Friday, November 30, 2012

Curtis family and sad story of Rita Nicoll

James Frederick Curtis and his wife Ellen Alice Neale (1852 - 1891) were the natural parents of Christopher Stanley Slater.  I believe that the information I have received is probably correct, in that Stanley was born around 1890 and his mother, Ellen died in 1891, and that probably James was unable to care for the infant, especially with other children to care for.  I've had a look to see if I can find out more about the family, but can't see how they came to New Zealand.  I believe that James and Ellen had the following children in addition to Stanley:

1.  Rose Beatrice Curtis (1880 - 1909) married Willie Brunton Nicoll (1879 - 1959) in 1901.  During their brief marriage, Rose and Willie had a number of children:
  1.1 Willie James Herbert Nicoll (1901 - 1955).  Willie married Hilda May Lavinia Batt in 1926.

  1.2 Harold Leonard Frederick Nicoll (1902 - 1964).  Harold married Dorothy Cecil Vorback (22 February 1906 - 1987) in 1929.

  1.3 Rita Violet Ellen Nicoll (1904 -1923).  Rita died early, aged just 18 years.  It appears that she sadly died as the result of a botched abortion, in the days before abortion was legal in New Zealand.  The NZ Truth published this report about the Depositions hearing with respect to the two men charged with her murder - her boyfriend Thomas Viggars, and Richard Hollis - on 26 May 1923:

