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.

Euphemia Culbert Baxter O.B.E.

Euphemia Cunningham, known as Effie, was born in Edinburgh in 1892 and was working in a printing factory when war began. Two of her brothers were regular soldiers and were sent straight to France and another two brothers enlisted in early 1915. By October 1915 three of Effie’s brothers had been killed. Distraught by these deaths, Effie signed up to work in a munitions factory under construction near the border of Scotland and England. Codenamed Moorside[1], it was the largest munitions plant in the UK, built in response to a severe shell shortage on the Western Front. The project was secret so when Effie left Edinburgh in mid-1916 to become a munitionette she was unable to say what work she was going to do. One well-wisher hoped she would enjoy her work in the laundry.

The ‘laundry’ was in fact the nitro-glycerine section of the factory. Nitric and sulphuric acid were mixed with glycerine and stirred into large vats of nitro-cotton to produce cordite, the propellent for firing the shells. The writer Conan Doyle described this cocktail as ‘the devil’s porridge’. By the end of 1916 Effie had been promoted to forewoman in the nitro-glycerine section.

Nitro-glycerine was such an unstable product that explosions could and often did happen despite extraordinary precautions. In March 1917, when Effie was on her shift, a problem occurred and, fearing an explosion, the factory was evacuated. When the rollcall revealed a number of women missing, Effie immediately re-entered the factory, located the group and got them out before ‘several tons of n/g suddenly disappeared in a lightning sheet of flames’.[2] One worker was killed and another nine injured.

A few months later a new order of chivalry, the Order of the British Empire, was created by King George V to recognise civilian bravery. It was the first order ever to include women and the first woman honoured was the Queen. In fact, an order of chivalry was only considered for those in the higher classes of British society, much as military honours were reserved for officers. The exception to this was the Victoria Cross, awarded for military bravery, regardless of rank. There was pressure now to recognise civilian bravery regardless of class so a medal was created, the Medal of the Order of the British Empire.[3] One newspaper called it ‘a sort of war worker’s VC’.[4] Effie heard later in 1917 that she was to receive the Medal of the O.B.E. and, because she was to be the first recipient of the new award from Edinburgh, it was presented to her in Edinburgh in April 1918 by the Lord Provost (Mayor) of the city.

Effie continued working as a munitionette until the factory was closed in mid-1919. By then she had met Thomas Baxter from the nearby village of Annan. They married in Edinburgh 1921 and in 1924 sailed for NZ to begin a new life in Auckland and then, from 1930, in Wellington. Tom and Effie Baxter lived the rest of their lives in Wellington and now both lie in Karori cemetery. (Public section, plot 628M)

Margaret Pointer

(Granddaughter of Effie Baxter)

April 2021


[1] Commonly called the Gretna factory because of its close proximity to the village of Gretna.

[2] Marwick, A. Women at War 1914-1918, Fontana 1977p69

[3] The medal of the OBE was awarded only until 1922. Post war it was given for service rather than bravery and was replaced by the British Empire Medal BEM. Effie was one of approximately 2000 recipients of the original medal.

[4] Daily Mirror, 25 August 1917.

Mollie Whitworth

Te Papa holds a wonderful collection of 3000 glass negatives that were found in a cupboard by the tenants of a property in Cuba St, Wellington. The property was a former premise of Berry & Co, a Wellington photographer who operated from 1897.

A few photos in the collection feature Karori Cemetery. As a contrast we have attempted to find what location looks like today.

Our first photo is in the Catholic section and features the grave of Mollie Whitworth. In the black and white image Mollie’s headstone can be seen in the far left of the photo.

Mollie (whose actual name was Mary) Whitworth lived on Boulcott St at the time of her death in November 1900.

She had married John William Whitworth, a butcher, earlier that year in February 1900. She was only 23 years old when she died. Mollie’s mother Julia Burke passed away in May 1915 aged 73. Prior to her death Julia had been resident at the Porirua Mental Asylum.

Credit: Cemetery, circa 1920, Wellington, by Berry & Co. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (B.044990)

IN LOVING MEMORY OF LITTLE GEORGIE

This is the sad story of five year old George Ivory.

George was the son of Stephen Ivory and Mary Ann Norah Callan who had married in 1905. She was 21 and he was 28. Their son George was born the same year.

At 6pm on the 6th October 1910, Little Georgie had left his house at 2 Torquay Terrace Newtown to meet his father who was a Carter on his return home. Stephen was sitting on the shaft of his dray as was his custom and on meeting Georgie, placed him on the dray. But wanting to imitate his father, Georgie went to climb down onto the shaft and in doing so “fell by the horses heels”. A doctor was called but death had been instant.

