8 months ago

Fitzgerald's Town

local doctor, he could

local doctor, he could not be revived. 4 The young son of William Brook tragically drowned in a water barrel which took the run-off from his cottage roof. At the inquest the coroner heard that the child, a toddler of three, was playing with his brother when he fell into the half empty barrel, could not get out, and drowned before help arrived. The district must have been saddened by the death of lonely Agnes Mouatt, recently arrived from the Shetland Islands and employed as house help by W.B. Andrew of Greenpark. One night she went to bed early and when she did not appear the following morning a search discovered her drowned in the pig tub. The coroner heard that Agnes had been depressed and returned a verdict of suicide while in a state of temporary insanity. 5 Fire For settlers on the Canterbury Plains fire was something to be feared and the smoke from fierce grass fires on Banks Peninsula and elsewhere would have attracted attention in many parts of Canterbury. In his reminiscences T.W. Adams 6 remembered that the harvest of 1863, not an especially good one because of a very dry summer, was made all the more difficult when fire swept the plains from the Waimakariri to the Selwyn. Although he and his employer, T.A. Pannett, saved their wheat, others less fortunate lost their crops to the fires which continued to burn for months in the swamps close to Lincoln and Prebbleton. That summer must have been a difficult one, for in February the Provincial Government offered a reward of 100 pounds for information leading to the conviction of anyone who through carelessness or negligence set fire to “bush, scrub, grass, fern, flax or other vegetation”. 7 The courts took a serious view of such disasters and in September of that year a farmer was awarded substantial damages by the Supreme Court against a neighbour, who through careless use of fire destroyed 300 acres of his bush. Some fires were started through gross negligence or vindictiveness. Messrs Wright and Murray of Lincoln lost about 90 acres of wheat, cut and ready for binding, when an employee lit his pipe, and threw the match to the ground starting a fire, which fanned by a strong nor'wester, soon spread over the paddock. 8 The fire cost the farmers an estimated 1000 pounds and doubtless the employee his job. A happier outcome is reported for a fire on Patrick Henley's farm in December 1870. Although fire destroyed a stack containing 300-400 bushels of barley, prompt action by Mr. Henley and his neighbours saved eight others; fortunately the crop was insured and so his loss was negligible. Fifteen months later the Henleys were the victims of an act of arson which one night destroyed six stacks of recently harvested and uninsured wheat. 10 Next morning, prints of a long, 164

narrow boot resembling those worn by a female were found near the stacks and a box of matches was found by the fence through which entry to the stacks was apparently made. The nature of the footprints, and the supposition that a man would have pocketed the match box, led to the suspicion that the arsonist was a woman. The Provincial government offered a substantial reward for information leading to the culprit, but no one was apprehended for this outrage. There was personal tragedy for Mrs. Welsh, an elderly woman who lived near the Wheatsheaf Hotel, and who lost everything when her thatched house burnt to the ground. Her plight so affected the local community that a subscription list was opened for her relief. The Gordons on Springs Road were also heavy losers when fire destroyed their stable, the horse that was in it, and another shed and its contents; like Mrs. Welsh they too, were uninsured. The most dramatic fire in the village destroyed the town hall on the night of 10 June 1889. The town hall, transformed from the old Perthshire Arms Hotel and opened with great celebration in December 1886, was well alight by the time the fire was discovered. It was burnt to the ground in thirty minutes. A strong north-west wind made fire fighting almost impossible and the best that could be done by the “bucket brigade” was to safeguard Bartram's new hotel next door and Howell's store on the opposite side of Market Square. Fortunately, the strong wind directed the flames away from the hotel although the heat was so intense that many of its windows were shattered. The events of the night meant that the village again had no suitable hall, a loss not rectified until the Druids built their hall in 1893 on the site now occupied by the Community Centre. Henry Meyenberg’s workshop, and perhaps his home, on Gerald Street (now the site of shops from Hammer Hardware to Felix the Café) were destroyed by fire in about 1881, a loss which may have helped him decide to leave for Taranaki a short time afterwards. A few years later a workshop belonging to saddler F.J. Finn was burnt to the ground. 12 The fire, first noticed in the early hours of the morning, destroyed most of Mr. Finn’s tools, and the saddlery he had accepted for repair, but fortunately he was covered by insurance. Accidents Just as happens today, people were killed or injured on the roads, the railway, and in workrelated accidents. There were serious accidents on farms involving threshing machines and in 1880 when a man died as a result of one such accident, the coroner asked that the stage from which the 165

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