary Cooper… returning to New Zealand
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collection

The couple travelled on the separate ships and within weeks of their arrival they began a concert tour in Auckland announcing that they would settle in that city, both making, and teaching music.

Cyril Towsey on his return to New Zealand
Auckland Libraries Collection

Cyril, in an interview with “The Auckland Star” on his return said he had brushed shoulders with the best…playing accompaniments for solo work for the classical impresarios Alfred Schulz-Curtius and Lionel Powell, he came in touch with Nellie Melba, the contralto Edna Thornton, the French mezzo-soprano Blanche Marchesi, the Russian pianist Mark Hambourg, violinist Jan Kubelik, pianists Ferruccio Busoni and Vladimir von Pachmann (all internationally-known stars of the time)… and travelled all over the British Isles

Hamilton Years

Cyril went to live in Hamilton where, on Wednesday 9 August 1911, he married Mary Cooper at St Mary’s Church. Within 2 weeks she was using her new  stage name, Mrs Cyril Towsey, at a performance with the Hamilton Orchestra conducted by new husband Cyril. They set up a teaching studio in their home and advertised for students, recruiting from as far away as Cambridge – apt, because that’s where Cyril’s father, Arthur, had coached so many pupils and involved himself in local concerts and shows, many for charity.

On January 13th, 1913, Cyril and Mary’s first son, to be named Arthur Charles, was born in Hamilton.

The Towsey names were prominent in many musical events in Waikato: one such in August 1913 received rave reviews. “The Waikato Argus” – “Rarely has a concert of such merit been given in Hamilton as that of last evening, when those three artists, Mrs Cyril Towsey, and Messrs Cyril Towsey and Barry Coney put on a programme which, for artistry and execution has never been excelled in the town”.

At a Te Awamutu Concert in April 1914 Mrs Towsey was billed as “a dramatic soprano”, in Hamilton she was recognised as “the gifted singing instructress” while Cyril’s leadership was praised by  “The Waikato Times” when it said, “The Hamilton Orchestral Society proved itself capable of giving a distinctly high-class performance. Mr Towsey undeniably is an excellent conductor, and to his handling of the baton much of the success undoubtedly is due.”

In 1914 Mrs Towsey was well known enough to personally endorse a preparation to relieve sore throats:

“Sun” newspaper, Christchurch August 1914

During war-time the Towseys appeared in many patriotic and fundraising concerts: for the Red Cross, for the Soldiers Fund, and hospital services among others. For years Cyril had been organist at St Peters Anglican Church in Hamilton but in July 1916 he switched to Hamilton East’s Catholic Church and then in 1918 he was appointed choirmaster at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland and was named permanent honorary accompanist to the (Auckland) Bohemian Orchestra.

The Family Moves North

On the second of May, the Towsey’s second  son, Cyril Patrick, was born in Auckland just a week or two before there was a grand recital in Hamilton to farewell the couple.

Once settled In Auckland Cyril immediately took up his duties at St Patrick’s Cathedral and engaged with the local music scene, accompanying many artists and conducting various orchestras and choirs. Mrs Towsey was back on the concert platform again in August, singing in a patriotic, war-time, recital in aid of the Red Cross and St John Ambulance. Usually accompanied by Cyril, she starred in many concerts, “evenings” and ceremonies over the years. The two held music lessons in a studio in their City Road home.

In 1919 it was a full house at the Auckland Town Hall for a concert by the Bohemian Orchestra led by Cyril. Soloist on the flute, George Poore, was noticed by the critics making public the name of the Poore family: two generations (Frank, Bonnie, Queenie and then Richard) were to follow George on the stage in Auckland and further afield. Cyril became promoter of concerts… he and Mrs Towsey took part, billed as “Auckland’s most popular performers” along with other notables.

In 1921 Mrs Towsey combined with vocalist Frank Wilson to cash in on the popularity of the Savoy Operas, starting a Gilbert and Sullivan School which they said “…would provide a unique opportunity for those interested, with Mr Wilson the only Savoyard in New Zealand who had studied abroad, including at the Paris Conservatoire”. Mrs Towsey continued in many solo and choir events – in 1921 she was billed as “ Auckland’s Premier Operatic Soprano” while the “Northern Advocate” went one better in a preview of her Whangarei concert “she ranks as the prima donna of New Zealand”.    “The Waikato Times” joined many other critics in praise when it wrote that Cyril “…is that rara avis, a perfect accompanist”.

On the Radio

It was thus a natural step from the concert platform to the new, developing, form of entertainment  – the radio. Station 1YA, the first licensed broadcaster in New Zealand, began transmissions in Auckland on 13th April 1923. Once technical troubles were fixed, management organised further live broadcasts and this is when Mr and Mrs Cyril Towsey took to the airwaves. In August 1923 they presented “A Mr and Mrs Towsey Evening” performed live in the studio in Scots Hall, Symonds Street. Cyril went on to organise a variety of concerts on the radio: these received critical acclaim.

It seems to have been but a brief skirmish with radio: by New Year 1924 Mrs Towsey has resumed teaching music, as well as fulfilling engagements and Cyril is fully-booked as accompanist, conductor, choir leader or adjudicator at competitions.

In 1927 he was accompanist for the famous vocalist Frances Alda during her tour of the main New Zealand centres. Welcomed home as Christchurch-born, the promising soprano had gone to France where she studied under Melba’s tutor, made her debut in Paris in 1904, and then rapidly graduated to the international concert stage, notably singing with Caruso.

Frances Alda, Souvenir Programme 1927
Alexander Turnbull Library

In 1926 she was prima donna at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York… altogether engaged for 18 seasons. Cyril’s “expert accompaniment” on her New Zealand tour was acknowledged by the critics.

 1YA again

It was the Towseys’ first appearance on 1YA radio station in 1923 that drew my attention to the duo and sparked research. They continued to be heard on radio sometime later: in 1928 “Madame Mary Towsey’s Quartet”  and Mary as a soloist was being heard on 1YA again, by now a much more powerful station broadcasting from a roof-top studio on George Court’s building at the Mercury Lane (as it is now) corner with Karangahape Road.

1YA’s mast towers above George Court’s Building
Auckland Libraries Special Collection

There was a unique set-up in 1929 when 1YA temporarily moved to the Auckland Town Hall, transmitting from a studio there for The Exhibition. The Towseys were among those featured in the evening programmes on these special broadcasts and following this venture Cyril was on hand (whenever not otherwise engaged) to play as regular soloist, or as accompanist, on 1YA. He thus became even better known to the public at large: radios became very popular in households during these years and those who were frequently heard on the airwaves became a new kind of “personality”.

