Searching for Uncle Fred


1. Frederick FULLER

by Maxine Dahlstrom © All rights reserved
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Two brothers arrived in South Australia on the barque Candahar on 10 February, 1849. They brought with them some cash, clothes, blankets and both carried a gold mounted double barrel gun.

Frederick Richardson FULLER was about 21 years of age, and Arthur Field FULLER, my great great grandfather, was about 19. Both were taxidermists; Fred put bones together, and Arthur stuffed birds.

They were said to have wandered around Australia for 10 years and were lost in the 90 mile desert in Victoria where, almost dying of thirst and hunger they came upon a water hole but were too weak to get to the water.

They tore up a blanket and lowered a boot into the hole to bring some up. They recovered after being befriended by a tribe of aboriginals who supplied them with food and water for a week or two and continued their wanderings. It was thought they were returning from the Victorian gold diggings.

Both boys married and lived in Beautiful Valley (now Wilmington) South Australia where Arthur and his wife committed to farming. Frederick farmed for a short time before becoming licensee of the Roundwood Inn in Beautiful Valley for several years before moving to New Zealand.

Frederick worked for the CanterburyMuseum in Christchurch under Julius Haast (later Sir Julius von Haast) and died in 1876 after having taken a dose of arsenic. Family stories suggested that he had shot and killed someone, and for this he was greatly troubled. It was thought that he had 4 children, one being blind, although no-one knew for certain. It was not known what had happened to the family after Frederick’s death.

Julius Haast (seated) and Frederick Fuller

Photo Julius Haast (sitting) and Frederick Fuller in Dr C Barker's garden.
Barker Collection, Canterbury Museum.[7]


My aunt had written to the CanterburyMuseum to enquire on Frederick's work and his death. The response informed her that Frederick had been sacked from the museum as he had taken to the drink, had tried to get his job back but was refused, had taken arsenic and consequently died. It was said that this had occurred at the museum and some had claimed to have seen his ghost wandering there. There was nothing in the letter to suggest that he had killed anyone. 

Intrigued, and armed with this information, the search for my Great Great Uncle Frederick and his family began.

Frederick had married Mary McGrath at Well Hut, Pekina, South Australia, in December 1859. Their first child and daughter, Ellen, was born in 1860 and died at only 8 months old. In 1862 they had a son whom they named Frederick. Frederick and Mary along with their son Frederick left South Australia for New Zealand.

Searches of the shipping lists to find when Frederick and his family went to New Zealand were inconclusive and although there are several possibilities, they have not been positively identified.

On Frederick’s death certificate, the “Issue” section was notated as 2 and 5. Was this a total of 7 born, 7 children still living being 2 of one sex and 5 of another, or 2 deceased and 5 living? There was no way of knowing.

Contact with New Zealand Archives gave me the record number for Frederick’s Coroners Report which revealed that Frederick may have survived had he allowed the Doctor's to use a stomach pump, but he had aggressively fought them off. He passed away 2 days later, leaving his wife and young family to fend for themselves. 

His son Frederick, now aged about 14, was the first person to see his father after he had taken the poison, and was a witness at the coronial enquiry.

The Timaru Herald reports: Poisoning case - from our Christchurch files we learn that a man named Frederick R Fuller, late taxidermist of the CanterburyMuseum has committed suicide.  At the inquest, the following evidence was elicited:-

Frederick Fuller - “I am son of the deceased. My father was taken ill about 4.00p.m. on Wednesday last. He had then been home about three-quarters of an hour.  He lay down on the bed, but jumped up again immediately. He was very excited.  When he jumped up he said he felt bad at the back part of the head. He had been drinking on Tuesday, but was quite sober on Wednesday. After jumping off the bed he walked into his workshop, but on nearing the house door he went in again and returned almost directly. I was in the yard at the time.  He came to me saying, “Oh, Fred, I am poisoned,” and spat out a mouthful of poison. He fell and rolled over in the yard.  My mother came up and I told her I was afraid that father had got some poison. I ran for a neighbour named Moule.  Mrs. Moule came. When I got back home, I ran for Dr Dammer, but he was not in. I then went for Dr Guthrie, who went at once to my father. Dr Guthrie subsequently sent me for Dr. Campbell who returned with me…………My father was in a low state of mind for a week before his death.  It was because he could not get anyone to hear about his difficulties at the Museum, and how he came to be dismissed from there………..[1]   

The coronial inquiry proved there was no truth to the reports that he had committed suicide at the CanterburyMuseum, and so much for his ghost wandering there!

