Dannevirke: Cemetery stories unearthed on walk

By Christine McKay -
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Visitors inspect the family burial plot of the Ransom family. Photo/Christine McKay.
Visitors inspect the family burial plot of the Ransom family. Photo/Christine McKay.

There was a record turnout for a Sunday walk through Dannevirke's historic Settlers Cemetery, where the secrets from the graves were revealed.

The cemetery was established in 1882, across the road from our town's original school and not far from the Lutheran church, Pat Mills, president of the Gallery of History, told visitors.

"This area was the heart of the town, until the railway came through and the town moved to where it is today," Miss Mills said. More than 800 people are interred at the cemetery, 160 of them children under the age of 12 months.

Not all have marked graves.

"Underneath where we are standing are the bones of the dead," Miss Mills said.

One of the tragic stories recalled by Miss Mills was the deaths of the four Younghusband children, two girls and two boys.

Clarice Joy Younghusband died on May 19, 1898, just after celebrating her second birthday; her sister Gladys Enid died on October 23, 1892, aged 18 months.

"The deaths of the two girls weren't notified in the Bush Advocate at the time but their burials are recorded on council records," Miss Mills said. "But it's puzzling why there were death notices for the two Younghusband boys, but there is no record of their burial at the cemetery."

Cyril, Frank and Ada Younghusband's youngest son, died in May 1892, at 18 months, followed less than a year later by his brother Roland, who died in February 1893, aged 6 months. Frank and Ada Younghusband had married in Levin on March 31, 1886 and moved to Dannevirke in 1888. Frank purchased the Corner Store in the town on November 1, 1890, from Mr RE Rasmussen and the couple lived there for 11 years.

In September 1891, Frank erected a larger store adjoining the Masonic Hotel opposite the Corner Store, selling drapery, clothing, groceries, hardware, crockery and shoes.

But all was not well in the household, and in 1899 Frank deserted Ada and left town. On August 16, 1904, Ada filed for a divorce at the Palmerston North Court on the grounds of desertion and ill-treatment.

Frank later married Adela Roche and the couple had three children, before separating in 1917. Frank died in 1921, aged 56, and Adela passed away in Auckland in 1969, on her 91st birthday.

The tragic death of 18-year-old Joyce Ransom on the Allardice St railway crossing in 1923 saw the council of the day put a man on the crossing to announce the arrival of the train from Waipukurau. Miss Mills said she had no idea how long this continued.

"Joyce was the daughter of Sir Alfred Ransom, the MP for Pahiatua at the time. She was travelling in a car driven by 19-year-old Grace Mexted, when the 9.35am train from Waipukurau arrived at the crossing," Miss Mills explained. "They were driving with a car load of pot plants for the hockey sale being held in town, and it appears there was an error of judgment or brake failure. Miss Ransom jumped from the car and was hit by the train, which carried on 55 yards up the track.

"Miss Mexted clambered out of the debris of the car and walked back to the crossing, where she collapsed at the sight of her friend." Witnesses said the train driver had blown his whistle and both the train and car were going slowly.

Joyce is buried in the Ransom family grave, along with other members of the family, including the youngest family member, Pearl, who died in 1902, aged 13 days. "Sadly, vandals have destroyed the impressive angel which topped this family burial place," Miss Mills said.

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