Located in Wellington’s Karori cemetery is the long-forgotten grave of John Henry Jerred, Assistant Defence Storekeeper, who died on 20 December 1902. John Henry Jerred had served in Government service for twenty-two years from 1880 as a Police Constable, Engineer on Torpedo Boats, and as a storekeeper in the Defence Stores. However, losing a leg while in the Police had adversely affected his ability to gain life insurance, join a Friendly Society, or earn a fair wage leaving his family financially unprepared for his early death. Such was the standing and high esteem of John Jerred that his friends erected a fitting memorial to John’s life. Sadly, now in disrepair, John Jerred’s graveside and the life he had lived has long been forgotten. Thanks to the keen eyes of members of the NZ Remembrance Army, John Jerred’s resting place has been rediscovered and is on the path to refurbishment.
Born in London in 1860, John was an engineer by profession and arrived in New Zealand around 1879 and commenced his career in Wellington.
Joining the Armed Constabulary on 1 February 1880, John undertook the required initial training and settled into the Depot Routine at the Armed Constabulary’s Mount Cook Depot in Wellington. In September 1880, John was one of many Armed Constabulary men sent to Ripapa Island in Lyttelton Harbour as guards for 160 Māori from Parihaka.
Ripapa Island was briefly utilised as a quarantine station with purpose-built accommodation for over 300 immigrants. However, with the more spacious Quail Island designated a quarantine station in 1875, Ripapa’s barracks were devoid of purpose until the government found a use for it as a prison for Māori Ploughmen that had been imprisoned without trial due to the Parihaka Māori settlement’s passive resistance campaign against the surveying and selling off its land by the government, which led to the 1881 Parihaka invasion.
Each guard was issued with a Snyder repeating rifle with 40 rounds of ball ammunition and an Adams revolver with 18 Rounds. A typical guard shift was for 24 hours, starting at 9 am. Daily routine allowed the prisoners out of their barracks for recreation from 9 am to 1 pm, and following lunch, from 2 pm to 6 pm, after dinner, they secured their prisoners in their barracks for the night. The guards were on shifts throughout the night to ensure that two were always awake. Following relief at 9 am, the old guard unloaded the streamer from Lyttleton of provisions and coal before cleaning their weapons and standing down for the rest of the day.
He was completing such a shift on 10 December 1880 when before standing down, John cleaned his revolver. On completion of cleaning his revolver, he reloaded it. However, he noticed a spot on the chamber that he had missed in his exhausted state, which he then cleaned and distracted with tiredness, accidentally discharged the revolver into his leg, shattering the thigh bone.
Admitted to Christchurch hospital, the leg was set. It was expected that after a period of recovery, Jonh might keep his leg with only a limp to remind him of the accident. Unable to return to full duty, John remained on light duties and, in July 1881, was posted to Wellington, where he took up duties as a librarian. However, John’s recovery was not going well, and in November 1881, he was admitted to Wellington hospital, with the only option being the amputation of his leg on 13 November. Now permanently disabled, John returned to his role as a librarian.
From the late 1870s, New Zealand had been under the spectre of incursion by Russia into the Southern Seas prompting what has become known as the Russia Scare. Cognisant of the potential threat, the New Zealand Government decided to construct fortifications and purchase torpedo boats to protect the harbours at Auckland, Wellington, Lyttleton and Port Chalmers. With Torpedo boats ordered and due for delivery in 1884, John’s skills as an Engineer became useful. On 17 May 1883, he was attested as an Artificer in the Permanent militia, taking charge of the machinery of the torpedo boats allocated to Wellington.
With the torpedo boats used on alternative weekends by the Wellington and Petone Naval volunteers, John could not remain on the torpedo boats when they took to the sea for their weekend exercises due to not holding the correct certification. To rectify this and increase his utility, John sat and passed the examination on 8 October 1883, gaining the required certification.
To service the construction of fortifications on the then remote Miramar peninsula, the Defence Department purchased the motor launch the SS Ellen Balance in 1885, with Jarred placed in charge of its engines in November 1885. However, with the ongoing maintenance of the Torpedo boats proving troublesome, John was put back in charge of them in January 1886.
The Torpedo Boat SS Waitemata had been transferred to Auckland in 1885 and required an experienced engineer to keep it operational, so Jarred was transferred to Auckland on 20 April 1886 to take charge of the SS Waitemata. On 4 August 1886, John was attested for three more years’ service in the Permanent Militia.