Two Youths Committed For Trial
The extraordinary interest taken throughout Marlborough in the pitiful death of the pretty young girl, Rita Violet Ellen Nicoll, who died recently at the Wairau Hospital from the effects, of an alleged illegal operation, was well exemplified, when in the presence of a crowded Court room.
Magistrate T. E. Maunsell committed for trial on the capital charge of murder, two young men alleged to have been concerned in the girl's death. These were Richard Hollis who is alleged to have performed the illegal operation and Thomas Viggars, a well known Blenheim youth, against whom it is alleged that he procured Hollis to perform the alleged criminal act.
The two young men were originally arrested on the charges mentioned above, but after the inquest on the dead girl fresh informations were sworn and they were apprehended for murder.
When the case came before the Magistrate Crown Prosecutor C. H. Mills was granted formal permission to withdraw the original charges, and the accused were then charged on two counts — first, murder of the girl Nicoll on May 7 (the date of her death), and, second, with using an instrument with intent to procure a miscarriage.
Mr. A. C. Nathan appeared on behalf of the accused Viggars, while Mr. C. T. Smith appeared for Hollis.
Viggars's counsel objected to BOTH THE CHARGES BEING HEARD AT ONCE, claiming that, evidence relevant to one charge would not necessarily be relevant to the other, and after some argument the Crown agreed to take the murder change first and to be guided by circumstances as to whether the second count should be proceeded with.
The Crown Prosecutor opened the case with a brief review of the evidence to be submitted, his statement roughly traversing the evidence adduced at the Coroner's inquest, and then proceeded to call his witnesses who were quickly disposed of, the defence not asking a single question, though counsel for both accused raised plenty of objections to the admission of a great deal of the evidence, principally on the grounds that it was not in accord with the law of evidence and also on the ground that what might be evidence against one accused was not necessarily evidence against the other.
Vincent Henry Dodson, a farmer residing at Spring Creek, said the late Rita Nicoll was employed by him as a domestic servant for 16 months. She left witness's employment on Saturday, April 21, at about 6.15 p.m. and caught the train to Blenheim. Her health then appeared to be quite all right. Witness said he knew the accused Viggars and had often seen him at the gate in company with the deceased girl. Viggars usually arrived on a motor cycle and the pair were in the habit of going away together on the machine. The girl started going with Viggars about three months after she entered witness's employ, and after that she went with no one else. Deceased left witness's employ of her own free will, having given a week's notice. As to her behavior, she was "THE BEST GIRL WE EVER HAD."
Mrs. Wilhelmina Bagby, an aunt of the deceased girl, said she resided in Eltham Road, Blenheim. The girl was just on 19 years of age.
Witness gave evidence as to the girl's illness on the lines of her statement at the recent inquest.
Witness said the girl appeared to be in quite good health until witness saw her in bed about 7.30 on the Tuesday morning (April 22) when witness, after a talk with the girl, decided to call in Dr. Russell Adams. However, when the doctor arrived the girl declined to allow him to examine her. The girl was up all day on Wednesday until 8.30 p.m., but was very ill. During the night witness was called by her little girl and went to see Rita and found her in terrible pain and in a very serious condition. She was taken to the Wairau Hospital.
Witness said she knew the accused Viggars, who was introduced to her by her niece eight or nine months ago. She had seen the girl in company with Viggars on a motor cycle. Witness identified three photographs of the girl, which were produced by the prosecution.
Dr. Julian, medical superintendent at Wairau Hospital, gave evidence on the lines of his statement to the Coroner, regarding the admission of the girl to the hospital, her condition when she arrived, her treatment there, and her death" on May 7. He asked Dr. Russell Adams to consult with him on the case. On the following morning witness considered the girl's condition hopeless and about 9.55 a.m. had a conversation with her. Witness told her that she was dying and she replied that she knew she was dying.
Mr. Nathan challenged this as "hearsay" evidence, but Mr. Mills argued that the evidence was permissible as showing that the girl knew she was in a dying condition. Proceeding, witness related that the girl said SHE KNEW SHE WAS DYING and had no hope of recovery. Witness asked her if she knew she was pregnant.
In reply to the Bench, witness said he was satisfied from her demeanor that she knew she was dying.
Witness proceeded that the girl replied that she knew she had been pregnant. He asked her if an instrument had been used.
Mr. Nathan again objected to this evidence and his Worship said he would note the objection to the whole of the conversation between witness and deceased, but he would admit the evidence.
Witness said the girl replied to him that an instrument had been used. He asked her by whom and she replied, "Hollis." He asked her Hollis's Christian name and she said she did not know. He asked her where the Instrument was used and she replied "High Street." He asked her whereabouts in High Street and she did not answer. He then asked her. "Was it in Hollis's butcher's shop?" (belonging to accused's brother) and she said "yes." He asked her when the instrument was used and she replied "on the Monday evening" immediately prior to her admission to the hospital. Witness asked her who took her there and she said, "my boy, Viggars." Her mind at the time was perfectly clear. Witness proceeded that he communicated with Senior-Sergeant Clarkson on the telephone.
What did you tell him? — That the girl's condition was hopeless in my opinion. Anything further? — He said he would get a Justice and come up.
What time was that conversation? Just prior to my conversation with Miss Nicoll. It would be about 10 minutes to 10.
Shortly after that did Senior Sergeant Clarkson come to the hospital? - About half an hour after.
Accompanied by whom? A Justice of the Peace, Mr. Hill; the Clerk of the Court: a man whom I understood to be Hollis; a policeman, and others.
Well, you were present when the party arrived ?- Yes.
Was a statement obtained at that stage, from the deceased?— Yes.
By whom?— Mr. Hill, the Justice of the Peace.
Mr. Mills then asked that witness stand down till tbe Registrar of the Supreme Court in whose custody it is, formally produced the deposition made by the girl.
This' was done, the Registrar, Mr. A. F. Bent, deposing that he was present when a deposition was made by Rita Nicoll to Mr. Hill, J.P., and was handed to witness as Registrar. Witness proceeded to read the deposition, and Mr. Nathan asked that his formal objection to the admissability of this evidence be noted.
