Skeletons in the Closet

Auckland shorefront 1864
Queen Street Wharf, Auckland, by Daniel Manders Beere, 29 February 1864. (Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-096102-G)

Newell Gascoyne

One of the family stories I’d heard, was that my great-great-great-grandfather, Newell Gascoyne, had been murdered. This seemed a somewhat significant way to die, so when I first moved to Auckland in 2006, I decided to fill in time by checking out some early newspapers. I took myself off to the Auckland Public Library to peruse their archives. Surely there’d be something written somewhere?

It was remarkably easy, I’m sure helped by the fact that he had an uncommon name.

The report transcribed below was published on page 5 of The New Zealand Herald of Saturday 16th April, 1864. It provides a somewhat different version of events. A less memorable version, but no less devastating for his wife Isabella and their 3 children. My great-great-grandmother, also named Isabella, was 16 and newly-married; her younger brothers, Newell and Daniel, would have been 14 and 11 respectively.

Coroner’s Inquest

An inquest was held yesterday, at the Clanricarde Hotel, on the body of Newell Gascoigne, who died on the 13th inst., through injuries received by falling down a cellar, in Queen-street, on the 7th inst., while in a state of intoxication.

Frederick Sims, stated: I keep the Wheat-sheaf Inn, Queen-street. I knew deceased, who came to my house about 9 o’clock, a.m., on the 7th inst., and asked for some grog, which I refused to give him, and put him outside the door. Some one coming in soon after, I heard there was a man in the cellar, and went to the door. I saw some policemen and others engaged in lifting the deceased out of the cellar of Mr. Kemp’s house, next door to mine. Deceased appeared then only dead drunk, and made no noise.  Deceased was then taken away in a truck.  The depth of the cellar is about four feet, and the floor is covered with bran.  There was nothing in the cellar that deceased could have struck against.

James Jackson, police constable, said, that on Thursday, the 7th inst., he heard there was a man hurt, and went and found deceased lying on his back on the pathway, outside the cellar of Mr. Kemp’s house, in Queen-street.  The man was insensibly drunk.  I got a truck, with two other policemen, and removed him to the lock-up.  He did not appear in any pain, and I did not think there was anything wrong except being drunk.

Francis Jones, stated: I am a carter.  I was employed by Mr. Kemp, carting some bran from his cellar, the day before the accident, and I came early on the morning of the 7th inst., to get another load.  I had put one bag into the cart, and coming back for another, I saw a man in the cellar, who must have fallen in.  He was lying on his back just below the grating.  On getting him out of the cellar, he appeared drunk, but I could not see that he was hurt.  The cellar was between three and four feet deep.

Thomas B. Kenderdine, stated: I am a legally qualified medical practitioner.  I was called in to see the deceased on Friday, the 8th inst.  He was in his own house.  I found him in bed, lying on his back, with the lower half of his body paralysed.  He complained of a great pain in his back.  He was sensible and able to speak and swallow.  He lived until the 13th inst.  I consider the cause of death to have been injury to the spinal marrow, producing paralysis.  I did not make a post mortem examination.

The Sergeant-Major of the Police stated he had given up the deceased to his wife on the night of the 7th inst., about 9 o’clock.  He was then sober, and complained of pain in his back, and being unable to get up.  He was taken to his house on a stretcher.

The jury, having consulted, returned a verdict – That deceased died from the effects of a fall received while in a state of intoxication.


Nothing is as new as something that’s been long forgotten (German Proverb)

Stories from the past are interesting. Especially when they’re about our own families. But the problem is that so little is passed down. You are handed the bare bones without the flesh. Even the Coroner’s Report leaves me with more questions than answers. The records are merely black print on faded paper; they don’t fill in the details I’m curious about.

I have a copy of Newell Gascoyne’s Death Certificate. It succinctly states: Newell Gascoygne, Mariner, Male 35, Paralysis caused by injury of the spine. 13 April 1864, Auckland.

Did he stumble and fall into the cellar? Is that what his family believed? Or did they suspect he’d been the victim of foul play, hence the story about being ‘murdered’? Or was it that they were ashamed that he’d been ‘insensibly drunk’ at 9.00 o’clock in the morning, and subsequently passed on a different version to their children?

The past holds its secrets close to its chest.


Auckland 1864 - Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 5-2608
View of Auckland 1864, ‘Sir George Grey Special Collections’ Auckland Libraries, 5-2624

Family Tree

Newell Gascoyne (c.1829-1864) & Isabella Barr (c.1825-1880)

Isabella Gascoyne (1847-1916) & Antonio Jose de Freitas (1843-c.1898) (Married: 7 January 1864, St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Auckland)

John Antonio de Freitas (1872-1937) & Jane Eliza Manderson (1880-1949)

William Peter Joseph (1900-1969) & Nina Geary (1895-1972)

My Mum

Me


Additional Information

In the old records, Gascoyne is variously spelled Gascon, Gasgoine, Gascoigne, Gascoyne and Gaskong. Newell Gascoyne’s occupation is first noted as mariner, and later as sawyer. They also show that his children Isabella, Newell and Daniel were all born in Auckland, and that when younger Isabella applied to get married in January 1864, she was resident at Mills Lane, Auckland (and had lived there for 4 years).

The Mills Lane address is also supported by a report in The New Zealander, Vol. XIX, Issue 1879, where in a report about ‘A Determined Thief’, Isabella (senior) is referred to as the ‘wife of Newell Gascoigne, Mill’s Lane’. She was giving evidence about the movements of a Thomas Hill, who had been ‘lodging for two weeks at her house’. (27 May 1863)

One thought on “Skeletons in the Closet”

  1. Hi. Isabella Barr was my great great grandmother from her first marriage. She arrived in NZ in 1842 on the Duchess of Argyle and married William Hooper in 1844 and had a son Mathew who is my great grandfather. He was a part-owner and captain of scows. William Hooper disappeared possibly died at sea or just ran off. I have tried for many years to find Isabella’s family in Scotland without luck.

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