On the evening of 17th March 1932 Cyril took a break between orchestral items and apparently left the studio for a breath of fresh air. He was unexpectedly seen a short time later by his son, Arthur, in  Quay Street, along the waterfront – quite some distance from 1YA’s Karangahape Road studio. Cyril, who appeared in good spirits, advised Arthur to go to the Town Hall to collect his mother who was scheduled to finish her performance there. Another man who knew Cyril by sight also spotted him near the ferry wharf and had a brief word before the two parted.

They were the last to see him. Cyril (Arthur Cyril Towsey), aged 53, did not return home that night. Despite one or two subsequent reports that he had been recognised in the city, there was no definite evidence of his whereabouts. He was never seen again despite an intense search by police and helpers. There was a thought that he may have fallen into the harbour. There were also rumours that he had eloped with a woman on a visiting luxury yacht, but this was later discounted when the vessel was intercepted and he was not found on board. Yet another theory for his disappearance was that he found his illness from cancer too irksome, so he chose to end his life. Police surmised that if Cyril did, in fact, end up in the harbour that night, the current of the out-going tide would quickly take his body into the Hauraki Gulf and possibly out to sea.

Madame Mary Towsey or Madame M. Towsey, names she used in widowhood, continued her teaching and stage career and was appointed conductor of St. Benedict’s Choir. She died in Auckland in April 1949 aged 67.

Arthur Charles Towsey 1913 – 1985 – Cyril and Mary’s Son

After schooling in Auckland and several occupations in the motor and film trades, some in Australia, Arthur enrolled for active service in the Second World War serving with the 21st Battalion, first in Egypt and then in Greece.

He was medically evacuated to New Zealand but after convalescing decided not to stay and took passage to England working on a freighter. In London, he took a post with British Council, an organisation which operated under Royal charter, established to achieve closer cultural relations between the United Kingdom and other countries, especially the exchange of individuals engaged in various types of art, as well as the exchange of music, literature copyrights of plays and information as to developments in science and medicine. The 33-year-old Arthur Towsey, as the Council’s Pacific Regional Officer, toured the antipodes in 1944, notably arriving in Sydney in “a flying boat”. Arthur had graduated, travelling above the waves! Post-war he changed jobs… to the executive of the pharmaceutical company Beecham and went to Australia to manage the company’s affairs there. He also added Van to his name about this time. In 1947 he married soprano Peggy Knibb. The newly-weds were described in newspapers as being on an extended honeymoon rather than a concert tour! They settled in Australia where Arthur took over, created or revolutionised several businesses, notably combining his long-time love of boats and yachting with a position with Chrysler, setting up their marine products branches. He remarried and returned to Auckland where he died on 12th February 1985.

Cyril Patrick Towsey (Pat Towsey) 1918 – 1989 – Cyril and Mary’s Son

Pat showed inclination to, and appreciation of, music at an early age and took lessons, achieving top places in competitions and in 1934 he topped North Island candidates in the Royal School of Music (London)’s examinations playing piano: his mother was his tutor. He had obviously inherited the family’s love of music.

A probable music career was interrupted by the Second World War. Pat was posted to England, to Bomber Command in the RAF, rising to Squadron Leader and being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and twice Mentioned in Dispatches. He was also mentioned in the press… for various tricky or brave assignments over enemy territory, including sorties when he was based in Egypt. After his return to New Zealand in 1944 Pat was the third generation to teach piano, he played in many concerts (generously participating in charity recitals) and was the second generation to play piano on station 1YA. He married Josephine Reid in February 1947.


During research about the Towseys, Fanny Howie, Rangiuia and others, I was surprised by the number of talented singers and musicians who travelled from New Zealand around the beginning of the 20th Century in the hope of furthering their careers in England or on the Continent.

I guess some were sent by hopeful New Zealand parents, others had been recognised as top performers by their teachers, a few were “noticed” by touring “stars” who had already made it, while a small number were “discovered” by agents or managers of travelling companies.

Destination London was a long and courageous journey in more ways than one in those days. It was a lengthy voyage by sea and for most, once arrived, there was no certainty of lodgings, remuneration or even an introduction to helpful connections such as ‘named’ tutors, the aristocracy, or owners of opera companies. Some New Zealand hopefuls had made arrangements with tutors before they left home, their names often quoted in local newspapers. Fanny Howie had been encouraged when she was just 14 by the English diva, Madame Janet Patey while on a concert tour in New Zealand, so Fanny could expect introductions to tutors on her arrival in London.

Madame Patey, contralto, toured New Zealand in 1891

She was fortunate to train under such teachers as Charles Santly, William Carter, and Dr Churchill Sibley: men of the very highest rank in voice cultivation. In fact, she spent some 5 years studying under these tutors and emerged a much-improved vocalist, ready for practically any concert hall. We also saw Auckland soprano Mary Cooper (Cyril Towsey’s wife) thrive in London, fortunate to have the right connections. Her sister had married into a well-to-do, well-known, London family. Mary’s superb voice must have eased introductions.

Others, many others, no – most others – weren’t so lucky. They did not have the right connections despite apparent good references. Tenor, Edward Tuahina (Prince) Rangiuia, claimed he was ‘discovered’ by Royalty who heard him sing in New Zealand and suggested he should progress with training in London. His was a limited tenure on the bigger stage when he reached London… and he said so in a letter home saying how hard it was with the competition he faced.

It was often said, and quoted in the Press, that in England students would be training under a named tutor. What did that mean? Did they pay for formal tuition?

Not always. In some cases the student would attend lessons and after a while the tutor would select  the pupil for a production or a recital and the resulting payment for participating, in-part or in-total, would flow back to the teacher.

An alternative was for the tutor to arrange for students with promise to appear in a concert at either London’s Steinway Hall or Bechstein (later Wigmore) Hall.

Wigmore Hall today

These were favourite venues to put forward, or “audition”, up-and-coming performers. Newspaper critics would be invited, and it would be left to them to sort out those performers who were worthy of a good notice… and progress, or not. For an outstanding pupil there was the occasional scholarship.

Wybert Reeve, 1831-1906

Wybert Reeve the actor, playwright and promoter, perceived changes in 1904 when he wrote, “A new phase has been created in recent years… considering the class of young people coming on to the stage, instead of being paid, the novices have to pay a premium, and for a stated time give their services to learn their profession as an apprenticeship. In music they have to pay, but in a less satisfactory way. Agents pocket the money, and there is no profitable result to the young singer or musician. The agent knows very well there cannot be. Scores of victims give their concerts and recitals at the Bechstein and Steinway Hall and are never heard of again. It is cruel work”.