Information in the letter my aunt received from the museum was confirmed. The book The Life and Times of Sir Julius von Haast, also stated that ‘the museum had granted Richard’s wife and family 2 months pay after his death, and that Haast had raised a further small amount of money for the family'.[2] 

Giant Moa bones - Canterbury Museum NZ
Having ordered this book at my local library, it also revealed that Frederick Richardson FULLER had accompanied Haast on numerous expeditions, and was the discoverer of “Moa” bones, which he articulated for the
Canterbury museum.[3] Frederick worked quite hard with the articulation of the many items that he and Haast had collected.


Left: Photo of Giant Moa bones, and other examples of Frederick Fuller’s work on exhibition at the Canterbury Museum.(Authors collection)


On one trip (Sunday 26th March 1871) Frederick was to discover and identify the extinct New Zealand eagle, in a dig at Glenmark. Julius Haast named this discovery 'Harpagornis moorei’, after the owner of the land on which they were searching.[4] There was little written in the newspaper about the discovery but Haast wrote an article for Transactions of the New Zealand Institute about the find.

Reports in the Star newspaper of 1 August 1876, along with a notice of his suicide, and an article on the Coronial enquiry, provided the additional information that he had left a wife and five little ones.

The Christchurch Cemeteries Index helped me locate a death for a Mary FULLER (1918) whom I anticipated was my Frederick FULLER's wife Mary.

The address shown at the time of her death was different to that where she had been living at the time of Frederick’s death.

Circumstance had now changed and I had little time for family history. By the time I got back to researching Fred almost 10 years later, things had changed considerably and with so much information becoming available on the internet, my research was to become much easier.

The discovery of a booklet, written by Richard NL Greenaway (historian) about the AvonsideCemetery, led me to Frederick’s burial details, listing the section and plot number for his grave.

Through Family Search (the IGI) I found the Christening of Frederic Richardson FULLER, born in Sibton, Christened on 18 Dec 1827, SuffolkCounty, Bts, (Bishops transcripts). My Gt/Gt grandfather Arthur Field FULLER was not shown.[5]

An online listing of Government Officers Canterbury, Salaries as at 1st December 1871 features FR Fuller, taxidermist, Museum, with a gross salary of £200, Julius Haast, Director, Museum, at £350.[6]

A Google search on Frederick Richardson FULLER came up with Richard NL Greenaway's “Rich Man, Poor Man, Environmentalist, Thief”.[7] Frederick was amongst those listed, giving me further information about him, and his work. This article included his grave location and stated his son Thomas was buried with him and that his wife and daughters were buried in the Roman Catholic Section of the Linwood cemetery and named the daughters. Also that Frederick had bought a block of land in 1863 in the Otago province and claimed he was a miner.[8] This narrowed the shipping search by three years and I was now looking for their travel within the years 1862 and 1863.

I now had the names of two sons, Frederick and Thomas deceased, and three daughters Mary, Sarah and Ellen deceased, a total of 5 children, leaving at least two more to find. Were there another two girls, making the issue on Frederick's death certificate read 2 males and 5 females?  Hopefully further research would reveal the answer.

Browsing the internet, I found a lady who would take photographs in Christchurch cemeteries. Although Avonside was not a cemetery she covered, she agreed to do it for me. Within a couple of days I had several photos of the headstone. A description of the cemetery was included, and it was nice to know that the area was well cared for. The headstone only had names and dates of death, so disappointing in that respect.

In the Christchurch Cemeteries Index there appeared to be entries for Mary's two daughters.[9] A check on the section and plot numbers revealed that one was identical to that of the Mary I had previously found. So this was Frederick's wife and daughter (Mary), with the other daughter (Sarah) in the grave beside them. I now ordered Frederick's wife Mary’s death certificate, there was little point in ordering death certificates for the two daughters as, according to Greenaway's information, they were both spinsters.

