New Brighton beach used to host motorcycle racing. On 22 March 1907 a tragedy marred the racing. The motorcyclist involved was William Barnard Rhodes Moorhouse who had an interesting bicultural heritage and went on to become the first airman to win a Victoria Cross in World War I. A daredevil with motorbikes, cars and planes, the New Brighton crash wasn’t the only fatality he was involved in. The NZ Truth newspaper reports reflect the attitudes and language of the time:
In a 1913 story headlined “A curious cable”:
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 speed 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 ….
At the time of the accident, NZ truth had written:
Moorhouse is a beardless youth who isn’t long out of the Old Country and is related to Dr. Moorhouse, the well-known Christchurch medico …. The doctor went bail for the youngster …The father of the deceased … Arthur Lansdown Gourlay … is a draper’s assistant …. He admitted in the box … that Moorhouse had acted in a sympathetic and honourable manner…. from which it may be inferred that the parents of the deceased have been compensated for their sad loss.
William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse (1887-1915) was the grandson of the fabulously wealthy William Barnard Rhodes (1807-78), one of the pioneer Rhodes brothers. His grandmother was Maori woman, Otahi. William’s mother, Mary Anne Rhodes, fought for her inheritance and became one of the richest women in New Zealand. W. B. Rhodes had married Sarah Ann Moorhouse and, in 1883, Mary Anne married her stepmother’s brother, Edward. Mary Anne and her husband went to England where their children were born.
William spent most of his life in England. He was a pioneer aviator and, in World War I, joined the Royal Flying Corps. He was wounded by ground fire when dropping his 45 kg bomb on a railway junction in Belgium. He limped back, coming under further ground fire. He reached his base, landed, insisted on making his report, was removed to hospital and died.
- ‘A curious cable’, NZ truth, 8 February 1913
- ‘Dancing in the sky’, Maori television broadcast, 25 April 2011
- Harper, Glyn, In the face of the enemy, 2006
- McLintock, A. H., An encyclopaedia of New Zealand, 1966
- ‘Murder by motor’, NZ truth, 30 March 1907 p 6
- ‘Personal pars’, NZ truth, 13 April 1907 p 1
- Rice, Geoffrey, Heaton Rhodes of Otahuna, 2001
- William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse Wikipedia entry
The library has some great photographs of New Brighton capturing its life as one of New Zealand’s premier seaside suburbs, full of life and character. New Brighton residents have been good at recording their local history and the place has inspired novels and biographies.
This information came from Richard Greenaway – an expert on the local history of Christchurch. Some of you might have been on one of his fascinating cemetery tours. He has an eye for a good story and the skill and patience to check and cross check all kinds of references. He has compiled a wonderful array of New Brighton stories.