And Cyril Towsey, just before he left for home in 1910 having spent 4 years in England, also had some advice for budding musicians. “When I first came to London it was the regular custom for artists on tour to be paid fixed fees. Now a concert party usually tours on sharing terms. It is a sign of the times. It cannot be impressed too strongly on young colonial musicians that it is folly to come to London in the belief that they have only to display their talents to find London at their feet. They must not take too seriously the flattering comments on their abilities made by famous artists who visit New Zealand. Let them remember also that London is the easiest place in the world to starve in. But warnings seem to be useless. Still they come! I suppose they will only learn by bitter experience”.

Ngaire (Nyree) Dawn Porter (1936 – 2001)

Actress and TV star Nyree Dawn Porter’s great aunt was Fanny Howie (Te Rangi Pai).

Nyree Dawn Porter –

Nyree followed in her great aunt’s footsteps to London where she took part in many dramatic and TV productions, notably the BBC television series “The Forsyte Saga” in the mid-1960s. Nyree’s middle name may have been suggested by her great aunt’s stage name, Te Rangi Pai, meaning beautiful sky, beautiful spirit.


Dedicated to the Towseys and to all New Zealanders who, over the decades, have travelled to London to study music.



Papers Past – National Library of New Zealand

Trove – National Library of Australia

National Library of New Zealand

Auckland Museum

Website, Royal Albert Hall

Website, Wigmore Hall


Website – Wikipedia


© R. C. Carlyon December 2021



Police were quite used to prosecuting the drivers of horse-drawn carriages or carts who drove while under the influence of drink, likewise horsemen were charged for “riding horses furiously” through town streets, usually at speeds dangerous to pedestrians and other horse traffic. Police unhesitatingly took tram-car drivers to court after accidents involving death or injury and they were “on the case” of cabbies driving motor cars who overcharged or loitered, looking for custom. So it was nothing for the constabulary to prosecute errant drivers of motor cars.  Here are a few who were among the first, sometimes the first, accused of breaking the law…

Christchurch Concerns

There seems to be a number of serious charges levelled against motorists in Christchurch, perhaps because conditions there favoured popularity of automobiles. “It seems a pity”, said the “New Zealand Herald” newspaper in July 1903,”that Auckland is so hilly. Were it not so, and we had Christchurch roads here, the electric motors and broughams would be quite numerous. They are the ideal cars for flat roads and level town work. But in Auckland they would never do”.

Christchurch townsfolk were apparently worried about speeding motor cars presenting a danger to horse traffic, tramcars and pedestrians. “The sooner the City’s by-laws prevent motorists driving down principal thoroughfares at what the police consider an excessive pace, the better it will be for other road-users,” the “Star” newspaper opined on 26th May 1904.  “Even more so following yesterday’s decision in the Magistrate’s Court. A motorist, charged with furious driving, was let off because there was no proof that the particular by-law was valid”. There was doubt that it had been approved by the Colonial Secretary… the Bench held the objection was a valid one and dismissed the charge. “Now is the time for the motorist to show his paces”, the newspaper mocked, “pending the by-law being approved, he may exceed the rate prescribed by the by-laws as often as he pleases, so long as he is careful not to break anybody’s neck. His own neck would appear to be of small importance, judging by the habits of these motorists”.

Motorists’ New Laws

The McLean Motor Car Act of 1898 appears to be the first New Zealand legislation involving the motorcar. It was passed to allow Wellingtonian, William McLean or his agents, to drive motor cars anywhere in the Colony. The Act was passed by Parliament after McLean began importing Benz vehicles from France in March 1898 and there was doubt whether they could legally be used on public roads under existing law.

1898 Benz

The McLean Act, was confined to William and “any company which may acquire his rights” and defined a motor car as being under 3 tons, it ensured a light was displayed at night and restricted speed to 12 miles per hour (19kph). Cars had to have brakes (operated by a competent person), there were rules about tyres, width of the vehicle, registration marks and a fee payable if the vehicle plied for hire as a taxi.

The McLean Act grew out of date as the motor car industry expanded to involve importers throughout the country, not just those named by William McLean as acting for his syndicate, the New Zealand Motor Company.

The Motor Cars Regulation Act 1902 took over. It regulated speed (“not greater than is reasonable”), provided for the display of a light to the front at night and an audible warning signal and required heavier vehicles to be tested annually under the Machinery Act. It also allowed by-laws to regulate local risks and to provide for the storage of petrol or other explosive liquids. “Motor cars are here to stay” said the Acting Premier Joseph Ward, “and need regulating”. At first 10mph (16 kph) was considered “safe” by lawmakers but when country roads were mentioned, the clause was amended to forbid speeds “not greater than reasonable”

Enforcing the New Law

Christchurch Cases: Convictions for Speeding

Introducing his case in Christchurch Magistrate’s Court in April 1904, police prosecutor Sergeant Bourke advised the court that he had laid the charge under the new Motor Cars Regulation Act. It was probably the first prosecution, the first of countless motorists who have since faced driving charges in court, paid “instant fines” or accumulated demerit points.

Leslie McMaster was accused of “driving a motor car at unreasonable speed on Fitzgerald Avenue” contrary to the new Act. A witness, a cyclist, said he reckoned the car turned into Worcester Street at 12 miles an hour, (19kph), almost colliding with him, forcing him to swerve on to the grass. When asked how he estimated the speed he said he had been to Lancaster Park watching drivers attempting to set speed records, so he was able to calculate.  Another witness reckoned McMaster was travelling at 14 mph, (22kph), a speed “which seemed to carry him out on to the other side of the street as he made the turn, almost knocking down a pedestrian”. A third witness said the speed was “altogether a danger to cyclists”.

But defendant McMaster told presiding Justices of the Peace that his speed must have been less than 12 mph because, weighing 1 ton, the vehicle could not possibly turn at that speed, and, “anyway, I can stop the car in its own length”.

Sergeant Bourke told the court he thought 8 or 9 mph would be safe for cornering.

The Justices, finding the case proven, convicted McMaster and fined him £1.

Defendant with Expertise

Frederick Ganderton was accused in the Christchurch Court for speeding in December 1904 and although he considered himself an expert motor-driver, his evidence was not enough to get him off the charge. It was something he said during cross examination…

Police reckoned his speed was excessive at 15 miles an hour on Colombo Street. Constable Malony had received several complaints. In Court Constable Jones said he saw the car “dashing about”, far in excess of other motor-cars…it was a danger to other road-users. A horseman gave evidence about the unsafe speed Ganderton was doing in Cathedral Square but under cross-examination said he had never timed a motor-car nor ever been in one. Another witness was similarly disarmed when, from the witness box he first claimed the speed was excessive, but then revealed he was no judge of speed!

