THOMAS QUALTROUGH - 1850-1944 - THE DEAD TELL TAILS

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Articles from New Zealand

Source: Williams, Lyn. Waikato Times; Hamilton, New Zealand [Hamilton, New Zealand]11 Dec 2015: 8.

Thomas Qualtrough does not seem to have made much of a stir during his time as a Hamilton Borough councillor (1882, 1892-95), but in 1886 his became a household name throughout New Zealand with tales of the "saurian monster" that had robbed his slaughterhouse. Qualtrough and White were butchers, with a shop in Victoria Street since early 1881. Their slaughterhouse and its associated paddocks were near Frankton railway station and close to the Waitawhiriwhiri Stream that winds its way through Frankton to the Waikato River.

One day in October 1886, Qualtrough and White's employees killed three animals and left the carcasses hanging in the building overnight. The next morning, the lower half of the door was open, one sheep had been pulled down, most of its meat gone and the smaller bones crushed to pieces. In the mud outside were large footprints: a round centre pad with three flat toes about four inches (10cm) across. Traps were laid to capture this unknown monster but the "Alligator Guard" failed to catch it, despite fresh footprints appearing.

It was not the monster's first appearance, as two weeks earlier William Castleton's sons had seen a huge creature swimming in the creek. Theories as to its identity abounded: an alligator? tiger? taniwha? the tuna-roa (large eel) of Maori legend? Or perhaps a seal that had swum upstream from the sea? The boys' description was of a four- legged creature more than a metre long and covered with brown scales. Reports came to light of a similar creature seen in the Waikato River near Huntly. Spoofs also developed, with a staged unveiling of a straw replica, and bootmaker Daniel Salmon guaranteeing to make footwear for it or any man. The Waikato Times commented: "a good joke is worth keeping alive".

Joke or not, it did Qualtrough's business no harm. He and GE White opened a second shop in Hamilton East in 1882. In 1887 they dissolved their partnership and Qualtrough continued in business alone. He supplied meat to Waikato Hospital for many years. Fire destroyed the butcher's shop in the great fire of December 1895, but Qualtrough's house behind it was saved. He gave up the butchery in 1902, as he gave too much credit and was making a loss. He returned to contract work.

Qualtrough came from the Isle of Man aged six years and grew up on the family's farm in East Tamaki. In the 1870s he worked for Josiah Firth at Matamata, then did ploughing on contract. According to his son James, interviewed by HCM Norris for his book "Armed Settlers", on Sundays at Matamata the men would amuse themselves with ploughing and boxing contests. A large German dominated the boxing. Qualtrough met him and won on tactics: by retreating and keeping out of reach until the German was exhausted, he managed to get in a punishing blow.

In 1885 Qualtrough married Mary Ann Prince. She died at their home in Mill St in 1932 and Qualtrough shifted to Auckland. Qualtrough's later years were again headline news: his success as a veteran bowler (he won one match because the other 90+ year-olds failed to show up!), his 93rd birthday and his 94th birthday all made the newspapers. Although he didn't take up bowls until he was 80, he became a prominent member of the West End club in Herne Bay.

Thomas Qualtrough died in 1944 aged 94 and was survived by his son, five daughters, 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He was buried with Mary Ann in Hamilton East Cemetery.

Credit: LYN WILLIAMS

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