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

SHOCKING TRAGEDY.
A MANIAC MURDERS HIS WIFE.
[Per Press Association.]
WELLINGTON, Dec. 2.
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”.

Dumfries – Sheep Worrying

I have been searching The Scotsman digital archive this morning (searches are free) and found a tantalising snippet relating to my family history – or does it?
The Scotsman – 6 Nov 1879 – “DUMFRIES – SHEEP WORRYING. – On Monday, at Woodhead, Dunscore, a dog chased a flock of 92 sheep out of a field and… One was killed”
Woodhead 2006
 My farming ancestors lived at Woodhead, Dunscore since at least 1824 when my great grandfather, James Brown, was recorded in the Crown Office Precognitions as a farm labourer there in 1824 (He had been accused of assault but that’s a different story). From the 1841 census onwards, James is recorded as Farmer at that property until 1871. Woodhead played a significant part in my family’s life until James died at Woodhead in 1873. This newspaper snippet was from 1879.

James Brown’s death – 1873 (shows Woodhead as place of death)

As fabulous a resource the Scotsman archives are, I can’t really afford to jump in ‘willy-nilly’, so I need to check if any of my family is still tied to the property in 1879.

James’ third wife, Sarah (nee Douglas) survived him and the 1871 census shows more Brown’s living on the property (ie., Woodhead Cottage, Woodhead Farm). This means that the easiest first step is to check the 1881 census to see if these Brown’s are still at Woodhead. If so, then the article will at least be referring to my extended ancestral family.

Browns at Woodhead in 1871

A search of the 1881 census shows that his widow, Sarah and son, Samuel are also still at Woodhead in 1881. Another search shows that the William Brown who was living at Woodhead in the 1871 census, is still there in 1881. I’m unsure of the exact family relationship between my James Brown and this William but chances are high at least that the newspaper article will be referring in some way to the property part of my family owned at the time. This does not mean they will refer to my ancestors by name however, and as I’m a thrifty genealogist, I’m going to see if there are any other articles to do with my family before I invest.

I’m in luck though, as the Scotsman Digital Archives are having a special offer to celebrate Homecoming Scotland 2009 and prices currently start at £3.95 for a 24 hour pass (July only).

Edit: This is definitely not my ancestor’s place.  Woodhead, Dunscore is much different to Woodhead of Dardarroch.