Frederick Ganderton, giving evidence in his own defence, said “I have had considerable experience test-driving motor-cars in the UK over the past 8 years and I have driven in far more crowded streets in London and Scotland at greater speeds than those with which I am now before the Court. It was a brand new car, this was the first time I had it out on the streets”.

His expertise behind the wheel, however, did not reach the finer points of Christchurch by-laws when, questioned by Sub-Inspector Dwyer, Ganderton he had to confess, “ I don’t know what the speed limit is”. He was convicted and fined £2.

Pioneer Motorist in a Series of Prosecutions

Pioneer motorist Emil Bockaert with business partner Percy Skeates imported the first motor car, a Star, to Auckland in 1899. Their company later imported French Darracqs, the first arriving in 1903, with later models distributed throughout New Zealand: Darracqs were deployed by the Mt Cook Company on rugged South Island routes.

The first motor car in Auckland – 1899 Star-Benz
Weekly News – Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19001005-7-5

Auckland Violation

In July 1904 Auckland police alleged Mr Bockaert was speeding in his motorcar “faster than walking pace” as he turned from Queen Street into Wellesley Street one Saturday afternoon. Constable Curtin told the Magistrate that “…Bockaert, with 3 others in the car, took the corner without slackening pace, travelling at 10 miles an hour (17kph)”.

Bockaert said the policeman was wrong about the speed because as he approached the corner he had changed to slow gear and the vehicle wasn’t then capable of more than 4miles an hour (6kph). His passengers verified his evidence and the magistrate dismissed the case saying the policeman must have been mistaken.

But Bockaert did not get off so lightly the second time around. He imported bigger and more powerful Darracqs and set numerous time trials and participated in reliability trips, often between towns and cities along unformed roads.

Dunedin Offences: A First

In April 1905 Emil Bockaert was in Dunedin on a marketing exercise, showing his car. But a number of townspeople and a local policeman, Sergeant Ryan, thought the car was being driven too fast. Bockhaert was charged with “furious driving” and excessive speed in Princes Street.

Muir and Moodie Co’s postcard, Princes Street, Dunedin 1906, Museum of New Zealand

Ryan told the Court the offence occurred “at the busiest time of day and it was a miracle there wasn’t an accident” and there was evidence that the car had “shot through the intersection of Rattray and High Streets at 30 miles an hour, the fastest I have ever seen a motor car travel,,, it passed in a flash”. Bockaert, pleading Not Guilty, said he “was doing just half that, about 16 mph”. His counsel, celebrated defence lawyer Alfred Hanlon, argued that the “furious driving” charge was a hang-over from horse-and-cart days, introduced before motor cars were dreamed of, and it had not been replaced by a more appropriate law. So the case, he pleaded, must be dismissed. In defence of the excessive speed charge he produced several witnesses who said the car travelled at a reasonable pace.

For the Magistrate, Charles Graham, it was a novel hearing: his first involving a speeding motor-car. He found, even allowing for exaggeration by witnesses, that the car was driven at speeds which put other road-users at risk. “If Mr Bockaert wants to advertise the machine he could go to Forbury Park (a race course for horses) where he can travel at any speed he wishes. It’s these extremely high speeds on our roads that serve, to some extent, to bring motor-cars into disrepute and have a tendency to prejudice the public against them. The maximum penalty for this charge is £5 but since it is the first brought before me, I will inflict a fine of £2 10 shillings with witnesses expenses £1 10 shillings. Stand down!”  Bockaert may have thought it cheap publicity for his cars!

 Canterbury Capers

Emil Bockaert based himself in South Canterbury and in 1909 was in trouble with the law again… this time after an accident when his car struck a cyclist one night in Arthur Street, Timaru. Bockaert denied two charges – that on April 22nd 1909 he drove a motor car over the intersection of streets in the borough at a greater pace than four miles an hour (6kph), and, secondly, that he drove the car in a manner likely to endanger the public safety. There was evidence his car had swerved on to the wrong side of the road when it hit the cyclist who had been badly injured. Bockaert told the Court the reason the car swerved was because he lost control travelling at the slow speed he was forced by law to negotiate the intersection. He, and an expert witness (a motor engineer), said the maximum speed limit was too slow, that cars were more easily manoeuvred at slightly higher speeds. The magistrate dismissed the first charge of speeding but found Bockhaert’s driving endangered other road users and fined him Emil Bockaert £6.

Dunedin Again – Case Dismissed

In November 1904 Charles Graham, Magistrate, had heard another case in the Dunedin Court of  speeding in a motorcar, and again it allegedly occurred at the Princes Street/High Street crossing. Police accused George Sievewright of travelling at an unreasonably high speed which placed many pedestrians in danger. Once again Alfred Hanlon defended and said the constables were wrong. “Sievewright”, he said “had shut of the power approaching the intersection, blew the horn 4 times and pedalled the vehicle through the cross roads probably reaching no more than 5 miles per hour. It’s up to the Court, under the law, to decide whether this speed was unreasonable and I say it wasn’t”. Witnesses concurred with the estimated speed and the Magistrate, Graham, this time dismissed the case.

Wanganui – Not the First Prosecution

In November 1904 local Magistrate, Robert Stanford, was confronted with his first case laid under the new Motor Cars Regulation Act. He was told during the hearing that it was the first information laid under the Act, but it was not: several cases had preceded it.

Local motor dealer Charles John Adams was charged with “being in charge of a certain motor car did permit such car to travel along certain streets at a greater rate of speed than is reasonable”.

Detective Bishop told the court that he had at first considered charging Adams under the old (horseman’s) “furious driving” provision but the new legislation became law at just the right time.

Sergeant Norwood, prosecuting, told the court that Adams had been seen driving a motorcar along Bell Street at speeds estimated at 15 mph (24 kph) and making a terrible noise. Defendant had been warned by constables about his speeding on several occasions but he took no notice. Adams at this stage pleaded guilty, admitting the offence.

“That makes things much easier,” said the Magistrate “and what about penalty?”

“I’m asking for a severe penalty, Your Worship”, Sergeant Norwood pleaded, “because we have repeatedly warned Adams  about his speeding, we have heard witnesses who are adamant his high speeds are unsafe and, besides, the prosecution wants to make an example”.

Defence lawyer Mr Cohen said there was no such cause for a tough sentence. “This is the first information laid under the new law in Wanganui, and probably in New Zealand, so leniency should be exercised – my client Adams did not know about the new law’s speed restriction”.

