Friday, March 18, 2011

The strange burial of Florence Lena Bell

Further to my previous post on the odd story around the first burial at Waikumete -- I asked my friend Margaret Edgcumbe for help in obtaining Florence's death registration. It does confirm that, according to what was documented back in 1886, she was the first burial indeed at Waikumete, but ... more questions seem to open up, even as solutions are found.

She died 16 March 1886, while living with her family on Mount Roskill Road. The confusion over her name (Lena? Sera?) is over that capital "L", flourished to look to the modern eye like an "S". But, everything verifies that Florence was "Lena", not "Sera", including the Auckland City Council's burial register for the Nonconformist interments from the time.

Her death at the age of 14 months was as a result of dystentry, as confirmed by Dr. Kenderdine on 16 March that year.

The registration clearly says that Florence was buried on the 18th of March, not the 19th (so according to this, today's the 125th anniversary of the first burial, not tomorrow when all the commemorations will take place). But -- when her father Edmund Bell informed the Council about the burial (see below), that register says 19 March. Six of one, half dozen of the other, as my mum would say (and I still do) ...

The minister at the funeral, Richard Barcham Shalders, is credited with founding both the Auckland Baptist Tabernacle (1855) and the YMCA in Auckland (1856). What is somewhat curious is that the witness to the burial taking place wasn't Florence's father, but someone named Peter Collins, a householder. Who was he? Someone who worked for the undertaker?

The signature for the undertaker looks like "Ro(?) Cranwell". There is a possibility that this is Robert Cranwell, a well-known cabinetmaker (one of the trades that, in those days, was part of the funerals field), and a partner in the firm of Garlick and Cranwell, furniture dealers, later Tonson Garlick Ltd after Cranwell's retirement.

From the NZ Herald, 12 September 1916:

The death of an old Auckland identity, in the person of Mr Robert Cranwell, took place at Cliffcot, Crescent Road, St Stephen's Avenue, Parnell, yesterday morning. Deceased, who was aged 81, had been living in retirement in Parnell for some time past, but previously he took an active part in affairs in Auckland and the Kaipara district, being very well known in both places.

He arrived in Auckland on the vessel Matilda Wattenbach over fifty years ago as a member of a Nonconformist party formed to settle at Port Albert, on the Kaipara Harbour. Mr Cranwell's family brought with them a spring cart -- the first imported into Auckland -- in which they had planned to drive to Port Albert. However, they found that the state of the roads necessitated travelling by bullock-waggon, which took six weeks to cover the distance from Auckland to the destination of the party.

After farming at Port Albert for some time, Mr Cranwell returned to Auckland, where he entered the furnishing trade, in which he was engaged for some twenty years, first as the head of Cranwell and Company, and later as a working partner of the firm of Garlick and Cranwell. He afterwards took an interest in fruit-growing and with two mothers established the Pomaria Estate at Henderson, which was one of the pioneer farms of the local fruit trade. 

Mr Cranwell was for some time a member of the Mount Eden Borough Council, and further evidence of his public spirit was his donation of a library to the people of Henderson.

Deceased is survived by three sons and two daughters, Messrs A H Cranwell, B F Cranwell and R B Cranwell, Medames H West and T Colebrook, besides grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
One of his grandchildren was world famous botanist Lucy Cranwell. His orchard at Henderson is today's Cranwell Park.

But ... why was the death registered so late, 65 days after Florence Lena Bell died? From what I understand of the regulations of the day, either the family or the undertaker had 31 days to register the death. Just another odd circumstance around this burial.

Here are the first 14 burials at Waikumete Cemetery, March-April 1886, as recorded in the burial registers (available on microfilm at the Auckland Research Centre, Auckland Central Library):

March 19 Florence Lena Bell (Nonconformist)
April 17 William Appleby Tye (Public)
April 17 William Long (Church of England)
April 18 Emma Eliza Wilson (Church of England)
April 18 Johanna Binning (Roman Catholic)
April 21 Essy Fuller (Church of England)
April 21 Maria Ruthe (Church of England)
April 21 John Taylor (Church of England)
April 22 Margaret Aitken (Presbyterian)
April 23 Reuben G Beacham (Public)
April 27 Violet Smith (Roman Catholic)
April 28 Sarah Violet Smith (Nonconformist)
April 28 Amelia Rastrick (Church of England)
April 29 William Richards (Church of England)

And here are the plot purchasers from the same period. Even considering that there were two public block interments, where plots weren't purchased by fees paid, this list doesn't match up with the list of the burials.

March 18 Edmund Bell
April 16 Charlotte Long
April 20 William Ruthe
April 21 Mary Jane Bright
April 21 W H Williams
April 21 John Aitken

When I get a chance, I'll do a full trawl through the papers and Council records from February to May 1886, to see just what on earth was going on at Waikumete back then -- what would cause that month's gap between the first burial, and then all the rest.

Update, 27 September 2011: Found this in the Auckland Star today, thanks to Papers Past:
The first burial took place yesterday in the new Cemetery, Waikomiti. It was an infant daughter of Mr Bell, architect. In the absence of the Rev. Thos. Spurgeon, Mr R. B. Shaldors officiated at the grave.
Auckland Star 19 March 1886


  1. That is very interesting Lisa :-) and so typical of this type of research...with questions answered even more questions arise.


  2. Cheers, Sandy. I suspect that little Florence was buried before there was even proper surveying done of the plots, and therefore she may not be exactly where folks think she is -- but I'll leave that for another post, once I get more thoughts together.

  3. Indeed! Well it's easy enough for these mistakes to happen. I dread to think what would have happened years down the track if i hadn't checked on the headstone in Waikumete for William Perreau whose gravestone i helped to instigate. It had been erected on the wrong grave! A totally different section of the cemetery! Neither the cemetery nor the stonemason will tell me whose fault it was - afterall, i gave them the correct location! LOL


  4. Sandy, that is such a cool story! Well done, you! You did a marvellous and truly awesome job, helping to get Mr Perreau suitably recognised.