I mentioned in my last post that I had joined the ” 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge where we get a prompt about a different topic or theme each week.
The most recent topic was “At the Courthouse” which couldn’t be better timed since today I spent a few hours digging into some records about various people with the Heenan surname who fell foul of the law in New Zealand.
Ancestry has a database containing material from the New Zealand Police Gazette between 1878-1945 and some records of decisions made by courts in the various provinces.
They make for amusing reading partly of the way the men (they were all men!) who were charged with offences were described. I suppose that in the early period covered by these records, there were no photographs of the alleged offenders, so to make sure the police had the right man, they had to capture their physical details. It was critical in cases where some offenders tried to disguise their true identity by using an alias – in Hokitika there was a Frank Heenan who seemed particularly keen to hide himself, though police seem to have been wise to this ruse and recorded him as Heenan alias Healy, alias Walsh.
So we find their height, colour of complexion, eye and hair colour captured. Sometimes the description goes a little further and give a graphic picture of the accused.
One Martin Heenan for example, came up before the court in Coramandel (the North Island) on 8 November, 1898 on two charges of sly-grog selling. He was described as having “An upper front tooth out, both legs paralysed. ”
In 1879, James Heenan and six other men were charged with deserting from a ship at Port Chambers. He was described as a native of America, 30 years old, 5 feet high, of stout build and dark complexion. He had “no hair on face except a small dark moustache.“
Thomas Heenan, who was fined for theft in Hokitika in 1910, was said to be a man with “a large mouth, whose upper teeth were all decayed.”
But the record entry that tickled me the most was that for John Heenan, a seaman who was charged with desertion in 1937. On his right upper arm he had a tattoo of a sailor girl in the shape of an anchor. On his right arm he had tattooed two names: Rose and Mary, with a pierced heart and the message “True Till Death”. Were the names inscribed at the same time with both girls aware (and presumably happy) that he was swearing undying love to both of them simultaneously?
Or did Rose get committed in ink first in which case did Mary not see her predecessor’s name on her lover’s arm and start asking questions? They may have been girls in different ports of course rather than both in the same part of John’s native Ireland in which case he could have kept them apart more easily…. I know this is pure speculation but sometimes the gaps in knowledge that are inevitable in genealogical research, lend themselves to flights of the imagination…..