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Victorians showed respect for dearly departed

Amongst some of the more evocative ephemera in the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust archive, are In Memoriam cards, made popular during the nineteenth century. When cupped in the hand these small, seemingly insignificant cards printed to commemorate death, evoke an almost palpable connection to the lingering sadness and grief of those concerned.

 Death was highly visible during the Victorian era and there were many prescribed rituals on how to show respect for the dearly departed. In Memoriam cards were one of several rituals, including stopping clocks at the time of death, wearing black mourning clothes for an extended period, making hair jewellery or art from hair cut from a beloved one, closing curtains and covering mirrors with fabric so the deceased’s image could not be captured in the glass.

 Full of symbolism and sentiment, In Memoriam cards reveal the character of the Victorian age. All portray the fragility of life, from the sombre heavy border to the iconographic symbolism printed on the card. Ivy indicated undying affection, yew was a symbol of immortality and the weeping willow spoke of sorrow. Angels showed divinity, while a serpent swallowing its tail, eternity. The anchor was a symbol of faith, and a broken column indicated a violent or premature death.

 An In Memoriam card was sent out soon after a funeral, as a memento of the person who had died. Many were framed, some glued into albums, while others forever kept in their envelopes. Less costly cards were simple, plain, yet elegant while the more expensive examples were heavily embossed in gold or silver leaf with filigree cut-work adorning the edges. 

 The wording on the card began with relatively simple statements such as ‘In Affectionate Remembrance’ or ‘Sacred to the Memory of’. Inside was usually a Biblical verse or poetic stanza along with the name of the person, the occasion, date and place, all recorded neatly in print. Some cards contained additional statements which tantalisingly present further historical detail.

 One such intriguing In Memoriam card in the collection relates to the passing of Samuel Pinder. On the inside page of the card are three Biblical references, which seek to comfort the bereaved and poignantly point to Samuel’s unexpected death. On the opposite side is detail of his passing: “In Loving Remembrance of Samuel Pinder, Omaranui, (sic) Hawke’s Bay. Who was drowned at Hakawhai, whilst crossing the Tutaekuri River, on Monday January 25th 1892, aged 26 years; Interred at Taradale Cemetery, January 28th, 1892.”

 On 16 October 1889, Samuel, a contractor and farmer who resided at Ōmarunui, married Agnes, youngest daughter of James Marshall of Petāne, at Aberfeldie. Two years later, he was successful in obtaining a roading contract in the Patea district, South Taranaki.

 On 25 January 1892, after days of incessant rain, causing the Tūtaekurī River to flood, he and work mate John George were returning home to Ōmarunui from Patea, Samuel driving a wagon and team of horses, while John rode on horseback. The intrepid travellers, faced with the swollen river, safely negotiated it several times until at nightfall when they reached Hakawhai near Woodthorpe and encountered a “fresh” or rush of water at a ford in the river.

 John considered the ford too dangerous and refused to cross, whereas Samuel, keen to get home to his wife and daughter, was confident the river could be navigated safely. As a precaution he removed the horses from the wagon, and mounting one, rode into the flooded waters driving the others before him. In the gathering darkness John George could see the horses reach the far bank, but could not discern any sign of Samuel.

 Early the following morning, the floodwaters having receded, John was able to cross the river safely. Once on the other side, he rounded up the horses and began unsuccessfully to search for his friend, until despairingly he rode to Taradale to alert Constable Leitch. The Constable organised several search parties to scour the area and in the late afternoon Samuel’s body was found some distance below the crossing.

 The corpse was conveyed to the Puketapu Hotel where an inquest was held in front of an all-male jury. The verdict given was that the “deceased was accidentally drowned while endeavouring to ford the Tutaekuri River at the Hakawai (sic) crossing on the evening of the 25th of January”. The Hawke’s Bay Herald further announced that Samuel Pinder “was greatly respected, and much sympathy felt for his widow and other relatives”.

 Fortunately, two weeks prior to his death, Samuel had astutely taken out a Government Life Insurance policy for £300, and this was paid to Agnes his widow within three weeks of his drowning, the Hawke’s Bay Herald claimed it “being met so quickly is worthy of commendation”. On 28 January Samuel was buried in Taradale Cemetery. His headstone reads: “In memory of Samuel Pinder who was drowned in Tutaekuri River Jan 25 1892, aged 26 years. So loved, so mourned.”

Published in the Hawke's Bay Today newspaper on 15 October 2022 and written by Gail Pope, Social History Curator at MTG Hawke's Bay.


4 November 2022

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