As She Lay Dying: An Arch Hill Mystery (1889)

The Arch Hill Mystery,” Marlborough Express 25.91 (17 Apr. 1889): 2.

The Arch Hill Mystery

A Charge of Murder. (United Press Association.) Auckland, [Tues.] April 16. Mary Ann Wilson, who reported she had been dangerously wounded by some person unknown while asleep at Arch Hill [on Friday 5 Apr.], died to-day [after having arrived at Auckland Hospital at 3.30 pm on Saturday, 6 Apr.]. In her dying depositions she accused Louis Pagit, a man with whom she had been living, with having committed the injuries, but said he made her promise not to tell. Pagit is already in custody and will be charged with murder.

Arch Hill Hotel on Gt Nth Rd

Early Life in Grey Lynn,” subtitled “The Arch Hill Hotel, and Tram Service along Great North Road.” 22 Feb. 2002.

The famous namesake of “Pagit,” Ephraim Pagit (1575?-1647), author of Heresiography; or a Description of the Hereticks and Sectaries of These Latter Times, &c. (1645), has as the epigraph to that text a passage from Matthew 7: 15:

Beware of false Prophets, which come to you in Sheepes clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.

The continuation is apt in the case of Mary Ann’s lover: “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” She lay folded in the embrace of sleep as the watcher sharpened his blade, and woke only long enough to whisper the tale soon lost to the longest sleep. We can only guess at the heresy that seized him: a fit of jealousy or madness, a grievance from his or their past, an abdication of humanity in the cause of some animal or angelic animus (or aitua). The fact that “he made her promise not to tell” suggests that he repented his heresy on her deathbed. Hmm. A cruel twist . . . to be followed by a twistier one: that the last thing she uttered was his execrable name was either a final curse or a blessing in disguise.

The affair became something of a cause célèbre. We learn elsewhere that his name was Payet, not Pagit, and that he came from “New Calidonia [sic]”—”not as a convict” he wanted known—hence the French surname (“Telegraphic: Auckland Murder Case,” Bay Of Plenty Times 16.2408 [18 Apr. 1889]: 2). Hugh Shortland, possibly a Crown-appointed solicitor, appeared on his behalf (Shortland, a “pretty specimen of the genus blackguard” according to the Marton Mercury, was two years later convicted and jailed for libelling a young woman upon whom he had intentions [qtd in “The Hugh Shortland Case,” NZ Observer 11.666 (3 October 1891): 4; see “The Charge Against Hugh Shortland,” NZ Observer 11.664 (19 September 1891): 3]).

Fuller details had emerged at three separate deposition hearings (16, 18, 26 Apr.) in the Te Aroha News (Arch Hill Tragedy. Death of the Woman. Dying Depositions” [16 Apr., publ. 20 Apr.], “Arch Hill Murder” [18 Apr., publ. 20 Apr.], “Statement of the Victim” [16 Apr., publ. 20 Apr.], and “The Murder Case. Payet Committed for Trial” [27 Apr., publ. 1 May]. Te Aroha News 6.361 [20 Apr. 1889]: 3, 5 and 6.364 [1 May 1889]: 4).

In “Arch Hill Tragedy” we hear about a deposition hearing at Mary Ann’s dying bed.

Auckland, April 16. It was stated in yesterday’s issue that a change for the worse was noticeable in the woman Mary Ann Wilson. . . . This morning still worse symptoms were observed, and Dr. Bell telegraphed to Inspector Broham to that effect, in order that her depositions might be taken. Inspector Broham at once despatched Detective Hughes in a cab to Mount Eden Gaol to bring to the Hospital Louis Payet. . . . A second cab containing Inspector Broham, Chief Detective Brown, Messrs J. P King and S. Y. Collins, justices, and Mr E. Rawson, clerk of the Court, started for the Hospital at 11.30 o’clock, where the accused and Hughes were in waiting. As the prisoner is a Frenchman, Di Davy was, sworn in as interpreter. Chief Detective Brown laid an information against Payet, and then Inspector Broham proceeded to question the woman, Mr Rawson writing down the depositions.

Her statement follows (“Statement of the Victim”):

Mary Ann Wilson deposed:— “I know the accused; I have known him to the best of my knowledge about three months. I have been living with him. I lived with him about two months. I have lived with him at Tupaki and Waikomiti. I remember Friday night, the 5th of this month. I left Auckland with him for Waikomiti about midnight. It must have been after 11 o’clock. The hotels were closed. I remember getting as far as Arch Hill. Both of us went into the bushes to have a rest when we got to Arch Hill [the area was still mostly in farm, having been let as such since at least 1855].

Looking East from Arch Hill towards Eden Terrace

James D. Richardson. Looking East from Arch Hill towards Eden Terrace. N.d. Auckland City Libraries, Heritage Images Online (4-4431).

