Tragic end to a search

When John Skinner went missing from his home at Kihikihi on a Sunday in August 1898 there was more of a sense of alarm than usual.

John, 50, had been deaf and mute since birth.  He lived with his relations Catherine and John Kewish on their farm and after it was discovered he had wandered away and disappeared, the Hamilton police were informed.  John Skinner was described as being of medium build, dark complexion, dark hair, beard, whiskers and moustache slightly tinged with grey and pock pitted skin. He was dressed in blue clothes, a thigh length coat, dark tweed trousers and vest, and tweed cap.

Tales from the passed

After initial searches on Sunday an anxious but energetic group of family and kind neighbours scoured the creek and bush adjoining the Kewish’s farm during the whole of Monday and into Tuesday morning. Constable Carroll meanwhile made exhaustive inquiries and a thorough search for many miles along the roads. John was eventually found about noon drowned in the Mangaohoi Creek in the direction of Ōrākau, on Mr Hutchinson’s farm. It was a considerable distance from the Kewish’s house and sadly evident that John had lost his way, the scrub and undergrowth and swampy nature of the land near the creek making travelling in parts almost impossible. Constable Carroll was informed, and had the body conveyed to Mr Kewish’s. Those who under great difficulties had kept up the diligent search and the police who did all in their power to find the missing man were much praised.

Considerable sympathy was felt for the Kewishs who four months earlier had had another near fatal incident when their 13 year old son Willie wandered off by himself to go rabbit shooting   While negotiating his way about a fence, he pulled the gun after him, which was at full cock. The charge exploded and Willie was injured. He pluckily walked a significant distance back to his home from where he was taken to Waikato hospital.

John and Catherine Kewish were from the Isle of Man.  In 1884, when John was 25 and Catherine 21, they left for Australia as assisted immigrants on the ship Warwick.   John Skinner, then 36, likely went with them.  The couple’s first child was born the year of their arrival in Australia.   In 1887 they came to New Zealand where they settled into farming life in the Te Awamutu district, had three more children and provided a home for John Skinner.

The testimony at John’s inquest was heart-rending.  Several witnesses were carefully examined, and the evidence showed that John had lost his way, tumbling several times into the creek in very deep places and scrambling out again, struggling bravely for his life before finally becoming exhausted and drowning.

The verdict was that John met his death by drowning in the Mangaohoi Creek sometime between the 7th and 9th days of August and that such death was accidental.

John’s death was registered at Te Awamutu but the records are silent on where he was buried.

New Zealand creek in the bush

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