Mary's death certificate indicated that there were still three children living at the time of her death; one male and 2 female; the girls being Mary and Sarah. It was now looking like Frederick's death certificate was referring to 2 deceased and 5 living children. I still had 2 children to find – who and where were they? Had their second child (Frederick) also died in infancy?

A search in New Zealand BMD records for the death of Thomas did not reveal him. There was an entry that looked likely to be the death of their son Frederick.[10] If it was indeed him, he had died in 1911, so the living son still needed to be found. New Zealand birth records do not always show the name/s of the parents, which has proven difficult.

Turning to the New Zealand Archives site (Archways) for all the names I now had, probate records were located for both Frederick and his wife Mary.[11] Frederick's probate stated that he had died intestate and his property was valued at less than £600. I was also surprised to note that a guarantor was one Bartholomew McGRATH. This would surely be a relation to Mary, probably a brother. So had all her family gone to New Zealand at the same time? 

Mary's Probate revealed the name of the living son, John. He was executor of her will and a law clerk at a solicitor’s office. Mary left him £100, while the girls were given an equal share of her property and all other possessions. I now had the names of 6 children, number 7 was still proving elusive.

The Christchurch Newspapers of the period have proved to be a mine of information, and have assisted me greatly.[12]

Frederick was always noted as Frederick Richardson FULLER or FR FULLER and there are several items on him in the newspapers, including advertisements he had placed for his lost dog! FR FULLER was also a witness to a death in the street near where he lived, the coronial inquiry being reported in the paper.

Frederick FULLER also appeared numerous times. Was this my Frederick Richardson FULLER's son? If so, he was continually in the newspapers in a sporting capacity and as a solicitor. One notice in the Star newspaper was a marriage for Frederick FULLER, 28, to an Emily Annie CROWE, 26, on the 7th October 1891, and it was my belief that this was Frederick Richardson FULLER's son. The marriage certificate confirmed this.  He was married at the AvonsideHolyTrinityChurch, where his father, and later his brother were buried. A witness on the certificate was John FULLER, brother of the groom.

Frederick (Jnr) had joined the law firm of TI Joynt and became a solicitor of the Supreme Court in 1891. At a later date he joined JA Flesher, they became FLESHER and FULLER. There were advertisements to this effect in the Star during the late 1890's and early 1900's. He was to start his own practice about 1902. There were also several items in the newspapers on a court case claiming improper practice with regard to a client's money. Frederick was debarred for improper practice for a period of 6 months in 1907![13]

The Cyclopaedia of New Zealand (Volume 3) confirmed that Frederick was the son of FR FULLER, gave his marriage details, and had two daughters.[14] The elder daughter, Annie Winifred FULLER, born 10th August 1892, married William Steven Graham CAMERON in 1917 and they also had a daughter. I have not found the deaths of either of Frederick Jnr’s girls as yet, but believe that Annie Winifred had died by 1966.

Frederick (Jnr) was a founding member of the Union Rowing Club and a Vice President of the Avon Rowing Club. In August 1887 he was vice-president of the Amateur Rowing Association and in September 1891 he was unanimously elected as a life member of the Union Rowing Club. He was a member of the East Christchurch Football team and in 1882 was team Captain and was a member of the team to play England. In January 1871 Frederick FULLER was to receive a prize at Sunday school, he was in the 3rd class. Another FULLER in the 1st class was to receive equal 2nd prize for Scripture. (This would probably have been John).

The Christchurch Catholic Schools Prize list for St Mary's ParishSchool for December 1880, listed the following – First Class – Good Conduct – Miss Mary FULLER, Second Class – Good Conduct – Miss Sarah FULLER. In another school article Miss Mary FULLER was mentioned as singing a solo at the school concert, having sung beautifully. No other mention of the girls has yet been found, although there are a number of news articles about the singer Mary FULLER. Could she be my Mary FULLER? 

The following news items recorded the death of FR and Mary FULLER's son Thomas FULLER in Oamaru, NZ.

