Case 32: The Newlands Baby Farmer (PART I)

NEWLANDS. WELLINGTON. In the 1800s to early 1920s, there was another, more controversial, type of farming going on, baby farming. Baby farming is the historical practice of accepting custody of an infant or child in exchange for payment. This was usually due to the child being born ‘illegitimate’ (meaning the child was born outside of a marriage, also known as bastardy) and the social stigma that it carried on the mother. 

Some baby farmers ‘adopted’ children for lump-sum payments, while others cared for infants for periodic payments. However, in the case of a lump-sum adoption, it was more profitable for the baby farmers if the child was no longer around, as the sum would not cover the care for the child for long. In these cases, the child was sometimes adopted out to other families, and in other cases, the child simply died due to unsanitary and subpar living conditions. However, finally and most sinister, occasionally the baby farmer would commit the most heinous of acts and murder the child; pocketing the adoption fee.

These acts came to light most infamously when English serial killer and baby farmer Amelia Dyer dubbed the Ogress of Reading was officially tried and hanged in 1896 for intentionally killing six children for profit but it is estimated the real number of child deaths she was responsible for was closer to 400.

New Zealand had its own baby farmer scandal late in the 1800s when Minnie Dean was tried and hanged for the murder of three children in 1895.

However, in the early 1920s, baby farming became a topic of controversy once more within NZ as a new scandal gripped the public. With headlines splattered over the NZ Truth newspaper such as “The Newlands Horror”, “A Gruesome Discovery” and “The Massacre of the Innocents”, the public was enraptured yet horrified with what was being uncovered. The case would go on to become one of NZ’s most discussed and pondered tragedies of the 1920s. This is the story of The Newlands Baby Farmer.

Visit www.truecrimenz.com for more information on this case including sources and credits.

Hosted by Jessica Rust

Written and edited by Sirius Rust

Music sourced from:

Day of Chaos” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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Clean Soul” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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Lithium” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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Dhaka” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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Sunset At Glengorm” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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Numinous Shine” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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Thunderbird” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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Echoes of Time” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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The podcast version is the intended way to consume this story but we make a transcript available for those that would rather read instead or cannot listen to the audio. This can be found below.

Case 32: The Newlands Baby Farmer (PART I)

DISCLAIMER:

This two-part series deals with violence against children.

NEWLANDS HISTORY

8.1 km north of the New Zealand capital of Wellington, you will find the area once called by Māori Papararangi (which translates in English to “cluster of hills”).

In 1840, 40 hectares of land were sold to the New Zealand Company. The area eventually became known as Newlands. The origins of the name are somewhat unknown, one theory was that the suburb was named after Thomas Newland who ran a company making glue and oil in the nearby Johnsonville suburb, another thought was the area was named Newlands simply (and appropriately) because it was “New Land”.

Nevertheless, Newlands became well-established as a farming district in the late 1800s and was mainly used to farm pigs and dairy. Newlands was the primary source of milk for all of Wellington by the early 1900s as well as selling animal products throughout the region from the Wellington Meat Export Company which was established in 1892, one of their best-selling items being sheep by-products, with the label reading “The contents of every tin guaranteed, no solder or acid used inside the can, thoroughly cool the can before opening, slice with a sharp knife, peach brand, sheep tongues”.

It was during this time, in the 1800s to early 1920s, there was another, more controversial, type of farming going on, baby farming. Baby farming is the historical practice of accepting custody of an infant or child in exchange for payment. This was usually due to the child being born ‘illegitimate’ (meaning the child was born outside of a marriage, also known as bastardy) and the social stigma that it carried on the mother. 

Some baby farmers ‘adopted’ children for lump-sum payments, while others cared for infants for periodic payments. However, in the case of a lump-sum adoption, it was more profitable for the baby farmers if the child was no longer around, as the sum would not cover the care for the child for long. In these cases, the child was sometimes adopted out to other families, and in other cases, the child simply died due to unsanitary and subpar living conditions. However, finally and most sinister, occasionally the baby farmer would commit the most heinous of acts and murder the child; pocketing the adoption fee.

