Friday, 31 October 2014

Richard Clayton Strelley 1863-1897 Compound mistakes and a bit of bad luck.

My relative got it in his head that someone bumped this man  off for his money.

He was his great great grandfather, Richard Clayton Strelley 1863-1897 who had gone to the antipodes to follow up on a the family fortune and never returned. Being Australian I argued that arriving in WA and ending up in NZ would be unusual in the 1890s.  All that was remembered was that there was a gravestone in NZ- the receipt and photograph now lost.

I listened and felt that perhaps Richard left the family home and wanted to disappear. Perhaps there was eventually another lady  and possibly a family in NZ.   Besides his first wife wasn't exactly pining for him- she had married rather hastily.

While doing some research  I changed to an Australian rather than English version of a data base to check for records or shipping movements- Find My Then I looked up NZ Papers Past. Up popped a cemetery record which led me to shipping records. He arrived on SS Donglas  as a passenger  - Papers Past 27/1/1890  Hokimoana Arrivals in Auckland Star. He died aged 35  and was buried buried Block D  Row 10 Plot 064 at Purewa Cemetery Auckland. Cause of death was a  fractured skull- this is mysterious. Perhaps  he really was bumped off.

Sadly his gravestone was destroyed by vandals  a few years beforehand but the staff at  Purewa Cemetery Auckland kindly photographed the site.  Armed with a date it was decided to order the death certificate.

No luck- no-one of this name reported to the NZ Birth Deaths and Marriages. Nothing in the papers- only a probate packet (but not online) which required a personal visit. No other NZ records in his name.

After a year of wondering, I emailed NZ BDM and given we had an approximate date they were able to do a first name search. Ahh....... He was registered under SHELLY not STRELLEY. Three days later the certificate was emailed.

Now with a narrowed down date of death and the thought that details were perhaps incorrectly reported I did a vague search of Papers Past-  Anything SHELLEY, RICHARD or CLAYTON  and in it rolled......
  • A Funeral Notice for CLAYTON STRELLY
  • Several  accounts of a horse bolting and a man named RICHARD CLAYTON SKELLEY suffering a fractured skull
  • A page 2 article of the full details of a rescue attempt, names of those involved and time date and location. An extra bonus was his profession, employer and the fact he was a single man. 
  • That led to a Coroners Report for RICHARD CLAYTON SKELLY.
So off we are to order the photocopies of the coroners report and probate- someone paid for his gravestone  and someone wanted probate for a lowly store man.
Watch this space.

Tip of the Day

The "contact us" tab on the BDM site and the NZ Archives site allowed for personal contact and personal correspondence regarding my dilemma.  The Archives advised of their photocopying service (not advertised) and the BDM officer explained  the mistake in registration and what to do next.

Here's the article that appeared in the page 2 of the Wanganui Herald on  25/2/1897- and they pulled out all stops to help him.


  1. In another twist to this story the Probate shows Richard Clayton Strelley was "Otherwise known as Herbert Clayton Strelly". The estimated value of the Estate was 6/12/4 in cash, Cash in a savings account , 18/7/5 Clothing and efects 1/0/0 and Jewellery(the watch referred to in the inquest) 10/0/0 -35 pounds roughly in total. Strelley left no will.
    The next mystery is - who was the "Mrs Strelley" who put up the grave headstone (and supplied a now lost photograph) How did they find out he was dead?
    Has the money ever been claimed?
    The inquest pretty much tells the story as described in the newspaper article.
    In another cruel twist of fate his wife Elizabeth who had remarried in October 1896 gave birth to a son George Stanley Ward one day after Richard's death. The four children born of this second marriage all seem to have fallen off the face of the earth- no reocrds for immigartion , deaths or marriages have been found to date- but that wont stop me!!

    1. hi - i dont know if this blog is still read - but I am researching richard Clayton Strelley. I will get exact dates to add in, but RCS was my great great grandad. Basically, my great great great grandad (WARD) and his wife had a daughter - Lucy Ward. Lucy Ward worked as a domestic in a big house, and had a fling with one of the occupants - RCS. They had a son - JOhn Ward. However, RCS left to go to Australia (or maybe NZ) and Lucy followed him. Their son John Ward was bought up by his Grandparents in England. We dont know what happened to Lucy, and I wonder if the RCS you are talking about could be the same one as my ancestor? Also, is it a coincidence that there is a son born with the surname WARD? ( In another cruel twist of fate his wife Elizabeth who had remarried in October 1896 gave birth to a son George Stanley Ward). My mum presently has the family tree stuff but if i find out this blog is still being read i will add in dates and see if things match up.

      If Lucy and RCS had married, her surname would have changed to Strelley, and their son John would have been Strelley and not WARD, and right down the line as far as me, we would all have been Strelleys and not Wards. I have read that the Strelley name in Oakerthorpe died out, but actually there are still Strelley ancestors - its just that we got the wrong surname!

  2. Richard planned to go to Australia - Changed his mind and went to NZ? Arrives NZ on SS Donglas as passenger see Papers Past 27/1/1890 Hokimoana Arrivals in Auckland Star.
    Perhaps he went with Clayton Sommerville Strelley who travelled to Queensland, Australia and arrived Brisbane 1889 aged 24 on the "Jumna". He arrived 23/07/1889 Brisbane after leaving London 31/051889 . I had heard that Clayton would inherit from the Harris family if he would come to Australia and farm the land but refused to accept. Why then would he go Australia possibly with his cousin Richard? Looking for opportunities or just having a fling since his brother had received the old man’s money and he was presumably supported by him.

    This was around the time of the death of Joseph Strelley Harris in Western Australia- Dec 1889 William Edward Strelley Harris had been in England early 1890s too (not in 1891 census) but probably after Clayton and Richard left- according to Kevin Anderson he spent a substantial amount of the 1890s there sorting out the wills until he returned to Australia in 30/1/1897 after marrying Emily Jones in 1896. (My original theory was that Richard came to check out WA and found Joseph had just died so kept going to NZ) The timing is a bit tight and why would he leave for a more unknown place when he could have stepped into the farming role/land of opportunities in WA?)
    Clayton had returned by 1891 as he is in the census.

    This could be the link of who kept in touch with Richard until his death-Clayton his travel buddy.
    For what it is worth- Augustus Charles Gregory quite possibly lived in Brisbane near Toowong in 1889. He was the most famous of the explorer family. His brother Henry was married to Mary Harris and had daughter Elizabeth Gregory who inherited the Denby Hall. All were still alive except that Lucy (Strelley) Harris had just died in 1886.
    Clayton chose to go to Brisbane because of this connection?
    Interesting story – we will never know what was really going on with Richard Clayton Strelley.

  3. Another rumour was that Richard died within days of landing- he was a long term resident in NZ. I can just imagine the Strelleys having a little discussion saying things like “probably died within weeks of arriving from some tropical disease in a God forsaken colony” and it has become the family story.