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  De Castro Story - The Connecting Families

The Connecting Families

  1. The Knox family

  De Castro Story - The Connecting Families - The Knox family

The Knox family

Little is currently known about the Knox family before or after it arrived in New Zealand.

It is known that the family were of Scottish origin and that in a number of references to Frederick Knox it is mentioned that he was a demonstrator in Anatomy for his brother Dr John Knox in Edinburgh before he came out.

The following story from the book GREAT CRIMES by H.R.F Keating is of interest as it deals with Frederick Knox's brother John.


In Great Britain in the early nineteenth century medical science was beginning to take strides forward, particularly in surgery, and nowhere more so than in the city of Edinburgh. There medical students abounded, and they needed dead bodies to disect in order to learn their profesion. But no provision had been made in law to secure them. So there came into being the grisly trade of the resurrectionist, thieves who robbed new graves in obscure graveyards and sold the bodies to the anatomy schools with few questions asked. Perhaps the most prominent of the Edinburgh anatomy lecturers at that time was the savagely brilliant Dr Robert Knox whose clases were attended by as many as 500 worshipping students. They made in consequence heavy demands for cadavers. So when one night three of Knox's asistants were approached by a pair of shifty Irishmen with a corpse for sale a bargain was quickly struck. The chief asistant William Ferguson, later to be knighted for his work as a surgeon said to them "We would be glad to see you again" The Irishmen were William Hare, keeper of a three pence -a-night, three-to-a-bed flop house, and William Burke, one of the inmates. The corpse they had sold was that of an old man who had died in the house. But the other residents and transients remained obstinately alive, thus depriving Burke and Hare of the 10 pound sums they saw as money from heaven. So eventually they began advancing the proces of nature by smothering likely customers(hence the verb 'to Burke' meaning to smother or hush up an isue or affair.

Mostly the victims were old and easy prey. But on one occasion they picked on a young prostitute of remarkable beauty, one Mary Paterson. When they brought her body to Dr Knox's lecture room the future Sir William Ferguson recognised the girl as one to whom he had made paid love. But he kept silent and even lent a pair of scisors to cut off her striking hair to be sold.

Nor was that the last occasion when Ferguson had to stifle, or Burke, pangs of conscience. Another of the cadavers brought in was that of a well known Edinburgh beggar called Daft Jamie, who from going shoeles had particularly recognisable feet. His family began making enquiries, so the future Sir William hastily amputated the telltale parts and disected them to anonymity.

But at last Burke and Hare were caught, thanks to an inquisitiveguest at the lodging house investigating a pile of straw and finding under it a body. It was difficult, however, to obtain proof that the men had actually committed the murders, and so it was arranged that Hare could turn King's Evidence and Burke be the only one charged with the deaths of Madge or Margery M'Gonigal or Duffie or Campbell or Docherty and two others.

The trial was an extra ordinary affair, a hugger mugger black farce hard to rival. It took place in a small room with no particular facilities and, beginning on Christmas Eve lasted all through the night with the judges, the Lord Justice Clerk and Lords Pitmally, Meadowbank and Mackenzie taking coffee on the bench and Edinburgh's most distinguished members of the Bar defending without fee. Neither Dr Knox nor William Ferguson was called as a witnes.

Burke was hanged on 28 January 1829, and by order of that hugger-mugger court his body was disected in its turn. His skin, tanned,was sold at one shilling a square inch and from it tobacco-pouches were made. His skeleton was presented to the Edinburgh Anatomical Museum. Hare fled to England under a new name. And if William Ferguson went on to respectability, Dr Knox did not. The Edinburgh urchins chanted:

"Burke's the Butcher,
Hare's the thief,
Knox the boy that buys the beef."

He (Knox) resumed his lectures but attendance's grew les and les,and eventually he left for England. He was last heard of as a showman with a travelling group of american Indians

From this tale it should not present any great difficulty in tracing some detail of the early Knox family.

ARRIVAL. Knox family came out on Martha Ridgway which sailed from England on 8th July and arrived in Wellington on 4/11/1840. The ages of the parents were not given however those of the children were given as follows:

On the ship there were 80 couples, 19 single men,17 single woman 47 boys under 14, 34 girls under 14, 2 children under 1. There were 6 births and 5 deaths.

Dr Frederick Knox had purchased a land entitlement from the New Zealand Coy and on arrival his ballot was no 76 which entitled him to a section in Willis Street.

There are references to Knox in the book EARLY WELLINGTON. One in where various streets are mentioned refers to Molesworth Street, the bottom portion of this was originally called Charlotte Street.

Mention is made on page 73, "MacMorrans Schools and Schoolmasters of Early Wellington" of

Richard Barrett's whare, at the corner of Charlotte Street and the Quay.The old whare, which cost the Institute Committee 30 pounds was used as a school conducted by Mr J.H.Rule, who at his own expense erected a giant stride for the use of his pupils. Doubtles this old whare, which housed Dr Knox's library and was used as a church, etc., was a grog shop before Barrett purchased the framed house belonging to Dr Evans, and converted it into the principal hotel.

From this we can asume that Dr Knox at one time had a library and it will be worth following this up in time with the Turnbull to see if they know what happened to this collection.

In EARLY WELLINGTON mention is made on page 460 of F.J.Knox an infant who died in 1847 This was posibly the young boy aged 3 who came out with the family. In Carman's book on Tawa there is mention made of a daughter who is not on the pasenger list marrying Waring Taylor

Recent contact has been made with a descendant of the Knox family that married William Waring Taylor. It is hoped that this contact will supply detail that can be used here to cover the Knox family.

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