Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More on US Civil War vets at Waikumete

CSS Alabama, from Wikipedia.

Cemetery historian Matthew Gray in his latest column to appear in the Western Leader today, appears to have fallen foul of, primarily, newspaper space requirements for most of the anomalies in his piece on Juan (John) Ocho and Andrew Andrews St John.

Firstly, regarding John Ocho, who was according to Gray, "captured ... when his own ship was sunk during a battle outside Verbourg in 1864."

The battle was the battle of Cherbourg.

Gray: "It [the CSS Alabama] was caught there by the armour-clad USS Kearsage ..."

I contacted Terry Foenander, an experienced researcher into the naval history of the US Civil War. He advises "the USS KEARSARGE was most definitely not armour-clad, as indicated, but had chains hanging down the side, during the battle, to deflect the cannon shots.   Armour clad, as the true definition of the term will show, means that the entire vessel was clad in a sheeting of metal."

Terry confirms that Juan Ocho was born in Balboa, Spain, around 1843.

Then Gray writes: "An article published in the Observer newspaper shortly after his death suggests his life [in Auckland] began to unravel after he fell in love with a Hindu woman who he showered with gifts ..."

No, the woman wasn't Hindu. I hunted up the Observer article, which reads:
Ocho-nerie. John Ocho, a Spaniard, died at the Lunatic Asylum the other day, and the cause of death was certified to be acute mania. The newspaper accounts added that he was a Spaniard, and had no relatives in the colony and that was all. Yet I believe that John Ocho was no ordinary individual. He could have told a thrilling life story. He was a seafaring man, and, besides having been one of the crew of the celebrated American cruiser Alabama, had seen many adventures in many lands. His Auckland experiences as handcart man, etc., were uneventful; but there is a world of pathos in the incidents which brought on his acute mania and death. John Ocho's troubles, like most other men's, can be traced to a woman. His life was happy until he encountered a woman who, though she had a husband of her own race, appeared to have a fondness for foreigners. She had been engaged in a love intrigue with a Hindoo, and had been separated from her husband, when John Ocho met her and fell in love with her. She was not unattractive, and as she represented herself to be single, the trusting Spaniard lavished presents upon her. After some months of courtship, a friend brought him the cruel tidings (which he soon verified for himself) that his charmer was a grass widow, and a designing one at that. The shock of this disillusion was too much for John his mind became deranged he was consigned to the Lunatic Asylum, and he now fills a. nameless grave, all because of a false woman's deceit. Moral: Beware of grass widows who have a fondness for foreigners.
Observer 1 June 1889

There's also this small obituary-of-sorts in the Auckland Star.
A Spaniard named John Ocho,aged 45 years, died in the Lunatic Asylum yesterday. An inquest was held before Dr. Philson later in the day, when evidence was adduced showing that the deceased was committed to the Asylum last April, when he was suffering from acute mania and had to be put into a straight waistcoat. He gradually sank, and died yesterday. Deceased was not known to have any friends or relatives in the colony. A verdict was returned that death resulted from acute mania. 
Auckland Star 17 May 1889

Matthew Gray also refers to the Auckland Lunatic Asylum as "Avondale Lunatic Asylum." Now, I don't really worry about folks trying to give us in Avondale the asylum, a historic place of national note -- but as it was actually in Pt Chevalier, it's more accurate (and correct) to call it as Auckland rather than Avondale.

The only bit about the Andrew Andrews St John story Gray briefly touched on, was where he termed him "American Consul to Indonesia." Seeing as Indonesia didn't exist by that name until the latter half of the 20th century, this is a bit of a howler. Correctly, he was consul to the Dutch East Indies, at Batavia, the colonial name for what is now Jakarta. But -- that error, I blame on the need to conserve space in those newspaper columns.

1 comment:

  1. It's clear in the Observer that 'the woman was engaged to a hindoo' not she WAS Hindu. Good post Lisa and fair comment at that. I think it pays to check things out before just accepting things or simply not reading things quite correctly then putting down the wrong information. Juan Ocho indeed sounded like he had an interesting life short as it was.