Sentencing, Magistrate Stanford said “I am glad the constables had warned Adams because I’ve often seen him speeding around town which made me wonder where the police were. You are convicted and fined £5 with £1 eleven shillings court costs. Stand down.”

Defendant John Adams was from Adams Star Cycle Company which operated in Christchurch, Wellington and Wanganui and boasted the sole agency for Humberette cars in New Zealand, the first of which were 5 horse-power , 2 seater models priced at £225. The firm also imported French Etoile cars with De Dion engines. (Whatever Adams was driving must have been a nippy vehicle if the police and the Magistrate are to be believed. A good advertisement for the cars he was selling!)

Akaroa’s Unique Road Rule

In early 1905 one of Christchurch’s intrepid motorists made the trip from the Canterbury Plains over to Akaroa to prove the viability of the motor car along that route. He was accompanied by a newspaperman. The Akaroa County took fright at this innovative conveyance and drafted a by-law forbidding motorists to drive over the hill from Little River to Akaroa during the hours of darkness. The first driver charged with this offence was taken to court in May 1905. The “Star” newspaper reported that “the unfortunate motorist’s only crime was that he attempted to return home at night” and that the Council, in passing the by-law, had made a lamentable exhibition of arbitrariness, so it was fitting that defendant’s lawyer successfully argued that there was a technical flaw in gazetting the by-law, so the information against his client had to be withdrawn”.

The Court agreed.

“But,” said the Press newspaper, “Council has looked askance at the motor car and will probably take steps to remedy the flaw and before long the motorist will have no excuse for climbing Little River Hill during the prohibited hours. The motor has come as a recognised method of locomotion, and it is useless to attempt to regard it in any other light. To curb its speed is, of course, a necessity, but to curb its sphere is a very different matter”.

Auckland – Doctor vs Police Sergeant

In early 1904 an Auckland doctor, Robert Stopford imported (reportedly) the first British-made car to Auckland, a 5hp Vauxhall. In August 1905 He was responding in it to “an urgent case” when police saw him travelling from Queen Street into Wellesley Street on the wrong side of the road.

Dr Robert Stopford; Clashed with Police Inspector, NZ Graphic – Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, NZG -19090804-22-6

Once in court there was an exchange between the doctor and the police prosecutor, Inspector Turner.

Dr Stopford: “I admit taking the right-hand side, but, given all the tram lines, it was the most practicable course”

Turner: “Your Worship, the vehicle’s path was unmistakeable because it had left marks of its course in the slush”.

Dr Stopford: “I hope that the Inspector will act a little ‘more decently’ next time. I think he should have stopped me right away and then I might have given him an explanation”.

Turner, by now hot under the collar, told the doctor “I have stood more from you than I shall do in future!”

Dr Stopford with a smile: “I am going home now; you may have a drive up with me if you like!”

The Justice if the Peace broke the exchange with his judgement: “It’ll be a fine of 10 shillings with costs”.

“I shall pay now in cash” said the doctor, concluding with the last word, “and I hope the Inspector will be more reasonable next time!”

Old Law Used: Fine Imposed

Some horses took time to become acclimatised to the sight and sounds of a motor car, and in Wanganui in November 1904, one such animal bolted, frightened by the approach of a motor car. The horse jumped out of its trap and the woman occupant was thrown out on impact and badly shaken. Police chose to charge the driver of the car with ‘furious driving’, a charge usually reserved for errant horsemen. Witnesses said the car was travelling at least 15 miles per hour whereas bylaws allowed only 8 mph. The driver pleaded guilty and was fined £5 with costs.

Manslaughter? Horse and Trap vs Motor Car

Among the first serious prosecutions involving a motor car was a charge of manslaughter, laid not against the motorist but against the driver of a horse and trap. It had been in collision with a motor car on a street in Gore in December 1905. A woman, Margaret Winsloe, a passenger in the car, died instantly when she was struck by the shaft of the trap driven by John Whittingham. No blame was attached to the driver of the car but at an inquest a jury found that Whittingham did not exercise sufficient care managing his horse. Concluding a hearing into manslaughter the Bench, consisting two Justices of the Peace, decided the evidence did not disclose sufficient cause for sending Whittingham for trial by jury, and dismissed the charge.

Manslaughter? Fire Appliance vs Pedestrian

Another of the first prosecutions following a motor accident resulted in manslaughter charges – this time against the driver as well as the officer-in-charge of Wellington’s first horseless fire appliance.

Wellington’s Fire Brigade’s first motorised appliance
Weekly News – Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19060531-16-4

The Brigade had its new Merryweather vehicle only 6 months when, in December 1906, it responded to an afternoon fire at the Botanical Gardens. As the appliance turned from Lambton Quay into Bowen Street it struck two women who were crossing the road. One, Mrs Amy Kensington was killed outright. She was the wife of the Under-Secretary of Lands. Her daughter, Louisa suffered serious leg injuries while her sister, Olive, escaped uninjured. No one on the fire appliance was hurt, driven by Palmer Otto Spry under the supervision of the Deputy Superintendent of the Brigade, William Stephen O’Brien.

Witnesses said the appliance was sounding its gong and took the corner widely at about 8 to10 mph (12 to 16 kph), but somehow the women misjudged its path and were struck. Onlookers also said that Spry appeared to be a skilled driver because, seeing an accident could not be avoided, he had applied the brakes and stopped the appliance in 3 or 4 yards (3-4m) just past the point of impact.

As required, an inquest was opened next day to enquire into the death. Numerous witnesses who had seen the accident along with firemen, Miss Kensington and others, all gave evidence. Such was interest in the case in Wellington that the Evening Post newspaper published an extra late edition on 21st December 1906 in order to report court proceedings until late afternoon.

A test-run after the accident had been made to judge the vehicle’s path, especially the room needed to make the turn into Bowen Street and this was part of evidence produced in Court. Allegations of excessive speed were knocked back by a fireman who said some of the Brigade horse teams went along much faster than the motorised appliance.

After several days’ hearing the Coroner’s jury returned a verdict that Mrs. Kensington’s death was accidental, and that no blame was attachable to the driver of the motor fire engine.

Coroner Disagrees

The outspoken Coroner said “I am bound to accept the verdict, but I disagree with it, particularly in view of the evidence tendered regarding the rate of speed at which the engine rounded Bowen Street corner”

Understandably, perhaps, within days the police charged both Driver Spry and Deputy Superintendent O’Brien on 2 counts… manslaughter and driving recklessly thereby causing the death of Amy Kensington. Among the first witnesses at the hearing was Amy’s husband, William Charles Kensington, Under-Secretary for Lands, who revealed that he had witnessed the accident while looking out an office window in the Government Buildings, and on being called to the scene saw his daughter lying on the ground with one of her legs broken, and his wife dead. Other witnesses said the appliance was “going faster than tram-cars usually do”, despite there being many pedestrians about. Countering this the lawyer for the Brigade quoted the Fire Brigade Act 1906 which said “on any alarm of fire the Superintendent should with all possible speed proceed to the place where such fire was, and there direct those working of the brigade”… and so on,  “but this did not mean disregard for the safety of the public”.