I don’t know if it was midnight. I had had some drink, but was not so drunk as the accused, because he had a bottle of beer, and drank it all himself. When we were in the bushes together, I must have been asleep, as I do not remember what first took place. When I awoke I found him stretched on the top of me with a knife in his hand. I tried to prevent him getting at my throat and he dragged the knife through my hand. When he could not cut my throat he stabbed me there (pointing to her breast). He stabbed me on the right breast. I don’t think he stabbed me more than once. When he stabbed me I must have fainted, as I did not wake until the morning. I was groaning and moaning with pain when he awoke. It must have been early in the morning. I asked him to give me a drink of water and he did so. Then he broke down some ti-tree for me to lie on and wanted to go away and give himself up to the police, and I said, “Oh don’t leave me to die, you come to the Hospital with me.” He came to the Hospital with me. He went away very quick. I have previously stated I could not tell who stabbed me. The accused asked me not to tell, and I didn’t like to punish him. I didn’t provoke him in any way to use this violence to me. He was saying something while he was on the top of me, but I could not tell what it was. I have marks on my neck and hands from the injuries I received. He pushed me down on the Wednesday before the Friday. I remember getting the letter (marked A) from the accused. . . . I can’t tell what became of the knife.” Cross examined by the accused: “You did do what I have stated you did. No one else was present but you and I.” This was signed by mark, Mary Ann Wilson [because she was apparently too weak to sign], and witnessed. . . . As [Payet] left the room when the woman finished her deposition he turned round to her and said, “God bless you,” and then asked, “Are you very bad?”

So, Payet stabs her, falls asleep, nurses her on waking and, after suggesting that he wants to give himself up, takes her to the hospital, asking that she keep his secret. Later, when he is in Mount Eden Gaol, he writes to her (the letter is quoted along with her statement), his tone at once self-exculpatory and sheepish, solicitous even:

Dear Mary Ann,— l was greatly surprised and grieved to find that I am charged with a wilful act against you, which I would be the last to think of doing, and of which I have not the slightest idea or recollection, and if done by me must have been a pure accident. I am very anxious to hear that you are mending or to know just how you are getting on, and till I do hear from you I shall be very uneasy about you in remembrance of the old times when we were happy together. This matter is in your hands now and the police will, of course, try to make it out as done wilfully, but you know that I was too fond of you to let anyone do it, much less to do it myself. When you receive this, please let me have an answer how you are getting on, and send full particulars. I am remanded till next week (Monday). I hope to see you before very Iong if all goes well.— l remain, yours affectionately, Louis Payet.”

A drunken fugue: not a “wilful act,” but one out of character and mind—assault by accident? The wolf repents.

Mary Ann expires upon giving her statement (“Death of the Woman”):

[A]s the party were leaving the Hospital Dr. Beale came after them, and stated that the woman had fallen back dead. While she was making her statement she was interrupted by fits of coughing at intervals, otherwise she did not appear near death to a casual observer. When it became necessary for her to affix her mark to the document she was so weak that Inspector Broham rendered her some assistance. As soon as the business was done and the party had retired another fit of coughing set in and the woman died almost immediately, most probably from hemmorage [sic] of the lungs. When the woman was first admitted, Dr. Bell expressed the opinion that the lung had been punctured, and this has no doubt been the case.

The next day another depositions hearing was convened at the Hospital mortuary, the evidence being taken by the Coroner, Dr. [Thomas Moore] Philson, Inspector Broham examining the witnesses on behalf of the police and Hugh Shortland representing Payet (“Arch Hill Murder”). We find out more about the days before and after the assault:

Richard Walsh, assistant bailiff at the R.M. Court, Auckland, deposed to having met the deceased on Saturday, the 6th of April. He noticed that her cloak was covered with blood. Payet was in her company. Witness asked her by whom she had been stabbed. She said she die not know. Witness next asked, “Is that the man who stabbed you?” and pointed at Payet. She again said that she did not know. She said that the wound was still bleeding. Witness told her to rest while he went for a doctor. Payet said that there was no cause to bring a doctor, as the woman was going to the Hospital, and she said, “I can’t get as far as the Hospital.” Witness told Payot to let the woman rest and he would bring a doctor. Witness then telephoned to the police and went over to the residence of Dr. Lewis. When he returned he saw Payet and deceased crossing the Cemetery Bridge. Patrick Long, licensee of the Arch Hill Hotel [on the southern corner of Great North Road and Tuarangi Road at what is now the Surrey Crescent shops (the ASB Bank is on the northern corner); built in the early 1880s], deposed to seeing Payet and deceased together on Friday, the 5th of this month, when they were at his hotel. That was about 8 o’clock in the morning. They had a glass of beer each. He never saw the woman after they left. On the Saturday morning Payet came for a bottle of water about 9 o’clock [a whole day later? They must have spent that day in town]. Did not say what it was for. Witness said to him, “I thought you were going up to Hendersons Mill yesterday!” He replied “So I was, but she would not go with me.” He said something about having no money. He then went out, and witness did not see him again. He seemed drowsy-looking at the time. Payet told witness on Saturday morning that he and the old woman had slept out in Surrey Hills [later “Grey Lynn”] that night.