These acts came to light most infamously when English serial killer and baby farmer Amelia Dyer dubbed the Ogress of Reading was officially tried and hanged in 1896 for intentionally killing six children for profit but it is estimated the real number of child deaths she was responsible for was closer to 400.

New Zealand had its own baby farmer scandal late in the 1800s when Minnie Dean was tried and hanged for the murder of three children in 1895 (see Case 6: Minnie Dean (DEATH PENALTY – PART II) of True Crime NZ for more information on that case).

However, in the early 1920s, baby farming became a topic of controversy once more within NZ as a new scandal gripped the public. With headlines splattered over the NZ Truth newspaper such as “The Newlands Horror”, “A Gruesome Discovery” and “The Massacre of the Innocents”, the public was enraptured yet horrified with what was being uncovered. The case would go on to become one of NZ’s most discussed and pondered tragedies of the 1920s. This is the story of The Newlands Baby Farmer.

DANIEL RICHARD COOPER

On the 18th of October 1881, in the tiny rural settlement of Otepopo (now called Herbert) in Otago, George James Cooper and his wife Jessie Elizabeth Ure gave birth to a son Daniel Richard Cooper, one of at least three children to the couple. 

Little is known about Daniel’s childhood years. We do know he learnt the building trade and travelled around New Zealand in his teen years. We also know that Daniel had a few run-ins with the law. In 1902, Daniel was residing in the South Island city of Oamaru when he was convicted of theft, the exact details (including what he stole and the severity) of this conviction are unknown. In 1905, Daniel was once again convicted of theft (the details are unknown, once more) in the North Island city of Palmerston North.

Sometime between 1905 and 1907, Daniel Cooper moved to a farm in Awamangu, an area on the South Island 67 km east of Gore, with his family. During this time, Daniel used his carpentry skills to build his neighbour a house. It was here that Daniel met the woman who would become his wife, the daughter of his neighbour, Marion Burns.

Daniel and Marion married on the 18th of December 1907 in Awamangu and eventually had two daughters together. To make a living, the couple ran a store in the area. At some point post-marriage, the Coopers moved to the North Island city of New Plymouth.

It was here that Daniel Cooper joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church, an Adventist Protestant Christian denominational church that has approximately 21 million members worldwide.  The Seventh-day Adventist Church differentiates itself from other Christian denominations by following the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars that observe Saturday as the seventh day, therefor their day of observance is on that day. The religion also believes in the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ, and that when humans die, they are brought back to life (Eternal life is only given to those who accept Jesus Christ as their saviour) and encourages vegetarianism/veganism due to animals being seen as sentient beings.

The Coopers lived in New Plymouth for almost a decade. Here, Daniel Cooper supported his family by becoming a book agent. The family eventually moved in 1916 to the South Island town of Gore.

Here in Gore, Daniel made strides into the medical field. He began selling a book in the region dubbed The Practical Guide to Good Health and invented and patented an inhaler for asthmatics which he sold around the country.

DEATH

In late 1916, while still living in Gore, Marion Cooper fell pregnant once more, this would be her and Daniel’s third child together. However, tragedy would strike on the 18th of July 1917 when Marion suddenly died, she was eight months pregnant. 

The official cause of death was pericarditis. Pericarditis is, according to Healthline, “… the inflammation of the pericardium, a thin, two-layered sac that surrounds your heart. The pericardium helps keep your heart in place inside the chest wall… The layers have a small amount of fluid between them to prevent friction when the heart beats. When the layers inflame, it can result in chest pain”.

Symptoms of pericarditis include fever, trouble breathing, heart palpitations and swelling in your feet, legs and ankles. Viruses are the most common cause of pericarditis but can be caused by other things such as radiation treatments, metabolic disorders and autoimmune conditions. 

