Tag Archives: Auckland

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 (1834-c.1898) (Married: 7 January 1864, St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Auckland)

John Antonio de Freitas (1872-1937) & Eliza Jane Manderson (1879-1941)

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

My Mum


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)

If the National Party went to confession

For some reason I was thinking this morning about my Roman Catholic childhood. I was thinking about the National Party’s blatant lack of good faith regarding Crown Land up here in Auckland.  It might be the kind of thing they’d take to the confessional… dunno.

If they did, it might go something like this…

Forgive me Lord for we have sinned.

It is quite a few days since our last confession.

Since then, we have gone back on our word (again).

So, there was this agreement we had with Ngati Whatua. Part of the Treaty of Waitangi settlement. Basically we agreed that we’d give the iwi first dibs on purchasing any Crown land we were going to dispose of.

Sure, this is land that was theirs to begin with – acquired by nefarious means. BUT, really, in this day and age, and with the value of land and the need for HOUSING, we think that someone OTHER THAN Ngati Whatua should be able to buy the land and make money from it. A big multinational company.  It doesn’t even need to be NZ-owned.  We like to share our land around. An Aussie company would be good.

So, I don’t think this is REALLY going back on our word.

Is it?


What do you think?

I’d appreciate any comments.

More information can be found here (thanks to TV3)

Kites flying at Bastion Point. Celebrating Waitangi Day, February 2015
Kites flying at Bastion Point. Celebrating Waitangi Day, February 2015

Ngati Whatua Orakei Treaty Settlement.



The south-easterly is howling through the maize in the field adjacent to our land.
The south-easterly is howling through the maize in the field adjacent to our land.


We were away from South Head from Saturday morning until Sunday early evening, and while we were gone, a very strong south-easterly wind developed.  The prevailing wind for our area is supposed to be a southerly, but in actual fact, a straight southerly doesn’t really  affect our property due to the fact that there is a convenient rise in the land that protects us.  We do sometimes get a nor-easterly.  While this is annoying, we’ve put things in place to protect our vulnerable plants – sturdy stakes and protective shelter material… that kind of thing.  But this south-easterly is coming in from an angle we haven’t experienced before.

The wind is doing its best to separate the washing from the line!
The wind is doing its best to separate the washing from the line!

When I hung out the washing earlier I had to use twice as many pegs per garment.  It reminded me of trying to wrestle with cloth nappies in Lyall Bay, Wellington, back in the 70s.


This doesn't really show the extent of the plum loss - they are spread over a wide area of ground
This doesn’t really show the extent of the plum loss – they are scattered over a wide area of ground

I was too exhausted last night to look at the garden, but the first intimation I had that all was not well was when Ben reported that nearly all the fruit had been blown off from my favourite plum tree.  This is the plum tree in what we now term our ‘native’ area – it’s an old tree that has less plums than the one growing closer to the vege garden.  But the plums are larger and have a deep red flesh.

I love them and have been looking forward to eating them.

Fallen plums
Fallen plums

When I went out earlier this morning to take stock, I felt like crying.

And I do still have a heavy heart, but I suppose there is no point in shedding tears over lost fruit.  At least we aren’t dependent on our fruit or our crops for our livelihood.

The second plum tree - mostly unaffected by the wind
The second plum tree – mostly unaffected by the wind

Fortunately, the other plum tree is situated out of the worst of the wind.  It’s still laden with fruit.

Local Birds

The wind has has had an impact on the birds that have chosen to make their homes here, as well.  I’m sure they were just as unprepared for the wind’s unusual direction.

We’ve found quite a few parts of nests on the ground, and the sparrows are busy with recycling; flying down to collect the broken nest parts from the ground and carrying them back up to their respective nesting sites.

A tiny nest lined with hair of some kind.
A tiny nest lined with hair of some kind.

Ben found the above nest below the macadamia tree, although it’s so light that it could have blown from anywhere.

It’s quite a bit smaller than any I’ve seen on the ground before.  The diameter of the inner bowl is approximately 4.5 to 5 cm and it’s lined with silvery grey hair of some kind.  I pulled a couple of strands out and it’s too coarse to be human or from a cat.  And I think too long to be from a dog… I’m wondering if it’s horse hair or something like that.  I really have no idea.