Auckland’s climate was favourable for Jarred, but his time in Auckland was short, and in May 1887, he was recalled to Wellington to take charge of the Defence vessel SS Isabel as the Engineer & Stoker.
In 1887, John married Mary Ann Bell, and they had two children, Ida Isabel, born in 1888 and Harold Vincent, born 1 December 1894.
Despite John’s experience as an engineer, he was considered because of his disability, a liability. In a cost reduction exercise typical of the Defence Department, John was dismissed from the service under a scheme of only keeping physically able men employed on 22 February 1888. This dismissal did not sit well with John. He appealed the decision highlighting that the savings made in dismissing him were negated because it cost more to employ civilian engineers to fill the void left by his dismissal. John’s appeals, although supported by many, were unsuccessful in reversing his dismissal. However, he has offered the caretaker position for the Ministerial Residence on Tinakori Road in Wellington in compensation.
Returning to the employ of the Defence Department on 9 December 1889, John was appointed as Arms Cleaner in the Defence Stores. Under the Defence Storekeeper, Captain Sam Anderson, John was not utilised as an Arms Cleaner but was employed in Clerical and General Store Work. On the death of William Warren, one of the Defence Stores Storeman on 28 January 1894, John was appointed as Acting Storeman.
On 28 September 1899, the New Zealand Premier’ King Dick’ Seddon offered to the Imperial Government in London, in the event of war with the Boer Republics, the services of a contingent of Mounted Infantry for service in South Africa. The offer was accepted, and when war broke out on 11 October 1899, New Zealand was swept up in a wave of patriotic fervour. This mobilisation pushed the Defence Stores Department to its limits as it equipped the New Zealand Contingents to the war in South Africa. From 6 to 21 October 1899, under the direct supervision of the Under-Secretary for Defence, Sir Arthur Percy Douglas, the Defence Storekeeper Captain Anderson and his small staff spent up to 16 hours daily receiving, recording, branding and then dispatching all manner of essential items to the assembled Contingent at Karori Camp.
The Defence Stores were located at the Military reserve in Wellingtons Mount Cook, then known as Alexandra Barracks. The Stores buildings were old and not fit for purpose as they leaked and were cold and draughty. The hours worked by the Defence Stores Staff and the poor infrastructure took it’s toll on the Staff of the Defence Stores.
On 7 December 1899, the Defence Storekeeper, Captain Sam Anderson, suddenly died. This was at a critical time as the Defence Stores Department, which after years of neglect, was at breaking point due to the mobilisation. Captain James O’Sullivan, a long-time and experienced member of the Defence Stores, succeeded Anderson as acting Defence Storekeeper.
Anderson’s Death was followed by the death of the Assistant Defence Storekeeper, Mr Thomas Henry Sewell, in June 1900. John replaced Sewell.
With further contingents sent to South Africa, the pace of work at the Defence Stores did not lessen. Despite his disability, John had a robust constitution. Still, the strain of long hours and a poor working environment took a toll on his system, leading to an attack of acute pneumonia, and after four days of illness, John died on 20 December 1902 at the age of forty-six.
John’s death was unfortunate for his family and placed them in a dire financial position. Having lost one of his legs, John was ineligible for life insurance and could not join a Friendly Society. His salary was so small that it prevented him from making adequate provisions for his family’s future. To make ends meet, Mary attempted to find work but illness and hospitalisation requiring surgery incapacitated her further. Some relief was found when she partitioned the Premier and the House of Representatives for assistance on two occasions. Her petitions were supported by John’s long service and supporting statements from prominent Defence Department and Government members. The Under Secretary of Defence stated to the House that John “was highly valued as a most efficient Clerk and thoroughly zealous and painstaking officer by his immediate superiors.” Also assisting Mary in her petitions were several articles in the press that highlighted the poor working conditions in the Defence Stores and how those poor conditions had contributed to the poor health of many of the Defence Stores staff. Mary’s petitions were successful, and she was granted two grants, each of €50 (2021 NZ$9,319.35).
Considering John’s service, when Mary decided to relocate her family to Woolston in Christchurch in 1903, the Minister of Railways covered the expenses for her household removal from Wellington to Christchurch.
A wide circle of friends deeply regretted John’s death. As a tribute to their departed friend, they covered the costs of erecting a memorial stone at John’s grave in the Karori Cemetery.
Copyright © Robert McKie 2021