Tales from the Crypt

Graveyard buff Matthew Gray unearths tales of yesteryear as he digs deep into the lives of those buried in New Zealand's biggest cemetery.

Howard lived fast and well

05:00am 25 Mar 2014


Motor cars were still something of a novelty for many people when Howard Cecil Dawson bought his in December 1914.

Just 15 years had passed since the first two vehicles were imported into New Zealand and ownership was still pretty much reserved for the well connected and well to do.

Howard certainly slotted into both categories.

The Christchurch-born businessman was a prominent figure within the meat industry and made a name for himself in his hometown before taking up a position at the Tokomaru Sheep Farmers Freezing Company as manager and secretary in 1910.

He was out for a drive in his new vehicle on the morning of December 21 when he suddenly encountered a woman riding toward him on a horse. Howard swerved to avoid a collision and quickly lost control in the gravel.

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Migrant's death left widow in poverty

05:00am 18 Mar 2014


The sudden death of James Charlton kicked off a series of events that eventually ripped his surviving family apart.

James was 48 when, on November 14, 1887, he collapsed shortly after sitting down for morning smoko with his workmates on the Auckland waterfront.

Efforts were made to revive him with brandy and water while a doctor was sent for, but to no avail.

The British migrant, who had a history of heart-related problems, died within a few minutes.

His widow Ellen was left with five children including four who were under six years old, no income and zero savings.

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Slip leads to sailmaker's fatal fall

05:00am 11 Mar 2014


The ear-shattering sound of breaking glass turned heads on the upper floor of the Northern Steamship Company building on October 29, 1931.

One horrified staff member looked up from his desk just in time to see a workmate falling out of a nearby window.

He joined others rushing to the street approximately 50 feet below and was aghast at what he found.

Well-known sailmaker Robert Alfred Lewis lay crumpled and broken on the footpath in a fast spreading pool of blood.

Amazingly, he was still alive.

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Baby's delivery landed widow in court

05:00am 18 Feb 2014


Widowed mother-of-five Katie Ellen Woodruffe gladly stepped in when a neighbour went into labour and no registered midwife was available.

But the 56-year-old found herself in trouble with the law. The newborn died and her good intentions landed her in court.

Katie first met John Myosovich and his heavily pregnant wife Florence in September 1913 when they moved to the suburb of Waikumete - later renamed as Glen Eden.

The area was still fairly rural and Ellen, no stranger to the trials and tribulations of childbirth, offered her services in the case of an emergency.

The Myosovichs sent for her three weeks later on October 6 as a last resort and their daughter, baby Martha, was born around 4.15pm.

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War survivor's life was cut short

05:00am 11 Feb 2014


George and Maud Burkitt were both late bloomers by the time they married in a church at Khyber Pass in Auckland on December 19, 1917.

He was 37 and she was in her 41st year.

But their happy day was overshadowed by a massive sense of uncertainty.

George, who'd emigrated from England four years prior, had enlisted with the army nine days before the wedding and was several weeks away from being shipped off to the Western Front and some of the bloodiest fighting of World War I.

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