Haunt­ing names of the lost

Waikato News - - Front Page -

When Anna Pur­gar dis­cov­ered she had an ex­tended fam­ily mem­ber buried in an un­marked mass grave on the grounds of Tokanui Psy­chi­atric Hospi­tal it be­gan two years of re­search that re­vealed some awe-in­spir­ing sto­ries.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the mass grave be­gan with a search for Mary Lane-Am­brose, the great grand­mother of her sis­ter-in-law.

“We couldn’t find her burial any­where. My sis­ter-in-law and I had been look­ing all over the place and all we got was some­where in Te Awa­mutu,” Anna said.

A Te Awa­mutu coun­cil staffer could find no record of Mary but sug­gested Tokanui, where Mary was known to have lived for a while.

“She came back and said she was on the death reg­is­ter at the hospi­tal.

“That kicked it off and I thought ‘hm­mmm, I have to find out about this place’.”

Anna checked on­line and what she found were some ap­palling photos of the Hospi­tal ceme­tery.

“It was just a con­crete block with ‘500 souls buried here’.

“I got off the in­ter­net and ab­so­lutely felt ill. Ab­so­lutely an­gry. You could see dead sheep and cows had been in it.”

She be­gan metic­u­lous in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the hospi­tal’s death reg­is­ter, NZ Death in­dex, NZ Births Deaths and Mar­riages and records of coun­cil ceme­ter­ies and pro­gressed to FindAGrave, a web­site de­voted to burial records.

Before long she had enough in­for­ma­tion to be­gin in­putting in­for­ma­tion into FindAGrave to help oth­ers track down their rel­a­tives.

“Within days I had peo­ple con­tact­ing me; ‘did I know any in­for­ma­tion? was I re­lated to the peo­ple?’,” Anna said.

“I de­cided to see what I could do about get­ting the stock out of the pad­dock. I talked to the farm owner at the time who was quite ap­palled about the state of the ceme­tery.”

Be­tween the two they con­tacted the De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion which started the ball rolling.

Anna be­gan to do pro­files of the de­ceased.

One pro­file re­vealed the star­tling story of Wil­liam Nimmo, who was de­nied amulti-mil­lion­pound in­her­i­tance due to his men­tal dis­or­der.

“In Scot­land some lawyers had in trust an amount of money that was to be held for 100 years. It had been sit­ting ac­cu­mu­lat­ing mil­lions. This was dated back in the 1700s,” Anna said.

“It was only to be given to the next of kin, there was only one left and these lawyers had to go look­ing for him.”

Nimmo was the last liv­ing rel­a­tive of Pi­eter Teyler Van­der­hulst, and pa­pers past record the man’s story.

A copy of NZ Truth from 1929 reads, “the only re­sult of the ef­forts made by the Gov­ern­ment to in­ves­ti­gate this claim of the un­for­tu­nate man, had been to an­nounce that Nemmo has lost his mem­ory”.

Nemmo had em­i­grated from Scot­land in the early 70s, but as Truth re­calls the “healthy young pioneer” was “doomed to dis­ap­point­ment, for in­stead of re­ceiv­ing word of the anx­ious de­par­ture of his bride, he had to face the heart-wrench­ings of a jilted lover”.

The 1929 ar­ti­cle at­tributes this as lay­ing “the seeds of men­tal de­cay” which would one day cost him mil­lions.

Anna re­mem­bers an­other woman born in Rus­sia who was adopted by an English busi­ness­man.

Af­ter his death the fam­ily em­i­grated to New Zealand, only for the wife and adopted daugh­ter to be com­mit­ted to Tokanui.

“By the end all she had was a Rus­sian cos­tume that must have be­longed to her mother at some stage,” Anna said.

Rea­sons for com­mit­ment to the asy­lum in­cluded post-natal de­pres­sion and those with de­men­tia.

Many of the in­mates were im­mi­grants, who Anna said suf­fered with­out the sup­port net­works of home.

“An­other very in­ter­est­ing case is a young married woman who was ad­mit­ted to Porirua Hospi­tal not long af­ter giv­ing birth to her only child, a daugh­ter. Years later this daugh­ter be­came a nurse.

“I fol­lowed her through the elec­toral roll and it showed her be­ing reg­is­tered in Tokanui/ Waikato, pos­si­bly work­ing at Tokanui Hospi­tal as a nurse.”

The daugh­ter married and left the Waikato not long af­ter the death of her mother, but records of the daugh­ter’s will and hus­band’s World War I and II ser­vice file show the fam­ily con­tin­ued to pay for her up­keep at Tokanui for 27 years un­til her death.

Work­ing al­most full-time hours for free Anna is fi­nally ap­proach­ing fi­nal­is­ing the list of 456 in­di­vid­u­als buried in the plot.

She has also been in­stru­men­tal in see­ing amemo­rial wall con­structed on the site.

“Af­ter a while you start see­ing the names in your sleep,” she said.

Anna Pur­gar has spent the last two years re­search­ing the names of 456 un­named souls buried at Tokanui Psyc

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