Witness said each of the accused had the opportunity to cross-examine the girl if they had desired to do so.
The evidence of Dr. Julian was then resumed. He was handed the deposition, which he read. He said that it was the statement made by Rita Nicoll on May 4 in his presence. At that time she was dangerously ill, but capable of understanding what was said to her. She lingered on until May 7. After the death an examination was held at which he was present. Witness described injuries which could have been caused by some perforating instrument more or less pointed or rounded. The cause of death was septic pneumonia due to puerperal infection caused by a surgically dirty instrument used by an unskilled person. Septic pneumonia, he added, was a complication which might follow any septic infection.
To the Bench: An unskilled person could cause a miscarriage at four months* pregnancy without endangering life, but would require to know of one or two small points.
Dr. R. Noble Adams gave evidence as to the post mortem, which he performed on the body of the girl. There were external signs of acute septic infection. Witness corroborated Dr. Julian's evidence as to injuries to the girl. In witness's opinion the injuries must have been caused by some more or less sharp instrument, probably straight. They conld not have been caused by any. surgical instruments m common usage. The cause of death was pneumonia arising from an acute septic infection primarily caused by the use of some unsterilisecl instrument.
Dr. Russell Adams deposed that he was called to Mrs. Bagbys house on April 25 to see Miss Rita Nicoll. The girl was in bed, but witness did not make an examination because the girl DID NOT WISH TO SEE HIM at all. Subsequently, on May 3 witness was called into consultation on the case by Dr. Julian at the Wairau Hospital. Witness examined the girl, who was suffering in witness's opinion, from puerperal septicaemia and secondary pneumonia. She was, in a very critical state. Witness was satisfied that the treatment being accorded her was correct. From the examination which he made witness formed the opinion that the primary cause of the septicaemia was abortion.
Edward Johnston Hill, a Justice of the Peace, gave evidence that on May 4 at the request of Senior-Sergeant Clarkson he accompanied the Sergeant to the hospital to take a deposition. They met Dr. Julian in the corridor and, in reply to a question by the Sergeant, the doctor said, "It is a hopeless case."
Mr. Nathan objected to this answer, but his Worship, ruling that the Justice must be satisfied as to the deponent's condition, overruled the objection, though he noted it.
Witness proceeded that he was aware when he went to the hospital that he was to take a deposition in regard to an information which had been laid, and he was quite satisfied when he had seen her that the girl was able and willing to give evidence. Witness was also satisfied that it would have been impossible to have taken her evidence in open Court in the ordinary manner, for from her condition as described by the doctor, he was of opinion that she might have died at any moment. He felt sure of this. The Senior-Sergeant administered the oath to the girl. Miss Nicoll could only articulate "yes" or "no" to questions put to her by the Sergeant. She made no straightout statement herself, except that she said, onn one occasion, "yes, my boy, Tommy." Witness said he personally wrote the statement in the form of a deposition. It was the statement previously read in Court. After writing the statement it was read over by witness to the girl and to the two accused. Both accused were invited to ask the girl any question and Hollis replied: "No; I don't want to upset her." Viggars simply said, "No."'
Witness added that VIGGARS WAS NOT PRESENT at the time the deposition was written and signed, but he was present just after the girl put her mark on the document as signature and it was read over to him and he was asked if he had any questions and replied, "No."
Hollis was not represented by counsel, though witness had tried to get in touch with Mr. Smith.
Witness said he took Viggars to the bedside and said: "Rita, do you recognise this young man standing here?" She replied: "Yes, that's my boy, Tommy." Witness said: "Tommy who?" and she said: "Tommy Viggars." On going into the room, witness said to the girl, "Rita, I have brought a Justice to obtain a statement from you as to the cause of your illness," and she replied, in a low voice, "Yes." She was quite rational and appeared to understand all that was said and all that was going on.
Replying to a question by the Bench, witness said the girl had the pen in her fingers to make her mark or signature, but MR. HILL GUIDED HER HAND. Constable Canning, on relieving duty in Blenheim, gave evidence that he was present at the hospital when the girl's depositions were taken. Later in the day witness was on duty on the street and Viggars approached him and said: "I have been round to the police station to report, but the Sergeant is not there. If I report to you, will that do?" Witness replied, "Yes." Viggars then said: "I did not like the look of the girl to-day." Witness replied: "No; no more do I.'! Viggars then asked: "How will I be getting on?" Witness said: "From what I hear, you asked Hollis to do the job." Viggars replied: "He did not want much asking. I am sorry for the girl."
Constable Doggett, in charge of the Picton district and police gaoler at Picton, said Hollis had been in his custody since May 4. At about 2 p.m. on May 8 Hollis asked witness if he had heard HOW THE GIRL NICOLL WAS GETTING ON. Mr. Nathan objected to any of this evidence being taken as regards Viggars. The Crown Solicitor said Mr. Nathan could rest assured that this evidence did not affect Viggars. Mr. Nathans objection was noted.
Witness said he told Hollis he was in a position to tell him how the girl was, but that it was his duty to warn him that anything he might say might be used in evidence against him. He replied: "Yes; I understand." Witness then told him the girl had died the previous morning. He simply said, "Ahem!" A little later he said: "I expect that will make it worse." Witness said: "It's a wonder you got implicated in this matter at all,” and he replied: "Yes; it's a wonder to me and to everyone else."
This concluded the evidence.
Neither of the counsel for the accused addressed the Court.
His Worship said he took it that so far as Viggars was concerned, the Crown proposed to ask the jury to find that he ought to have known better than to take part in an action likely to cause death.
Mr. Mills: That is so, your Worship.
His Worship said that so far as Hollis was concerned, he had some doubt as to whether a murder charge would lie, but no doubt the Supreme Court would direct the Jury in the matter.
Both accused, who reserved their defence and who were not asked to plead, as it was a murder charge, were committed for trial at the Supreme Court sessions to be held, in Blenheim on June 5.
Viggars was admitted to bail in his own recognizance of £200 and two approved sureties of £500 each.
There was no application for bail for Hollis.

