Family detectives solve the mystery of the antique cigarette case.

The 102-year-old mystery cigarette case has found its rightful owners, delighted to retrieve it after losing it when the family fortunes took a dive.

The little silver case was won by an R.F. Simson in a billiards tournament in Christchurch's Federal Hotel in 1913; it was purchased off TradeMe recently by the Public Trust as part of a campaign to reunite several items with rightful owners to demonstrate how belongings of little financial worth but high historical or sentimental value can be lost to families.

At first it seemed to belong to Reginald Fowler Simson, who was likely at the scene of a little-known episode of New Zealand history - the revolt at Sling Camp, in Salisbury, England, in 1919 as Kiwi soldiers waited to be repatriated from World War 1.

However, two brothers - Dylan Simson of Marlborough and Russell Simson of Christchurch - recognised the case from publicity and vouched it belonged to their great-great-uncle, Roy Forbes Simson.


Little is known about Roy Simson other than he was, according to Russell, a snappy dresser and a bit of a ladies man who never married. He was also a dab hand at billiards - winning the case the tournament in 1913. He was brought up in Marlborough with four older brothers and sisters. Born on September 21 1884, he lived in Christchurch between 1911-1913, possibly honing his billiard skills in establishments like the Federal Hotel. He died in Sydney in 1937 from unknown causes.

"He was known by the family to have great skill in billiards," says Dylan Simson. "This cigarette case was handed down to my father Alan through Roy's sister Janet [the brothers' great-great-aunt]. She was extremely close to our family."

Russell Simson says the case was lost after their father fell on hard times: "Things were tough and he felt he had to sell a few things to make ends meet, including the cigarette case; when I showed him the photo, he confirmed it was Roy's."

Dylan Simson says Alan, who still lives in Christchurch, is "a bit embarrassed about selling it to an antiques dealer about 25 years ago." Russell adds: "The other reason he sold it was because his father Maxwell had died of lung cancer and he was a bit sniffy about anything to do with cigarettes."

Dylan saw the cigarette case on the Rightful Owners Facebook page and immediately realised it had belonged to great-great-uncle Roy; Russell recognised a photo in the Otago Daily Times.

Roy was an avid traveller; sister Janet - who lived to 100 - doted on her brother and went on a trip to Scotland with him, by boat, via Canada. He also visited South Africa as a young man in the early 20th century, staying with his brother Captain Charlie Simson, a ship's captain in the Boer Wars.

"I have Roy's old leather suitcase from this trip," says Dylan. "You can still make out the remains of the travel stickers."

While many details of Roy Forbes Simson's life are lost in the tides of history, the small cigarette case has brought a piece of him back to his family over 100 years later, a lost link to the past restored - and perhaps a father's conscience eased.