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A Family’s Dark Secret Revealed

Suicide newspaper article long

An article I wrote about Remittance Men for Inside History magazine (Issue 14) published on 2 January 2013, has resulted in feedback that every genealogist loves to receive.

“Thank you for your work and you can be assured the knowledge it has provided has resolved so many of the questions I have asked since I was a young man.”  D. Haynes, Western Australia (age 68).

The above quote is taken from an email I received as a result of my article.

cokers hotel

Coker’s Hotel, Manchester Street, Christchurch [1898] (via Christchurch Libraries)

 

In that article I had focused on one particular Remittance Man – Harold George Brocklehurst. Born in Liverpool, England, in 1874, he was the third of four sons born to wealthy ship owner Septimus Brocklehurst (1840 – 1914) and his first wife Mary Studholme Wilson (1845 – 1875).

Harold George Brocklehurst committed suicide in Coker’s Hotel in Christchurch, in January 1900. On his death he left behind a penniless wife and young child. But how did Harold George, who was well-educated and from a privileged family in the UK, come to such a sorry end, so far away from home?

His Best Friend’s Sister

Enter Minnie Coltart (1876 – 1957). Minnie is also from a well-to-do ship-owning family in Liverpool. Her father is Frederick James Coltart (1843 – 1900) and her mother Kate Austin (1846 – 1913).

Her elder brother, James Battle Austin Coltart (1874 – 1915) has a friend called Harold George Brocklehurst. Minnie and Harold meet and, as becomes apparent, have a bit of a fling because, in 1899, both Harold and a heavily pregnant Minnie are on a boat to Wellington, New Zealand.

Their boat, the Wakanui, arrived in Wellington on 1st May, 1899. Minnie was 22 years old and Harold 24.

Taken from the Passenger List of the Wakanui - arrived Wellington from London 1 May 1899

Taken from the Passenger List of the Wakanui – arrived Wellington from London 1 May 1899

As you can see from the Passenger List (above), both Minnie and Harold are listed as ‘Mrs’. The arrivals notice in the Evening Post on 2nd May, 1899, lists Minnie as male and Harold as female.

Harold and Minnie didn’t waste any time after stepping onto New Zealand soil. Just three days later, on 4th May, they got married. A little over a week after they wed their son, Gerald Luis Collingham Brocklehurst, was born (12th May, 1899).

There’s little doubt the disgraced couple were exiled to New Zealand because of their ‘crime’. As is referenced in newspaper reports about Harold George’s death, he was to become a Remittance Man, receiving a regular remittance/payment from ‘back home’ – paid to stay away and keep scandal from the reputation-obsessed family’s door.

As is also alluded to in the media of his day, Harold had taken to drink and had previously been treated for delirium tremens – the DTs – a common ailment among Remittance Men, many of whom drank away their regular income from back home.

“Lay Every Blame on Me”

Staff of Coker’s Hotel in Christchurch bashed down the locked door of one of their guests, Harold George Brockehurst, during the early evening of 5th July, 1900. They found Harold seated in front of the fire, a gun in his hand and a bullet in his head.

He had left a note at the scene, addressed to his solicitor, with whom he had recently lodged his Will.

“Dear Mr Cowlishaw.

When you receive this I shall be dead. You have my will in your charge. I should like you at once to cable to my father, Septimus Brocklehurst of Liverpool, of what has happened, explain that wife and child are destitute. Lay every blame on me. I have nothing further to say.

Yours sincerely, Harold G. Brocklehurst”

Minnie and Gerald were staying in another hotel in Christchurch, so perhaps Harold George had booked this room purely for his planned exit.

Probate records show that, while Harold may have left Minnie penniless at the time of his death, she eventually (1902) received over £4,300 from his estate.

Brocklehurst Harold Probate

England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966

Charles Edwin Hamilton Smith to the rescue

This is where my article, Mr D. Haynes of Western Australia, and history, collide. As I mentioned earlier, I received an email from Mr Haynes who had read my article in the very first issue of Inside History he had ever read (his son having gifted him a subscription for Christmas).

“This is just such an amazing coincidence that our  son has sent us this magazine which ,on the first article that my wife’s attention was drawn to, has revealed the missing jigsaw piece in this sad and anguished family history. It has affected generations down the line with the silence expected of family members  not to discuss the past. My wife and I have been in tears at the thought of my poor grandmother [Minnie Coltart] and the pain she went through all her life thinking of the man she loved committing suicide and the silent knowledge carried by my loving grandfather [Charles Edwin Hamilton Smith] who did what he thought was right.” D. Haynes, Western Australia

That’s right. Mr Haynes is the grandson of Minnie Coltart and her second husband, Charles Edwin Hamilton Smith. He informs me that Minnie had been ‘rescued’ by, and subsequently married, Charles, the son of a successful licensed victualler and pub owner in London. It is supposed he was a family friend of the Coltarts or Brocklehursts:

