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A sketch of the General Grant washed up against rocks at the Auckland Islands

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The Pepper Murders - The Fascinating Family History of Emma Ormes & Joseph Jones

By Bayly Tanner


When Emma Ormes and Joseph Jones, my maternal great great grandparents were youngsters they couldn't have dreamed about life's adventures in store for them and their friends. They certainly would not have expected to be the victims of home invaders.

Emma was born in December 1828 in Chester, UK. Her father was John Ormes a baker. At the Parish Church of St Oswald in the County of Chester on 28th April 1855, Emma married Joseph. He was a grocer from St Oswalds. Joseph was born 12th June 1834 at Connah's Quay, North Wales and had the same name as his father, who was a mariner.

Taffy Jones, an old Welsh friend who has never lost his accent or the sparkle in his eyes, told me, To be born Welsh is to be born privileged - not with a silver spoon in your mouth, but with poetry in your heart and music in your soul.

In the nineteenth century, forced by circumstances of an overcrowded and impoverished Europe and lured by often exaggerated prospects, many immigrants set off for America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand to follow the gold at the end of the rainbow. Shortly after they married, Emma and Joseph set sail for New Zealand. When their ship, the "Merlin", arrived in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, most or all of the crew, like those of most of the ships in the harbour, left for the Victorian goldfields. The passengers had little option but to follow.

Emma and Joseph Jones lived in Inglewood and other tent towns on the Australian gold fields. Their elder daughter, Fanny Maria, my great grandmother, was born in a tent at McCallum's Creek, near Maryborough, Victoria, Australia, on 4th November 1858. Fanny had a ready made answer when asked if she was born in a tent if she went out of a room without shutting the door. Emma and Joseph's only other child, Annie Elizabeth was born 7th February 1862.

While in a tent town the Jones' were subjected to a home invasion and their "Japanned box", which is thought to have previously been Joseph's father's, was stolen. It was later found with many of the documents torn including their marriage certificate, but other valuables were never found. The Japanned box and marriage certificate are still in the family and has been "touched" by eight generations of the family.

Joseph migrated to New Zealand in 1867 and Emma and the girls followed him to Hokitika the following year. In shanty towns such as Hokitika, there were an extraordinary number of places that sold alcohol and narcotics and where the majority of European men sought solace in drink, "dirty girls" and drugs. The Nelson Colonist reported in 1867 that many Hokitika hotels were fitted with every luxury: dining rooms, billiard rooms, smoking rooms, bathrooms, verandah, balcony, magnificent bar lamps and signs, and splendid painted windows. Like in the rest of the colony, barmaids were employed by publicans to offer sexual services to customers. Publicans were not the only whoremasters. In 1866 Police Sergeant McMyn was found to be the owner of a Hokitika brothel. Crime and Hokitika were synonymous.

During and after the gold rush, burglaries were very frequent in Hokitika. Joseph and a police detective were determined to catch a particular thief, so one night they planted themselves in a store. After a very weary wait of several hours, the watchers were put on alert by one of the floorboards suddenly moving. First one board was moved aside, and then a second was dislodged, after which the invader appeared in the room from underneath the building. After watching his movements for sometime, Joseph and the detective caught the thief red-handed. The burglar had crawled for more than 100 yards under adjoining shops and houses, returning with his booty by the same route. The arrest caused a great impression but nothing could compare with the sensation of the arrival in Hokitika of the famous Mary and Joseph Jewell and James Teer.

Mary, Joseph and James along with 80 other souls and a cargo which included 2,576 ounces of gold bullion left Melbourne, Australia on 4th May 1866 on the General Grant destined for London. The General Grant was a full rigged ship of 1103 tons sailing under the American flag and on 13th May 1866 it became wrecked on the Auckland Islands which are about 320km closer to the South Pole than if you were leaving from Bluff at the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand. The nine crew and six passengers who escaped death were cramped in two safety boats for three days trying to make shore. For those three days the survivors were scared not to mention starved, frozen and saturated.

They were the lucky ones, another boat had capsized and sunk with the loss of all lives. I wonder if the survivors were aware that the first of the Four Noble Truths that Buddha taught was Life is suffering.

The survivors were not dressed for the conditions, in fact, many didn't even have boots. It snowed and they were bitterly cold. Gale force winds raged continuously. Heavy seas were of Mount Everest proportions. When the survivors finally reached land the conditions were just as hostile. The Auckland Islands are in one of the most remote and inhospitable parts of Globalvillageearth where it rains more than 300 days each year, snow falls are frequent, fogs are persistent and humidity is almost constantly between 80 and 90 percent.

