Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Poor old Walsh the grave-digger

Some time ago, a small series of clippings from the Auckland Evening Star from 1875 caught my attention, involving a nearly 70 year old gravedigger known as Mr Walsh, who would have likely worked at Symonds Street Cemetery.

It began with an accident.

Another name is added to the list of accidents which are almost daily occuring, and the majority of them happen through carelessness.

On Saturday last, poor Walsh, the old gravedigger, so many years known in his profession, as obliging and kind in the extreme, fell a victim to furious driving. It seems he was passing the corner at Wyndham and Queen-streets, when a trap driven by a boy at full speed, and belonging to Mr Young, butcher, Grey-street, came suddenly upon him, knocking him down, and passing over his middle. He lay insensible for more than an hour, when he came to, but now lies in a dangerous state, with small hopes of recovery.

The worst part of it is that the poor fellow has no means for his support but that of grave-digging, and now others must be employed. It is a very hard case and one for the proverbial sympathy of the Auckland public. A few shillings would be of great help to him, in his helpless condition and we think would find a grateful recipient in the old man. He is now nearly 70 years old. We shall as usual take charge of anything any kind person may send.
(Star, 21 January 1875)

A Mr. A-- took up a subscription for the ailing Walsh a few days later. But then came a letter to the paper from True Charity.

To the Editor: Sir -- Seeing your readiness to enlist sympathy for every case in distress I would be sorry to have either you or the kind hearted of the public made a fool of. In yesterday's STAR I see a subscription got up by some good fellow Mr A --, for "poor old Walsh the grave-digger." I would like to know how much money this "poor" man has out on mortgage; how much short of £300 a year [he] has been netting for a great number of years: how much he obtains of the wages of his son who lives with him, but who finds grave-digging better than cabinet-making.

If "poor old Walsh the grave-digger" or any one for him answers these questions fairly, and if he has not more money laid past than I have earned for many years, I will put my name down for a pound. -- YOURS, TRUE CHARITY.

(Star, 26 January 1875)

A response came three days later.

James Walsh, of Symonds-street, writes: "Sir, -- Seeing a letter in Tuesday's issue, concerning the poor old gravedigger I will, with your kind permission, make a few remarks. "True Charity" must not think for a moment that Walsh wanted his assistance, for it is well known that "True Charity" wants assistance himself, although he talks of putting his name down for a pound. Now if he thinks Mr Walsh has got £300 a year, he is mistaken, for I think if there was £300 a year to be got at gravedigging there would be a great many at it in Auckland; and as to the mortgage, I would like "True Charity" to explain himself on that subject, as he does not in his letter of Tuesday night. I should also like to know what business it is of "True Charity's" what the poor old man gets of his son's wages, or grave-digging, or cabinet-making either. I think it is likely that "True Charity" would like the billet of grave-digging himself, as he talks so much about it. If "True Charity" wants assistance himself, why not ask through the papers like a man, and don't stop another from getting a few shillings because he can't get it himself.
The Star, that day, had their own response.

From enquiry we are satisfied that "True Charity" was perfectly correct in his statements, and he is entitled to the thanks of the public for defeating an attempt to obtain money from the public by a false pretense of poverty. While there are so many deserving cases of distress in the community, such impostures as that practised in Walsh's case ought to be exposed, being calculated to do injury to any deserving cause for which an appeal to public charity may be necessary.

(Star, 29 January 1875)

Three days later.

We publish the following: -- To the Editor of the EVENING STAR: Sir, -- After perusing a letter in your issue of Friday last, signed J WALSH, also your comments upon it, it appears evident to me that Mr Walsh is a fitter subject to give alms than solicit them from the tenor of his own remarks. I have therefore to request Mr Walsh as the recipient of 22s. 6d., collected by me on his behalf on the strength of false representations made, to return the same from whence it came, thereby saving himself the pain of further exposure. -- I am, &c., A.

[We call on Mr Walsh to return this money -- Ed. E.S.]

(Star, 1 February 1875)

I'm not sure how this curious incident ended up, but one thing seems certain: it is likely few in Auckland who read the Star would call Mr Walsh a "poor old gravedigger" after all that.


  1. What a great tale. Of course nowadays people could be sued for questioning the legitimacy of claims in the media.

  2. I think you're right. If this had happened today, or a similar stuation, the court lawyers would probably be the only happy ones in the picture.