It’s a beautiful little nest, though, with moss and lichen woven in to the outside.

Possibly a blackbird's or a thrush's nest.
Possibly a blackbird’s or a thrush’s nest.

The above nest is much more loosely-woven than the smaller one.  It’s also quite a bit larger – around 9 to 10 cm across the bowl of the nest.  We’re pretty sure it belonged to either a blackbird or a song thrush.  We could only see the tail of the bird sticking up when it was sitting on, it as it was just out of eye sight.

The nest had been built in quite a small, spindly broad-leaf, and right from the start was partly tipping out, so it’s not surprising that it was dislodged by the wind.  This  nest is constructed almost entirely from grasses, with a tiny bit of lichen visible… and it seems to be lined with fine mud.

Three Blackbird eggs
Three Blackbird eggs

Our resident Blackbird couple are raising their third batch of eggs this season.  The female is currently sitting on three eggs – I had first observed her back on the nest on 09 December, which surprised me.  Raising young seemed to be a never-ending process for her and  I wasn’t sure if was because something had happened to her previous babies or whether she would keep on raising new broods if time allowed.

With her second batch I had noted the following: –

  • 19 November: 2 whole eggs, 2 hatched
  • 20 November: 4 hatched
  • 02 December: 4 chicks, well feathered and alert
  • 03 December: Nest empty

It seems amazing to me that it only took 13 days to go from hatching to flight.

I found an excellent page which provided me with the answers on the Tiritiri Matangi site.  It seems that Blackbirds do raise 2 – 3 broods per year, and that the chicks fledge at 13 – 15 days.  The other interesting fact I read is that a Blackbird’s possible lifespan is 15 years.

Garden Diary

It's going to be a bumper season for passionfruit.
It’s going to be a bumper season for passion fruit.

The garden has been flourishing, and as usual, I’ve been struggling to keep on top of things.  There has been more rain in November & December in comparison with the past couple of years, which is a good thing.  We’ve only had to water the vegetable garden once, and that very evening it rained, so …

The tomatoes are coming along nicely.
The tomatoes are coming along nicely.

We’re been well-served by our vegetables and have been eating asparagus, beetroot, silver beet, green beans, peas, lettuces, rocket, new potatoes and Florence fennel.  Probably some other things as well but it’s hard to keep up.

Sweet Peas

My favourite early Summer flower.
My favourite early Summer flower.

I can’t finish today’s entry without putting in a plug for Sweet Peas.  I was very disappointed with the strike rate for the seeds I sowed in winter.  I had used up a whole packet but only a handful of seeds germinated.

Well… the ones that did sprout, combined with a few self-sown plants, have provided a wonderful display once again.   I’m sure the extra rain has helped, too.

I love these flowers and every other day have picked enough to fill two vases.  Even as I sit here writing I can smell their sweet and spicy scent from across the room.

Hatchlings, Pullets, Cheese and Lake Water

Lake Ototoa, South Head
Lake Ototoa, South Head

Life has been busy over the past week or so.  We have saved a nest of hatchlings (of the avian kind), we have purchased some black and white Orpington pullets, I have made a batch of feta cheese and we have discovered that the nearby lake is beautifully clear and warm for swimming in.

Baby Sparrows

It hadn’t been a particularly windy day but towards sunset last Wednesday, Ben discovered a rotund, bushy shape bathed in late afternoon light, lying on the grass beneath the Golden Totara.  He picked it up to investigate and heard a faint ‘peeping’ coming from inside.  Ben hasn’t always been too keen on birds, but has become more accustomed to them since we’ve had our own hens.  However, he was holding the nest very gingerly when he brought it inside for me to check the contents.

My first view inside the nest.
My first view inside the nest.

The nest was deep with a small opening at the top, so I had to part this and open the nest out a bit before I could see anything.  Inside, there were at least two yellow beaks in a tangle of soft grey baby-bird body parts – sparrow hatchlings.  I could count three little ones, with a possible fourth.