Arch Hill Hotel

The Arch Hill Hotel. “Appendix 11: Design Guidelines for Traditional Town Centres.” City of Auckland District PlanIsthmus SectionOperative 1999. 10 Sep. 2008. A6.

By Mr Shortland: He did not see any blood on the man’s hands and clothing. Witness did give Payet a glass of beer, as he had slept out. There was nothing suspicious about Payet’s manner.

Dr. Thomas Bell deposed that he was House Surgeon at the Auckland Hospital. Deceased was admitted at 3.30 o’clock on Saturday, April 6th. She was brought by Constable Kelly, and was accompanied by Payet. She did not look particularly bad. She was pale and weak, and complained of pain in her chest. He noticed that her clothes were covered with blood. She was undressed and put to bed. An examination showed that there was a punctured wound beneath the right breast an inch long, and penetrating between the ribs. The wound seemed to have been inflicted by a pointed instrument with a sharp edge. She said she had been stabbed, bub she did not know by whom, or with what instrument [later she “remembers”]. She also had wounds on her right hand. The palms of both hands were abraded, and she had several scratches on her throat, as well as her face being bruised in one or two places. Deceased’s clothing was handed over to Detective Hughes. The ulster had a gash in it corresponding to the wound in the chest. Deceased was attended by Dr. [Edward Duncan Montgomerie] Mackellar [onetime Medical Officer, i.e. Surgical Resident, successor to  Philson, who was incapacitated as a surgeon by a surgical infection], who handed her over to Dr. Davy on Tuesday morning, as she was rapidly growing worse. She died later on the same day at noon. Witness had made a post mortem examination of her body that day (April 17th). He found that the wound had passed between the fifth and sixth ribs on the right side, through the lower margin of the right lung. The lung was gangrenous and breaking down. The heart was not injured. He considered the cause of death was the penetrating wound in the chest, resulting in septicaemea [bacterial infection] and acute pyaemia [blood poisoning].

By Mr Shortland: The wound might have been inflicted either standing up or lying down. If a man wanted to murder a woman he should think he would not stab her on the right side. Such a wound might have been self-inflicted.

It would be difficult for a right-handed attacker to stab his victim in the right side (especially if lying on them face-to-face)—but easier for the victim to stab herself (but what about the defensive wounds on her right hand, then)?

Dr. E. D. Mackellar deposed to having attended the woman and witnessed the post mortem examination. He corroborated the testimony of Dr. Bell. He should think that the wound was not self-inflicted. The cause of death was blood poisoning resulting from the wound in the chest. Death was the result of the wound.

By Mr Shortland: Deceased told witness that she had been stabbed while lying down, but she did not know by whom.

Dr. T. G. Davy deposed to having attended deceased on the day of her death. He found her collapsed and syncoped. She was in great distress and struggling for breath. She was in fact dying, but perfectly conscious. She lived an hour and twenty minutes after he saw her. Witness had just left the ward when Dr. Bell came down and said she had died. Witness was present at the post mortem examination. He corroborated the statements made by Dr. Bell. He considered the cause of death was the being stabbed in the chest with a dirty knife, which resulted in septic matter being introduced into the lung. That accounted for the morbid appearance found.

Other witnesses are examined, exhibits presented, and the scene described.

William Thomas, aged 19, deposed that he resided at Avondale. He knew deceased and Payet by sight. Had known Payet for about six months. They used to live at Waikomiti [Waikumete]. Payet was gum digging. The two of them were at the store on Wednesday, April 3rd. The woman wanted to come into the shop, and Payet would not allow her. She did come in and he then put her out, and she fell on the bricks in front of the shop. They went away together.

Richard Denniston, aged 10 years, deposed that he lived with his father at Arch Hill. He saw the deceased in the plantation last Saturday week, near the Arch Hill Hotel. That was about 12 o’clock. He had shown Detective Hughes where he saw her.

Chief Detective C. T. Brown produced the clothing worn by Payet at the time he was brought to the Police station. Witness pointed out blood on Payet’s hat. Payet said to him in the detectives’ office that “She (deceased) was lying on that.” Payet’s shirt also had blood on the wrists. Prisoner said to him that he went for a bottle of water to wash deceased’s face, and in doing that he got blood on his shirt. There were bloodstains on the trousers, and prisoner said, “I got that blood on as I was lying on the grass beside her.” He led witness to believe that the bloodstains on his clothing came there innocently.

