Death in Print

Updated: 23 Oct 2013

For most of the people in my family tree the only things known about them are their name, often their birth and sometimes their death.  Sometimes the only events of their lives of which any detail is known comes from the fact that they didn’t die in their beds.  A good source of information on these people can be found in newspapers.  Here in New Zealand the best source is Papers Past, a digital collection of the country’s newspapers.

So this (slightly morbid) post is the reporting of all the accidents that have beset members of my family.  Most of them involve horses – all were ultimately fatal.  They’re in chronological order.

Charles Baker

My ggg-grandfather Charles Baker died at the age of 62 when he fell off his horse.  From the Star, Christchurch, October 28, 1868:

FATAL ACCIDENT – We are sorry to record an accident which terminated fatally, to Mr Baker, dairyman, an old resident at Lyttleton.  It appears from the statement of Mr Julian, that yesterday morning he accompanied the deceased as far as the head of the bay for a ride, and that in returning he was a few yards in advance of the deceased.  When near the house of the custodian of the bathing shed, the deceased’s horse came up without its rider.  He caught the horse, and upon turning round, he saw the deceased lying on the ground.  He spoke to him, but obtained no answer, and observing that blood was flowing from a wound on his head, Mr Julian immediately rode into Lyttleton for assistance.  Dr Motley was speedily in attendance, and ordered the removal of the deceased to his own house.  Drs Donald and Rouse also attended, but the deceased never rallied, and expired at nine o’clock last night.  The cause of death was ascertained to be a fracture of the base of the skull.  An inquest was held this afternoon, before WJS Coward Esq., coroner, at the Albion Hotel.  A verdict of accidental death was recorded.

Rachel Greacen Black

My ggg-grandmother Rachel Greacen Mrs Black died at the age of 48 in a buggy accident.  From the Press, Christchurch, of November 18, 1872:

It is with feelings of sincere regret that we have to record the occurrence of an accident on the Akaroa road, by which Mrs Black, wife of Mr Robert Black of the Criterion drapery establishment, High St, lost her life.  From what we can learn it appears that Mr and Mrs Black accompanied by Mr and Mrs Bassett left town for Akaroa on Tuesday last, Mr Black driving one buggy, Mr Bassett the other.  They reached Akaroa safely and remained there until Friday morning when they left about half past ten on their return journey.  All went well until the descent into Robinson’s Bay when either through the harness giving way or the horse stumbling the occupants of the buggy, Mr and Mrs Black, were thrown out, down the side of the hill into a gully, Mrs Black sustaining severe injuries and Mr Black also some bruises.  Mrs Black was removed as soon as possible and every care shown, but the shock was too great and she gradually sank until seven p.m. on Saturday night, when she died.  The deceased lady was greatly respected by all who know her and universal sympathy is felt with Mr Black under his severe affliction.

Rachel’s untimely death even made the news in Ireland.  From the Belfast News-Letter on January 27, 1873 (available on FMP for a fee):

MELANCHOLY AND FATAL ACCIDENT. — On the 16th November last, Mrs Rachel Black, youngest daughter of the late Nathaniel Greacen, of Monaghan, met with a fatal accident, when driving with her husband from Ackaroa to Christschurch, New Zealand.  The melancholy event occurred in consequence of the horse in the buggy Mr Black was driving running away, precipitating the machine and its occupants over a precipice more than thirty feet in depth.  The horse was killed on the spot, and Mrs Black never spoke afterwards.  Strange to say, her husband, who is a very delicate man, recovered himself immediately; and, although falling such a distance seems to have escaped without injury.  Mrs Black only left Dungannon about nine years ago.  Numerous friends there and in Belfast, who fully appreciated her many excellent qualities, will be much grieved to learn her sad fate.  — Northern Standard

The road is still quite precarious – having driven over it in a camper van!

Thomas Robert O’Callaghan

My gg-grandfather Jasper’s brother Thomas Robert O’Callaghan died at the age of 32 when his wagon fell on him.  From The Star, June 8, 1874:

FATAL ACCIDENT – Mr Thomas O’Callaghan, a farmer on Kaiapoi Island was killed about seven o’clock on Saturday night.  He was returning from Christchurch, driving a light American waggon, and after crossing a bridge over the cutting, the horse shied and turned the vehicle over the approach.  The waggon fell on deceased, and he died in a few minutes.  The body was removed to the Courtney Arms Hotel.

Thomas and Jasper were both members of the Canterbury Yeomanry Cavalry.  They posted this notice in the Press on 9 Jun 1874 regarding Thomas’ funeral (from Papers Past/National Library):

Funeral Notice - Press 9 Jun 1874 - TR O'Callaghan

Sadly, Thomas’ young wife Anna Tubman died less than four months later in September, 1874.

The Black Beattie & Co Accident

This unfortunate event did not result in anyone dying in my family, but it was still ultimately tragic for those involved.  It happened in my gg-grandfather’s shop in Christchurch.  It was first reported in The Star, Christchurch on 17 October 1894:

Serious Accident.

About eleven o’clock this morning at the drapery establishment of Messrs Black, Beattie and Co., whereby Mrs Pyne, wife of Mr Pyne, plumber, was seriously injured. Two of the employes of the firm were moving an empty case on the upper floor, close to two large rolls of cocoanut matting which were standing one upon the other. The case struck the lower roll and tilted it; and it is supposed that as it fell back against the wall the shock shot the upper one forward, and sent it flying over the railing surrounding the “well” for admitting light to the ground floor. The railing was about five feet from the rolls of matting. Mrs Pyne was, sitting before a counter on the ground floor, and the roll of matting struck her on the back. It waa at once apparent that she had been seriously injured, and so medical aid was summoned by telephone. Dr Murdoch was quickly in attendance, and the St John Ambulance stretcher from the Lichfield Street Fire Brigade station was procured. On this Mrs Pyne was taken to the house of her mother, Mrs Stevens, Lower High Street, where she now lies in a very critical condition. It is feared that her spine has sustained serious injury.

The accident prompted some quick changes at Black, Beattie & Co which was reported on October 20:

THE RECENT ACCIDENT AT BLACK, BEATTIE’S.— Messrs Black, Beattie and Co. have had the light “wells” in the first floor of their establishment covered with strong and securely fastened wire netting, so as to effectually guard against another accident such as that by which Mrs Pyne was injured on Wednesday last. It is satisfactory to note that Mrs Pyne is progressing favourably.

By April 1895 the issue had gotten litigous and in June it went to trial.  The Star reported the verdict:

SUPREME COURT.—The case of Pyne and wife v. Black, Beattie and Co., in which the plaintiffs claimed £3000 damages on account of injuries sustained by Mrs Pyne through the fall of a roll of matting in defendants’ shop, was heard before his Honor Mr Justice Denniston and a special jury of twelve yesterday. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs, and awarded £200 damages to the husband and £400 to the wife.

The damages were not enough to save the husband Henry Pyne from bankruptcy.  The report of his first meeting of creditors in September 1895 paints a bleak picture.  His marriage appears to be over and the accident had left him with many debts.  His bankruptcy was discharged in December 1895.  He was probably still not very solvent when his wife sued him for maintenance in October 1896.

Margaret Horne Pyne died in October 1898 aged 36, undoubtably as a result of her accident.  Henry died in 1938 aged 86.

Now, I should point out that the Pyne family also feature in my tree.  However I have yet to make any connection between Henry Pyne, his wife and my branch.  He was likely to be of the English branch of the family, as my side were Irish.


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