The 15 survivors established themselves as best they could. Mrs Jewell was the only woman. Life was a living hell punctuated with major disappointments such as 68 of their number perishing; starting out on the boats with about 50 tins of soup and boulli and about 50 pounds of pork but because of the atrocious conditions, by the time they reached land, they had lost all but nine tins of soup and three pounds of pork; 6th October 1866 a ship was sighted by the survivors so they lit signal fires and launched their boat hoping to intercept it, but the survivors were unseen and the ship sailed on; 22nd January 1867 four of the survivors set off for New Zealand in a seven metre pinnace without compass or chart and without even knowing the course to steer - they were never seen again; late 1867 David McLellan, one of the 11 remaining survivors died and 19th November 1867 another ship passed by without contact.

On 21st November 1867 the survivors saw the Amherst, once more lit fires, launched their boat and managed to intercept their gift from their 'God or Gods or Goddess or Goddesses.'

Imagine the happiness at being rescued. My guess would be that even the once macho seafarers shed a tear or two.

Imagine the relief after eighteen months of experiencing the most severe sufferings.

Imagine the chance of retrieving the sunken bullion.

Several attempts were made but the cursed luck prevailed and the fortune remained at the bottom of the sea when the ten survivors, clad in their clothes that they had made by stitching seal skins together with needles made out of albatross bones, and the crew of the Amherst arrived in Bluff, New Zealand early January 1868.

Before they set sail once more for London, Mr and Mrs Jewell were the guests of the Jones' family in Hokitika for "some time."

The Jewells' trials and tribulations are family mythology. The story goes that during the Jewells' 18 month epic human drama in the Auckland Islands, seal flesh was their main meat and stinging nettles their main vegetable. One of the survivors had several matches and managed to light a fire with the last one. Finding an axe was another of their few highs. David McLellan's passing over was their lowest of the many lows. Soap to wash their bodies would have been a Godsend.

I wonder how Robinson Crusoe would have coped with such abysmal conditions. Who could disagree with the statement, Of all the places to be shipwrecked, the Auckland Islands must surely be one of the worst?

Emma and Joseph Jones moved from Hokitika to Christchurch in February 1883, then to Wellington, and in May 1894 to Petone. Petone had many claims to fame. Amongst other things it had New Zealand's first bank, first newspaper, first Presbyterian church service, and first fresh water swimming baths where the sexes bathed on different days, where ladies could hire costumes covering neck to ankle, and where beginners were taught to swim with a belt under the arms attached to a pole steered by the instructor!

In 1896 Michael Cox from County Clare, Ireland, was appointed the sole charge Constable in Petone. Shortly after his arrival he stopped a local resident in Jackson Street to come with him to the police lockup. When they got there, Constable Cox pointed to a man with his head hanging out of the window. The man had stood on a box to look out, but the box had fallen away, leaving him dangling by his neck. Constable Cox went into the cell to lift the prisoner while the helper pushed him back in from the outside. The prisoner was in a bad way and needed to be taken to hospital. Because Constable Cox had to depend on "Shanks Pony" to attend to his duties, he "ordered" the local wood and coal merchant to go to the ambulance station, hook up a carriage with one of his horses and take the prisoner into Wellington Hospital.

On Saturdays, when shops were open late, Constable Cox would walk his beat up and down Jackson Street chatting to locals and shopkeepers along the way. My great great grandparents Emma and Joseph kept a grocer's shop on the corner of Beach and Jackson Streets in Petone.

Emma and Joseph loved their two daughters and frequently used to write to them. One letter reads:

Petone August 26/96

Dear Fanny and Will,

We received your letter and the extras from the children. We were very pleased to hear you had done so well with your chairs. It will be a great help to you in your business. We think trade is very good with you. God has been very...

There was no suggestion of a struggle. Emma and Joseph had just had their evening meal and the dishes were still on the kitchen table. A kerosene lamp was still burning when the crime was discovered. Large quantities of white pepper were scattered about on the table, the couch, the hearth, and the clothing of the murdered couple. The tin from which the white pepper had been taken was found on the table and still contained a small quantity. It was thought that the motive was to steal money because for a start the cash-box could not be found and the house showed signs of having been ransacked.

