Born in Kensington, London, in 1859, William Montague Davenport Howes was the youngest son of George Fuller Howes (1816-1888) and Ann Elizabeth Laming (1820-1878). The Howes family had long been associated with the King’s Own Light Infantry Regiment of Militia, George having served as a Captain, as had his father before him. William’s elder brother, Herbert Taylor McCrea Howes, was director of a London wine and beer merchant.
Records for William are sparse. At age 2, he was living with his family in Clifton Villas in Paddington, once a respectable upper class area of London, with a retinue of three servants. A decade later the family moved to a large property in Heston where William was listed as a scholar. This is the last identified record of William in Britain. No emigration records can be found, but he next appears in the Auckland area of New Zealand in 1889 in a report of his arrest for obtaining money under false pretences. A year later, the 1890 New Zealand Electoral Rolls show William, age 31, across the country in Opotiki, Hawke’s Bay. His occupation is listed as journalist. Press reports of the time confirm his employment, albeit for bed and board only, at the Opotiki Herald. By 1900, William has relocated to the Auckland region where he worked as a gum-digger.
Figure 1 – William Montague Davenport Howes. Source: New Zealand Police Gazettes, database, Ancestry https://www.ancestry.com, entry for William Montague Davenport Howes, 5 September 1917, 36.
The main sources of information for William after 1900 are in the New Zealand press and Police Gazettes. A 1903 newspaper report references a conviction in 1900 for assault and use of insulting language, although this cannot be found in the Police Gazettes. In this report, William is referred to as an ex-Army Officer who had fought in the Boer War. However, examination of his army records reveal a very different reality. His Attestation in 1881 shows he was visually impaired and had previously been considered unfit for service. The 1881 Attestation overlooked this condition and he was signed up. There is no mention of any Boer War service. Instead William spent eighteen months in Malta and two years in the West Indies, the remaining two months of his short service of under three years were spent in Britain. He spent an inordinate amount of time in army hospital care – a total of 477 days – mostly for ‘general debility’. William was discharged as unfit for service in May, 1884.
In May 1903, William was again convicted of forging and uttering and given probation on condition he repay the debts. He broke this condition and served a year in prison. A more severe sentence was imposed on William in 1912. He was sentenced to seven years hard labour for indecent assault on a male. At his hearing William’s defence referred to him as ‘a sort of remittance man’ who ‘at times gave way to drink.’ He was discharged on remission in 1917, having served five years and his photograph included in the Police Gazettes (Fig. 8).
In 1919, William was employed as a caretaker at a girls’ school, the Diocesan School in Epsom, Auckland, but was again arrested for indecent assault on a male and given a ten year jail sentence. William was released on licence in 1927, age 68, after serving eight years. At this point the trail goes cold and neither death nor burial records can be positively attributed to William.
William was raised in a military family. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had been officers in the King’s Own Light Brigade. However, it is evident William did not measure up to military life, likely due to his visual impairment and sickly constitution. Neither can any reference to an education at Oxford, Cambridge, or any other university be found, despite his Attestation in 1881 listing his previous occupation as ‘student’.
William first appears in the New Zealand records in 1884, very soon after his medical discharge from the military. After a short stint in the gum-digging region of Northland, he took a job as a journalist in Opotiki, Hawke’s Bay. His recompense in board and lodgings implies he had an alternative income suggesting the receipt of remittances from home. William’s indecent offending later in life may be indicative of behaviour that would cause damage to his family’s reputation had it been discovered during his life in Britain. Likewise, his predilection for alcohol, and its effect on his behaviour, may have been cause for concern. His behaviour and inability to fulfil a military career are likely the reasons William was exiled, or encouraged to remove himself, to New Zealand.
 “Deaths,” Homeward Mail, 9 April 1888, 477.
 Auckland Star, 26 June 1889, 4.
 “Alleged Criminal Libel,” Bay of Plenty Times, 25 March 1891, 4.
 “An Ex-Army Officer in Trouble,” Auckland Star, 4 May 1903, 2.
 “Unnatural Offence,” Auckland Star, 21 May 1912, 7.
 “Ten Years Imprisonment for Unnatural Offence,” Nelson Evening Mail, 23 May 1919, 5.