From the words of Maurice Prendergast

Encountered recently Barbara Williamson (GG granddaughter of Jack O’Connell) she is the daughter of Jean Wilson who is the daughter of Kit/Katherine Matheson – formerly Katherine O’Connell (my Mum’s sister).

She posted to me a brave letter that Jack had written to his daughter Kit (then living in Dunedin) following the tragic death of his oldest child Dick (my Mum’s brother) when a mineshaft collapsed on him at Ngahere (West Coast) in 1933. The mine was a private one (and I suspect primitive one) being operated by the Mulcares. Dick was killed on 31 March and this letter written precisely 28 days later. It would seem from the letter that at some stage in the following weeks Jack had been to see Kit in Dunedin and he makes reference to having called on ‘Sadie’ (my Mum) on the way home and my ‘soul sang’ when (after 75 years of doubt) I read on that ‘yellowed parchment’ that Jack considered my Dad ‘a good man’ I had always sensed that the O’Connells (especially Nurse Mary) thought that my Dad was not good enough for my Mum. But now after a 75 year wait, I have it ‘in writing’, from no other icon than Jack O’Connell that he considered him ‘a good man’. I share that view of Jack O’Connell – sure my Dad drank a bit much but in the words of Jack O’Connell he was a ‘good man’.

Now this letter also serves to dispel an age old myth that Jack O’Connell (who crashed financially during the depression) was unable to attend his son Dick’s funeral because he couldn’t fund the travel cost. This letter puts that false folklore firmly to rest, but one continues to wonder who would ever have created that falsehood and what the motive might have been. Called my Aunt Claire (88) who along with Niall (84) is the only surviving child of Jack’s second marriage to rejoice in the news that the rumour of her father’s absence from Dick’s funeral had been rebutted, and she responded by saying “I’m aware that some mischief maker ‘put that around’ and it’s never stopped and proves that it’s much easier to start a rumour than to stop one.” How true!! Claire well remembers the grief of that day when the word came through. She was 6 or 7 years old at the time. They were still on the Frankton farm at that time (now Queenstown Airport). She is unable to recall how her Dad travelled to Greymouth, but she well remembers that he and Mary stayed with a man named Frank Bell who had a milk bar and ran a boxing club in Greymouth. Jack had known Frank Bell (when at Rock & Pillar) the same time as Frank Bell was a rabbiter on the Taieri Ridge (between Hyde & Macraes). She thinks she remembers Frank Bell being very much aligned with the O’Connells of Macraes – through common boxing links.

Do you know the connection between the Mulcaresa (Greymouth, Ngahere) and the O’Connells. There are definite links and I believe that is why Dick might have been working at a Mulcare mine. Jack O’Connell married Brigid Fahey of Blackstone Hill (St Bathans) she died an untimely death, aged 45, and is buried in St Bathans cemetery. Did a sister of Brigid marry a Mulcare? Jack was damned by many for remarrying so soon after her (Brigid’s) death. Who are we to judge? I think condemnation was exacerbated by the fact that she was the classic horrible evil step mother to those younger children who were exposed to her (Kitty, Patty & Edmund/Eddie.) Jack refers to her (Joan) in this letter. She was Joan O’Leary of the O’Learys of Arawatta Bill fame. It must have been tough on Jack to have his two youngest exiled from him. Eddie was ‘farmed’ out to his mother’s brother (was it Ned Fahey) who had drawn a ‘settlers block’ at Middlemarch. From there he bought a ‘bog’ at Mabel Bush which he laboriously drained and developed into beautiful farmland – which of course Eddie inherited – the Faheys being childless. Molly and Len, that Jack refers to, are his sister Mary who married a fine man named Len Casey – highly respected by all. I remember as a teenager their tragically losing a son who was an air force pilot trainer – practising night flying without vision – crashed into the Kaimai Ranges.


From the Evening Post, Volume CXV, Issue 77, 1 April 1933, page 9.


BURIED IN MINE
FATALITY ON WEST COAST

(By Telegraph.–Press Association.)
                 GREYMOUTH, March 31.
A fatality occurred about 1 p.m. at the Brian Boru dredging claim at Nelson Greek, when Richard John O’Connell, aged 27, an employee, was killed. He was buried by a fall of debris in a shaft at a depth of forty feet.
O’Connell’s mate Edward Mulcare, noticed pebbles fall, and told O’Connell to look out. About this time two earth tremors were felt throughout the district and it is thought they caused the fall of material in the shaft.
O’Connell was a native of Queenstown, Otago, where his parents reside.
Men have been engaged in extricating the body.


Scan of Letter.

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Transcript of Letter

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© 2014 Seán O’Connell