CONSTANCE DAVIDSON STORY Gallery
Summer Days Temple Peak 1898 and A Sad Day on the Road November 1907
These days as tourist season picks up, many of us worry about driving up and down the road and the potential for accidents. Even in the past, before automobiles were common in the district, horse drawn traps ran their own risks. This month’s photo helps us retell and remember the story of Constance (nee Birley) Davidson and a road accident that took place on November 18, 1907.
Many thanks to Helen Pinder of Roxburgh who has shared with us these photos and family artefacts.
Constance was the daughter of JK Birley and Sarah (nee Plummer) Hartley who had built and run the Mount Earnslaw Hotel. Constance had a younger sister, Isobel (who married James Dunnery and lived at Rees Valley Station, and later sold it to the Scotts in 1906), and her brother Harry, for whom the Birley Glacier is named. Harry became quite a well-known guide in his day and was the first to summit the East Peak of Mt. Earnslaw in 1890. Isobel attended the first school over at Kinloch that opened in 1884 and the diary attached below has what the family believe are some of the poems and school lessons that Isobel may have brought home with her to share with her sister, as well as Constance’s later diaries of the comings and goings of the many colourful characters at the Head of the Lake in the 1880s. Constance, along with 11 other women from Glenorchy were signers of the Women’s Suffragette Petition in 1893 (have a look here for some of our other signers, too. https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/womens-suffrage/petition?field_original_sheet_no_value=&field_surname_0_value=&field_consistent_town_suburb_value=glenorchy&field_consistent_city_region_value=)
Constance married William John Davidson. They had four children before her death on the road in November 1907. William had been a roadman, scheelite miner, and shepherd for Butement. They also farmed Temple Peak for a while and this photo was taken there in 1898. Amanda says she knows the spot of the photo (and has threatened to do a modern re-take of the photo with the Hasselman crew). Our historic photo shows Constance with baby Eileen in her knee. The others L-R are William Joseph (Bill) Davidson, Percy Robert Davidson, and Henry Thomas (Harry) Davidson.
On the day of the accident, Constance had been down to the wharf to pick up supplies. On her way home, she stopped to throw some fruit down to a man named Finlayson. According to the coroner’s report, she must have dropped the reins and as she bent down to pick them up, the horse plunged forward and she thrown between the horse’s legs. It kicked out, caught her in the temple, and she was killed. Sadly, her young daughter was in the trap and would have witnessed the whole scene. William eventually saw the trap coming down the road empty and had to piece together the sad story. The attached article from the Lake Wakatip Mail tells the story in more detail.
Though William later remarried, Isobel and James Dunnery played a big hand in the lives of the children. According to Helen, Isobel was, “the personification of a matriarch.” Ten years later, two of the young boys in the photo (Bill and Harry) both fought at Passchendaele. Both were wounded and sent back to the UK for treatment. Harry was sent home, but Bill was sent three times from hospital in England back to the front.
The other main photo this month marks happier times at the Mount Earnslaw Hotel where we think Constance and William are pictured on the far right.
If you’re interested in some of the history of the Mt. Earnslaw Hotel and the Birley Family have a look at these pieces we have in our growing Glenorchy Archive. Feel free to poke around on eHive (http://ehive.com) as we’re in the process of putting our whole museum collection up on it and in coming months we’ll be sharing more about it.
Stay safe out on the roads this season and we’ll look forward to sharing some beautiful historic photos from 1919 Paradise in next month’s photos.