Marion was being treated for a goitre (a swelling or enlargement of the thyroid gland) by her husband Daniel which he treated using mercuric iodine; a substance which is highly toxic and has been found to cause kidney damage and cause central nervous system effects.

Rumours circulated in the small town that Daniel Cooper poisoned his wife Marion. Neighbours and Marion’s family both noted that Marion was in good health, and showed no signs of ill health before her death. Furthermore, it was an open secret in the community that the marriage had been unhappy for a long time.

The rumours only intensified when Daniel Cooper would meet and become involved with a young lady, 12 years his junior, shortly after his wife’s death.

MARTHA ELIZABETH STEWART

In May 1917, the Stewart family made up of husband and wife David Stewart and Annie McKinney were living in Gore on their farm when a man by the name of Daniel Cooper walked into their lives. 

Daniel called into the Stewart farm to sell the medical book The Practical Guide to Good Health (this was a few months before his wife’s death in July 1917). It would seem that Daniel’s attention was drawn to Stewart’s 24-year-old daughter Martha Elizabeth Stewart. It is unclear when Daniel and Martha began a relationship, some say it was before his wife’s death, these affair rumours also fuelled the wife murder rumours that circulated about Daniel.

Whatever the truth is, Daniel Cooper and Martha Stewart married on the 2nd of January 1918 in Invercargill (less than six months after his first wife’s death)

The newly bestowed Coopers moved to the South Island’s second-largest city, Dunedin. Here, Daniel established a health specialist business; an illegal practice as Cooper had no medical licence or degree. It was here that rumours began swirling that Daniel ran an illegal abortion facility.

In the 1910s, abortion was illegal and carried extremely harsh penalties under the 1908 New Zealand Crimes Act which specifically states under sections 221 to 223

“221. Every one is liable to imprisonment with hard labour for life who, with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman or girl, whether with child or not, unlawfully administers to or causes to be taken by her any poison or other noxious thing, or unlawfully uses any instrument or other means whatsoever with the like intent. The woman or girl herself is not indictable under this section.”

“222. Every woman or girl is liable to seven years imprisonment with hard labour who, whether with child or not, unlawfully administers to herself, or permits to be administered to her, any poison or other noxious thing, or unlawfully uses on herself, or permits to be used on her, any instrument or other means whatsoever with intent to procure miscarriage.” 

“223. Every one is liable to three years imprisonment with hard labour who unlawfully supplies or procures any poison or other noxious thing, or any instrument or thing whatsoever, knowing that the same is intended to be unlawfully used or employed with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman or girl, whether with child or not. Every one who commits this offence after a previous conviction for a like offence is liable to imprisonment with hard labour for life.”

It was also during this time that Daniel began treating a 15-year-old girl for an abscess on her thigh. The girl stayed with the Coopers during her treatment and Daniel reportedly began a sexual relationship with her. 

Daniel Cooper was still a practising Seventh-day Adventist at this time, and when the church’s authorities heard about the affair, as well as the rumours about the abortion clinic, they expelled him from the fellowship.

MOVE TO WELLINGTON

In 1919, the Coopers, along with their daughters, moved to Wellington. They stayed in Island Bay with one of Daniel’s brothers while the Cooper’s house was being built. To make ends meet, Daniel did some carpentry work but the Coopers continued to run their specialist health business. The business provided products including ointments, hair restoration, face creams and illegal abortions.

Daniel’s method to induce miscarriage included ingesting a combination of chloroform, iodine, aloe, ergot, phosphate of iron, strychnine, quinine and water. Many of these substances are toxic to humans and in large amounts could kill a person.

