Little firecracker made an impact

Last updated 05:00 26/01/2013

MYSTERY SOLVED: Dorothy Bowden might have become Mrs Bowers, but instead she married George Hennessy in 1926.

SMITTEN: Lieutenant Henry Bowers wrote home about the ''extraordinary pretty'' girl he met before the ill-fated expedition to the Ice.

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Just who was the mystery woman who dazzled an explorer hero before he left Lyttelton for Antarctica 103 years ago? EWAN SARGENT reports.

She was "ridiculously small, extraordinarily pretty and with a delightful self-awareness and a will of her own" - and she may well been the last woman to catch the eye of Lieutenant Henry Bowers.

The lieutenant was a member of the Terra Nova expedition that stayed in Lyttelton for a month in 1910 before leaving to conquer the South Pole.

He died in a tent alongside Captain Robert Falcon Scott on the trek back.

But before he left on his last adventure, Bowers wrote to his mother about a Canterbury woman who was just his type.

Her name was "Miss Dorothy".

He didn't reveal her surname but said she was "ridiculously small, extraordinarily pretty and with a delightful self-awareness and a will of her own".

Bowers, 26, was only 164cm tall.

The only other clues were that Dorothy's mother was the widowed wife of an Anglican minister, she had siblings, and was younger.

Last Saturday's Weekend Press asked readers to help identify "Miss Dorothy".

Darfield Genealogy and Local History Group member Graham Hoult, 73, of Kirwee, took up the challenge.

"I thought there would be people around here who might know something and there were enough clues for people around New Zealand to have a crack at it," he said.

He put the search on a worldwide New Zealand genealogy mailing list.

Hoult hunted in the Papers Past website for dead Anglican ministers and found Charles Stuart Bowden, vicar of Riccarton, who died in 1909.

Archives research revealed he had a daughter, Dorothy Anstruther Bowden, who would have been 18 in 1910.

Hoult discovered that Dorothy married a George Thomas Hennessy in 1926.

A Hawke's Bay collaborator researched the Hennessy family and found the Hennessy family at Waimate.

Earlier this week Waimate farmer George Hennessy confirmed Dorothy (known as Dolla in the family) was the woman who had caught Bowers' eye. He is her step-grandson.

"It was common knowledge in the family that Dolla had a fling with Bowers before he went to Antarctica. Is that the right word, fling? A courtship, perhaps".

He says she was tiny, under five feet. But she was feisty and his grandfather called her "my little firecracker".

His grandfather, George Hennessy, was a captain in the Irish Fusiliers in World War I who came to New Zealand in 1922 when his marriage broke up.

He bought the farm at Waimate in 1923 and married Dorothy in 1926.

They had no children but he had two from his previous marriage. Dorothy received the OBE in 1952 for services to the Red Cross.

The couple retired in 1956 to a new Christchurch home built in Park Terrace next to the George Hotel.

George Hennessy died in 1961 and Dorothy lived for another 25 years.

Scottish author Anne Strathie has recently written a new biography on Bowers.

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- The Press

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