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Sunday, 14 December 2014

Which New Zealand photographer was gaoled as a result of his marrying a 12 year-old girl?

Charles Henry Monkton (1840-1890)

Until 1933 in New Zealand it was perfectly legal for a girl under the age of 16 to marry, provided she did so with the consent of a parent or guardian. Consequently when Charles Henry Monkton married 12 year-old Emma Mary Howell in November 1881, he committed no crime. What proved his downfall, however, were the circumstances surrounding the marriage.

In what appears to have been a bizarre, premeditated precursor to an enforced ménage-à-trois, Monkton presented himself at the office of the Auckland Registrar in the company of Emma’s eldest sister, Alice Lynch, with whom he had been living for a number of years. To ensure the marriage went ahead, Lynch posed as Emma’s mother, and gave the girl’s age as 15. The ruse was only uncovered some 3 years later, when Emma absconded to Sydney in an apparent attempt to escape plans to force her into prostitution. Monkton was arrested, and put on trial. The case was a national sensation, and the New Zealand press revelled in the salacious details. Monkton was convicted of making a false declaration under the 1880 Marriage Act, and was sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment in the Mount Cook Gaol in Wellington.

It was the end of a promising career that had taken Monkton across the length and breadth of the colony. Arriving in Auckland from London on the ship Jura in January 1860, he had immediately established himself as a cheap, innovative and popular photographer, praised by the Daily Southern Cross for his entrepreneurial flair. In the early 1870s he had toured the West Coast goldfields, and after a brief stint in Wellington, in 1876 he settled in Whanganui. In 1879 he returned to the capital, where he suffered his first serious setback. Declared bankrupt in June 1880, Monkton embarked on a semi-itinerant existence that took him to Napier, back to Auckland, on to Parihaka, and then finally to Christchurch, where he was arrested in April 1884.

On his release from prison in July 1886, Monkton assumed the name Henry Airey (his mother’s maiden name), and fled to Australia. He settled in Minyip, Victoria, where he abandoned photography and made his living as a hotelier. He died in 1890, aged only 50; just retribution, perhaps, for a dissolute life.

At the end of 1865 Charles Henry Monkton travelled to the Upper Wairoa to photograph Wiremu Tamihana. According to the Daily Southern Cross (18 December 1865, p4), he photographed Tamihana with his rifle, reading a bible, and with his friends - back row: (from left to right) W L C Williams, Josiah Clifton Firth, Wiremu Tamihana, unknown; front row: Purae, Dr Sam, William Australia Graham. Could the man standing at the extreme right, wearing the tam-o-shanter, be Monkton, having set up the shot? (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries.  34-F56A-5)

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