An unfortunate weakness for gossiping was putting a strain on the marriage of William and Marie Voice of Te Awamutu in early January 1903.
William, a blacksmith, had received an anonymous letter in reference to Marie’s tale telling and in frustration had sworn at her. He also locked up her clothes to prevent her going away. A week later when Marie did not speak to him he gave it no thought until lunchtime when he realised she was not around. Then their 14-year-old son came to tell him he had found Marie’s body floating in the river.
At the inquest William said he could not account for the incident, except that his wife drank occasionally. He had not harmed or threatened her and her children agreed, saying they had never seen their mother mistreated. But their 17-year-old daughter added that she had heard her mother say about a week before that she did not know what to do with herself, and would jump into the river.
An open verdict – that Marie, 48, was found drowned, but there was insufficient evidence to show how she got into the water – was returned at the inquest.
Curiously, the disappearance of a wife around lunchtime had happened to William before.
In 1876, William, then a 30-year-old blacksmith at Makikihi, near Timaru, found that his wife Lucretia had not got the midday meal ready for themselves, their two small sons and their employee. William prepared something for himself and the children.
Shortly after the employee came to William in distress – something was wrong with Lucretia. William ran back to the house and found her sitting on a box struggling, as if in a fit. But the exotic Lucretia, just 21 and from Chile, had taken a fatal dose of the poison strychnine.
At the inquest William said that they had had no angry words that day and that they lived together as was usual for man and wife. He had never seen anything desperate in her conduct. She wanted to return to her own country, but he could not sell out, though he had tried. William’s employee testified that William had always treated Lucretia well, but a neighbour, Mrs Hawkins said about 20 minutes prior to her death Lucretia came to her house and began to cry.
She gave Mrs Hawkins some baby clothes and complained that she could no longer live with her husband. Constable Gilchrest said that from William’s conduct he had no suspicions against him and the inquest ruled that Lucretia died from poison, but there was no evidence to show who administered it.
The verdict caused furious exchanges in local newspapers between a doctor and an editor – the latter insisting the cause of death was epilepsy.
William disappeared from view for around 20 years before he surfaced again in Te Awamutu working as a blacksmith in 1886. He was now in a common law relationship with Marie Gaertner, from Germany, a mother of one, with whom he had five children; two of who tragically died in 1894 within days of each other from diphtheria.
Many years later, in 1898, Charles and Marie finally married – she stating that she was widowed in 1878 and William that he had been a widower since 1875.
But in truth Marie had had a son in 1883, to the husband who five years earlier had apparently died, and William had another wife, from Gibraltar, whom he married in England in 1876. Their long wait to get married could perhaps be explained by the fact their secret spouses were still alive.
After Marie’s death, William, aged 60, married for a fourth time. Two years later, in 1908 he died. William was buried at St John’s, Te Awamutu and although there is no record, it is likely Marie was too.
They both, it seems, were telling tales.