One of the interesting aspects of our coastal area is its history and some of that is fascinating.
Of the many personalities visiting New Brighton in its European history, this man would be one of the most remarkable and celebrated, yet he killed a boy on the beach just south of the old pier (opened 1894).
The event outlined below is another colourful chapter in the long history of our coastline and the full brief life of this man is difficult to summarise here (below is a link to an interesting documentary)
William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse was a young man with a taste for speed and adventure which ultimately led to his own death in World War I and this fascination could have been compared to AA Milnes story Toad of Toad Hall published about this time.
Although born in England in 1887, he was affiliated to Taranaki Iwi, Ngati Ruanui although not made aware of this connection until late in his short life.
In New Zealand, his grandfather the very wealthy Wellington businessman and politician William Rhodes, fathered a girl he named Mary-Ann in1852.
The other party was the Taranaki born 20-year-old maori daughter of Aperahama Tuhana, and not unusual for the time the baby was gifted to the European side of such unions.
It is likely Otahui, the maori mum bowed to the unfortunate convention of the time, and after handing over the child had no further contact and there appears to be no record of her subsequent life.
Mary-Ann was later adopted by Rhodes and his second wife (a Moorhouse).
When Rhodes died leaving a 3-million-pound estate, Mary-Ann was until she left country, the richest women in New Zealand based on her late father’s vast business interests in Wellington.
Not only that, she married the brother of her stepmother who happened to be the younger brother of Sefton Moorhouse a prominent Canterbury businessman, moved to England never to return, and our man William (junior) came about from that union.
William Rhodes- Moorhouse went to Harrow Public School and briefly, Trinity College, Cambridge and part of rich elite English society unaware of his blood connection with Taranaki Maori.
Despite his upmarket schooling, academia was not his calling but instead a passion for cars, aircraft, and speed. He sent many records of one kind or another with a few accidents in-between, achieving numerous firsts including becoming the first pilot to fly the English Channel with two passengers.
Because of his family connections to New Zealand, and his taste for going fast, on the 22nd of March 1907 the 19-year-old boy racer Moorhouse found himself in New Brighton as part of this fixation.
What happened in near the old New Brighton pier ?
The March 1913 Truth newspaper re-printed this colourful story with a sense of outrage (explanations of some terminology in brackets):
MURDER BY MOTOR
Mad Machinist Moorhouse Breaks Up a Boy at New Brighton.
“William Barnard Rhodes Moorhouse, started his sanguinary (causing bloodshed) career on 22 March 1907 when, 19 years of age, he accidentally killed it was held (claimed), a boy of seven Frederick Gourlay, on New Brighton beach.
He was making a trial (doing a practice run) of his motorcycle when the child was bumped into the next world. “The beach had been used, with the acquiescence of the New Brighton Borough Council, for motor bike races ….”
The Grand Jury eventually brought in a true bill (indicating there was sufficient evidence for the case to go to trial) and the young man had to face the court like any common person although he had the best brains (legal team) money could buy.
Moorhouse was charged with manslaughter and committed for trial. From the sittings of the Supreme Court were these newspaper descriptions:
“A young man named Ritchie shot past with the speed of as meteorite escaping from its creditors and Moorhouse followed. Gourlay, apparently transfixed with terror, was biffed into Kingdom Come.
Defense lawyer Skerrett let loose in a remarkable address to the jury who were asked if Moorhouse were to start his manhood with the brand of Cain on his brow which would give his enemies … an opportunity to point him out as a convicted felon.
The jury returned a verdict of not guilty.”
The rider just behind Moorhouse on the practice race distinguished himself by suggesting in the court hearing “If the boy had stopped running, there would have been no accident.”
The Truth suggested it was a case of one law for the rich and one for the rest of us, but this story was reprinted four years after the New Brighton incident because of a court event in England:
“On London 29 January, W. H. R. Moorhouse, the aviator, was fined 20 pounds for criminal negligence. While motoring, he killed a farm labourer. The second person to die due to his speed deeds. Apparently, he fell off a horse startled by the speed of the vehicle going past.
In respect to the beach crash, Although the boys parents (the Gourlays) were devastated, they did not appear to be bitter and later received monetary compensation via Moorhouse who was badly affected by the incident.
It did however put a cloud over future motor cycling races on the beach sanctioned by the Council, (WorkSafe would have a field day around the lack of warning signs around the practice day).
The New Brighton Borough Council requested the Marine Department to “prohibit furious motoring on the beach within the precincts of the borough.”
Back in England, in 1909 William Moorhouse obtained his pilot’s licence and when war broke out in 1914 he joined the Royal Flying Corps.
In one action he saved countless British arm lives when he went on a solo long flight and dropped a 100-pound bomb (having that strapped under the plane dangerous enough on its own) on a railway line and interrupted a significant amount of supplies from reaching the German front line. Of course, he had to fly low and through enemy gun fire to achieve this result.
Despite being badly wounded nursed his very primitive aircraft back to England but eventually died of his wounds in April 2015, and for a 27-year-old had packed a great deal into his short life. His Maori mum Mary-Ann passing away in 1930 London.
Moorhouse was the first aviator to be awarded the Victoria Cross. In a tragic counterpoint, his son William was killed in World War II during the Battle of Britain, shortly after being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
As for the Gourlay family… there were three other sons and one died aged 21 in the 1918 conflict (as did Moorhouse) and the last died in Christchurch in 1983.
(Post courtesy of CELESTE DONOVAN on behalf of the New Brighton Residents Assn)