“Prompted by a conversation I had with a 95 year old cousin in Perth who was the daughter of my Grandfather’s [Charles Edwin Hamilton Smith] brother, I asked another relative if she could tell me a little more about my Grandmother [Minnie Coltart/Brocklehurst] and how my Grandfather had happened to travel from Western Australia (where he was visiting some of his brothers who had migrated from England) to New Zealand where he met with my grandmother. They told me the “family secret” of how my grandmother who was the daughter of a Belgian or German ship owner who resided in Toxteth Park, Lancashire had become pregnant to her brother’s best friend and had been sent to New Zealand to have the child. That child was Gerald Brocklehurst and his father was Harold George Brocklehurst.” D. Haynes, Western Australia

Minnie and Charles returned to the UK and by the time of the 1901 census they are married. Charles’ occupation is listed as Chartered Accountant. Minnie’s son by Harold, Gerald Luis Collingham Brocklehurst, is in Lancashire with his grandmother, Kate Coltart (widow living on her own means) in 1901.

Charles and Minnie 1901EnglandCensus snip

1901 UK Census shows Charles Edwin Hamilton Smith and Minnie married and living in London without Gerald Luis Collingham Brocklehurst.

Gerald Luis Collingham Brocklehurst 1901EnglandCensus snip

1901 Census – Gerald Luis Collingham Brocklehurst at home of his grandmother, Kate Coltart (nee Austin).

Minnie and Charles went on to have four children, all born in the UK. Some time after the 1911 census the entire family, including Gerald Luis Collingham Brocklehurst, emigrate to Perth, Australia. The move didn’t suit everyone.

“Minnie found the Australian climate to be too harsh and the story goes that when confronted by a black man at her house in a country town asking for some tea and sugar she promptly packed her bags and took her children back to England! My grandfather [Charles Edwin Hamilton Smith) then travelled to Sydney and found it to be a more suitable climate and Minnie returned to Australia to settle in NSW!” D. Haynes, Western Australia

Mr. Haynes is the son of Mary Hamilton Smith, the youngest of Minnie and Charles’ four children. He has fond memories of Minnie, his grandmother.

“She was well educated (having been sent to a Belgian finishing school!) well read and travelled and I am fortunate to have some of her artefacts she collected as a young woman from strange lands I could only imagine. One of my little jobs was to fetch and return her library books at Chatswood in Sydney!” D. Haynes, Western Australia

Researching Remittance Men

Many families, like that of Mr Haynes, have well-kept secrets. Some of these secrets are Remittance Men. Their ‘crimes’, which although seemingly petty in today’s society, were such that their families exiled them to far off lands.

For the family historian, Remittance Men can be hard to trace. Their remittance agreement was not a formal contract, no written records remain. Clues may be found in Wills, if a remittance is to continue from a family estate, but for the most part their fates aren’t recorded and generations are oblivious to a Remittance Man in their family tree.

It is sometimes only by sheer coincidence, being in the right place at the right time, as in this case, that a family secret can be solved. I am ecstatic that I was able to help someone finally solve their family secret.

Happy Hunting.

P.S. Don’t forget to subscribe to Hunting Kiwis for updates on this, and other, research.

Discussion

3 thoughts on “A Family’s Dark Secret Revealed

  1. A Fascinating read.Id heard the phrase “Remittance men’ But never knew what it refered to.
    Thanks for that.

    Posted by stitchingalways | January 24, 2013, 8:43 pm
  2. I am another grandson of Charles Edwin Hamilton Smith, cousin of David Haynes. David and I met in Shark Bay W.A. in 2008. We had not seen each other since we were young boys around the age of 4. My Mother married Frank Hamilton Smith, one of Minnie and Charles 4 children. That marriage ended in divorce when I was about age 4. My mother remarried and subsequently had 2 daughters, my brother and I were adopted by our Step Father. I have fond memories of my “Granny Smith’ in her home in Chatswood, like David. I still keep in regular contact with David, and we have developed a bond across the breadth of the country.
    My Wife and I have both been excited and interested in your research. It certainly answers a lot of questions that have been kept hidden all these years.
    Thankyou for your reseach and writings,
    Bob Wilson
    West Pymble
    N.S.W.

    Posted by Robert [Bob] Wilson | January 28, 2013, 10:34 am
    • Hello Bob, and lovely to ‘meet’ another member of the family. I have really enjoyed researching Minnie and her contempories and excited that I have managed to help you and your cousin, and no doubt other family members, find out their stories. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any other questions, or would like me to dig deeper into what I’ve already found.

      Kind regards
      Helen Leggatt / Hunting Kiwis

      Posted by hleggatt | February 11, 2013, 9:21 am

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