From the point of view of business, Thursday was the best day of the week for Emma and Joseph. On that day most of the Gear Meat workers were paid, small accounts were settled and fresh supplies bought so the cashbox usually had a 'goodly' sum of money on hand after closing time.

Emma was stabbed once on the right-hand side which punctured her lung. As she had cuts to her hands, it appeared that she had tried to ward off her attacker. Joseph was stabbed three times. The first was a fatal blow to the neck which severed his spinal cord. Two other blows were lower down on his back.

Emma and Joseph's funeral service took place on the afternoon of 31st August. A floral tribute was received from Mr and Mrs Richard Seddon, the New Zealand Premier and his wife. The Jones' last journey from Petone to the Taita Cemetery in Lower Hutt was witnessed by a large concourse of sympathising spectators. The band of the Wellington Branch of the Salvation Army headed the cortège, and members of the local branch of the Army attended. The coffins were covered with floral tokens of respect. The service at the grave was conducted by the Rev. A Thomson, a Presbyterian Minister, and at its conclusion Mr Virtue commented in feeling terms upon the tragic occurrence.

The Salvation Army also held a short service.

The local paper reported that "Mr and Mrs Jones were highly respected. They were simple in their habits, of kindly disposition, and of a deeply religious temperament." Joseph was a regular attendant at a prayer meeting held in the Wesleyan Church at a quarter to eight every Thursday evening. For some reason the meeting on 27th August 1896 was not held. On other nights he liked to have an hour with God at the end of the day, and for the purpose of this private prayer he generally used the spare bedroom opposite his own bedroom.

Emma and Joseph's single-storey house had seven rooms besides the shop. The kitchen was a cosy little room with a stove, two cupboards, a couch, small table, and several chairs.

There were two passages branching off from this room, one leading to a door opening on to Beach Street, against which Emma was lying, and another door opening onto a neighbouring yard. Joseph's body was lying in the kitchen across a doorway that led into a small sitting room immediately behind the shop, and which must have been passed through in order to enter the shop from the kitchen. The kitchen was approached from the back through a small scullery, the door of which was wide open when Stephen Bosher, a close friend of the Jones' and Mrs Atkinson, a neighbour, found the bodies when they entered the house early on the morning of 28th August to find out why Mr and Mrs Jones were not out and about as usual. They found all of the doors except the back door, locked and the shop door barricaded with a spade.

The citizens of Petone were startled by the atrocious crime in their usually quiet town. They were also shocked that Jim Shore, who also lived in Beach Street, was arrested during the afternoon of 28th August 1896. The police searched Shore's house and a number of knives said to have been used by him while working at the Gear Meat Company, were taken possession of. One of them appeared to have been recently cleaned. The clothes that he wore on the night of the murders were also impounded for examination.

At an inquest, George Pettett said that on the night of the murders he passed Jones' store about 10.30pm and found Jimmy Shore drunk outside and asked him what he was doing. Jimmy said that he was trying to shut the gate because he didn't want to see the poor old bugger robbed. He went on, That old bugger, I should like to rob him, George. George warned, Leave him alone Jimmy, he is an old man.

Stephen Bosher, another witness at the inquest, stated that early in the morning after the murders, he had called as arranged at the Jones' shop to collect some parcels and found the premises closed. With Mrs Atkinson, he had entered the house through the scullery door and found the bodies. He admitted that a foot mark found near the entrance was his, because on the fatal night he had made some purchases at the shop. Mr Jones, he declared, then looked very cheerful.

Shore was committed for trial but eventually discharged on 15th November.

It took the police several months before they got onto the track of the real murderer. At one stage they looked for two men, one short and one tall, who had been seen with a parcel or swag under the shop verandah about the time that the murders were thought to have happened. The police traced no less than three pairs of men who passed through Petone on the night of the murders and, curiously enough, in each pair of men one was very tall and the other correspondingly short. One couple was run to ground at Featherston, another at Masterton and the third at Martinborough. All carried swags and all denied being under the verandah.

Mid October, rumour had it that a man already in custody for a bigamy charge, was the latest suspected murderer. The woman, who had been living with this man in the belief that she was his lawful wife, discovered that he had another wife still alive in Akaroa. She reported to the police that on the Saturday or Sunday after the murders that her supposed husband rushed into the house in an excited manner and said that the police were looking for a knife. He asked her to tell them if they came for him that he was not in, and then went out. The remark struck her as peculiar, and remembering that she had seen a knife in the house on the previous Thursday or Friday she began to search for it, but without success.