Papers such as the Auckland Star reported, on 7 June 1923, that both Thomas Viggars and Richard Hollis had been convicted in the Supreme Court, on a lesser charge of manslaughter of Rita:

(By Telegraph.—Press Association.)
BLENHEIM, this day.
After a trial extending over two days of Richard Arthur Thomas Hollis and Thomas Whiston Viggars, on charges arising out of the recent death of Rita Violet Ellen Nicoll, a young woman who died in Wairau Hospital after the effects of an illegal operation, the jury returned a verdict of guilty against both accused, with a recommendation for leniency in the case of Viggars.
Hollis, who had a previous conviction for a similar offence, was sentenced to seven years' hard labour, and Viggars to eighteen months' hard labour. The two accused men were committed from the Lower Court on a charge of murder, but the Grand Jury threw out the bill on the murder charge, and returned a true bill charging accused with manslaughter.
Sir John Salmond said he could not accept the plea ofViggars counsel for probation, and must impose imprisonment as a salutary warning to the young man. However, he perfectly agreed to the recommendations of the jury towards leniency, and he thought eighteen months would meet the case.

Rose and Willie's fourth child was only 12 months old when they separated, and he became the subject of proceedings:

  1.4 Augustus Cecil Neale "Cecil" Nicoll (1905 - October 1943, Marlborough)

The following article appeared in the 19 September 1908 edition of the Marlborough Express:

Yesterday afternoon, Mr T. Scott- Smith, S.M., heard a case brought by Rose Nicoll against her husband, Willie Nicoll, for maintenance of his child aged 12 months.
Mr McNab, who appeared for the husband, applied for a separation order, and also asked for the custody of the child, on the ground that the wife had deserted the defendant and had been away from him since 28th January last.
Counsel for plaintiff said his client would agree to a separation order; provided she were allowed the custody of the child. The child was only 12 months old. If defendant would not agree he (counsel) was not prepared to go on with the information for separation, as it had only just been served. The question was whether the husband had failed to provide adequate maintenance for the child. The wife was not asking anything for herself.
Mr McNab said the wife had left her husband in 1906, and on the 12th May, 1907, he had taken her back. Later on there was a disturbance, and the wife again cleared out, taking the child with her. There were three other children of the marriage who had been left with the husband and he had to keep them. He was only a working man and he would be better able to keep the youngest child along with the others.
Counsel for plaintiff suggested that an order be made for the maintenance of the child, the money to be paid to the Clerk of the Court; such order could be varied at any time if the money were not being properly applied. He did not wish to claim any large amount. No evidence was called, and after counsel had discussed the matter conversationally an agreement was come to in the following terms: — The separation order was granted, the husband to pay 4s per week in monthly instalments towards the maintenance of child, no mention being made as to the custody in the meantime; an order also to be made allowing the husband the custody of the three children at present in his care. His Worship accordingly made the orders in accordance with the agreement arrived at.

Accordingly, Cecil obviously stayed in Rose's care while the other children stayed with their father.  Later Rose had a child, but the father was not recorded:
  Eileen Mabel Curtis Nicoll (1909 - 1909).  This baby died at the age of just seven weeks.  
Probably as a result of the birth, Rose also died in 1909.  I think, following Rose's death, Cecil was probably returned to his father's care.

In 1921 Willie Brunton Nicoll married Susannah Maber.   

2. Harold Sidney Curtis (1886 - 1965) married Esther Knapp (1886) in Palmerston North in July 1905.  However, by March 1906 they had been granted a separation order and later in 1906 there is reference to him not obeying an order of the Court to maintain his wife.  

Article image

They were divorced in May 1919:

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Harold then married Charlotte Alvina Hardy (1892 - 1952)in 1920.  Harold and Esther had at least two daughters:

   2.1 Leah Ellen Curtis (1905).  Leah married Charles James Harrison (8 December 1900 - 1982) in 1927.
   2.2 Vera Curtis (1907 - 1956).  Vera married Frederick Ralph Lewis in 1928.

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