SAMUEL CHASE ~ The lost medal of a Hawkes Bay soldier who died alone in a Nelson asylum.

6/4594 ~ Samuel CHASE    

A former RNZN sailor who served on the HMNZS Achilles and Leander during WW2, Ron P. is now an Australia resident.  Ron recently sent a request to the NZDF Personnel Archives and Medals (PAMS) for help to return a WW1 Victory Medal named to a New Zealand soldier: 6/4594 PTE. S. CHASE N.Z.E.F.  With no current information regarding the family’s location on Pte. Chase’s file, Karley of PAMS recommended Ron approach MRNZ for help, and forwarded me Ron’s request.

After making contact, Ron sent me a rather sad looking Victory Medal, deeply tarnished almost and minus the ribbon suspension ring and ribbon.

It was apparent from a preliminary read of Samuel Chase’s file that finding whanau could be a tricky in this case as Samuel Chase and his family had been born in the Hawkes Bay, and of mixed Maori and Pakeha parentage.  Not only were his parents of mixed race but so were his grandparents.  Anyone who has tried to unravel a family’s ancestry, particularly one that had its genesis in England, the USA and the East Coast of New Zealand, can no doubt appreciate the difficulties that can be involved.  Anglicised Maori first names together with iwi and convoluted tribal links can make it very difficult for a researcher to find a singular family descendant line and individuals with clearly representative names.   After persevering for over a month I was able to pull together a rudimentary heritage of Samuel Chase’s ancestors who got me started. Here is what I found:

Naomi Paretuhara [Tutatea] Chase (1823-1899) at Wairoa, 1922

James Shaw Calvin CHASE (1816-1900)

In a Maori wedding ceremony at Wairoa in 1841, 17 year old Naomi Paretuhara TUTATEA* married a 55 year old Californian whaler/trader, James Shaw Calvin CHASE, late of Rhode Island, USA and as of 1841, a resident of Wairoa, Hawkes Bay.  Exactly when James Chase arrived at Wairoa is unclear.  One could perhaps surmise given the customs of the time, that Naomi his bride may have been an honourable wedding ‘gift’ from the chief of a local iwi or hapu, to the pakeha James, in exchange for services rendered, or as payment for the most desired of goods among Maori at that time – guns. 

Whatever the reasons that bought about their wedding, James and Naomi Chase had a long and productive union.  During Naomi’s 63-odd years of marriage she was credited with up to 23 births, only a small number not surviving beyond birth or infancy.  Records of early mixed race births are scant so the total remains questionable but I was able to cross refer several sources to for 18 verifiable children of their union, the first six of whom were born at Wairoa.  Of those six, James and Naomi’s fourth child was Edward Eruera CHASE (b1847) who subsequently became the father of the soldier whose medal we were attempting to reunite, Samuel Chase.  

Sam’s heritage already complicated ancestry was further complicated by his father, Edward Chase’s marriage also to a Pakeha woman.  Mary COLLINS parents, John Collins (1802-1871) and Elizabeth BYRNES (1815-1862) were immigrant ‘Albertlanders’ from Manchester and Liverpool respectively.  They had arrived in Manukau c1850 with their two sons, John James and Francis William Collins.  Mary was their first and only child to be born in NZ – 1851.  The Collins family, with the exception of Mary, spent the remainder of their lives in Howick, Auckland.  Mary’s parents had both died by 1871.

Confused?

Note: James Chase died at Napier in 1900 and wife Naomi in a Wellington asylum in 1899.

