Selected Biographies: Famous Faces & Sensational Stories

Ernest Rowland Davis (alias Ernest E. Reid, Klivry)

Photo of Ernest Rowland Davis

Ernest Rowland Davis, alias Ernest E. Reid, Klivry (b. 1860, Scotland). Charged with ‘causing laudanum to be taken to enable him to commit an indictable offense’ and ‘forgery & uttering’. He was sentenced to 15 years in gaol on 6 Mar 1885 (Christchurch). Photograph taken on 8 Sept 1888.

On 6 March 1885, Ernest Rowland Davis was sentenced to 15 years in gaol for two offences: 'forgery & uttering' and 'causing laudanum to be taken to enable him to commit an indictable offense.' These somewhat vague and confusing charges conceal the menacing story behind his mug shot. 

In 1883, Davis arrived in Port Chalmers using the name 'Bennett'. He introduced himself as an ordained minister and an accredited agent of the British Imperial Sick Benefit and Life Assurance Society. Although he was actually just a ship's baker, Davis used his false credentials to commit a number of scams until he was run out of town. Davis then traveled through New Zealand using a string of false names, and claiming to be everything from a church missionary to a medical doctor to an insurance agent. He stayed in places like Wakouaiti, Greytown and Dunedin, just until the locals grew wise to his scams, like forging entries in Saving Accounts books, pretending to raise money for the Church, or building up debt before skipping town. One man who he had swindled in Dunedin described him as "a skunk, every inch of him." Davis also left behind a series of questionable incidents with young ladies. One young woman even had to call the police in order to stop his long, frequent, uninvited visits - what we might call stalking today.

When Davis arrived in Christchurch in 1885, he carried on his old tricks. Claiming to be an agent for the National Sick & Burial Society, he forged a charity account book in order to steal £300. Although he was eventually caught and charged with forgery and uttering, it was too late to prevent his more serious crime: "causing laudanum to be taken to enable him to commit an indictable offense." Still under the guise of being an agent for the National Sick & Burial Society, he recruited a young woman named Elizabeth Jane Essey to work for him as a canvasser. Davis began courting Essey, and quickly asked her to marry him. As her fiance, he convinced her to visit him at his house, where he served her a cup of cocoa that he had laced with laudanum (a popular Victorian drug which combined a mixture of opium and alcohol).

After ingesting the laudanum, Essey became 'insensible.' She blacked out and awoke the next morning in Davis' bed. Although she begged him to still marry her, he refused. She feared that the incident would be exposed if she turned him in and her reputation would be ruined forever, so she didn't go to the police. Luckily, the truth came out when Davis was questioned about the original forgery and uttering charges, and he was brought to justice. The case was well-documented in New Zealand newspapers in the 1880s and Davis became a publicly despised character. 

Photo of Fong Chong, alias Wa Chong

Fong Chong, alias Wa Chong (b. 1851, China). Charged with concealment of birth and sentenced to two years on 2 Apr 1888 (Wellington). Photo taken on 1 Sept 1888.

Fong Chong (alias Wa Chong)

On January 15th 1888 the body of a female infant was found on the beach at the head of Evans Bay. She was 10 or 11 days old, and enclosed in an old petticoat and a piece of linen shirt. Marks on the child's neck resembled marks that might have been made by a thumb and finger, indicating that she may have been the victim of a violent death.

Detectives quickly ascertained that the girl was the baby of Hutt gang member Fong Chong and his wife, Clara Chong, who were both arrested for her murder.

Although at first claiming that the child wasn't theirs, Clara Chong soon changed her story, claiming that the child was born dead. Despite testimony from neighbours who claimed to hear an infant crying in the house, both Fong Chong and Clara Chong were acquitted of murder in a court of law. Instead each were sentenced to two years hard labour for a lesser charge of concealing the birth.

According to court news reports of the time, however, some debated whether or not there was even enough evidence to even convict Fong Chong of this lesser charge. Nonetheless, the charge of concealment of a birth against Chong was indeed held up.



Frank Masters (alias Charles Smith/ Johnson/ George Masters)

Photo of Frank Masters

Frank Masters, alias Charles Smith/Johnson (b. 1862). Charged with rape and sentenced to five years in gaol on 2 Dec 1889 (Wellington). Photograph taken on 6 May 1890.

