John W? Audian Watts (1831 – 1862)

It was the odd length and the bars over this grave that made me take a closer look.  Makes one think that someone wanted to make sure he stayed in there – they were a superstitious lot back then – but even that madness wouldn’t explain the length.  I haven’t seen another grave like it and after some research I say it is a Mortsafe.  Mortsafes were contraptions designed to protect graves from disturbances such as body snatchers etc.

John W? Audian Watts was only 31 years old when he met his early death on the 14th January 1862.  He was in the company of other horsemen attempting to cross the Waiau River during a trip from Christchurch to Hanmer Springs.  As he was an excellent swimmer, I’m sure he made the crossing with all the confidence he needed.  What he didn’t bank on was the fact that it would be his horse that would let them both down.  They made it cross the waters fine but when it came to the climb up the river bank, the horse lost its footing and fell backward into the river.

John’s body was never recovered in spite of the efforts of those who witnessed the accident.  John was the first manager of the 8000 acre estate of St Helen’s in 1858, a farm that still graces the Amuri District today.  It sits a mile south of Hanmer Springs.  Its owner  at the time was the Count de Lapasture who was not only a well-liked land owner in the Amuri District but also in Christchurch, having a city based farm known as Springfield, now remembered in the naming of Springfield Road in Merivale.  Amuri’s Countess Stream is named after his wife Lilly who died during childbirth in her 26th year.

John also had a brother making his way in New Zealand.  Charles Fowell Willet Watts worked for The New Zealand Company as an Assistant Surveyor. During this time he met future Canterbury Surveyor Edward Jollie – memorialized in the naming of Jollies Pass –  who entrusted Charles with 400 sheep of his own when Charles started up his own farm in the Wairau Valley named Landsdowne.

John is buried at Hanmer Springs Cemetery.

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