Caption: Alice's childhood home, which still exists in Tikikino. Credit: Jennie O'Loughlin
A sensational event which rocked quiet Napier occurred in 1915 when a shooting death occurred over what was a complicated romance.
Alice May Parkinson, a 25-year-old waitress at the Albion Hotel, got on board the Napier to Hastings train on March 1 and went to ironmongers Henry Williams & Sons in Heretaunga St West and purchased an inexpensive Belgian 7mm Pinfare pocket revolver and a box of 50 cartridges.
The next day she loaded the pistol and waited around 6.30pm for 21-year-old Walter Albert West (Bert) on a vacant section which was thick with willow trees on the corner of Latham St (southern side) and Nelson Cres.
Bert, with friend John Forde, were heading for a nearby house in Nelson Cres to collect rent for his parents ‒ which Alice knew he would be doing.
Alice, emerging from the willows, confronted Bert, with an exchange then occurring between them before they both walked into the willows, despite John Forde, Bert's friend, trying to separate them.
Bert, having enough, walked out, and Alice producing the pistol shot him four times, with some of them thought to have been fired when he was wounded on the ground.
Alice then shot herself in the right temple, attempting suicide.
A Napier tram conductor, Sidney Otton, hearing the gunshots, was first on the scene with presumably John Forde. He ventured into the willows and saw Bert outstretched on the ground and Alice with her right hand concealed beneath a topcoat, with a revolver barrel protruding.
Sidney secured the revolver from Alice and messengers were dispatched for the police and a doctor.
Sergeant Cummings arrived and then Dr Henley, who after making an examination by lighted match ordered Bert to be taken to hospital.
Alice had already been taken back to her boarding house run by Mrs Innis. Detective Ward went to the house and awaited Dr Henley's arrival – who also ordered Alice to be removed to the hospital.
An operation was performed on Alice, but it was considered too dangerous to remove the bullet. She made a recovery, albeit with the bullet still lodged in her head.
Bert succumbed to his injuries and died on March 5.
At the Napier Courthouse Supreme Court trial of Alice on June 9 and 10, 1915 the details of the whole sorry affair were laid bare before judge Sir Robert Stout and 12 men (no women jurors allowed in those days.)
Alice was born in Tikokino in 1889 to strict Salvation Army parents, and she was the sixth of 12 children.
Aged 14, she went to work as a domestic servant in Hastings. She attended Salvation Army meetings and was known as a bright, cheerful Christian girl.
In 1910 she moved to Napier to work at the Masonic Hotel, then the Central Hotel and at the time of the shooting the Albion Hotel.
Alice had come across Bert, then a 20-year-old worker at the Napier railway workshop, and decided he would be an ideal husband.
Alice fell pregnant to Bert in 1913 ‒ but suffered a miscarriage.
A year later she fell pregnant again, with Bert promising verbally and in writing to marry her and pay medical expenses during the pregnancy.
On January 1 Alice went into labour.
Tragically, with the baby being transverse (sideways) during the birth it died in utero.
Discharging herself early from the nursing home, she became terrified of the stigma of having carried an illegitimate child and arranged a marriage licence and ceremony at a minister's house for her and Bert.
Bert had been making weekly payments for medical expense during Alice's pregnancy and covered the costs of the funeral for their baby.
Initially there was still a willingness for Bert to marry Alice, but he was becoming more reluctant to.
This was at the apparent of the urging of his mother that he should avoid this pushy woman.
Bert had apparently arranged two of his friends to physically assault her to scare her off.
This was the breaking point of Alice, who then made her mind up to shoot and kill Bert.
The jury at the June trial returned a verdict of manslaughter, but with a strong recommendation to Judge Robert Stout to give mercy on the grounds of provocation.
Judge Stout was unmoved at the jury's request and that of defence lawyer B J Dolan's request for clemency on the grounds of the circumstances Alice found herself in being too strong for her mind.
Alice was sentenced to hard labour and imprisonment for the rest of her natural life at Addington Prison, and she left the dock unmoved and smiling.
An appeal by her lawyer for a retrial in the Court of Appeal was dismissed by Robert Stout, as Chief Justice.
After the trial 11 of the 12 jurors wrote to the Minister of Justice stating Robert Stout should have had more leniency.
A campaign was then started by New Zealand Truth to free Alice and have her sentence dismissed as being brutal and questioned if Robert Stout's age (he was 70) and a general misanthropy (a dislike of humankind) might be to blame.
Alice angered easily and had crippling headaches due to the lodged bullet. There she was regularly punished by bread and water diets while in prison.
Truth, however, would not give up and enlisted politicians on different sides, the New Zealand Women's Christian Temperance Union and other feminist groups.
Two petitions circulated New Zealand gathering 60,000 signatures which were presented to Parliament in 1916, however these failed to move the government to release her.
The continued efforts to free her finally paid off and in 1921 Alice was released into the care of her widowed mother in Tikokino after six years behind bars.
Life got better for Alice. She married Charles O' Loughlin, a carpenter, on April 4, 1925 in Wellington. They would have six children ‒ four boys and two girls.
Charles died in 1942, and Alice May in 1949 in Auckland, aged 60.
One of Alice's many grandchildren, Jennie O'Loughlin, has a restaurant and bar at Franz Joseph named after her grandmother called Alice May which contains the story of Alice May's life.
Thanks to Jennie O'Loughlin for the material for this story.
Michael Fowler (email@example.com) is a contract researcher and commercial business writer of Hawke's Bay history.