If ingesting the ‘dark liquid’ failed to produce the intended result, the pregnant individual could go the surgical route. In these cases, Daniel would use his medical equipment including probes, forceps, sounds, douches, a stethoscope, specula and a speculum to induce a miscarriage forcibly. Daniel was paid anywhere from £5 to £15 for this service (approximately $500 and $1500, respectively, in 2022 finances). Abortion was a dangerous practice during this time and many women died either from ingesting toxic substances or from infection from surgical abortions. 

Daniel, his wife Martha and his two daughters eventually moved into their own house in Island Bay. The business continued to operate and make good money for the family, including still providing procedures to remove unwanted pregnancies. 

BEATRICE IRENE BEADLE

In October 1919, a woman by the name of Beatrice Irene Beadle began living with the Cooper family as their housemaid. Daniel had known Beatrice previously in Dunedin. Daniel and Beatrice began a sexual relationship during this time, reportedly with Daniel’s wife’s consent, Martha reportedly told Beatrice she had no objection to their ‘coupling’ as she was not well, although it was reported later in the NZ Truth newspaper that Martha used to cry to herself alone at night as her husband slept every night in a bed with his mistress. Beatrice Beadle fell pregnant soon after with Daniel’s child. 

Sometime in 1920, the whole Cooper clan, including Beatrice Beadle moved to a house on Adelaide Road in the Wellington suburb of Newtown. In late May 1920, a very pregnant Beatrice and Daniel travelled to Lyttelton in Christchurch. They visited a doctor before trekking to a midwife clinic run by a Lily Olson. Daniel and Beatrice registered with the clinic as Mr and Mrs Reed.

Two weeks later, in June 1920, Beatrice gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Soon after that, Daniel Cooper arranged to leave the child in Christchurch with Matilda Adams who had answered Daniel’s advertisement in the newspaper for “a kind person to take charge of a baby”.

Matilda asked Daniel if the woman who gave birth to the baby was married. She will be soon, he replied. Matilda accepted the offer to look after the baby for a fortnight at the rate of £6 and 12s a week (approximately $600 in 2022 currency). She asked Daniel what was the name of the boy and he replied “Call him Henry.

Daniel and Beatrice trekked back to Wellington. Soon after getting back to their Adelaide Road property, Daniel received a letter that the baby was not well. Daniel and Beatrice returned to Christchurch.

In Christchurch, Matilda informed them she could no longer look after the baby as she had a death in the family and furthermore, “… it was a cross baby”. Reportedly, baby Henry had been recently circumcised which accounted for his ‘cross’ behaviour.

Daniel paid Matilda her fortnight’s pay along with an extra one pound (approximately $100 today) saying, “There you are, you deserve credit. Take this pound”. Daniel and Beatrice picked up baby Henry and returned once more to Wellington. 

Upon returning, only two days later, Daniel informed Beatrice that he had found a good home for the baby and a lady would be picking up the child that afternoon. Beatrice said at a later date she left the house the afternoon the lady was coming to pick up the boy because she was greatly upset by the thought of him being adopted out, she also said, curiously, she never signed any documents for the baby to be adopted.

When she returned, the baby was gone, Beatrice asked Daniel what had happened and he told her, “The people had called. There was no need to worry. The child was all right, and the best thing had been done in the circumstances”. Beatrice never saw her son again.

MOVE TO NEWLANDS

In March 1921, the Cooper clan including Beatrice Beadle (who was pregnant once more with Daniel’s child) moved to a small farm in Newlands near Johnsonville on Newlands Road. At this property, the Coopers opened a rest care home for women and children.

Also around this time, Daniel opened an office for their health business on Lambton Quay in the middle of central Wellington which operated as a front for their illegal abortion business. 

In late October 1921, Beatrice Beadle visited Minnie King (a midwife) on Cuba Street under a pseudonym. She stayed with her for the rest of October and then on the 27th of November 1921, Beatrice gave birth to a second child. 

When the child was either 12 or 13 days old, sometime in early December 1921, Daniel Cooper and a woman by the name of Effie Adams (presumably a woman who was in Daniel’s employ) visited Beatrice at the Cuba Street property in the evening. They dressed the child and the threesome left the house.