Timaru Herald – “A young man named Thomas Fuller, an accountant in the National Mortgage and Agency Company, committed suicide today.  He had been suffering from pleurisy, and this morning was wandering in his mind. In the temporary absence of his nurse he smashed a window pane and committed the deed with a piece of the glass, dying a few hours afterwards.”

And at a later date in the same paper – “The medical evidence in the inquest on the body of T. Fuller at Oamaru showed that death was not due to injuries, but to natural causes, following on delirium and pleurisy.”

Thomas had worked for the Mortgage Company in Christchurch and transferred to Oamaru seven years previously. He was highly regarded in the community, an active sports person involved in tennis and rowing and a member of both clubs in Christchurch. A notice in the paper stated that the flag was at half mast as a note of respect to him, and a large crowd followed the body to the train where he was conveyed for transport back to Christchurch for burial.

Thomas died on 29th April 1900 aged about 33 years.

Frederick (Jnr) died at the age of 48 from cardiac disease on 15th June 1911, no Will has been found, nor any record for the death of his wife Emily Annie.

Mary died aged 64 on 17th June 1935 and was supposedly born in Christchurch. No Will has been found.

John FULLER, a law clerk, was also a sporting person, a member of the East Christchurch Football team, and of the Avon Rowing Club. John was born in Dunedin about 1867. The information given at his death claimed that his given names were John Richardson FULLER; probably given by his sister Sarah. This was the first mention of any middle name. His will was made in favour of his sisters, but as Mary had already passed away, Sarah was the sole recipient to an estate valued at no more than £5,000. He was the longest living of the FULLER children having died at age 73 in January 1940.

Sarah died aged 65 on 29 June 1942 and was said to be born in Dunedin. No Will has been found.

Baby Ellen died in South Australia aged 8 months in 1861.

The missing child – no detail has been found, so probably died as an infant. This would account for the 2 and 5 issue at Frederick Richardson FULLER's death.

So it would appear that Frederick (Jnr) was the only child of Frederick Richardson FULLER and Mary McGRATH to have married and had any issue.

None of Frederick Richardson FULLER’s children appear to have been blind but recently I found that his sister in England had a son ‘blind at birth’ which leads me to believe that several of the stories which have been passed down have been confused as to who belonged to who and where.

Mary McGRATH's marriage certificate shows her father's name as Matthew McGRATH. On her death certificate her father's given name is Bartholomew McGRATH. In his will, Bartholomew McGRATH, gifted £100 to his daughter Mary, widow of Frederick Richardson FULLER. 

Why would Mary have given her father's name as Matthew on the marriage certificate? 

I guess the McGRATH side is next on the research list!

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Sources and notes 

[1] Various newspaper articles in – the Star, Taranaki Herald, Timaru Herald, New Zealand Tablet, and the Otago Witness:
see “Papers Past” website at:


[2] The Life and Times of Sir Julius Von Haast, K.C.M.G., Ph. D., D. Sc., F.R.S., explorer, geologist, museum builder – Author: Heinrich Ferdinand Von Haast, pub. 1948

[3] Moa bird – see details at:

[4] Harpagornis moorei, Pouakai, Haast’s Eagle see details at:

[5] The IGI – International Genealogical Index – online at: 

[6] Listing of Government Officers, Canterbury NZ – online at:

[7] Rich Man, Poor Man, Environmentalist, Thief – Biographies of Canterbury personalities written for the Millennium and for the 150th anniversary of the Canterbury Settlement, Richard L N Greenaway. Published in 2000, ISBN 0 908868 22 7
Download at: 

[8] Otago Nominal Index – online search at:

[9] Christchurch City Council Cemeteries Database at:

[10] NZ BDM’s – see Births, Deaths, Marriages Online at:

[11] Archives New Zealand (Archway) website at:  

[12] Transcription BMD’s & Passenger Lists from Press & Star Daily Newspaper of Christchurch 1869-1972: 

[13]The Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 10 May 1866, page 2:

[14]Cyclopaedia of NZ V3 Canterbury – online at:



General sources

ChristchurchCity Libraries – website at:
Office Directory of New Zealand (Wise) 1898-1905

National Library of New Zealand, Alexander Turnbull Library collections:
The University of

NZ cemetery Database and Map:

Last Updated on Sunday, 06 October 2013 10:35