The bigamist was none other than Stephen BOSHER, who in reality was Etienne Jean BROCHER.

In September 1896 Brocher made a court appearance relating to stealing two horses and two carts and he was still in custody for this charge when he was charged with bigamy. When found guilty of bigamy, he was sentenced to two years hard labour at the Terrace Gaol. On 21st December 1896 while serving this sentence, the police charged him with the murder of Emma and Joseph Jones which was known as The Pepper Murders.

On 15th March 1897, the opening day of Brocher's murder trial at the Supreme Court in Wellington, the jurors were taken by a horse drawn dray to Petone to inspect the locality including the house and shop, and the paddock in Jackson Street where Brocher grazed his horse. They were returned at 5.30pm and accommodated for the night at the City Buffet Hotel. The crown evidence was that Brocher was the last person to make a purchase from the shop on the night of the murders. Brocher, on the advice of a Mr Santsbury, had hidden his knife in Dr Teare's stables and that on the Tuesday before the murders Brocher was pressed for money by two of his mortgagees because of his desperate financial position and was given until the end of the week to pay.

One of the witnesses, Joseph Zachariah a pawnbroker, said that Brocher, using the name of William Johnson, had raised a loan on a horse and cart in July 1896. He got an advance of ten pounds and was to repay by instalments. On the 14th August he had failed in one of his payments and about a fortnight later Mr Zachariah received a letter signed Wm Johnson, using the Wellington Hospital as an address, saying that he was laid up.

Brocher's alibi for the Pepper Murders was that he was at a Salvation Army service in Petone at the time of the murders.

The jury retired at the conclusion of the Judge's summing up. One juror was said to have been in favour of acquitting Brocher, and the four and a half hours of the retirement were occupied in convincing him of the prisoner's guilt because in those days everyone on a jury had to be in agreement before an accused could be convicted.

After a brief statement from Brocher in which he talked of witnesses who had failed to speak in his defence, Judge Edwards donned the black cap, and in a voice trembling with emotion pronounced sentence: Prisoner at the bar, for the crime upon which you have been convicted you shall be sent to the Terrace Gaol, in the city of Wellington, and there hanged by the neck until you be dead, at a date to be fixed.

However, there was a delay in forwarding the warrant to the Sheriff for Brocher's execution because of the difficulty in obtaining the services of a competent hangman!

Public interest in the murder and the condemned man was enormous. The Minister of Justice received the following letter:

3 Featherston Street

Wellington, 20th April 1897

The Hon Minister of Justice

Dear Sir,

I desire to respectfully approach you regarding a somewhat delicate, but in the interests of Science and Phrenology, a very important matter. I wish with your permission to take a post-mortem cast of the condemned man to be hung tomorrow, as I believe him to have an extraordinary head. I take a great interest in Phrenology and Physiology and have in my possession, casts of the Mungatapu murderers Burgess, Kelly and Levi, taken under similar circumstances over 30 years ago. I am all the more anxious to have an opportunity of examining his head, as I was for many years intimately acquainted with the worthy unoffending couple who were so cruelly murdered - they lived more for others than themselves.

I would be most happy to present a cast to the Museum.

Hoping that you will kindly see your way to granting me the requisite permission to do it.

I have the honour to be, Sir,

Yours obediently

T S Lambert. M E A A


The reply read:

20th April 1897


I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of this day's date, applying for permission to take a post-mortem cast of the head of Stephen Bosher, now lying under sentence of death in the Terrace gaol.

In reply, I am directed to inform you that the Government regrets that it is unable to grant the permission asked for.

I have the honour to be,


Your most obedient servant,

Under- Secretary

While awaiting execution Brocher wrote:

Terrace Gaol, 16th April.

I am guilty of the crime for which I am sentenced to death, and take my death as punishment for all of the evils and sins I have committed. I had left my God and my Church, but thanks be to God, while in prison he sent me two friends, who have brought me back to my senses, to Himself and to His church; and I now enjoy all the consolation that a Christian can have. I have a bright future and a bright hope, and I have the firm belief that God has forgiven my sins, and that His salvation is for me.

This is to be used by Mr Garvey after my death in any way or form he thinks fit, publicly or privately, or keep it to himself.

Signed 'Stephen Bosher'.

Then followed a footnote -

"This is a free-will statement without being asked or without coercion whatever, as nobody in this prison never asked me a question in any way. I do it for my own welfare in the world to come".

Signed 'Stephen Bosher'.