Committed for Trial

When it came time for a verdict the Magistrate said “this case is of such great importance to the public that while I sympathise with the defendants, I think it better for them that the facts concerning the rate of speed at which they were going should be decided by a jury in the higher court. I was on the appliance during the test run and I was satisfied that it had been declutched, and that the declutching had reduced the speed one third. But the questions were in what proximity to the corner was the declutching done, and what was the speed which preceded impact.  This is where the conflict of evidence comes in, and I believe it should be decided in the higher court. I am committing both accused for trial”.  The defendants reserved their defence and were allowed bail, each in his own recognisance, in the sum of £100.

Supreme Court – Grand Jury says “No”.

On February 5th the two accused went before the Supreme Court.  A Grand Jury had first to decide whether, on the strength of the evidence adduced, the two should stand trial. The Jury examined many witnesses over the course of one and half days and, having considered its verdict, returned to the courtroom. The Jury told Mr Justice Cooper that it was returning a No Bill, that jury members thought that on balance, the weight of evidence did not warrant the matter going to trial. William Stephen O’Brien and Palmer Otto Spry were discharged.

Auckland: Not So Fortunate

Meanwhile in Auckland the Fire Brigade’s new Ariel motor appliance had been involved in an accident in Ponsonby where a man was knocked down.

The 1906 Ariel, first motorised fire appliance in Auckland
Weekly News – Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries

The appliance was out on a test-run after repairs to the motor. It was following the path of the tram-tracks along Ponsonby Road when a tram coming in the opposite direction was encountered. It stopped. A man stepped off the rear of the tram, walked around the back of it, crossed in front of the fire engine and was run down.

George Tremayne was charged with negligently driving the fire appliance and appeared in the Police Court. Evidence was given that the appliance was travelling at 15 mph (24 kph) and knocked the man clean off his feet into the air. Witnesses said the driver did well to stop vehicle within a few lengths but if it had been in proceeding in its proper place on the left of the road the accident may have been prevented. However the driver said that he had steered the fire engine trying to avoid the man and had the man not “made a rush” he would never have been struck.

The magistrate said “I hold that the driver did not keep as near to the left side of the road as practicable. That’s the whole question. I am imposing a fine of £3, and costs £3 3s.

 Manslaughter? Riccarton Road at Night.

In December 1906 a passenger in a motorcar was killed when it collided with a horse and dray on the Riccarton Road, Christchurch. There was an inquest and police immediately laid a charge of manslaughter against the driver of the car, William Thomas Felton.

The accident occurred at night on a bend in the road near the Plough Inn (later Riccarton Hotel). Evidence was given in the Magistrate’s Court that those in the car had been drinking, that the lights on the dray were weak, or might have been mistaken, and that the car was at times during the journey driven on the wrong side of the road. George Tancred de Montalk was thrown clear when the two vehicles collided and died on impact with the road. Felton was sent for trial in the Supreme Court where the degree of negligence was argued. For the motorist in these circumstances – what amounted to culpability?

The prosecution quoted case law… “Any person who undertakes to drive another in a vehicle was legally obliged to take reasonable care for the safety of his companion and anyone they might meet”.

The defence believed the collision occurred because the lights on the dray were dim and appeared to be further away than they were, and it was contended that motor vehicles frequently travel on the wrong side to get a better going, smoother, a more easily negotiated path.

The Judge, summing up, said it was a question of whether the accused used reasonable care to avoid danger in driving the motor-car.

The jury retired, returned to court after an hour and delivered a “Not Guilty” verdict. Felton was discharged.

Manslaughter? Car Vs Horse Vs Tram

Just after 10’o clock one night in February 1908, Christchurch Doctor William Diamond, had been summoned by Syd Merrett to attend his wife who was giving birth. Doctor and the expectant father  set off in the doctor’s car, losing no time responding to the patient – Diamond afterwards admitted that he was “in a hurry to attend upon Mrs Merrett”.

At some point along Lincoln Road near Clarence Road a horse being led by its groom shied at the noise and sight of an approaching electric tram car. Dr Diamond’s car arrived on the scene at this moment:  the horse loomed out of the darkness and collided with the car, causing Dr Diamond to swerve on to the wrong side of the road. In trying to correct the car, it ran into the path of an approaching city-bound tram which hit it broadside on, turning it around and carrying it along the tracks until it came against a tramway centre power pole. It was wrecked. Sydney Raymond Merrett was thrown clear of the vehicle and lay in the street, seriously injured. He died a week later in hospital.

Inquest Hears of High Speed

At the inquest a policeman and civilians attested the high speed the vehicle was travelling while others assumed that Dr Diamond, in making the swerves he did, was attempting to dodge first the horse and then the tramcar.

The Coroner, summing up, told the jury “You have to consider just one question – whether Mr Merrett’s death is due directly or indirectly to any act of negligence or omission or commission on the part driver of the car”.

The Jury, after forty minutes’ retirement, returned a verdict “that Mr Merrett met his death, by a motorcar accident, no blame being attachable to anyone, as Dr Diamond, in our opinion, did his best under the circumstances”.  A rider was added – “That motorists should observe the existing regulations regarding the speed limit, it being the opinion of the jury that motorists do exceed that limit, and are not checked by the authorities.”

Charge Laid

The rider might have been enough to encourage police to act. Yes. They charged the doctor with causing the death of Merritt by his negligent and improper driving (under the Motor-Cars Regulation Act), thereby committing the crime of manslaughter. In mid-April the hearing was held in the Magistrate’s Court. It resulted in Dr Diamond being committal to trial.

In the Supreme Court Mr Justice Denniston asked the Jury to determine whether there was a case to answer. He told the Jury “…manslaughter depends on neglect, and in the present case the negligence alleged is the careless or reckless driving and management of a motor car. The doctor was going as fast as he possibly could to his patient, but that is not in itself an answer, because an excessive degree of speed would not be justified merely because the object of it was good. A man must consider his duty to the public. It’s clear that in a sense the affair was accidental, but the jury will have to say whether the evidence discloses negligence on which a jury might reasonably convict”.

The Jury entered “no bill” against Dr Diamond: its members did not think a trial was justified in all the circumstances.  The doctor was discharged.

