Not the 'woman' he thought he was

Last updated 05:00 15/09/2009
Rice Owen Clark
INNOCENT: Rice Owen Clark in 1862.
Rice Owen Clark grave
AT PEACE: The grave of Rice Owen Clark at Hobsonville.

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Matthew Gray goes grave-hunting out west in search of a good story.

Poor Rice Owen Clark must have cringed at the shame of it all.

The British-born migrant was 33 years old, happily married and working hard to get some money behind him in the relatively new colony of New Zealand.

Life was looking good until he found himself in the Wellington Supreme court accused of bigamy.

Clark, who’d worked as an underwriter for London-based insurance firm Lloyds, immigrated in 1841 on the passenger ship Gertrude.

Also aboard was Ann Ingoldsby, 25, a servant working for the wife of the ship’s surgeon Dr William Garrett.

Clark was assigned a berth in the single men’s quarters during the five-month journey.

But rumours circulating during the voyage suggested he and Ann were married.

Either way the pair seem to have gone their separate ways after arriving at Port Nicholson and Rice went on to marry Louisa Felgate, the daughter of a very early settler named George.

All was well until Rice was indicted to appear in court where he pleaded not guilty to bigamy.

Jurors heard that Clark had indeed "entered a form of marriage" with someone while still in London.

But the union, Clark claimed, was not valid.

Nor could it ever be, he said, because the "bride" was not really a woman.

"The person who calls herself Ann Ingoldsby I have never consumated marriage with," he told the court.

"No marriage could possibly be consumated with her by anyone."

Jurors learned that Ann had long since returned to Britain. No official record of the marriage could be found and it was not known if she was alive.

That said, the judge pointed out, she may well have been dead at the time Clark married Louisa Felgate – meaning no crime had occurred.

The jury retired with no actual proof of bigamy to consider and returned a few minutes later with a verdict of not guilty.

Clark was free to go.

He and Louisa moved to Auckland around 1854 with their one-year-old daughter and initially bought a large chunk of land at Devonport which included North Head.

Clark later sold it for £2 an acre and shifted up the Waite-mata to Hobsonville where he was the first European settler to call the suburb home.

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It was there that he founded the pottery and pipe-making family firm that evolved under various names and directorships to produce the well-known Crown Lynn range of ceramics after World War Two.

The business started trading as Ceramco Ltd in 1974.

Rice Owen Clark died on June 16, 1896.

He and his wife had four children and are buried at the Hobsonville cemetery by the little church he helped build for the wider community.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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