Eliza Robinson had no idea what to think when loud screaming from the hallway made her look up from her cup of tea. She had been enjoying a hot drink with her daughters and house guest Patrick Campbell in the dining room, when, suddenly, her maid Margaret Burke burst into the room, stumbling down onto the carpet in a blood-curling panic.
Following her in a frightful rage was the butler, Simon Cedeno and he pursued Margaret to where she had tumbled to the floor. The bread-knife that was tightly grasped in his hand reflected a ray of light across the room before it was stabbed into Margaret’s back.
“You talk of my girl,” Simon spat as he withdrew the knife and plunged it back into the side of Margaret. As the maid wailed in pain, Eliza rose from her seat and calmly collected her daughters to her.
Patrick Campbell had already pulled Simon off Margaret saying: “You will kill her, you brute.”
“Yes, I kill,” Simon replied, struggling to get back to the dark deed he had set his mind on.
As Eliza herded her hysterical daughters from the dining room, Margaret had managed to get to her feet and take a few steps away. She fell down to the floor again and was soon dead.
Eliza, still keeping a calm head, approached Simon with her hand outstretched.
“Give me the knife, Cedeno,” she asked calmly.
The moment Simon looked at Eliza, meekness came over him. He stopped fighting and the rage seemed gone.
“I give you the knife,” he murmured as he handed over the bloody weapon.
The Robinson girls soon discovered the horror had not only occurred in the dining room – they found the other maid – who was also Margaret’s cousin – Catherine Glynn hiding in her room, bleeding from cuts to her face and chest. She had been attacked while washing the dishes and Cedeno believing her dead, moved on to Margaret.
Margaret and Catherine had an Irish playfulness about them and together, could be quite a handful. Eliza was sure they meant no real harm but poor Simon was really struggling to take them light heartedly. What seemed to have finally opened the flood gates was the news that Simon was in a courtship with a woman named Mary. The two maids teased him endlessly about it, saying she was not a real person and Simon was a liar. Why would a white girl marry a black man like him?
As the police wagon pulled away into Cambridge Terrace, Eliza must have mused at the thought of what her husband would think of all this when he got the news. William ‘Ready Money’ Robinson wasn’t the most popular man in town already and this kind of attention wasn’t going to help. Some of Simon’s words that had just been spoken were already rattling around her head.
“It is lucky for Ready Money that he gone[sic] with the bull, or I would have killed him too.”
“Ready Money” had indeed left that very morning for Cheviot, transporting a bull to their cattle station.
William ‘Ready Money’ Robertson had arrived in New Zealand from Australia in 1856 – already a very rich man. After a brief stint in Nelson and causing a stir with his wealth, he and his family returned to England. It was on the return journey to New Zealand in 1866 that Ready Money met Simon Cedeno in Panama. Liking the look of him and just because he could (knowing it would further create a stir) he offered Simon a job. Simon accepted and soon was employed as a butler at Ready Money’s mansion at his Cheviot Hills Station.
It wasn’t long after that when Simon asked to be released from his position. Simon told police after his arrest that he was verbally abused by Ready Money – embarrassing him at any opportunity. Ready Money refused to let Simon go as he was in debt for the ship fare to New Zealand and for the clothes bought for him.
By 1871 Simon was working in the town house rented by the Robinson’s in Christchurch. It was located at the corner of Canterbury Terrace (now Cambridge Terrace) and Montreal Street. Even though things were always tense for Simon, he got on well with Eliza Robinson; she had always been kind and treated him with respect.
After his arrest, Simon Cedeno found himself in jail at Market (Victoria) Square. Crowds gathered as Simon was transported back and forth between court and jail, and was always met with booing and hissing.
Extremely calm and quite at ease with the situation he was now in, Simon made no fight for his life. When he was being led out of the court on one of his appearances, he spotted Eliza Robinson in the public seats. He called out to her: “Goodbye Ma’am.”
Simon was found guilty of murder, attempted murder and a threat of murder and sentenced to hang. He was transported to Lyttelton Gaol.
On the 7th April 1871 at 8am, Simon was the 2nd man to be hung inside the prison walls. He died without a struggle and displayed the same calmness that had overtaken him the moment he had handed the knife to Eliza.
*image courtesy of L.A. Hildren – http://www.lahilden.com*