“Truth” Dives In

The weekly newspaper “Truth” was not impressed, saying the “antiquated” Grand Jury system of deciding whether there’s a case to answer on these serious charges, was an anachronism leading to unjustified discharges.

“The doctor was charged with travelling at an excessive speed, that he had no warning horn, and that he’ didn’t have proper control over his machine, nor did he exercise due care to avoid a collision.

Mr Justice Denniston
Weekly News – Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19020911-8-2

Mr Justice Denniston found it necessary to add that the “grand” jury must not allow any sympathy it might feel for the doctor to interfere with its duty. Why should he find it necessary to give that warning “Truth” doesn’t know, but surmises that the learned judge knew the jury was representative of a class, more liable to favour it to a much greater extent than if the culprit were a mere butcher or a baker”.

Well-Known Auckland Motorist Prosecuted

One of Auckland’s pioneering motorists and prominent dentists, Frederick John Rayner, faced two charges after he was seen allegedly speeding in Wellesley Street in April 1909.

Frederick John Rayner… dentist and motorist, Herman John Schmidt – Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 31-61369

Mr Rayner was also charged with “using a car with the mark prescribed by the motor regulations not easily distinguishable”. Three Justices of the Peace heard the case. A policeman said he saw the vehicle travel down Wellesley Street at more than 20 mph (32 kph), a dangerous speed, but could not identify the car because its number plate was scraped and illegible.

Intersection of Queen and Wellesley Streets, 1909, now the Civic Theatre. Frederick J. Rayner owned and operated the American Dental Parlors. Henry Winkelmann – Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W874

Rayner’s defence counsel said the car was properly numbered at the rear, while the constable had only looked at the front. Rayner told the Court that had he come down Wellesley Street at 20 mph, as alleged, it would be more dangerous to the driver than to the public. He estimated his speed at 10 miles an hour. The Court dismissed both charges.

Manslaughter? Car vs 2 Poles,  Military Manoeuvres

Christchurch’s Automobile Association decided in October 1909 to assist the volunteer military forces by arranging cars to transport some of the troops to and from scheduled manoeuvres at Yaldhurst. The Humphreys’ family car was offered to be driven by a young member of the family, William Avery Humphreys. Evidence later showed he’d had a few drinks… wine and beer… by late afternoon when military training had ended and the time came for Humphreys to transport four Officers back to Christchurch city. Those who spoke with Humphreys at that time said he was sober and capable of driving the car, so once his passengers were aboard he departed, the first in a considerable convoy of private cars conveying soldiers.

On Riccarton road, near the Plough Inn (later Riccarton Hotel), the car got into a skid heading for the gutter. Humphreys attempted to turn the car outwards, back into the street, but at that point the rear of the car struck a cast iron tramway pole. The rear of the car was smashed in and a rear wheel dislodged. He battled with the steering wheel, disengaged the clutch and braked but before he could get the car into the road proper, and stopped, it struck another tramway pole.

The crash on Riccarton Road
F. B. Huhes, Weekly News – Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19091021-5-2

The impact cut the car in two and overturned the wreckage. Some occupants were thrown clear: others were trapped beneath the wreckage. All were injured, but one, Captain William Ostello Pavitt, had suffered the brunt of the impact with the second pole and was dead.


William Reeve Haselden, Stipendiary Magistrate, Coroner and noted jurist, empanelled a jury for the inquest into Pavitt’s death.

W. R. Haselden, SM
NZ Truth – Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand

The driver of the car, Humphreys, gave evidence that he had been drinking on that day, “I had six or seven measures throughout the day but I don’t think this impaired my driving. At first I thought mal-functioning steering gear caused the car to slew to the left, but later considered a flat tyre may have been to blame. My speed at the time was not excessive and we were not racing the other cars: they followed, so there was no one to race with”.

George John Smith, Lieutenant-Colonel Commanding the Second Infantry Battalion, gave evidence about Humphrey’s sobriety, “Colonel Hawkins was the second person to indicate Humphreys had been drinking. I went across to see him to satisfy myself as to his condition and I was perfectly satisfied that he was sober”.

The Officers in the car, a mechanic, police and witnesses to the event gave evidence before two extraordinary addresses were made to the jury.

The first was from Humphrey’s lawyer, Mr Beswick, “I admit it isn’t usual to address juries at coroner’s inquests, but the present one is a somewhat peculiar case. It will be part of the function of the jury, if the facts point in that direction, to show that the blame rests on a particular person. As far as the evidence went, there’s nothing to show that Humphreys was in any way culpable or criminally negligent in connection with the accident”.

Then the Coroner, Mr Haselden, felt moved to include in his address to the jury: “There’s no evidence of negligence on the part of Humphreys that justifies a verdict of manslaughter. If the jury brings in such a verdict, the result will be that an information will be laid against Humphreys and it’ll be felt immediately that he is being made the victim of an unfortunate set of circumstances, and the sympathy now being deeply felt for Captain Pavitt will, in some measure be transferred to Humphreys”.

With those words ringing in their ears, members of the jury retired and after just a quarter of an hour returned with a verdict “deceased was accidentally killed, and that no blame I was attachable to anyone”.

Charges Laid

The police did not agree. Humphreys was camping at New Brighton with some friends on October 24th when his holiday was interrupted by the arrival of police who arrested him. The charge was “by neglect and improper driving of a motor car caused the death of William Ostell Pavitt, and did thereby commit the crime of manslaughter”.

Defendant was remanded on bail later that day and then the hearing was held in November. Matters heard at the inquest were re-litigated, but of note was the defence’s request to clear the Court while some of the evidence was adduced and the Coroner’s appearance to hand over notes taken during the inquest. More than 20 witnesses were called, many of whom gave evidence about Humphreys’ state of sobriety. Some said he was unsteady on his feet before driving from Yaldhurst, others testified that he was driving carelessly (rolling a cigarette) speeding (the throttle wide open) and at one stage during the journey lost his way near Riccarton racecourse. After a two day hearing Humphreys was committed to trial in the Supreme Court.

The Jury Decides

Mr Justice Dennison asked the Grand Jury to consider the evidence in light of the manslaughter charge which he defined as “culpable homicide not amounting to murder”. His Honour traversed events that day on Riccarton Road, repeated some matters that arose at the inquest and during the lower court hearing and told the Grand Jury that members had only to decide if, on the evidence for the prosecution, a prima facie case in support of these allegations should be put before a jury at trial. The Grand Jury took the legitimate, but unusual, course of examining all those who were able to give evidence relating to the affair including some who did not give evidence in the Magistrate’s Court. At the conclusion the Grand Jury retired, but could not find unanimity. After lengthy discussions members returned to the courtroom, the foreman revealing to the Judge that its 18 members were evenly split, 9 for putting Humphreys on trial, 9 against. At which point Mr Justice Denniston said that in that case the jury could not find a True Bill, because there had to be least twelve jurors in favour. The Grand Jury consequently announced a No Bill and Humphreys left the court a free man.

