Archive for February 2017

Captain Swing and his riots in 1830s England

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If you had an ancestor who was working on the land in the 1830s in England there is a chance that they were involved in the Swing Riots.  These started in the Elham Valley in Kent and quickly spread amongst the rural workers of the south and East Anglia.  The unrest was caused by a number of reasons – machinery taking jobs from men, farmers offering lower wages, payment of tithes to the Church of England whether or not you were a member.  Threatening letters were sent to those who were considered in a position to resolve the situation signed by “Captain Swing” who was fictitious.  If the warning was ignored it was followed by destruction of threshing machines, their engines, attacks on workhouses and tithe barns and later turned to burning hay ricks and other arsonist attacks.

If caught, the rioters faced imprisonment, transportation or execution.  Of the 2000 (approx.) rioters who were caught 252 were sentenced to death (only 19 were hanged), 644 imprisoned and 481 transported.

There is a brief article on-line about the riots at

In the 1990s Jill Chambers wrote a series of books about the Swing Riots looking at individual counties and how the riots effected the population of that particular county etc.  These books are well researched including information on all aspects of the “riots” for instance each person charged is listed with the charge, age, sentence and 1841 census transcription (if found).  Events in the county are diarised, trial transcripts, claims for rewards and so it goes on.

Auckland Libraries holds Jill’s books for Kent, Wiltshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Hampshire as well as Michael Holland’s book Swing Unmasked: the agricultural riots of 1830 to 1832 and their wider implications which is available in print (reference copy and one borrowable copy) and CD.

You may find a family member who was involved in this important event in English history but even if they were not caught they may have participated and these books give you an insight into life for rural workers at a tumultuous time in history.

Central Research Centre

Back in the day: The ways we died


This was an interesting post from a few years back that we thought you'd enjoy again.

An interesting little read on our shelves is the book 'Til death us do part : causes of death 1300-1948.

As the author Janet Few says in the introduction, “One thing that all but our most recent ancestors have in common is that they are dead.”

This small but fulsome book discusses the many possibilities of our ancestor’s deaths. The cancers and heart disease that end our lives today were much more difficult to diagnose until the twentieth century and the lifestyles of our ancestors made them less prone to contacting them. Instead, they could look forward to famines, epidemics and infectious diseases.

Few describes the different kinds of plague that could be experienced and their symptoms’…hard dry boils, particularly in the groin or armpits and it normally took three days to die.’ A range of preventatives included what was known as a ‘tuzzy muzzy’ , a bunch of herbs to warn off the bad smells, and urinating on a mixture of yarrow, tansy and feverfew, and then drinking the strained liquid.

The Seventeenth century plague doctor

Work related diseases led to the demise of many of our ancestors. Tuberculosis, also referred to as consumption, phthisis, decline or the white plague, was a product of urban poverty, poor nutrition, and work conditions. It was very infectious, with late teenagers often the victims.

Occupations determined certain ailments in their workers. Examples are: knife grinder’s asthma, Mad hatters’ disease (mercury poisoning, which was often contracted by those working in the hat industry), and fossy jaw (caused from ingesting phosphorous; the disease of the match girls).

The names of these diseases are intriguing in themselves. Summer madness, also known as St Anthony’s fire, Sacred fire or Invisible fire, because the skin turned black as if burnt, was common in times of bad harvest when poorer quality crops were eaten.

The green disease, or chlorosis, also known as the virgin’s disease as it was prevalent in teenage girls, was blamed on tight corsets and studying too hard with matrimony frequently prescribed as a cure.

War was responsible for the deaths of many of our ancestors, with the armed forces far more likely to die of disease than in combat. In the Crimean War only one in six casualties died in battle.

Being a wife was a dangerous profession with between five and ten percent of all mothers dying in childbirth until the mid-nineteenth century. The list of options was grim: childbed fever, blood loss, and toxemia. Abortions were illegal and therefore dangerous.

In the days before Health & Safety, our ancestors drowned in wells, were burnt by open fires, fell off horses and ladders and suffered frequent bouts of food poisoning caused by a lack of refrigeration and the foraging for food in woods and hedgerows.  Although our health is better and we are vaccinated against the very things that blighted our ancestor’s lives, we do manage to die in ways they could never imagine.

