Sunday, November 30, 2008

The George Hemus scandal -- 1884

My friend Margaret Edgcumbe has helped me once again with some side information on a personality associated with Avondale’s past: George Hemus. She has pointed out to me that Mr. Hemus, bootmaker from Upper Queen Street, was not only an evangelical lecture of some note, but he was involved in a scandal which involved international travel, another woman, divorce and rumours aplenty. After which, he appears to have vanished without trace. I have done some further digging in Papers Past, at Margaret’s suggestion.

The Hemus family from Birmingham, England, led by father Soloman (a Gospel Temperance preacher in the 1870s), may have arrived in Auckland in August 1864 on the Ironside. Charles and Henry Hemus were noted as bootmakers by August 1867, while George married Frances Harwood Keane in September the following year. By October 1873, he was establishing himself in a three storey boot factory, warehouse and offices, designed by the architect Herapath, and standing just up from where the Town Hall is today on Queen Street. In 1880, he was Auckland City councillor for one year, defeating (for the Good Templars) John Grey (the publicans’ favourite).

He was also superintendent of the United Free Methodist Sunday School in Pitt Street, and an “indefatigable” evangelistic preacher, known for spreading the word to the rest of the Auckland Province, and in one instance at least even to a Maori audience through an interpreter. He had associations with John Buchanan of Avondale, at least with regard to business and the establishment of the Bell & Gemmell tannery – but he was also connected with the Good Templars Excelsior Lodge at the Whau.

And then, Mrs. Margaret Hampson arrived in Auckland. Hemus was apparently inspired, “fired by her influence and example” according to one report. Mrs. Hampson seems to have been every bit as indefatigable as Hemus, preaching on both sides of the Tasman. Prior to August 1884, Hemus decided to sell his business (despite protests from Mrs. Hemus), and shift himself and his family to America. There, however, he appears to have abandoned his family. Mrs. Hemus sued for divorce on the grounds of neglect, was awarded £200 damages and maintenance from Hemus for his four children, and set up in a boarding house in San Francisco. Rumours back in New Zealand were flying, many sure that Hemus did not contest the divorce, in fact welcoming it, because he intended marrying Mrs. Hampson.

Nothing more, at this stage, is known of George Hemus, his wife Frances, or whether he did indeed marry the inspiring Mrs. Hampson.

1 December: An update here.


  1. Sounds like what we Germans would call a "Strolch". :)


  2. Readers might be interested to know that scandal is attached to George's cousin, Frederick Hemus, who was a Baptist Minister in Broseley, Shropshire, England, and who "disappeared" in 1877 leaving behind a wife and 8 children. He reappeared in Bristol, having taken the surname of one of his young church members, Alice Hartshorne. She bore him two daughters, one of whom was my great grandmother.

  3. Thank you for that additional information, Stephen. Much appreciated.

  4. Reading the other information on this blog about George's descendants, in particular Frank Butterworth (who it seems is still active in retirement and well on the way to his century), I'm reminded that the Hemus family seem to have produced an unusual number of long-lived men.
    Solomon's grandfather reached the age of 89 (very unusual when he died in 1838).
    Solomon's brother Charles (Frederick's father) died in 1886 aged 79 - having remarried at the age of 70 a woman aged 27.

  5. The longevity must be in good genes, Stephen. Thanks again for your comments -- not often this blog is visited by folks with a Wikipedia entry about them (your webpage, by the way, is quite beautiful.)

  6. George Hemus is in Los Angeles ER 1896 and there is a death Index for a George Hemus in Los Angeles 1917 which may be him.

  7. Here's my photo of the headstone of George and Margaret in L.A.'s Angelus Rosedale cemetery -