Sunday, March 13, 2011

A miller's sad death: Thomas Hicks, 1878

Thomas Hicks (c. 1819-1878) came originally from Madron, in Cornwall, England, a miller by trade in his early days. He married Elizabeth Williams on 6 August 1842, his age listed as 33 on the certificate when he was actually ten years younger. It was probably a very necessary marriage – in November that year, their son Thomas was born. Thomas Hicks senior ran a drift mill in Sancreed down to 1859, when plans were made to emigrate to New Zealand. Hicks is reported in the inquest notes below to have suffered from asthma. It may well have been something much worse which ailed him – something called “flour mill lung”, a type of pneumoconiosis where the particles he breathed in while working with a mix of grain, millstones grinding away and sending silica into the air and flour dust led to his ill health. His son Thomas felt that his father had been a heavy drink for thirty years before death, and Hicks preferred alcohol as a medicine to seeing doctors, so – his trade back in the old country probably helped kill him in this one.

From July 1863, Thomas Hick senior was leasing 101 acres, Allotments 32 and 33 of the Parish of Titirangi, taking over Henry Hayr’s lease with Andrew Rooney for the farm which would later become Asylum land, site of the spring which, for a time, would bear Hicks’ name. Around 1964, he purchased four lots from Thomas Russell’s “Greytown” sale – which would later be taken by the railway department from 1877/78 as the site of the future railway station for the district – and one side of what is now Elm Street, including today’s Rosehill Lodge. In December 1864, he also had a crown grant of 137 acres near Awhitu peninsula (but this was only recorded by a grant document on 18 October 1877.)

He left what family historians Rie Fletcher and Joan Fortes (1982) refer as a “strange will” from 1871, leaving all his properties, including some in Wellesley Street in the city, to another son Robert, with only an allowance of 8/- to be paid to his wife Elizabeth. This was later amended so that Elizabeth could remain until the end of her own natural life, when they reverted to Robert. Perhaps, towards the end, with Elizabeth constantly reminding Thomas that his alcohol addiction was unsatisfactory (perhaps even attracting son Thomas’ disapproval as well), Thomas Hicks senior simply decided to leave everything to someone who he felt worthy. He's buried at the George Maxwell Memorial Cemtery, corner Rosebank Road and Orchard Street here in Avondale.

In a remarkable twist, it seems that a grand-daughter of his, Elizabeth Sarah Ann Davis, may have taken up with Thomas Ah Quoi after Quoi’s second divorce in 1892. The Fetcher/Fortes study lists Thomas Y (Yuck) Quoi as one of Elizabeth’s husbands, yet so far I’ve yet to find a reference to a formalised marriage  between them anywhere. It will be interesting if further info comes to light on that piece of the Hicks family story.

The following came from the NZ Herald, 18 September 1878.

A coroner’s inquisition into the circumstances of the death of Thomas Hicks, a settler at the Whau, whose death has already been recorded, was held yesterday at Mr Palmer’s Whau Hotel, before Dr. Philson, coroner, and a jury of whom Mr William Forsyth was foreman. The jury after being empanelled proceeded to view the body, and the following evidence was adduced.

Mr Pardy appeared to watch the case for the police.

Elizabeth Hicks, widow of the deceased, who was a farmer, deposed: His age was 59 years, and he had been suffering from asthma for many years. He had not been well for a length of time, and he had a cough. In his habits he ate very little and drank a great deal ever since Christmas. He was not well all last week, but he never said he was worse than usual. He did not complain of anything in particular. He generally came to the hotel, but two days he remained at home and sent for brandy and gin, which he drank. This was on Wednesday and Thursday, and he was not then in his proper senses. He complained that the front room was full of strange men, and would not allow witness to go in there. He never took his clothes off for three nights, and could not sleep. He came to the Whau Hotel on Friday morning, and returned in the middle of the forenoon. He said he had nothing to drink then, but some gin was fetched to him on Friday night. He went to bed in his clothes at about one o’clock on Saturday morning, but he did not lie long. At breakfast time, between 7 and 8 o’clock, he came out and took a better meal that day than he had done for the week before. He took a cup of tea and some bread and butter in the forenoon, and dinner, which he ate heartily between 12 and 1 o’clock, and at 4 he had tea and bread and butter again. At about 7 he came out of his room and smoked his pipe, and sent for a shilling’s worth of gin, and he drank about half the quantity. He then made an effort to get to bed. He would not have his clothes taken off. Deceased never spoke after that. Throughout the day his speech was very indistinct. He died about a-quarter-of-an-hour after he went to bed, shortly after 8 o’clock, on Saturday night. Throughout the day he could not use his fingers, but there was no convulsion at the time of his death. Witness did not approve of deceased taking spirits, but she dared not refuse to send for it when he wanted it, for he would have it. She had told the landlord of the hotel not to give him drink. She believed he died from being worn out from drink. During the last six months he had drank to excess. He came to the colony 18 years ago. No doctor visited him. He did not believe in doctors, and drink was his main remedy.

John Bollard, who was the first to see deceased after his death, was examined. He had known deceased about 12 years. His habits were intemperate. As near as witness could recollect, he had seen him alive for three or four days before his death, when he saw him in the hotel as witness passed the hotel. At 9 o’clock on Saturday night, Mrs Hicks came to witness’ house, and asked him to see her husband as he was very ill. He went immediately and found him dead in bed. He was undressed, except his trousers. His face then had a natural appearance but, in a few minutes after, it became purple. Witness then gave details of the account given by Mrs Hicks. Deceased had been suffering from asthma, but witness believed his death was accelerated by intemperance.

Thomas Hicks, son of the deceased, also gave evidence, corroborative of that already given. He last saw his father alive on Saturday morning. He had been sent for to Auckland by his mother on the previous night. Witness returned to town after breakfast, and did not see him again alive. He only heard of the death when he returned the same evening. He believed drink was the cause of death. He had been a heavy drinker for the last 30 years. He was asthmatical as well. Witness had never told the landlord of the hotel not to give him any drink, and no person had ever done so to his knowledge.

James Palmer, landlord of the Whau Hotel, was also examined. He knew deceased for about three-and-a-half months, during which he had been in the habit of coming to the hotel almost daily, but had not been there for four days before his death. He never took more than a nobbler at a time – sometimes rum, brandy or gin. He never knew deceased to call for a glass, but sometimes he drank from one to eight of those. He could not say he ever saw him drunk on the premises, but he had seen him pretty full, and had frequently refused to give him drink. No one ever cautioned witness not to give deceased drink.

The jury, after a considerable amount of deliberation, brought in a verdict that deceased had died from excessive drinking.

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