The trio travelled to Johnsonville. Here, Daniel dropped off Beatrice reportedly because she was feeling unwell before continuing, in Beatrice’s words, “over the hill” to Newlands. 

Daniel and Effie walked up the hill together towards Newlands, Effie carrying the infant child. Partway up the hill, the twosome came to a fence. At this point, Daniel asked Effie to hand him the baby and told her there wasn’t far to go and that she should turn back as he wanted to go alone. Effie returned to Beatrice and together they returned to Wellington.

The next time Beatrice saw Daniel she asked what had happened to the baby. He told her that the baby was adopted by a person in Palmerston North and that it was a good home as the people were well off. He added, “he had fixed up everything all right”.

After this, Beatrice Beadle did not return to the Cooper’s Newlands farm but continued working for Daniel for approximately the next five months doing canvassing around Wellington before leaving his employment in May 1922.

She relocated to the Wellington suburb of Wadestown and found work as a domestic servant. She saw Daniel Cooper on occasion, he visited her in Wadestown with his wife sometime after. Beatrice Beadle said the purpose of the visit was, “They had found out where I was working and just came to see if I was all right and quite well, so they said”.

Beatrice Beadle only saw Daniel Cooper one more time after this meeting. She moved on with her life. According to public records, a 27-year-old Beatrice Beadle married a man, ten years her senior, by the name of Hugh Chant two years later in 1924 and became Beatrice Chant.

The twosome relocated to the Manawatu city of Whanganui sometime after. Beatrice remained married to her husband until his death in 1954 at 67 years old. Beatrice passed away 23 years later at the age of 79 in Whanganui, whether she had any other children post-1922 is unknown.

MARY MCLEOD

In February 1922, a woman by the name of Margaret McLeod (although known more commonly as Mary) walked into the office of Daniel Cooper’s Lampton Quay health specialist business. She was one month pregnant after a spontaneous tryst with a man named William Welsh sometime around the beginning of the year.

The details of this tryst were printed in the NZ Truth Newspaper on the 19th of May 1923 for the article Foul Deeds Will Rise, “[William] had intercourse with the girl the first night he met her, and the meeting was a casual one. He was friendly with her for about a week only”.

Standing in the health specialist’s office, uneasy and upset, Mary McLeod asked if there was anything they could do to help her. Daniel Cooper offered her a place to stay at his Newlands farm and said he could adopt the baby out once it was born. Daniel told her the cost of the adoption would be £50 (approximately $5,550 in 2022 money) which she should get William Welsh to pay. 

Mary McLeod, with no other options, trusted the man masquerading as a doctor and accepted Daniel Cooper’s proposition. 

Willam Welsh agreed to pay the money in instalments of £1 a week, as well as Mary’s brother agreeing to pay part of the total sum.

Mary moved to the Newlands farm on the 19th of August 1922 when she was seven months pregnant. Daniel charged her 15 shillings a week for the stay (approximately $87 in 2022)

Mary gave birth to a girl on the 12th of October 1922. Eight days later, on the 20th of October 1922, Daniel took charge of the baby girl and told Mary that a couple from Palmerston North was going to adopt the child.

Daniel Cooper took the baby and returned later empty-handed. He claimed, as he had done many times in the past, that the adoption went well and the girl was doing fine with her new family.

Mary McLeod, just like Beatrice Beadle before her, never saw her child again. Most likely, indeed, it is almost inevitable that was the last time that anybody saw Mary McLeod’s child… alive.