Detective Hughes deposed that he examined the grass at Arch Hill where the deceased was said to have been lying. He found clots of blood on the ground and also on the stem of some ti-tree on which she had been lying. He also produced the clothing worn by deceased at the time, and showed the marks of the knife passing through all.

Constable Kelly deposed to accompanying the deceased to the Hospital and arresting Payet. Witness charged him with having stabbed the deceased. He said, “I did not do it.”

After a retirement of about 15 minutes the jury returned a verdict of “Wilful murder against Louis Payet.”

(I’m assuming that this means that it was decided the case against Payet should proceed to court.) After the following evidence given on 26 April, Payet is committed for trial at the Supreme Court (“The Murder Case”):

Michael Foley, licensee of the Avondale Hotel at Avondale, deposed to knowing the accused and the woman Wilson. He only saw them once. He saw them on the Wednesday before the alleged assault, i.e., 3rd instant. They were at his hotel between 10 and 11 o’clock, where they had a couple of glasses of beer each. The woman left the hotel and the accused a little before her. He returned and asked witness if he had seen his wife. Witness replied that he had not. Prisoner searched tor her, but could not find her. Accused gave witness a parcel to take charge of. This parcel he handed over to Detective Hughes. He saw the prisoner cutting tobacco in the bar with a clasp knife. It was a very long knife with a long blade.Constable Kenny, stationed at Auckland, deposed to knowing the accused and the accused woman. He remembered being on duty at the comer of Pitt and Greystreets about 20 minutes to 12 on the night of the 8th inst. He heard a woman’s voice screaming down Grey-street. He went down to see what was up, and he saw the deceased sitting on the footpath and the prisoner trying to get her along. Witness asked what was the matter. Prisoner replied that he was trying to get Mary Ann home, as she was living as his wife with him at Waikomiti. He said she had a drop of drink in her and wanted to stay in town. Payet was quite sober, but the deceased was rather under the influence of liquor, but was able to walk. Witness told her that if she did not get up out of that he would take her to the lock-up. She replied, “I do not care whether you do or not; you can lock me up if you like.” Prisoner said, “Oh, no; do not lock her up; she is able to walk home with me.” She said, “He is very nice before you: but when he gets me home he knocks me about and does all sorts of things, and he will do for me one of these days.” Witness asked the woman why he used her in such a manner and she said she did not know. Prisoner said, “Oh, I never knock her about; she is a very good woman.” She replied, “You are a coward and scoundrel.” She shortly afterwards got up and walked away.

William Kelly, mounted constable stationed in Auckland, deposed to arresting the prisoner at the Hospital on the 6th instant about a quarter past four, on a charge of stabbing Mary Ann Wilson. When the charge was read to him the prisoner said, “I did not do it.” He identified the clothes produced as being those of the prisoner. Constable Kenny was recalled, and at the request of Mr Shortland the Bench asked him if he saw the deceased after death. Witness replied that he had not. Counsel said that he could not therefore identify her with the woman he saw on the night in Grey-street.

Charles Brown, chief detective stationed at Auckland, deposed to finding bloodstains on the prisoner’s clothes, giving the same evidence as adduced at the inquest. Edward Hughes, detective stationed at Auckland, gave similar evidence to that given by him at the inquest.

Inspector Broham put in the dying depositions of the woman Wilson taken at the Hospital and already published in our columns, with this closing the case.

Prisoner reserved his defence beyond saying that he was innocent of the charge. He was committed to take his trial at the next criminal sittings of the Supreme Court.

The sequel, according to the Evening Post (“The Suspicious Death at Archhill,” Evening Post 37.143 [18 June 1889]: 2): on 17 June, at the Supreme Court, Payet is acquited of (wo)manslaughter (Judge Gillies sitting [Evening Post 37.136 (10 June 1889): 3], Mr Tole appearing for Payet). (Oddly, the Ashburton Guardian reports that “Paget” was acquited of murder, but convicted of (wo)manslaughter; see “Supreme Court,” Ashburton Guardian 7.2147 [13 June 1889]: 2.) Mary Ann’s “evidence, taken before her death, was not admitted as a deposition, but was put in merely as a dying declaration.” Payet walks—and perhaps Mary Ann now walks abroad on the Hill.

As revenant she is a dusky cloak upon the door—an absence like widow’s weeds, untimely uprooted by the hand of her paramour, widowed by his timely death.


One thought on “As She Lay Dying: An Arch Hill Mystery (1889)

  1. Pingback: Now/then « Te Ipu Pakore

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