Frank Masters was arrested in 1886 for indecent exposure in the presence of a young girl, and again in 1888 along with a charge of indecency. After being found guilty for the 1888 offenses, the Judge opened it up to a jury whether or not Masters should be whipped as well as serving a gaol sentence. This was a legal punishment at the time, but only if recommended by a jury. Despite three previous convictions, the jury unanimously opposed whipping after a statement by Masters in which he claimed “he was not master of himself when he committed the offences, and knew nothing about them until he was arrested.” He asked the Court to have steps taken to prevent him from doing such things again. He was medically examined as to his sanity, and the Gaol Medical Officer deemed that Masters was “sane but of filthy habits.” The Judge sentenced him to two years, and warned him that if he came before him again charged with the same offence he would receive a very severe sentence.

Sadly, this did not deter Masters, and after his release in 1889 he was charged with indecent assault of a girl only 8 years of age. For this crime Masters was sentenced to five years. According to the Evening Post, when asked during his trial whether he had any reason to offer why sentence should not be passed, he responded in a 25 minute rambling statement:

“I don’t know whether it is my nature, or whether it is ordained that I am to go through a certain amount of trouble in life, but my main object is to get married and lead a proper life, and not to go on this way. I promised Mr. Garvey, the gaoler, that I would try to get married, and I’m positive I would have been married this Christmas if I’d been out of gaol. I’ve had two or three chances - (laughter) - but I haven’t looked them up.”

Henry John Goss

Photo of Henry John Goss

Henry John Goss (b. 1847). Goss was an English-born storeman, charged with manslaughter and sentenced to two years in gaol. He was tried in the Nelson Supreme Court on 5 Mar 1890. This mug shot was taken on 19 Apr 1890.

Family violence is an ongoing problem in New Zealand, which police today are still constantly trying to deal with. Sadly, this mug shot illustrates the fact that this has been something police in New Zealand have been struggling with for over a century.

On December 27th 1889, 40 year old Eliza Goss was found unconscious in her home in Nelson by a neighbour. Police and medical assistance were called, but Mrs Goss never regained consciousness and eventually died. Her husband, Henry John Goss, was arrested by police on the charge of assault with intent to do bodily harm. It was reported that the couple frequently quarrelled, and were up “keeping merriment” until the early hours of the morning. According a report on the coroner's inquest in the Wanganui Chronicle on 11 January 1890, the woman had been “disgustingly ill-used” by her husband. It states that her death was from apoplexy(1) which was accelerated through the “brutal usage and ill-treatment” that she was subjected to by Henry John Goss. He was convicted of manslaughter in March 1890, and given a sentence of two years. 

(1) Apoplexy is an out-dated medical term which was used to describe many deaths that began with a sudden loss of conciousness, such as strokes or internal bleeding.

Visit the New Zealand Police page on domestic violence.



Thomas King (alias Liverpool Jack)

On 12 March 1890 Thomas King, alias “Liverpool Jack” pleaded Not Guilty to a charge of vagrancy. According to his arresting officer, Constable Johnston, King was a “spieler” who kept undesirable company. In his defence, King claimed that he was only waiting employment on a flaxmill where he had previously worked, but had been obliged to give up on account of temporary cessation of operations.

Photo of Thomas King

Thomas King, alias Liverpool Jack (b. 1870). Charged with vagrancy and sentenced to one month in gaol on 26 Mar 1890 (Wellington). Photograph taken on 19 Apr 1890.

As the years went by, Liverpool Jack had more run-ins with the law, and even started to become a bit of a local legend for his antics in the Christchurch area. In 1892 The Star reported an incident in which he stole the purse of a sailor from the H.M.S. Goldfinch, whom he had been drinking with at the White Hart Hotel. When the other sailors realised what he had done, Liverpool Jack received “one or two good round knocks” before he was able to flee onto High Street with the “enraged mariners” in hot pursuit. Luckily, he ran into the arms of Constable O’Leary who was able to protect him after arresting him. The sailors offered to withdraw the charges against Liverpool Jack if only the Police would let them “get at him”, but apparently the Constable did not comply.

Another tale, reported in the Otago Witness in 1904, tells of his time working as a pantry man on a steamer. An unwritten rule on such ships was that the pantry man would leave out sandwiches for the seamen in between regular meals, in exchange for contraband alcohol that the seamen had smuggled on board. According to legend, one day Liverpool Jack stopped this tradition without warning, saying: 

“This ‘ere is all the why an’ the wherefore about it. I Ain’t a goin’ for to be bothered ‘andin’ out no more whack to like o’ you gorowlin’,grumblin’ w’arf rats. Ye bean’t satisfied with ‘am, yes must ‘ave tongue, an’ chicken, an’, s’elp me, if I gave ye that I do believe ye would be comin’ next fer salad an’ charlotte rooges. Out wi’ the lot o’ ye! Ye’ll get no more while I’m on thus ‘ere packet.”