Sam Chase’s father, Edward Eruera CHASE (Eruera also means Edward?) was 23 when he married his mother, a seventeen year old Catholic girl named Mary COLLINS at the Napier Catholic Church in May 1868.  The newly-weds went to live at Omahu, then a rural village on the NE edge of Hastings near Fernhill and home to several marae.  During the next 10 years the Chase family grew by eight children born between 1869 and 1879 – Amelia Miria, Elizabeth, Grace, Millicent, George, Samuel, Catherine Mary, and Grace Taylor Chase.  The first four children were born in Omahu, George at Wairoa (his father’s birth place), Samuel at nearby Waipawa in August 1876, and Catherine and Grace back in Omahu.  Regrettably history tells us that Edward Eruera Chase abandoned his family not long after Grace was born; the eldest Amelia was 9 years old.   

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Having raised all of her children from infancy to adulthood without a husband help, by 1900 32 year old Mary Chase was more than capable of doing for herself, she had to as was essentially the only person living in her Takapau home.  She was supported financially by her two bachelor sons George and Sam.  They would spend long periods of time away from home, often weeks or months at a time, labouring on farms around the Hawkes Bay, returning home only between jobs.  By 1910 Sam had been taken on as a permanent employee on a sheep and cattle station near Wairoa so his opportunities for returning became even fewer and further apart.  Both boys did however keep their mother provided for by way of income and always ensured her house was well maintained and in good repair.  Four of Mary’s girls – Elizabeth, Millicent, Catherine and Grace were all happily married off by this time and living rurally around the Hawkes Bay on farm properties of their own.  Her eldest, Amelia Miria, sadly had died as a nine year old. 

Sam’s new position was quite some distance from Takapau.  He was in the employ of Mr Neil Walker, the owner of Ohinepaka Station at Turiroa, about 6kms west of Wairoa.  Ohinepaka was a very large 16,000 acre station with a permanent staff of twelve Maori men to assist with running and developing the Station – mustering, shearing, land clearance, milling, building and fencing. 

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New Zealand watched as the events that led to World War 1 unfold from its beginnings in Sarajevo, the declaration of war by Britain, to the landings at Anzac Cove in April 1915.  Sam had registered his willingness to serve but at 39 years of age was unlikely to be called up in the early stages of the war.  Once the war concentrated on the Western Front, the need for recruits outpaced the number volunteering for service and so the government passed the Military Service Act 1916 which allowed them to conscript all eligible males 20 – 45 years or service.  Within weeks of his registration, Sam received his marching orders for enlistment into the NZEF.  He was required to report to the Featherston Military Training Camp in the Wairarapa on 10 December 1916.  Sam left Ohinepaka Station a couple of weeks later and returned home to his mother and brother.

Samuel Chase – c1920

At home Mary Chase, then 47, was having to care for Sam’s older brother George.  Unable to work due to his shortness of breath, weight loss and general debility, George (42) had become prone to coughing fits which had also started to show signs of blood.  The diagnosis was grim – George had Tuberculosis (TB).   Mary was understandably anxious about Sam leaving to fight in a war on the other side of the world but could do nothing other than worry herself over them both.  George’s illness had also meant Mary’s income from both boys was now halved, while her outgoings were about to double once George was admitted to Napier Hospital. 

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6/4594 Private Samuel (Hamuera, Hami) Chase was 39 years and 10 months of age at the time he was Attested into the NZEF at Featherstone Camp.  His medical check documents described him as 5 foot 8 inches high, blue eyes, brown hair, a fair complexion, and stated he had never had an illness in his life.  Training at Featherston Camp lasted five months.  After a period of final leave in March  Sam said his farewells and returned to Wellington for embarkation.

Pte. Chase was assigned to ‘C’ Company, 2nd Canterbury Infantry Battalion (CIB) – 11th Reinforcements.  The 11th Reinforcements boarded HMNZT 29 Tahiti and sailed for Suez on ‘April Fools Day (1st) April 1916.   When the Tahiti arrived at Suez on 03 May the troops disembarked and entrained for Alexandria, Egypt.  After seven days in Alexandria the Reinforcements boarded the SS Caledonia and sailed to Marseilles on the South Coast of France.  From here they were transported by train right across France to the northern coast and the Allies Base Camp at Etaples where the NZ Base Depot was located.  The journey from Egypt to Etaples had taken 11 days.