Bridget Simpson

“ ’ello, ‘ello, ‘ello” - NZ Police Gazettes

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The NZ Police Gazettes (Wellington series) have now been digitised and are available for viewing on the Archway website.  While these are the National Headquarters (Wellington) set, they include occurrences from all over New Zealand.

In order to access these files type New Zealand Police Gazettes into the search box on Archway’s home page and click “search”
2. Now click on the “go” button to the right of the 909 line
3. At the results page at the bottom of the screen are the number of pages.  Change the number 1 to 7 and then click the >> button
4. Scroll down and you will see the gazettes 1878 (vol 2) onwards to 1945 have “view or download digitised record” beneath each record – click on this for whichever year you wish to view.
5. Then click on “New Zealand Police Gazette … vol…
6. Click on view or download digitised record

To view 1877 vol.1 you need to do the following –
Step 1 as above
2. click “go” to right of 23 ….. series of records
3. Scroll down to Police gazettes [record group] (17653) 1861-1930
4. Click Go to associated records
5. Scroll down to New Zealand Police Gazette vol.1
6. Click on view or download digitised record
NOTE: you will see volumes for Otago above the Wellington vol.1 but there is currently no index for these.

Each volume is indexed but a word of caution: there is a general index which is then followed by Discharged Prisoners, Index convicted prisoners later became Persons summarily convicted (1903 onward), and index to prisoner's photographs (1908 onward) – photographs may be separate from main section.  If you are looking for someone who was in the police force, then look under “Police” in the general index not the person’s name. 

You will find information about victims, men absconding and not paying maintenance for wives and children, perpetrators of crime (broken down into types of crime), deserters (military), missing friends, and rewards offered.  My grandfather had his bicycle stolen in Christchurch in 1930 and the gazette gives a very full description of the cycle down to the type of pedals; I don’t think he got it back though.  Descriptions of criminals give height, hair and eye colour, complexion, nose chin, mouth and remarks such as previous convictions, tattoos, scars etc.

Just a word of warning though, you may find family members accused of crimes you would rather not know about – entries still have the power to shock and disgust even from the distance of time.

Archives New Zealand have an information sheet about these books at
Here is a blog on the subject
The New Zealand Genealogist magazine has articles in Nov/Dec 2008, Nov/Dec 2010 and Jan/Feb 2011 issues

Central Research Centre

86th anniversary - Napier earthquake

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Eighty-six years ago today on the 3rd of February 1931 at 10.47 am, New Zealand’s deadliest earthquake struck the Hawkes Bay. Centered 15kms north of Napier, it lasted for two and a half minutes and measured magnitude 7.8. Napier was levelled and at least 258 people were killed.

Showing central Napier in ruins after the 1931 earthquake 
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 248-11

Thirteen-year-old Cecil O’Halloran and her sister Joy lived with their parents, Ivy and Kevin, on the Napier hills, in Brewster Street. Their house was built by Ivy’s builder father, Thomas Bailey, as a wedding present for his daughter.

When the earthquake struck, Ivy was at home. It was fortunate she'd just left the laundry for the kitchen as the only damage to the house was from the chimney crumbling down on to it.
Auckland Libraries Sir George Grey Special Collections has digitised a view of the city taken before and after the earthquake. The house that Thomas built for Ivy and Kevin is in the foreground, second house from the right in the photos below. In the first one you can see it has a chimney, which has gone in the second photo.

Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19310311-49-1
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19310311-49-2

Meanwhile, Cecil and Joy were at school. At 13, Cecil was a bit too old to be on a see-saw but she was playing that game where you try to bounce the other girl off. To her indignation, Cecil was roughly thrown to the ground, soon realising that it wasn’t her playmate’s doing as the ground undulated beneath her. Her convent school survived pretty much intact but the nuns were sure it was more than an earthquake when they raced to the convent’s graveyard crying, 'Armageddon'! The girls had to camp overnight at school and it wasn’t until the next day, when her parents came to collect her, that Cecil realised that they too were okay.

Cecil eventually died in her eighties from Alzheimer’s but the Napier earthquake was one memory that lasted with her, almost to the end.