I’d raised a hatchling to almost adulthood once before when I was 10 or 11 (with an unfortunate outcome associated with our pet cat), but these were very young babies, with not even the first tufts of feathers showing on their smooth little bodies, so I felt somewhat daunted at the prospect.

There is a good deal of advice on the internet about what to do with baby birds, including the advice that where possible, one should try to put the nest back in the tree, as the parents would invariably still be around, wondering where their little ones were.  Apparently birds don’t have very strong sense of smell, so the fact that I’d touched the nest and poked around with the opening wouldn’t deter them from continuing to feed their babies.

With this in mind, Ben and I took the nest outside in the gathering dusk to where he’d found it, and looked up into the tall branches of the totara.  It didn’t look promising.  The stronger branches were positioned too far up the tree for us to be able to reach them, even with a ladder.  And we couldn’t think of any way to attach the nest to the nearest branch, even if we could reach it.  So, it was back to the drawing board.

A tiny sparrow chick in my hand
A tiny sparrow chick in my hand

I mixed up some boiled egg yolk with a little milk (a recipe I’d found on the internet) and fed each chick in turn using a pipette.  We could see now that there were four babies.  One looked very poorly and could hardly open its mouth, but the other three were perky and squeaked and squawked with surprising loudness once I started to feed them.  The two loudest jostled around trampling on their quieter siblings.

A fortuitous phone call from my daughter Immi reminded me that the Bird Rescue Centre, in Green Bay, Auckland, would take and raise these little orphans for us.  She had rescued a young rock pigeon a few weeks back and had taken it there.

Founded in 1984, the NZ Bird Rescue Charitable Trust has bird rescue centres all over New Zealand, and will accept and care for any rescued birds, whether they are native, non-native or pet.  They assist thousands of birds each year, many being the victims of cat attacks, road accidents, pollution (such as fishing line and nylon entanglements and botulism) or human cruelty.  So we decided to think about taking the wee ones there.  The centre is about 84 km from where we live, and Ben would have to divert to Green Bay on the way to work in Auckland the next day.

In the end, this is what happened.  When I fed the chicks their last ‘meal’ for the night, the sickly one had died, which made me realise how difficult it would be to raise the remaining three successfully.  Even if we did manage to get them to fledgling stage, there was the question of how to avoid them becoming too familiar with humans, and the fact that we have our cat, Molly… it just didn’t seem worth the risk.


On Saturday, we took a return trip of almost 400 km to collect four new pullets.  Our current three hens (Leila, Lottie and Lulu) are Red Shavers, which are a relatively recent breed (related to Rhode Island Reds).  In New Zealand, the red shaver is the breed that is predominately used in battery hen farming and they are the easiest hens to find if you wish to purchase point-of-lay hens for your farm or smaller property.

Since introducing the red shavers to our family, I’d become interested in adding to our small clutch with one of the older, more traditional breeds.  We decided on Orpingtons as (1) I wanted a breed that would lay white eggs to go with the brown eggs the red shavers produce, and (2) everything we read about Orpingtons mentions their docile nature and the fact that they make good good pets.  They also look very cute.  This breed is raised for eating as well as for their eggs, (but we would never consider eating our own hens!).

So we purchased two black and two white Orpingtons, as well as 20 kg of pullet food and brought them back to South Head.

Earlier in the day Ben had assembled our smaller hen-house and separated this from the other part of the run with a wire-netting fence.  It was a very hot drive back home and we were worried about the babies’ state of health, but they survived the trip okay and at around 5.00 pm we introduced them to their new home.

Our new white Orpington hens
Our new white Orpington pullets

There appears to be quite a difference in age between the two whites and the two blacks.  The white pullets have long legs and are much taller, with a slimmed-down body.  They’ve also been in a group of hens that have pecked each other, and one in particular has quite a few feathers missing and bare, raw patches.

The new black Orpington pullets
The new black Orpington pullets

The two little dark pullets are like balls of fluff, with shorter, stumpier legs (in proportion) and a mop of black feathers with glints of iridescence.  It would be so easy to love these two the best as they look so much cuter, but I’m sure I’ll love them all equally when they grow to the same size.