After three weeks of preparation at Etaples, Pte. Chase joined the 2nd Battalion in the field on 21 May.  The Battalion was making its final preparations with the rest of the NZ Division, to take part in a third and final big push by the Allies into the Somme Valley, an offensive that would later be known as the Third Battle of the Somme.  The first of numerous engagements in this battle was the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.  It was significant in that it was the first battle in which tanks were used – the British Mk1.  The battle opened on 15 September and lasted seven carnage filled days. 

On the second day of battle, amid the barrages of enemy artillery fire Pte. Chase was severely wounded when a large chunk of shrapnel from an exploding shell shattered his left elbow while leaving the remainder of his left arm in tatters.  Evacuated by the NZ Field Ambulance to a battlefield Casualty Clearing Station for immediate aid, Pte. Chase arrived two days later at No.1 Australian General Hospital in Rouen, a facility that specialised in managing the most severely wounded soldiers and preparing them for evacuation to England.  Pte. Chase’s wounds were cleaned and stabilise before his transfer to the British hospital ship, HMHS Asturias.  The ship arrived at Devonport on the 18th and Sam was admitted to No.1 NZ General Hospital at Brockenhurst, the NZEF’s primary specialist hospital facility in England.  A further assessment of his condition was conduct before a final decision was made on his treatment.  Sam’s left arm was so badly mangled by the cast iron that had hit it, specialists agreed it was irreparable and that the arm would have to be amputated just below the shoulder. 

NZ Hospital Ship ‘Marama’

Sam remained at Brockenhurst after the amputation until February 1917 before he had recovered sufficiently to be transferred to the NZ Convalescent Hospital at Hornchurch.  Several more weeks of recuperation at Hornchurch was followed by a post operative re-assessment at No. 2 NZ General Hospital, Walton-on-Thames.  This assessment would evaluate his fitness to remain serving in the NZEF, or not?  Wounded soldiers once sufficiently recovered, would be returned to the front where possible.  Those whose impairment was moderate to severe (lost digits, an eye, gas poisoning etc) could continue their service in an administrative or other light work capacity either in England or New Zealand, since they remained bound by their Attestation to continue serving for the “duration of the war”.  Considered to have a severe permanent disability, Sam’s assessment was brief and the outcome understandable – he was declared to be “no longer fit” for NZEF service and manifested for repatriation to New Zealand.  At home he would continue to receive rehabilitation and psychological treatment for his trauma.

On 03 May 1917 Pte. Chase attended the Queen Mary Hospital, Rockhampton where he was fitted for an artificial limb, then returned to Walton.  By 26 June, Sam had been transferred to the NZ Discharge Depot at Torquay, complete with his new prosthetic arm.  Torquay apart from being a discharge and holding depot for all NZ soldiers being repatriated to NZ, was also a place for rest and recreation which Sam tried to enjoy while waiting.  By the end of three weeks at the NZDD Sam had completed his preliminary discharge administration and personal equipment accounting, and was awaiting the arrival of the hospital ship Marama to take him and another draft of broken and sick soldiers home.

Pte. Chase departed Avonmouth on 14 July 1917 aboard HS Marama, arriving in Wellington five weeks later on 24 August.  Pte. Chase was discharged from the NZEF on 21 September 1917 as being “no longer physically fit for war service on account of wounds received in action”.

Awards:  British War Medal, 1914-18 and Victory Medal

Service Overseas:  1 year 146 days

Total NZEF Service:  1 year 287 days

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Sam Chase at his sister Catherine & brother-in-law Alex Robb’s farm “Ohemate” at Waipawa c1920

Sam Chase was not the same man he was went he sailed for England 18 months earlier.  Not only had the loss of his arm in such a violent manner traumatise him, but like so many others, memories of his combat experiences continued to haunt him.  He was moody, unable to concentrate, quick tempered, suffered nightmares and in need of regular assistance to perform simple tasks.  His only respite was visits to his sister Catherine and brother-in-law Alexander ROBB’s dairy farm at Waipawa, and later to their farm at Ruataniwha.  These visits apparently he seemed to enjoy.  Sam would spend his days in the peace and tranquillity of the farm house, smoking his pipe and just pottering about.

