Although born in England in 1887, through his mother he was affiliated to Taranaki, Ngati Tama and Te Ati Awa and by marriage to the family of William Sefton Moorhouse of Canterbury. He went to Harrow Public School and briefly, Trinity College, Cambridge.
In 1909 he obtained his pilot’s licence and when war broke out he joined the Royal Flying Corps. He was the first aviator to be awarded the Victoria Cross. In a tragic counterpoint, his son William was killed in World War II during the Battle of Britain, shortly after being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The Truth newspaper on the 8 February 1913 reported:
Grim memories … were aroused in Christchurch when the local dailies printed this cablegram: London 29 January, W. H. R. Moorhouse, the aviator, was fined 20 pounds for criminal negligence. While motoring, he killed a farm labourer.
Moorhouse… is … William Barnard Rhodes Moorhouse, who started his sanguinary career … on 22 March 1907 when, 19 years of age, accidentally it was held, he killed a boy of seven … Frederick … Gourlay, on … New Brighton beach. He was making a … trial of his motor cycle … when the child was … bumped into the next world. Moorhouse … charged with manslaughter and committed for trial … was the son of wealthy … parents and the Grand Jury, acting up to the disgraceful traditions of grand juries in Christchurch, protected one of their own … and insulted the lower court by bringing in ‘no bill’. …. The police were prompt in laying a fresh information …. The magistrate [was] satisfied that there was a prima facie case …. At the August sittings of the Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Chapman devoted the greater part of his address to the Moorhouse manslaughter case ….
The Grand Jury brought in a true bill and the young man had to stand … trial like any common person although he had the best brains … that money could buy. Skerrett K. C. had with him barrister Wilding for the defence.
… The beach had been used, with the acquiescence of the New Brighton Borough Council, for … motor bike races …. A young man named Ritchie shot past with the speed of as meteorite escaping from its creditors and Moorhouse followed …. Gourlay, apparently transfixed with terror, was biffed into Kingdom Come. Lawyer Skerrett … let … loose in a remarkable address to the jury who were asked if … Moorhouse were to start his manhood with the brand of Cain on his brow which … would give his enemies … an opportunity to point him out as a convicted felon. Moorhouse … would some day take the responsibilities of a rich man …. If he had been a poor man’s son, it wouldn’t have been thought necessary to have proceeded with the charge against him …. The jury … returned a verdict of not guilty … “
Read more in Papers Past:
- Murder by motor, NZ Truth, 30 March 1907
- Grand Jury’s finding null, Star, 14 May 1907
- Victoria Cross hero, Evening Post, 13 November 1920
This post is by Richard Greenaway, local history expert at Christchurch City Libraries. He is always uncovering great stories from the early days of the city. This one is from early New Brighton.