Monday, September 21, 2009

A Bethell headstone mystery

Back when I was last at Motat a few weeks ago, on the way out and walking past the side of the complex, at the rear of the old St Saviour's Church buiding which is part of the Victorian Village there, my friend and I spotted these.

One in particular caught my eye.

I thought, "Hang on ... wasn't Clara one of John Neale Bethell's wives?" This being the John Bethell buried at St Ninians in Avondale. The answer is yes.

The above headstone, for John Bethell  and both of his wives (one, Catherine, died in 1900; he later married Clara, who died in 1918), leaves off the second "e" in his middle name Neale. Was it installed later, after his own death in 1943?

I had wondered why the Bethell headstone was part of the same block as that of Jessie Ingram, the wife of an Avondale postmaster (1902-1906) Duncan Ingram.

A Miss Jessie Bethell was noted in 1895 as having found a message in a bottle in 1895 on the West Coast of the Waitakeres (perhaps close to Bethell's Beach? -- Brisbane Courier, 8 October 1895, p. 3), so at some stage she may have married Duncan Ingram -- and was buried in the Bethell family plot here in Avondale. A number of the Ingrams married Bethells, according to the Presbyterian Church marriage register.

But -- that still doesn't explain why and how Clara's headstone ended up all the way over in Western Springs, close to Chinaman's Hill. As soon as I find out more information, I'll post an update.

Update posted.


  1. Could be something as mundane as floods preventing transportation (which caused the creation of the tiny Hawdon Street Cemetery here in Vic) or a contagious fever that necessitated immediate burial and she was buried near where she died.
    Look forward to hearing what you find! :)

  2. Indeed according to [on their site]
    Miss Jessie Kate Ellenor BETHELL married Duncan Ritchie INGRAM c1912 as their marriage registry entry is 1912/5263


    Great site! I've just found it and really enjoying it!


  3. ooops i mean great blog not site!

  4. Thanks, Sandy. I'm still waiting to hear back from MOTAT's librarian -- nothing in their database as to the origins of the headstones, but a volunteer in her 90s was going to be asked next time she popped by. I'll keep an eye on that.

  5. Clara Bethell's headstone mystery reminds me of a short series of audio clips from the BBC about the headstone of a young Irish soldier found in a river... the link is The story is in 5 parts, listed at the bottom of the page from that link.

    Don't you love these mysteries!!! Good luck with that :-)


  6. Thanks again, Sandy. I've just finished watching those video clips. Amazing story!

    Also, given the opportunity, I'll try to go back soon to properly photograph the headstones at MOTAT and note the details.