“Truth” Again

This was the second case of a driver, a member of a well-known Christchurch family, cleared of manslaughter in connection with an automobile accident.

The columnist in “Truth” swung into action, again criticising the Grand Jury system whereby it decided whether an accused was sent for trial in the Supreme Court. Again the weekly newspaper said it was a sensation that the “upper class” had again “got away with murder” despite, in this latest case, evidence of intoxication, carelessness and high speed. “The ancient Grand Jury system has its merits” the columnist wrote, “but may become a victim of class bias”.

Manslaughter? Cathedral Square

On January 19th 1912 a motor accident happened right outside Warner’s Hotel in Cathedral Square, Christchurch when a car knocked down a pedestrian. Reginald Blunden was the driver: Thomas Ryan, the victim, was a 64 year old Papanui man who died in hospital later that same day.

An inquest heard that Mr Ryan was well used to traffic “in town”, he had good hearing and eyesight and was familiar with traffic flow in the Square. Police alleged excessive speed lead to the accident. A witness said it appeared that Ryan jumped on the front of the car to save himself and the vehicle knocked him over and the body was dragged some distance. The Coroner’s jury concluded that Ryan died as the result of injuries received by being knocked down by a motor-car driven by Reginald Blunden”.

Charge Laid

Police moved on the case and charged Blunden with manslaughter and following material evidence heard in the Magistrate’s Court, he was committed for trial at the Supreme Court. He pleaded not guilty and was bailed.

Mr Justice Denniston, now well-practiced in manslaughter cases as the result of motor accidents, told the Grand Jury “that this case turns on an alleged omission on the accused’s part without lawful excuse to take reasonable care and skill in the driving of a motor-car. A driver is bound to take reasonable care and to have reasonable skill. It was not a case of a young blood dashing recklessly into a crowd, and there was no malice in the matter. You, however, must not try the case. You will only be justified in throwing out a bill if you think the evidence of the prosecution is such that no twelve reasonable men could come to a conclusion on it at trial”.

The Grand Jury decided exactly that and announced a “No Bill”. Blunden was discharged.

The “Truth” is ALL the More Livid

The weekly newspaper opened a fusillade against the Grand Jury system with “Once more a ‘”grand” jury in Christchurch has thrown out the bill in the case of a wealthy and influential accused person charged with, manslaughter after a stipendiary magistrate had satisfied himself that there was a prima facie case to meet before a common jury. This sort of thing is becoming so common in the unholy city as to amount to a public scandal…” Again the columnist listed all members of the Grand Jury as if to point to these men who got it so wrong.

“The grand jury is a survival of feudal times” the column continued, “and an anachronism, in our twentieth century civilisation. Its mere existence is a reflection upon our stipendiary magistrates, whose knowledge of law and experience in criminal trials is made nugatory by a body of men  ignorant of the first principles of law and equity, and whose main function has always frankly been to prevent any of the upper ten from getting into hot water”.

Penrose Fatality in 1920 Results in 4 Trials

In February 1920 a cyclist was knocked off his bike and killed at Penrose. Police knew who the driver was, 23 year old Alfred Thomas Percy Victor Dare, but could not locate him. It was thought he might stow away on a California-bound ship, but a thorough search of the vessel before it sailed revealed nothing. Dare had, in fact, shipped out, but he had taken a coastal ship to the far North where he was recognised and arrested in Mangonui. Back in Auckland he was charged with murder of cyclist Arthur John Horton.

It was alleged Dare had taken a Ford car from outside Fuller’s Theatre in the city. Notwithstanding it was a stolen car, he brazenly gave an off-duty policeman he knew, Constable Welson, a lift to Freemans Bay where they visited several hotels for a few drinks. Alone again, the Court was told,  Dare went on to Newmarket before making his way towards Onehunga. He picked up two men in Manukau Road, Royal Oak, but they “hopped off” as soon as they could when they realised he was a dangerous driver. Plenty of other witnesses attested excessive speed and seeing the car parked outside numerous local hotels. Some took the car’s number: A2817. Others said, late afternoon, the car was seen passing through Mangere and Otahuhu, now with two persons inside, and still speeding and zig-zagging all over the road.

In Church Street, Penrose, the car and a cycle collided, killing cyclist Arthur John Horton who was on his way to work at the meat works. The Ford did not stop but “raced on” despite frontal damage. It was taken to a garage for repairs. The garage-man said both occupants appeared intoxicated. Like most witnesses called, he could not be certain of the identity of the driver. The car’s owner went to collect his vehicle and found it was going to cost about forty pounds to repair the damage. Dare ran away to Northland: ironically it was his friend, Constable Welson, who found him at Mangonui in the Far North where he was arrested.

Dare was committed for trial in the Supreme Court amid legal argument whether the charge should be murder. A Jury decided he should be tried for manslaughter before judge and jury. Defence Counsel advanced the main defence, one of identity arguing that Dare may not have been driving the Ford at the time of the accident. There were two in the car, he submitted, and the other man could have been behind the wheel. The Judge, summing up told the jury that Dare had not told police at the time that there had been another driver, that this had been a surprise defence, but one which the jury must consider. After some four hours the jury told the judge they could not agree and a new trial was ordered.


At the re-trial the Defence again raised the question of who the driver had been at the time of the collision, pointing out to the jury that so many witnesses could not say, categorically, who was behind the wheel: Dare or his companion. The jury returned a verdict of Not Guilty.

Alfred Thomas Percy Victor Dare was further charged with having committed mischief by damaging a car and a bicycle, arising from the accident in Church Street, Penrose.

The Press described his travels across Auckland as a “joyride” and one or two newspapers made much amusement of the “lift” Dare had given his policeman friend in the stolen Ford car. The jury could not agree and a new trial was ordered, the fourth in connection with the accident.

At the re-trial on the mischief charge a verdict of Guilty was returned. In sentencing Dare, His Honour  said that although there could be no moral doubt that the accused was responsible for the death of Mr. Horton, he had been acquitted of manslaughter, and His Honour said he would not allow his own feeling in that respect to influence him. He took into account Dare’s good reputation and service at the front in World War One and his assurance he would not drive a car again. Dare was placed on probation for 3 years, to work and live as directed by probation officers and not to drink alcohol.



Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand


RCC  18.01.19