With both son’s no longer able to work, Mary Chase at 69 was forced to find employment as a domestic to pay for George’s hospital care and to support Sam and herself at home.

In 1918 a new sanatorium had been built on a Pukeora hillside mid-way between Takapau and Waipukurau to provide care for returning soldiers with respiratory illnesses caused by exposure to mustard gas.  The sanatorium was modified in 1922 with the addition of outdoor chalets, to accept patients with TB.  Fresh air and the rural location was considered helpful in arresting TB. 

George (51) who had been a resident at the small community Dannevirke Hospital, was to be one of the first TB patients admitted to the new Pukeora Tuberculosis Sanatorium (Pukeora meaning ‘Hill of Health’), located on SH 2 midway between Takapau and Waipukurau.

George and another TB patient were put onto the train bound for Waipukurau from where they and other TB patients from Napier Hospital would be transported by road to the Sanatorium.  Since the rail line passed through Takapau the train was slowed at the station to allow Mary Chase to George before the train carried on to Waipukurau.  TB being a highly contagious disease meant there would be no opportunity for close conversation or a last embrace.  All Mary could do was wave and shout a few words of endearment to George through the sealed carriage windows before the train was on its way to Waipukurau.  Sadly this would be the last Mary and George would see of each other.

Pukeora Tuberculosis Sanatorium – c1950

Mary at 72 was still having to work to pay for George’s Sanatorium care and to support Sam and herself.  Sam meanwhile was struggling with his war demons, the delayed effects of which were becoming increasingly worse as time went by.  

On 6 March 1926 Mary Chase at 78 years of age, died a broken woman.  Her eldest son George died at the Pukeora Sanatorium just 12 months later, aged 53.  With his mother and George both gone, Sam’s psychosis hit rock bottom.  The only treatment for soldier’s suffering with severe psychosis at this time was residential care (confinement) in a mental asylum. 

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In 1927 Samuel Chase was committed to the newly revamped 1500 bed Porirua Mental Hospital in Wellington.(opened in 1887 as the Porirua Lunatic Asylum, and later the Porirua Mental Asylum).  Porirua Mental Hospital was a secure psychiatric treatment facility for males and later females (segregated) that treated inmates with psychotic illnesses, the senile and alcoholics.  Sam, together with other returned veterans whose lives and reason for living had been shattered by war, were treated for “delusory psychosis,” more commonly called shell shock.  At first shell shock was thought to be caused by soldier’s exposure to exploding shells.  However on-going research has revealed the concussion produced by exploding shells meant many soldiers could experience brain trauma within three years of their exposure, and many of these would develop altered mental function.  Unknown at this time, psychosis sufferers were generally considered non-treatable and once unable to be controlled, were almost always committed to an asylum, arguably on the basis that confinement was necessary for their protection, and the protection of the public.

Porirua Asylum had been built in 1887, rebuilt again in 1903 and extended in 1910 to accommodate females.  New developments in psychiatric rehabilitation and occupational therapy contrasted starkly with the prison like facilities previously built for incarcerating ‘lunatic incurables’ like the first Porirua Lunatic Asylum, and presided over by a Superintendent.  The Porirua facility was considered to be at the leading edge of psychiatric treatments in New Zealand at the time.  It was staffed with medically qualified doctors and nurses rather than lay persons acting as security guards as was the case with the first asylum.   Porirua Mental Asylum was built around the concepts of a hospital farm and occupational therapy.  Inmates, now termed patients, were able to work on agricultural projects outside in the fresh air, were housed in smaller community villas (approx 22 pers) that were well spaced, in contrast to the previous dormitory and cell-like accommodation used to house ‘mental defectives’ as they were called.  Patients were permitted to move about freely in secure park like grounds.  Dormitories and private rooms were also set aside for accommodating the more violent patients rather than them being physically restrained in their accommodation with the rest of the patients.  The continuous screaming that tended to emanate from these rooms could also be contained to a certain extent.  

