Lepper Family

In the earliest Anglican area, there is a large solid column with an urn on top, all of which is wooden. Standing 8ft/2.44 metres tall it is an exact replica of a design more usually made in stone, and from a distance there is nothing to suggest it is wooden.

The monument is carved from one piece of wood, and is remarkably intact. The wood is totara, of which there was a plentiful supply in the Wellington area in the 19th century, and which is particularly hardy and long-lasting.  The square base of the column has bevelled edges onto the column itself. The base is 86 cms high, and the column stands 97.5 cms. The column tapers from 95 cms diameter at the base to 73 cms at the top.  The urn on the top has no special decorative features. A frame comprising three graded lengths of the same wood, each 45cm high has been added to the base of the column on a concrete slab. The whole structure is beautifully proportioned and finely executed throughout.

When transcriptions were taken of all the headstones throughout Karori in the 1990’s the transcribers were able to make out some of the inscription, and recorded:

“Headstone is wood and very hard to read. Also Jessie LEPPER b Nov 30? 1862 d 6 Mar 1895 Also George Lepper b 30? D 26 Aug 1893 also Albert Lepper…..

These inscription fragments have now disappeared.

Research of cemetery and other publicly available records has revealed that Jessie and George Lepper were twin son and daughter of William Rigden LEPPER, and his wife Caroline Sarah (nee JACKSON), who had eight children in the years following their marriage in 1881:

Edith Mary (1884), Lilian Annie (1885), William Henry (1888), Edward Rigden (1889), George & Jessie (1892), Violet (1894), and Albert Francis (1896).

The family lived first in King Street, Newtown, then Drummond Street before finally settling in 126 Daniel Street, both also in Newtown, which was one of the poorer parts of Wellington and had notoriously bad drainage and sanitation. George and Jessie were born on 30 November 1892, but failed to thrive, or were perhaps, as infants, susceptible to the many air and waterborne diseases of the day. Jessie died, aged only three months, on 5 March 1893, and was buried in Plot 167 CH ENG two days later. Her twin George survived a little longer but on 24 July 1893, aged eight months, he too died, and was interred two days later with his sister.   

In 1897 another son, Albert Francis, also died in in infancy. He was born on 8 July 1896, but died aged only 6 months on 18 January 1897 and was buried at Karori Cemetery with his brother and sister two days later.

According to NZ Electoral Roll records, William was a carpenter, though in 1896 he recorded his occupation as undertaker. Presumably as a carpenter he made coffins as stock-in-trade items, so providing undertaking services may have been a logical extension of his carpentry.

The plot at Karori was not used again for some years, and was not paid for at the time of the initial burials. William had been adjudged bankrupt in 1894, so family finances may have been stretched at the time, and the cost of enclosing the plot and erecting a suitable headstone may not have been a priority. However, on 30 November 1908 William’s younger brother, Henry Joseph, a blacksmith, died after taking ill at a Druid’s Lodge meeting the previous evening. He went to work the day after the meeting, but was still unwell, and he died later that day, leaving a widow and four young children. He was only 30 years old when he died.

Henry was buried at Karori in a plot not far from that occupied by his brother William’s children. Presumably he was buried in a new plot in the expectation that his wife would one day be interred with him. Henry’s death and burial may have spurred William into action, because less than two months after Henry’s death he paid for the plot where his infant children had been buried more than a decade earlier. Delay in paying for a plot was not unusual at Karori Cemetery, and many plots have never been paid for. 

William had obviously prospered by 1908/1909 and had enough money to pay a stonemason to enclose his children’s plot in the usual concrete wall, a standard feature of graves throughout Karori Cemetery. At the head of the plot the wall integrated a concrete slab 93cm long by 123 cm wide, this forming the base upon which the wooden column/headstone was then erected. The dimensions of the concrete platform are unusual at Karori and obviously designed specifically to support the column. It is assumed William had the skills and wherewithal to be able to manufacture the monument, perhaps in his workshop, and to arrange for it to be securely fastened through the concrete plinth.

18 months later, on 27 August 1910, William also paid for the plot in which his brother had been buried. He presumably also commissioned a stonemason to enclose the plot by a concrete wall, and build a substantial concrete plinth, freestanding on three sides. A monument almost identical to the one on William’s family plot was then erected on the plinth. There are several design features of this monument which differ from those on the earlier plot – it is slightly shorter overall, and has an acorn on the top, rather than an urn.

The other distinctive feature of this monument is a wooden outer casing/boxing around the lower, square third of the column. It has been painted at some stage as there are remnants of white paint visible. The front face of the box has disappeared but the other three faces remain in situ (though one has fallen off and is lying alongside). The boxing is of the same high standard of craftsmanship as the monuments themselves and its presence suggests it was an integral design feature, and that there may have been the same feature on the first of the two plots. It is entirely likely that a plaque with inscriptions was attached to the box. There is though no record of there being any inscription on the monument over Henry’s grave, though this may have fallen off or disappeared before the transcribing team reached it in the 1990’s.

Henry is the only occupant of his plot. His wife remarried in 1913 and had three more children, and she is presumably buried somewhere with her second husband. However, William and his wife are both buried with their infant children, Caroline in April 1922, and William in July 1945. The cemetery records note his occupation at the time as “Retired Company Manager”.

These two monuments are outstanding pieces of skilled wood working craftsmanship. They are unique in Karori Cemetery.

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