The inquest the following day told a slightly different story in that the dray had no front or rear boards and with the rough road surface, a jolt sent Georgie forward under the wheel. A verdict of accidental death is recorded.

Georgie was buried in Public2 and has this beautiful headstone. His parents ran a successful Carrying business for many years and resided at 114 Hanson Street. There were no more children.

JAMES BARRY

This noble monument in Public2 section was erected for James Barry, “a man with a bright eye, a firm step, and of upright figure, is a pleasant, although not frequent sight to be met with in a day’s journey”.

James was born in Moray, Scotland in 1836 and he trained as a builder. After spending time on the goldfields of Victoria and Otago, he came to Wellington and established the construction firm of Barry & McDowall. Their partnership was a lucrative one. Two important examples of their work were the Supreme Court Buildings and the Post Office.

James had married Mary Ann Cruickshank in Wellington in 1866. They had no children of their own and adopted a little girl called May Robertson. James died in 1909 and his Will included provision for the purchase of books for St Andrew’s School on The Terrace and his old Sunday School in Moray and. After Mary’s death in 1915, May inherited a considerable fortune. She died in 1951 and her Will included 400 pounds upon trust for the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. May also directed that upon her death, the Barry plot should be cemented over and strewn with white pebbles. It’s probably time it had a clean up.

EDWIN SINEL BABOT

Edwin Sinel Babot, Master Mariner, died in April 1903 – just a few months after starting his retirement. He was born about 1831 in Southampton, educated at Greenwich College and in 1846 went to sea as an apprentice in a vessel trading to South American ports.

He was marine super-intendant in London for the Shaw, Savill and Albion Company and came to Wellington in the same capacity in 1884 holding that position until retirement.

A biography on Edwin in January 1903 said that he had sailed in almost every class of ship, in every navigable sea, and in every position from apprentice to master.

You can read his full biography here: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/…/NZMAIL19030429.2…

James Searle

Our second photo from the Berry & Co collection features the grave of James Searle (1872-1926).

James was born in Plymouth and had moved to Gisborne at an early age before moving to Wellington.He married Minnie Tattle in 1903 and at the time of their wedding it was reported that he was a well known tenor singer. Together James and Minnie had two sons and a daughter. At the time of his death in 1926 James worked as a commercial traveller and it was reported that he took part in the St Pauls Pro Cathedral choir, the Liedertafel, and other musical organisations.

Minnie Searle was also well known in Wellington. Her father (George Tattle) had been one of the Pakeha children born in Wellington. Her sister Rosina married Charles Norwood and subsequently became Lady Norwood. The rose gardens at Wellington Botanic Gardens bear her name. Minnie went on an overseas tour for two years and the party held for her upon her return in 1938 is reported in the Evening Post. Minnie died in 1957 aged 85.

The high altar at St Mark’s Church Wellington is dedicated to the memory of Minnie and James.

The photo of James’ grave in the Berry & Co collection was taken by his son Roland Searle.

Photo credit: Grave of James Searle (1871-1926), Karori Cemetery, circa 1926, Wellington, by Roland Searle. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (A.018569)

SS Penguin

On the evening of 12 February 1909, the SS Penguin left Picton for Wellington in fine weather.Conditions quickly deteriorated as the Penguin reached Cook Strait. After changing course again to ride out the storm, the ship struck rocks and began to sink in heavy seas.The evacuation did not go well as the lifeboats quickly capsized. No children and only one woman survived. Only 30 of the 102 people who set out from Picton made it ashore alive.It is widely believed that the SS Penguin hit Thoms Rock off Cape Terawhiti and the shipwreck was the worst New Zealand shipwreck the 20th century. Forty of the 72 victims were buried at Karori Cemetery.Wellington came to a stand still for a mass funeral procession that wended its way through the city and Kelburn on to the Karori Cemetery. A half day holiday was declared. Special newspaper editions were published, shops, offices and schools closed and the streets along the procession route were crowded with people.

A self guided walk is available through Karori Cemetery if you are interested finding out more.https://wellington.govt.nz/…/penguin-shipwreck-memorial…https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspa…/NZFL19090220.2.4

Working Bee Treasures

Two of the treasures revealed in the 14th February working bee – the plot with the checkerboard ledger has two other Masonic symbols, one being the compass and set square. It was completely obscured by long grass and other greenery which had formed a thick mat. The Blaxall family plot commemorates a 20-year old son killed on 12 October 1917 in the Battle of Passchendaele – unseen under many layers of dirt and grime for many years.