Tuesday, 26 January 2021


Watery graves for two Mercury Bay residents

Watery graves awaited many Mercury Bay residents and visitors. Here are the stories of Alexander McKenzie and John Mains, two of the victims, as told by Informer contributor, Meghan Hawkes.

Alexander McKenzie - January 1875

It was time for a change for Alexander McKenzie. At the beginning of 1875 he had sold out of the Mercury Bay Hotel where he had been the lessee and now he was on his way to Napier and a new life. Around 7:00pm on a fine January evening he made his way along the river in a small skiff towards the schooner Kate McGregor to arrange his passage.

Suddenly those on board the schooner heard Alexander’s cries for help as the empty skiff floated past the stern. The ship’s mate immediately jumped into his own boat and desperately tried to reach Alexander, but there was a strong tide running out and Alexander was unable to swim. He sank before help could reach him.

The accident happened just opposite the Mercury Bay Sawmill Company’s wharf and several men - directed by William Meikle, the manager, and Captain Pierce of the Kate McGregor - tried to find Alexander until far into the night without success. An equally unsuccessful attempt was made the next day.

It seemed that Alexander, in getting alongside the schooner, had fallen between his boat and the ship. He was thought to have had £600 from the sale of the hotel and other valuables on him.

Alexander was universally respected for his unfailing courteousness and kindness. Quite a melancholy was cast over Mercury Bay which would not lift until his fate was known, but it never really was.

John Mains - November 1881

John Mains was clearly unwell in November 1881. He was at the Mercury Bay Mill insisting that certain people were pursuing him to take his life.

Constable Kelly was called but as soon as John caught sight of the policeman he ran into the sea, where he was captured and arrested.

Constable Kelly took advantage of the schooner Gem sailing for Auckland and with the assistance of a young man named Robert White, Constable Kelly secured John by handcuffing him to a chain on the vessel’s deck.

When off the Hole in the Wall, about nine miles from Mercury Bay, John said he was pleased to be going to Auckland, but asked to go below and change his wet clothes for some dry ones. After doing so, he was secured again and Constable Kelly turned to move some bags which were in the way.

Suddenly the captain of the schooner cried out, “Man overboard!” The prisoner was gone and a boot could just be seen as it disappeared under the water.

The schooner was promptly thrown into the wind and a boat lowered. The constable and two seamen jumped into it and rowed over the spot for nearly an hour and a half. No trace of John could be found and the boat had to return after an unsuccessful search.

The schooner then cruised the scene several times, but the wind was freshening and it was thought advisable to bear away on her voyage to Auckland. Inspection showed that the handcuffs were defective and had given way when John made a sudden, determined wrench.

Little was known of John Mains except that was a native of Konigsberg, Germany and at some stage had been to America. He was a recent arrival in Mercury Bay and had been rather eccentric in his actions.

Pictured: The Hole in the Wall (Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19050615-4-1).


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