If you're looking for something fun to do when you're stuck inside on a rainy winter's day, try this: go to the National Library's website Papers Past. When you're there, go to the "new search" box, select the option "exact phrase", and enter your name. This database of old newspaper articles will then do something magical and brilliant, throwing up any article it has at its disposal, going way back into the 1800s, that contains you.

Well, not exactly you, obviously, unless you're a vampire with eternal life, but someone with the same name as you - kind of just like other, earlier, versions of you. For me, James Griffin, Papers Past returned 215 results.

According to the Ashburton Guardian of August 29, 1913, I was "charged with being drunk whilst in charge of a horse and cart on the main road near Methven" and was duly fined 10 shillings. I suspect this is the same me who, according to the Grey River Argus of June 19, 1914, pleaded guilty "on charges of uttering a number of valueless cheques". Apparently my purchases with these "valueless cheques" included "two gallons of whisky, a rubber-tyred gig, and 10 tons of potatoes". The reason I needed 10 tons of potatoes becomes somewhat clearer with the last sentence of the article, which tells us the "accused offered the excuse that he had been drinking".

Because many of the articles on Papers Past are gleaned from court reporting, my rich and varied criminal pasts are laid out for all to see. On September 12, 1941 the Evening Post tells me that "two youths, James Griffin and Thomas Joseph Macguire ... left a tearoom in Lower Hutt without paying". We were each fined £4 and costs, and "Mr A.M. Goulding, S.M., remarked that it was a mean and contemptible thing to do." Strangely, to this very day, I am unusually wary of anyone with the last name Maguire, lest they lead me astray again.


Back in the Colonist of September 4, 1893, I was sentenced to three years for safe robbery in Dunedin. It also notes that: "Numerous convictions were furnished from the Central Police Court of Sydney against Griffin." Man, what a bad-ass I was back then and also possibly the same James Griffin who, according to the Taranaki Herald of January 21, 1874 "received two years' hard labour for damaging a hotel". What, exactly, I did to the hotel and why I was angry with it are not recorded.

There are, of course, many instances of me dying or being involved in the deaths of others, which makes for weird reading. According to the Evening Post of March 26, 1917 I was being doubled on "a motor-cycle at night" by one George Wonnacott when we "collided with a tramway pole in Bealey Avenue". Poor George was "instantaneously killed" while I was "rendered unconscious, being severely injured about the head".

Clearly this crash was of national significance as it was also reported in the Hawera & Normanby Star, the Colonist and the Marlborough Express. Meanwhile, the Grey River Argus, proving that some things about journalism have never changed, managed to report that I was rendered unconscious as a result of being "severely injured on the hand". Ouch, those hand injuries will get you every time.

I was also, apparently, the general secretary to the National Insurance Company who was found dead in his bed in Dunedin on May 10, 1910. But the Wanganui Chronicle of the following day was very gracious in saying that I was "well-known in business circles locally".

But by far my most dramatic death was reported in a story headlined "Murder Through Jealousy" in the Feilding Star of March 25, 1884. In "Paddington, near Sydney", I shared a house with William Rice and a strumpet by the name of Sophia Holmes. Apparently "between Rice and Griffin there arose a feeling of jealousy about the woman" after Rice "went home at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon and found the deceased, Griffin, in company with ... Sophia Holmes". Rice, who was "half drunk", then "took a loaded revolver" and "fired several shots at Griffin, who fell dead, two shots having taken effect in his heart".

Wow, talk about exciting stuff. They sure knew how to write a gripping news story back then, did they not? But it wasn't all death and crime and punishment in the many lives of James Griffin and next week I shall share with you some of the triumphs I have achieved over the years, including the stirring story of my "smiting machinery".