In retaliation, the sailors mixed tobacco in with the coffee grounds, which Liverpool Jack unwittingly served the Captain. When the steamer docked, the Captain kicked the curmudgeonly Liverpool Jack off the boat for good. 

Louis Chemis

Photo of Louis Chemis

Louis Chemis (b. 1854). Charged with murder and sentenced to death by hanging on 15 Jul 1889 (Wellington). Photograph taken on 10 Aug 1889.

On the night of May 31st 1889, Thomas Hawkings was murdered in Kaiwharawhara, near Wellington. In addition to being shot twice, Hawkings had been stabbed 'no fewer than 21 times' with a stiletto (a double-edged knife) in his neck and shoulders. A small amount of money, his pocketbook and some papers were stolen off his body.

The suspicion quickly fell on Louis Chemis, who worked as a roadman in the Hutt. The wife of the deceased, Mary Hawkings, claimed that Chemis had threatened her late husband over a legal dispute. Chemis protested his innocence when he was arrested a few days later, although many people in the community doubted the guilt of the reportedly industrious, well-liked man.

The prosecution's main evidence against Chemis were several fragments of the Wellington Evening Post, found in the gunshot wounds on Thomas Hawking's body. The fragments bore the date 'May 23rd', and a copy of the Evening Post from that date was also found at Chemis' house. Witnesses claimed that the torn pieces found in the wound exactly fitted the torn portion found at the accused's house, although newspaper reports from the time dispute this fact. A stiletto and a recently-fired gun were indeed found in Chemis' possession, although no blood was found on his clothing nor the possessions of the deceased. Witnesses at the trial attested to the fact that Chemis and Hawkins did not get along, and had been involved in a bitter legal dispute over leased property.

The prosecution also argued that the papers stolen off the body of the deceased would have been beneficial to the accused.

Many were surprised when the jury returned a guilty verdict, and Chemis was sentenced to death. Questions were raised regarding the quality of the investigation into the evidence, which was commonly regarded as insufficient and largely unsatisfactory. One detective was even tried for perjury regarding the case. Chemis' sentence was reduced to life in prison, and he was released with clemency in 1897.

Always proclaiming his innocence, Chemis was despondent over the suspicion surrounding him even after being released from jail. Unable to find steady work, he grew increasingly depressed. Sadly, on 22 October 1898, Chemis went to a remote area outside Kilbirnie, placed a dynamite cartridge in his mouth and lit the fuse, blowing off his head with the explosive.


Witchcraft Murders (Aporo Paerata, Te Hau Porourangi, Te Uri Maerenga)

  • Photo of Aporo Paerata

    Aporo Paerata (b. 1855, Gisborne, New Zealand). Photo taken on 1 September 1888.

  • Photo of Te Hau Tororangu

    Te Hau Tororangu (b. 1868, Gisborne, New Zealand). Photo taken on 1 September 1888.

  • Photo of Te Uri Maranga

    Te Uri Maranga (b. 1863, Gisborne, New Zealand). Photo taken on 1 September 1888.

In June 1887, Poverty Bay was gripped in a sensational case of witchcraft and murder. Four young Māori men - Aporo Paerata, Te Hau Porourangi, Te Uri Maerenga and Erena Parewhai - were on trial for the double murder of 60-year old Jeremiah Noko (Nuku) and his wife Hiria. Along with the rest of the tribe, the four young men believed that the pair had fatally bewitched a 70-year old man named Pareka, who had reportedly been in good health until Noko told him that he would die in three days. The tribe alleged that Noko had sent an evil spirit into a small hole near where Pareka sat. The young men responded by fatally shooting the sleeping couple on January 29th, 1887 at Pahatikotiko, and then allegedly setting fire to their hut. Aporo Paerata, Te Hau Porourangi, Te Uri Maerenga were convicted and sentenced to death, and Erena Parewhai was acquitted.

Māori from all over New Zealand responded in outrage to the convictions. Petitions poured into the Government from all over the country urging that the prisoners should be released on the following grounds:

  1. That they had acted only in accordance with the laws of their forefathers
  2. That, if the responsibility rested anywhere, it rested on the tribe as a whole
  3. That no proof had been adduced as to who was the actual murderer.

The death sentences for all three prisoners were subsequently reduced to life sentences, although the prisoners were released after five years for exemplary behaviour.