Aside from the new therapies that were being employed as Porirua, psychiatric treatment was still in its infancy in New Zealand with effective medications not yet developed.  The widespread use of electric shock treatment, now called ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) to control and pacify disruptive and violent patients was common practice.  A combination of gardening, physiotherapy in the form of physical drill, massage, isolation if required (straight-jackets, canvas mattresses, bed-strops) and electric shock treatment were considered the most effective means of treating soldiers admitted with shell shock in the 1920s and 30s.  

Ngawhatu Mental Asylum/Hospital, Nelson – c1950   Source: Nelson Photo News

Samuel Chase spent a total of 14 years in psychiatric ‘treatment’.  Overcrowding at the Porirua Mental Hospital in the 1930s necessitated some longer term patients being moved to other facilities around the country.  Sam was moved to the Ngawhatu Mental Asylum at Stoke in Nelson.   Ngawhatu Valley had been the site of St Mary’s Catholic orphanage for boys from 1886-1919.   The building of a new 500 bed asylum on the site, re-named the Ngawhatu Mental Hospital, had been completed and opened to accept patients in 1922.  The hospital filled quickly with patients, young and old, from the epileptic, psychotic to schizophrenic, all were housed in segregated male and female villas.  The Ngawhatu Psychiatric Hospital was finally closed amid controversial allegations of gross abuse, in 2000.

‘Airdrie’ Men’s villa – c1969.   Source: Nelson Photo News

‘Airdrie’ Men’s villa after the closure of Ngawhatu in 2000.   Source: Nelson Photo News

Arson at Ngawhatu Psychiatric Hospital, 2016 – expunging the ‘ghosts’ of Airdrie Men’s villa.  Source: www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/.

6/4594 Private Samuel Chase died at Ngawhatu Psychiatric Hospital on 16 August 1941 – alone and without family contact, far from his home and kin, in an unfamiliar part of New Zealand.  Sam was 68.  He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Catholic Section of the historic Whakapuaka Cemetery in Nelson – a tragic end for a New Zealand soldier who, but for a single medal, would have remained an anonymous victim of the First World War, to this day.

6/4594 Pte. Samuel Chase – 2Cant. Inf. Bn. ~ unmarked grave in Wakapuaka (RC) Cemetery, Nelson – 2018

Note: it is ironic that Samuel Chase’s grandmother, Naomi Paretuhara (Tutatea) Chase, had also been committed to an asylum but for different reasons.  Committal to an asylum for senility (senile dementia it is now known) was considered the norm at that time.  Naomi Chase died in 1899 at the Mount View Lunatic Asylum in Wellington, a facility set on 46 hectares in South Wellington above the Basin Reserve, the site now occupied by Government House.  Opened in 1873, it initially catered for 100 patients expanding to take 250 by 1905.  The Mt View Asylum closed in 1910 when the new Porirua Mental Asylum opened.

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Without knowing Samuel Chase’s fate, other than for his burial in Nelson, my search for his descendants started in Nelson.  Having an inkling of his heritage made me first consider a connection to the local iwi and marae in Nelson.  There had been a family of Chases who lived in Nelson during the 194os through to the early 1970s but no trace of them remained after that.  A quick check of the White Pages revealed four Chase telephone numbers – an American family relatively new to the Tasman area.