This confession put many minds to rest when it was made public on the day of his execution, 21st April 1897. On the morning of his execution, about 1am, Brocher went to sleep. About 2am he wakened momentarily and asked the time and then went back to sleep again. He was still sleeping when Father Ainsworth came to the cell at 5am. He had a cup of coffee at 7.30am but would not eat anything.

As the hangman came to the door of the cell to pinion the condemned man, Brocher faltered momentarily. As he held out his hands to be pinioned, Brocher said, Thy will be done. A procession was formed about 7.50am, and Father Ainsworth began the Service for the Dead. Soon afterwards the cortège appeared at the foot of the steps leading to the scaffold. At the head was Mr Garvey, the Governor of the gaol, followed by Mr Cooper the Sheriff, Dr Martin, Father Ainsworth, a warder and Brocher. Three other warders closed off the procession.

Brocher was dressed in the usual prison uniform, a grey shirt, white knickerbockers and grey stockings. Around his neck he wore a soft neck cloth. Brocher's arms had been strapped at his sides, the elbows drawn behind, and the hands strapped at the wrists, were left free in front of his waist. He looked straight ahead and had the appearance of a man who having to die, meant to go to his fate with all the courage and stoicism that he could muster.

Tom Long, the hangman, sporting a white beard, appeared at the other side of the scaffold and said, Brocher, come this way with me and led the condemned man under the central beam that had a 7 foot 4 inch drop. The hangman then pinioned Brocher's legs. Following a gesture from Father Ainsworth, the condemned man knelt and was granted the Last Absolution. Brocher made the correct responses in an audible tone.

When asked if he had anything to say, Brocher replied, What I have to say now I say of my own free heart, and I have never been asked for it. I am very thankful to be in a position I am. I wish to express my thanks to Mr Garvey who has been very kind to me and done everything he can for me, as well as Dr Martin and Dr Cahill who helped to prepare me for my death. Also to Chief Warder Millington, who has done everything in his power for me without going outside of his duty, and Warders Keany, Knight, Downe and Bethune, who have been with me night and day, and done all they could. I thank them from my whole heart. I forgive all those who were witnesses in my case, those who spoke the truth and those who spoke the untruth. I forgive all those witnesses who swore falsely against me. Years ago I left my own Church, and had never since known a day's joy. It has been my own fault. When I was in my trouble I was left alone, and no one came to see me. Then Father Ainsworth and Father Gontenoire, from Meanee, came to me. I forgive all my enemies. May God bless them abundantly. That is all I have to say.

The Priest then read the Burial Service and then shook the condemned man's hand. Brocher returned the kindly grasp. Father Ainsworth and Brocher then exchanged in French, Goodbye, till we meet in Heaven. With that, the hangman placed the noose around Brocher's neck, adjusted it with a leather washer to prevent it slipping, and placed a white cap on Brocher's head that completely covered his face. The priest then said Jesu misericorde three times. Twice Brocher, from under the cap, repeated the words.

At precisely eight o'clock the bolt was drawn and the body fell. There was no sign of any struggle. As the taut rope swung gently from side to side, the hangman ran down a little ladder at the back, reappeared on the scaffold and said; Now gentlemen, I have done my duty. You can look for yourselves. To save the public witnessing the execution, the area was screened off. From the Dinky Little Titbits of Information file we learn that in New Zealand public executions were forbidden because in days when prisoners were hung in public for stealing, stealing went on in the crowd around the scaffold!

In accordance with New Zealand law, the body was left hanging for an hour before it was cut down. Father Ainsworth obtained permission from the authorities to have the body buried in the Roman Catholic section of the Karori Cemetery in Wellington, however, because of "pressure" he was later re-interned in non-consecrated ground.

There must have been times during his lifetime when he had to think, Who am I, Brocher, Bosher, Johnson, or who, and what name will show on my tombstone?

Brocher's wife is reported to have said let a bad lot be his epitaph.

As Brocher was born in Belfort on the Franco-German border, he was brought up with the French proverb, savoir tout c'est tout pardonner, which translated into English is, to know all is to forgive all.

Brocher may have liked the proverb as his epitaph.

The epitaph on my great great grandparents' grave reads:

In loving memory of Joseph Jones aged 63 and Emma his wife aged 68. Both of Chester England. Lovely and pleasant in their lives and in their death they were not divided. Fell asleep in Jesus 27 August 1896. Erected by their daughters.

Read Bayly Tanner's Epilogue and Epitaph

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