[END OF PART I]

SOURCES

Internet Articles
Crime.co.nz, The ‘Newlands Baby Farm Murders’, http://www.crime.co.nz/c-files.asp?ID=4880
Underground History, Foul deeds will rise – Daniel Cooper, baby farmer, http://undergroundhistory.blogspot.com/2015/06/foul-deeds-will-rise-daniel-cooper-baby.html
NZ History, Baby Farmers, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/baby-farmers/newlands-baby-farmers
Stuff.co.nz, Hated baby farmer last person to hang, https://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/capital-life/67020712/hated-baby-farmer-last-person-to-hang
Stuff.co.nz, Newlands Rd’s shady past, https://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/local-papers/the-wellingtonian/8188218/Newlands-Rds-shady-past
Te Ara, Story: Cooper, Daniel Richard and Cooper, Martha Elizabeth, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4c33/cooper-daniel-richard
Te Ara, Story: Abortion, https://teara.govt.nz/en/abortion/page-2
Healthline, All About Pericarditis, https://www.healthline.com/health/pericarditis
WikiTree, Beatrice Irene (Beadle) Chant (1897 – 1977), https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Beadle-618
Wikipedia, Seventh-day Adventist Church, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seventh-day_Adventist_Church
Wikipedia, Daniel Cooper (murderer), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Cooper_(murderer)
Wikipedia, Baby farming, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby_farming
Wikipedia, Legitimacy (family law), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legitimacy_(family_law)
Wikipedia, Amelia Dyer, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amelia_Dyer
Wikipedia, Abortion in New Zealand, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion_in_New_Zealand
Wikipedia, Newlands, Wellington, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newlands,_Wellington

Documents
University of Auckland, Early New Zealand Statutes, CRIMES. 1908, No. 32., http://www.enzs.auckland.ac.nz/docs/1908/1908C032.pdf

Newspapers
Papers Past, NZ Truth, A Sensational Sequel | Coopers to be Tried for Murder, 3 February 1923, Page 6, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTR19230203.2.37
Papers Past, NZ Truth, The Newlands Mystery | Coopers Charged with Murder, 10 February 1923, Page 5, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTR19230210.2.28
Papers Past, NZ Truth, The “Baby Farming” Case | Further Charges Against The Coopers, 24 February 1923, Page 6, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTR19230224.2.32
Papers Past, NZ Truth, Indicted for Murder | Newlands Alleged Baby Farmers Charged, 17 March 1923, Page 5, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTR19230317.2.20
Papers Past, NZ Truth, The Newlands Mystery | Cooper Again Another Abortion Charge, 24 March 1923, Page 5, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTR19230324.2.32
Papers Past, NZ Truth, The Newlands Mystery | Another Body Found, 31 March 1923, Page 6, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTR19230331.2.59
Papers Past, NZ Truth, The Newlands Mystery | Third Body Found, 7 April 1923, Page 6, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTR19230407.2.30
Papers Past, NZ Truth, The Alleged Baby-Farm | Coopers Again Before the Court, 28 April 1923, Page 5, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTR19230428.2.16
Papers Past, NZ Truth, Four Charges of Murder | Trail Opens on Monday, 12 May 1923, Page 5, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTR19230512.2.22.1
Papers Past, NZ Truth, “Foul Deeds Will Rise” | Coopers Tried for Murder, 19 May 1923, Page 5, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTR19230519.2.18
Papers Past, NZ Truth, “Death Pays All Debts” | The Newlands Horror, NZ Truth, 26 May 1923, Page 5, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTR19230526.2.17
Papers Past, NZ Truth, His Chances Narrowed Down | Cooper’s Appeal Dismissed, 2 June 1923, Page 7, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTR19230602.2.31
Papers Past, NZ Truth, Awaiting Execution | Daniel Cooper’s Last Days, 9 June 1923, Page 5, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTR19230609.2.26
Papers Past, NZ Truth, Cooper’s Confession | Hanged for Child Murder, 23 June 1923, Page 5, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZTR19230623.2.16
Papers Past, Hawera & Normanby Star, Cooper’s Confession |Guilt Admitted | Wife Exonerated, 16 June 1923, Page 11, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/HNS19230616.2.87

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