Now it was into the Electrol Rolls, BDM and family trees.  I first tried to trace Sam’s movements from his birth location in the Hawkes Bay.  As indicated earlier the difficulty with East Coast families and more so those of mixed race, is following the names they recorded in documents like Electoral Rolls, if they were even recorded at all?  English first names are frequently converted to their Maori equivalent – add to these a parental, iwi or hapu reference, and you could conceivably finish up with a name that is totally disassociated with the person you are attempting to trace.  Aside from this there is the proliferation of father, son and, grandson names which are exactly the same.  The persons who are most frequently able to provide a traceable line are the widows, mothers or sisters, particularly the first two whom tended to remain either with family or in a stable location until death.

Mary Chase, Sam’s mother was my guiding light.  After her husband left, Mary once in her home in Takapau never moved save for short periods during the Depression from which she always returned.  I had not bothered with Sam’s older sisters at this point but rather concentrated on him and his brother George as they featured reasonably frequently in the Rolls.  The Rolls and BDM confirmed the family I was looking for and from there I located two family trees associated with James Calvin Shaw Chase and wife Naomi Tutatea, Sam’s grandparents.  This led me to Sam’s father and his marriage to Mary Collins.  I was also able to list 18 of Naomi’s children however teasing these out would be a lengthy job so I focused on Sam’s siblings which would hopefully give me a close and direct descendant from him.

Of Sam’s six siblings, five including Sam had died without any offspring.  The only ‘live’ descendant lines were of  his two youngest sisters, Catherine Mary CHASE and Grace Taylor CHASE.  Catherine and Alex ROBB, a farmer, had four children: Annie Marguerite MACKIE and Catherine Mary (Molly) GLEESON were the only surviving families.  The Robb’s  two other sons, James (Jim) Alexander ROBB, a WW2 veteran, died a bachelor, and his brother Francis (Frank) Gordon ROBB, a farmer and carpenter, married but produced no children, and is also deceased.  

My options then were fairly clear-cut so I started with the family of Annie Mackie.  Annie was born in Waipawa (same as Sam), and her husband Robert (Bob) MACKIE, a farmer, at Tikokino – both had died in Napier, Bob in 1983 and Annie in 1991.  Seven children resulted from their union and after finding the graves of four, the first person whom I was able to confirm was still living was Annie and Bob’s sixth child, Roseanne (Rose) Marie Elizabeth MACKIE whom I located in a record of her marriage to Waituna West farmer Bernard (Bernie) John BOURKE.  Rose and Bernie, now retired, live in rural Manawatu-Rangatikei. 

One of the family trees I had consulted extensively was named to “Roseanne Bourke” and it was not until I located Rose’s marriage record that I connected the tree author as being the daughter of Annie and Robert Mackie, and therefore a descendant of Samuel Chase.  Rose (70) is Sam Chase’s great-niece, the youngest of three surviving Mackie children who are the direct descendants of Sam, through his sister Catherine Mary (Chase) and Alexander ROBB.   As the youngest Mackie sibling, Rose Bourke’s elders have agreed Rose is the most appropriate person to have guardianship of this taonga as she will also be the best placed family member to decide who will receive the medal when the time comes for it to be passed on to the next generation of the Bourke family.   

Footnote:  Whilst studying this Chase family’s ancestry I was delighted to find that Thomas Tame Te Hiraka Samuel Chase (#6 of James and Naomi’s 18) was the brother of Samuel Chase’s father Edward Eruera Chase, and therefore the great-grandfather of both my sons!

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I contacted an overwhelmed Rose with my findings and after proof of identity and ancestral connection, is now the proud owner of Sam Chase’s (cleaned) Victory Medal.  If only his British War Medal, 1914-18 could be found – can you help to locate this medal ?  If so, please contact us.

My thanks to Ron for sending the medal to MRNZ.  By your actions the medal has now become a precious and revered taonga that will serve to keep the memory of Samuel Chase alive, at least in the Bourke and Mackie famiies.

The reunited medal tally is now 211.

 

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