I don’t think these little chickens had ever been in an area with trees, shrubs, weeds, grasses and dry leaves, before.  The little black girls immediately took to scratching around in the leaf mulch, peeping away happily.  The white ones are a little more proprietorial – they seem to be looking out and about a lot, and are more aware of our older girls in the next door ‘pen’.

I was happy to see one of the white hens taking a dust bath yesterday.  Happiness turned to horror when when the second white pullet started pecking quite hard at the bare patches at the base of the first one’s tail.  This behaviour seemed to persist, so we separated the protagonist into the other side of the run, and shut the door so that Leila, Lottie and Lulu couldn’t come back in.

Ben purchased some Stockholm Tar on the way home from work today, and has applied this to the bare patches on the two white pullets to hopefully deter future pecking.  The tar provides a healing coating on the skin and if the other bird pecks her again, she will get the tar stuck on her beak which will distract her from pecking her again – instead she’ll have to spend time trying to clean the tar off her own beak.  Let’s hope it works!

Cheese Diary

Just to keep up with things on the cheese-making front, I made my first batch of cow’s milk feta cheese yesterday.  On Saturday, we had purchased another 4 litres of fresh cow’s milk from the farm in Helensville, after which I pasteurised it and used it to make the cheese.

The feta curds after being cut up in the pan
The feta curds after being cut up in the pan

I had a problem with finding moulds to rest the cheese in, once the curd had been cut up, then had the bright idea of using the basket from our lettuce spinner, as well as the small ricotta mould I already had.  This is why my cheese pieces comprise of one little round cheese, and four ‘quarters’ of a larger round.

Feta cheese after it had rested overnight
Feta cheese after it had rested overnight

After the curds had set and been transferred to a mould, I rested them overnight, and then added them to a 10-15% solution brine this afternoon.  The 4 litres of milk produced 1089 grams of cheese.

The pieces have been sealed in an air-tight container in the brine and placed in the fridge.  They will stay there for at least 10 days to mature.  Ideally we should resist the temptation to eat the cheese until 21 days have passed, after which we can cube and store into jars of olive oil or (of course) eat.  Full maturity will occur after 4 – 6 weeks.

We tasted a tiny sample tonight and it already tastes very good.

I also finished salting my Ricotta Salata, today, and this can now be stored in the fridge for at least 2 weeks, to mature.

Lake Ototoa

Lake Ototoa, South Head
Lake Ototoa, South Head

Lake Ototoa is a dune lake, the correct Maori name for which being Lake Rototoa.  According to the NZ Department of Conservation, it is the largest, most pristine freshwater lake in the Auckland region.  The lake covers around 110 hectares and has a catchment of approximately 525 hectares.  At 29 metres deep, it is also the deepest.  Unfortunately, due to the introduction of exotic fish and weeds, the lake is now beginning to suffer.

A tui feeding from harakake flowers
A tui feeding on harakeke flowers

It differs from most other dune lakes in that it is formed by a depression in rock, rather than by the trapping of water behind sand dunes formed adjacent to the West coast.  It is rich in local flora and fauna.

Lake Rototoa is situated about 6 km from where we live.  The lake supplies water to many of the properties in the area, including our own.  Ben and I had visited it a few times since we moved to South Head, and although we had heard you could swim there, we hadn’t really investigated this.

Yesterday we decided to take a walk along the pathway that leads around the left of the lake from the road.  The path is narrow and follows the contours of the lake edge.  At times it is a little steep and there is prickly wild gorse to contend with, but it’s not a difficult walk.  As well, it was calm and overcast, and warm enough to make the water look increasingly  inviting.

First swim in Lake Rototoa
First swim in Lake Rototoa

When we came upon a small sandy crescent of a beach, we knew we’d have to hop in.  The water has a sandy, silty bottom and after about 10 metres, drops sharply.

The water was warm and very clear.  There were a few other people on the water – swimming and kayaking at a bay a little further along.  The noise of loud laughing and splashing affected the beauty of the scene somewhat, but we could see that if it wasn’t the weekend, it would be the most beautiful place to spend a few hours on a hot summer’s afternoon.