Saturday, May 1, 2010

A mysterious box and its contents, 1892

In March 1892, a man named Frederick Deeming was convicted in England of the murder of his wife and children, and burying them in cement in the basement of a rented building. To cover his tracks, he sent away heavy luggage full of their blood-stained clothing. He was executed in May that year. The case was spread across the pages of NZ  newspapers for months.

This from the "Observer", 11 June 1892.




Considerable excitement was caused at Helensville on Thursday last when it became known that after the departure of the Wairoa steamer a very suspicious looking trunk and extraordinarily arrayed portmanteau had been left on the railway wharf without an owner claiming the property. The trunk was constructed of Baltic deal pasted over with common wall paper; the handles were of wire rope. The top and sides were completely dedaubed with luggage labels and parcel office tickets showing that the package, like the renowned R S Smyth, was 'much travelled,' especially in Victoria and New South Wales. Ballarat, Ararat, Wangaratta, Geelong, Melbourne and numerous other places figured largely on these tickets.

The portmanteau had, like the trunk, seen its best days, and to protect the leather or perhaps to keep it from utterly collapsing was carefully lashed with leather thongs within a 'Sarah Gamp' carpet bag worn thread-bare, with the sides slit down and thus disclosing a feather pillow tied to the inner package. These also had a number of Victorian luggage labels, but the only clue to be obtained as to the ownership was the discovery of a piece of dirty white paper gummed on the top of the portmanteau bearing the ominous name of …

F. Deeming.

Wharfinger Nightingale, who made this important discovery, without leaving his charge at once called to the spot the local newspaper man. The village auctioneer was attracted to the scene, and a committee of investigation of three was promptly formed (with power to add to their number). In the absence of the admiral of the fleet, the resident having the next biggest nose was sent for, in order to 'olfactorily  ascertain the contents of the suspicious-looking package. Although human hair could be discerned through the crevices of the time-honoured trunk, there appeared no odour of human remains, but the press representative, who had in days gone by once tasted South African port, declared that he could certainly smell South African earth, of a 'grave' character. The auctioneer at once jumped to the conclusion that the box contained, not a deceased wife, but the twenty thousand sovereigns supposed to have been concealed in a South African graveyard.

At this juncture, other local celebrities appeared on the scene, and the trunk was put on the goodshed scale, which it turned at 102lbs. Unfortunately, no one present had a sovereign on his clothes whereby to determine by calculation the nett weight of the hoped-for concealed bullion. There was a divided opinion as to the course to be pursued. The fellow who was known only to have laughed when his little nephew was run over wished the box broken open, so that if anything ‘ghastly' appeared it would give him an appetite for dinner. Others had a different idea, and wanted to leave the matter until the appearance of the police, in the hopes of getting an opportunity of a private inspection previous to his arrival, as it was well known that 'from information received' the constable was away on other duties.

Many suggestions were made, one of which was prompted from the fact that the baggage containing the feather pillow, together with the label 'Helensville' being torn, and thus deprived of its last two syllables it was probable that one of Deeming's undeceased wives, whom he had failed or forgotten to murder, had devotedly forwarded him some creature comforts to his last known residence and resting-place.

Finally, the strongest man of the party succeeded in raising a corner of the box lid, when a remarkable yet not altogether hideous sight presented itself. There lay, packed closely together, several small bodies, not clothed, and for all the world like dead Lilliputians, or inhabitants of Terra del Fuego. There were three or four little, diminutive women of various ages, strangely attired; a little man with a black mask on his face; and another with a terrible big nose, that fairly eclipsed the absent admiral, were also discovered. Then there was seen a diminutive coffin, and also a little model gallows and a big stick. The sight of all these caused a shudder amongst those concerned. The box lid was allowed to fall, and the party all left precipitately, but by a strange coincidence re-united at the nearest abiding hostelry, known by the name of the “Terminus”; but none dare return to make further discoveries until the policeman should arrive.

Towards nightfall, fortunately, the whole matter was cleared up by a telegram being received from Mr McMullens at Aratapu, complaining bitterly that his Punch and Judy show had been left behind, and directing it to be forwarded on instanter per “p.s. Osprey”.


  1. LOL
    Oh, Lordy, that was a good 'un ;)

  2. The power of scaremongering! LOL fabulous :-)

  3. Kind of puts a new light on all the airport checks on baggage these days, eh? ;-)