Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Howard Nattrass and the "typiste-flapper"


Image: Free Lance, 3 November 1920

This is a story that someone, seriously, should take up and make a doco about. The NZ Truth described it at the time as an "affair-de-lust" with a "typiste-flapper".

Howard Nattrass was born in Blenheim in 1888. By 1915, with a partner named Harris, he had developed a profitable motor importing business in Napier, Natttass & Harris Motor Co. The partners extended their business to Wellington by late 1917.

Sometime around June 1916. Edith Kathleen Strangeman was employed at the firm as a typist. At the time, she was 15, turning 16 in November. In 1918, just after her 18th birthday, she began to have an affair with Nattrass, who was a married man with one child. Edith left her job on 4 February 1919, and was “out all night”. Her parents find out the next morning she had gone to Napier straight from Nattrass’ office. Her father followed by train; Nattrass went up after her by motor, picked up Edith, and took her to Taranaki, then back to Wellington. The father then took possession of his daughter with the police. Nattrass was warned to stay away from the Strangeman homestead.

Edith was examined by Dr Henry Herbert Arthur Claridge a week later, and found to be pregnant. Instantly, her father sued Nattrass £3000 for "seduction". There's some confusion as to whether at that point either Edith or her parents wanted the unborn child aborted -- Edith would later say one thing, Dr Claridge another. Whatever was really the story, the courts were later told that on the night of 7 March 1919, another doctor, Dr Francis Wallace McKenzie, was asked by Edith to save her from the operation. Dr Claridge & McKenzie arranged to take her to Nurse Vicker’s private hospital in Brougham Street on the pretext of an adenoid operation.

McKenzie took the night nurse into the kitchen for tea to distract her, while Claridge told the daughter Nattrass was waiting outside for her in a motor. She and Claridge joined Nattrass, and drove to Claridge’s house to get her some clothes. Nattrass and Edith went to Waikanae, and stayed there three days. McKenzie returned to the Strangeman’s to report that Edith had gone, but also told them to leave her alone, she was over age. He was then chased down the street by another daughter, but evaded her.

The Strangemans informed the police. McKenzie & Nattrass got Edith away from Island Bay to Picton by motor launch. The father headed there by the Pateena and got Edith. Nattrass went there later, found Strangeman had Edith, chartered a faster boat, and nabbed Edith again in Wellington. Later in April Strangeman spotted Nattrass and Edith with McKenzie coming out of a cinema, knocked down Nattrass (while a friend with him punched McKenzie) and took Edith once more.

Nattrass organised an unsuccessful rescue of Edith from her parents' house on 9 May, involving a man pretending to be an inspector from the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Women and Children. Eventually though, when Edith was allowed out to go to church a month later, she made her escape -- and later had her baby in hospital. She never returned to her parents.

Nattrass' wife eventually divorced him in 1925, and Howard and Edith married in 1926. He had by then made his name with motor racing (winner of the First NZ Motor Cup in 1921) and with his Nattrass Tank-Carburettor. He died, somewhere, in 1960.

Bill Tinson image, 1921. "Showing Howard Nattrass winner of the first New Zealand Motor Cup at the wheel of his Cadillac on Muriwai beach. A stripped touring Cadillac in the background entered by Mr Carlyon of Guavas, Tikokino , Hawke's Bay, driven by Mr W Boyle came fourth. This was the first race in New Zealand to be timed electrically, by a rig imported from London by a club official." 7-A7604, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries