Sunday, September 19, 2010

Another Public Trust mystery

The following extract from the Evening Post in 1924 explains a strange occurrence of missing but lucky Walter Neilson who after abandoning his family in New Zealand and roaming the world on ships and after being sunk four times in WW1 was found in England by a relative and inherited money to live out the rest of his life on.

But what is even more strange is that when I went looking for Catherine (Katherine) Lockhart Neilson's probate, it could not be found. Surely you must agree that it must exist somewhere? I have had a good look, have even phoned Public Trust in Wellington. Another researcher had a look as well but no record can be found. I think Public Trust are delinquent with our National Heritage. Please make me eat my words!

Evening Post 31/3/1924 CLAIM FOR INHERITANCE. That truth sometimes is indeed stranger than fiction was proven to a certain extent at the Supreme Court' on Saturday before his Honour the Chief Justice, Sir Robert Stout, when Walter Neilson, a seaman, Who has been absent from the Dominion for almost sixty years, applied to have revoked an order that had been made declaring him to be dead. This course was necessary to enable the applicant to claim an inheritance consisting of cash amounting to £4402 4s 2d in the common fund of the Public Trust Office and bearing interest at the rate of 5 per cent, per annum.

The applicant was represented by Mr G. G. (i. Watson, Mr. E. P. Hay appeared for Neilson's wife and family, and C. G. Rose watched proceedings on behalf of the Public Trust Trustee.

According to Mr. Rose, Catherine Lockart Neilson, of Wanganui, died on 12th June, 1905, and by her will she bequeathed the residue of her estate upon trust to pay the income to her four children, Christina Carey, Janet Hunter, Walter Neilson, and Bella Hall, in equal shares, provision being made for the children of any deceased child taking their parents' share-of the income. One of the children of the testatrix, named Walter Neilson, had at the. date of the will been absent from New Zealand for several years, and his whereabouts was unknown to the testatrix. He had left New Zealand for Melbourne, but thereafter could not be traced. 

He was a married, man, and had four children, who remained in New Zealand, and were now of full age. He was separated from his wife, and had never communicated with her or the children since leaving New Zealand in 1888. A sister had received letters from him up to October, 1855. Under these circumstances, the testatrix made special provision for her son, to the effect that if he had not communicated with her trustees within two years from her death, the son's share should be paid to two other daughters. 

In 1909, the trustees, not having heard from Walter Neilson, approached the Supreme Court for an interpretation" of the will, and as to whether they were to presume that he had died before the testatrix. On 24th April, 1909, the Court made an order that the death of Walter Neilson must be presumed from the expiration of seven years from the date he was lastheard of, and that he therefore must he presumed to have pre-deceased the testatrix. After this order was made, the Public Trustee became trustee of the estate. In 1918, however, a sister received a letter purporting to be from Walter Neilson, her brother, and recognised his handwriting. 

The discovery was somewhat novel in that a nephew named Walter Hunter, while on active service, met a man in England who claimed to be his uncle, and turned out to be Walter Neilson. Neilson had produced evidence as to his identity, and the Public Trustee was satisfied that a strong case was made out. The man was now a ship's cook in South Shields, Durham, England, and had not sufficient means to enable him to come out to New Zealand. In 1921, the Public Trustee approached the Court for directions as to whether he was justified in treating Neilson as being alive, and treating as cancelled'the order made in 1909 presuming him to be dead. The wife and children of the man would not admit the identity. 

On 12th April, 1921, an order was made authorising the Public Trustee, pending further order, to retain the share of the income which would belong to Walter Neilson if alive, and not to pay it to his'children. The Court also ordered that notice be sent to Neilson in England that if he wished to prosecute his claim and have the order made in 1909 presuming his death cancelled, he must instruct some person to take proceedings in the Supreme. Court. 

In 1922 a Westport solicitor who was in England interested himself, in the matter, and the present application before the Court was the result. By affidavit, Neilson had sworn in England, said Mr. Watson, that he was the son of the testatrix, being born at Wanganui in October, 1856. He was married at the Registry Office, Wanganui, and had four children, all residing in New Zealand. In 1887 he left New Zealand for Melbourne, then joined different boats trading on the Australian coast, then to Mexico and San Francisco. At the latter port he met a schoolmate of Wanganui, who had been informed that his people understood that Neilson was going to New Zealand. He left the vessel and worked ashore it Oakland for twelve months, after which he joined a sailing ship bound to France. He then followed a general seafaring life, touching at ports all over the world.

 From 1903 to 1910 he was on no fewer than 13 ships, and from that date until 1919 he served on 18 vessels. He had remarkable luck during the war in being survivor of four wrecks, namely, Rosalie (Sunk 12th August, 1915), Wilston (sunk 15th February, 1916), Hindustan (sunk 21st March, 1917), Annie Sofie (sunk 23rd July, 1918). In the affidavit Neilson described how he was eventually identified by his nephew while in hospital in England during the war. His Honour granted an order revoking the previous order of the Court presuming the man to be dead.

And in the Truth Newspaper


  1. I too cannot find a will, that of my great grandfather Frederick Wentworth Wade, who was a solicitor and barrister in Invercargill. Surely such people leave wills?! I feel certain there must have been one as I discovered from the will of his daughter in Sydney (my grandmother, one of several siblings) that she had owned a house and considerable investments. I reason Grandma must have inherited because she left the house to her son with life tenancy to her husband, and strict instructions that during his lifetime her husband was to maintain the house including rates and insurance payments, and was not to ask his son to pay for such maintenance.

  2. My husband's 52 years old now, we search for his father land paper to the property he once lived there before his father died. He know his father leave him the property.
    When my husband was 10 years old, was taken away by his aunty since his father died.
    We think, his aunty may of know something about the property awhile later, she died after my husband turn 16 years old.
    We decided to check with the local maori land court for the minutes. We came across his father probate file numbers.
    We ask at the local high court for a copy. We have had no luck we've told his father probate file number was no use.
    We didn't stop there, we decided to take a trip to Auckland Archives/Archway following week.
    Something or someone is not telling us.
    We have got no bite! Though, where to now from here?