Murder Most Foul

While combing New Zealand newspapers for mentions of my ancestors on the magnificent Papers Past site, I came across a terrible tragedy. I can’t help but think that this is somebody’s family history waiting to be discovered.

In what seems to be the typical journalistic style of its time, the descriptions are quite graphic.

3 December 1896 – Star

[Per Press Association.]
A shocking tragedy happened at Pangatotara, near Motueka, last Saturday night. John Grooby, who, a fortnight ago, was released from the Nelson asylum on probation at the request of his wife and sons, who undertook to take care of him, about halfpast five o’clock on Saturday evening took an axe used for cutting firewood, and attacked his wife.
Mrs Grooby was, at the time, in the act of drawing bread from an oven. She apparently held up the bread tin to ward off the blows, as the tin was found cut right through.
The unfortunate woman was apparently then forced to the ground, and as she lay there helpless the maniac knelt down and with the axe completed his murderous deed. The whole of the front and sides of the head were cut and beaten into a fearful and unrecognisable mass. After finishing the deed Grooby washed his hands and face, laid the axe beside the house and walked to and fro beside the body. He told one of his sons that he committed the act with a tomahawk, and he subsequently said that the devil did it.
Grooby’s sister, who was close by, heard screams and rushing in saw her brother chopping at his wife’s head. She spoke to him but he did not reply, and she then sent for help. The murderer was subsequently arrested by the police, and at the inquest a verdict of wilful murder was returned against him. Grooby has since been brought before the Magistrate’s Court, and stands remanded. The family is well known in the district.

The next source mentions how Grooby was remanded so that the family, who were witnesses to the event, could attend the funeral that afternoon.

Apparently, mental health issues ran in the family. John Grooby’s sister, who is mentioned only by her husband’s name is recorded in the same edition of the Colonist (2 December 1896):

“Mrs Joseph Graves, who was formerly committed to the Lunatic Asylum, but was released some two or three years ago, has again exhibited strong symptoms of insanity. It is rumored that she left her home on Monday night, and was wandering about the whole night”.

John Grooby and his sister ended up in the asylum together. The whole affair is indeed “a most sad one”.

Emigrating to New Zealand

R.M.S Rimutaka via NZ Shipping Company Association

Going through the cemetery records yesterday inspired me to look further into my family’s immigration. The Dunedin Cemetery Records often include the (original) nationality of the deceased as well as how many years they had been in New Zealand.

My Buchan family immigrated to New Zealand from Scotland in the late 19th century. For years, I’d only had a scrap of paper with family names scrawled on it, said to be from the ship my family sailed on – the Rimutaka (1893). The scrap was given to me by my grandmother, who had been given it by someone else. Although I believed the information to be accurate, any good genealogist knows the original source should be consulted. Luckily has made outgoing UK passenger lists between 1890 – 1960 available online. Although, not the same as the feel and smell of using the actual records themselves, it’s certainly a lot better than transcriptions (these are available too).

Shipping Schedule of the Rimutaka 1893

Despite having this information for my great grandfather Charles (and his parents and siblings), I wasn’t sure how his grandfather, also Charles Buchan, made it over to New Zealand.

Charles Buchan was born in a small fishing village in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1830. I have used the census to trace Charles through his life. A fisherman, and sometimes ship carpenter, Charles and his family were last seen in the 1891 census in Peterhead, Aberdeen but I knew he died in New Zealand. A search on discovered him on the same ship as his son and grandchildren!

Buchan, Mr Chas; Mrs Jessie; Mr Peter; Mr William; Master John

The first and last pages of the document were provided for free which fortunately contained my 5 year old great grandfather Charles with his parents and siblings!

Buchan, Mr Alex; Mrs Agnes; Master Chas; Master Alex; Master James

So, in 1893 Charles Buchan (Sr) moved with his wife, children and grandchildren to New Zealand.

I now have a few new puzzles to solve:

  • Which Jessie and John are recorded above Alex’s family and how do they link to my family?
  • What happened to Alex’s sister Jessie (is she the Jessie mentioned above) and brother Charles?
  • Which Jessie Buchan is buried in the family grave with Charles and Jessie (born Janet RITCHIE).
  • Who is Master John? I’ve had no record of this person so far – is he Charles and Jessie’s son?

SOLVED – answers to these questions can be found here

Tombstone Tuesday

Alexander Ritchie Buchan
Born August 9th 1862
Died December 2nd 1896
Aged 34 years


Agnes Buchan [nee Findlay]
Born August 18th 1866
Died November 25th 1939
Aged 73 years


(Port Chalmers Cemetery, Dunedin, New Zealand)

I received this photo (via email) only a few days ago from a distant relative.
I look forward to working with her on my BUCHAN branch.