1918 Influenza Project Karori Cemetery

Remembering those who passed



Born 1881; died 18 November 1918, aged 37; buried 19 November 1918

During the early years of the twentieth century, many workers from India were recruited by the Colonial Sugar Refining Co to work in Fiji as indentured labour in the sugar plantations or in the production of bananas or copra. It was a large-scale exercise. A news report in the Dominion on 20 June 1910 mentioned that ‘about 20,000 Indian coolies have been introduced to Fiji’ while a later report, published in the Evening Post on 4 January 1921, reported that by then, the number of Indians in Fiji had grown to roughly 80,000.  Typically, the indentures offered by the Colonial Sugar Refining Co lasted for five years. At the end of that time, many would opt to remain in Fiji, but others would make their way to Australia or New Zealand. It is possible that Bhula Duhlla arrived here following that route.

Little is known about Bhula Duhlla’s life, including the spelling he used in English for his name: the alternatives included Dhulla and Dullabh. His death record says simply that he was born in India. It does not answer the question about how long he had been in New Zealand but it seems that he had travelled to New Zealand no later than mid-1915. In August of that year, he and two other Indians admitted having wheeled a hand barrow on a footpath in Auckland. The trio pleaded ignorance of the bylaw but each was ordered to pay 7s costs. (New Zealand Herald, 27 August 1915).

The census carried out in 1916 revealed a growth in the population of the Hindu population in New Zealand, attributed by immigration officials to Auckland being the first port of call from Fiji for those who had completed their plantation-work contracts. The total then was 181. In both Auckland and Wellington, fruit hawking was said to be ‘a particularly congenial occupation’, a few setting up as shopkeepers, and others following such occupations as hotel porters, bottle gatherers, labourers and men-of-all-work at boarding houses and the like (Evening Post, 11 December 1920).

After his court appearance in 1915, Bhula Duhlla made his way to Wellington. He found accommodation at 17 Tui Street, running off the top end of Tory Street. The Free Lance (on 12 December 1918) described Tui Street as ‘in reality but a narrow lane … one of the poorest and most closely built quarters of the city’. The street was lined on both sides by poor standard housing, one storey high and crammed together cheek by jowl, and the residents featured frequently in newspaper reports about court cases dealing with drunkenness and prostitution. It may not have been Bhula Duhlla’s preferred location but was perhaps what he could afford.

Bhula Duhlla was probably not alone among people from India seeking a hawker’s licence. In the Wellington City Archives, there is a copy of an internal memo to the City Engineer (Item 1918/217) which reads: ‘As there are indications of a return of Hindoo Hawkers to the City, I ask for instructions before issuing licences or permits.’ The list of licensed hawkers for 1918 does not include any names that appear of Hindu origin and the addresses of the licensees are not the locations of any known flu victims. (City Archives Item 1918/299)

Whether licensed or not, Bhula Duhlla continued working as a hawker until he became ill with influenza and died at his home in Tui Street.

Researched and written by Max Kerr

BHAGA, Dhadia or Dhedia or Phedia

Born c1893; died 18 November 1918, aged 25; buried 19 November 1918

Bhaga is a Sanskrit word that means ‘wealth’, ‘power’ or ‘fortune’ and is the name of the Hindu god of prosperity and marriage.

Very little is now known about this person who died from influenza on 19 November 1918 at the temporary hospital at Wellington College.  He was buried the next day in Karori Cemetery in Public2 by the Wilson funeral service and as his plot was not paid for, it was resold and reused in 1922.  Dhadia was buried alongside his (presumably) fellow countryman, Parbhic Bhaga.

Dhadia Bhaga was 25 and was born in Bombay, India.  His death record shows his parents were Dhedia and Narni Bhaga who earned their living farming in India.  He had been married to Sukhi Soma at the age of 9 and the couple had a 5-year-old daughter.  In 1918 the family lived at 14 Forresters Lane (off Tory Street) in Te Aro.  Presumably these details on the death record were supplied by his wife, ideally placed to provide it.

Although the Indian community was not large in New Zealand 100 years ago, another person with the same surname – Mr G Bhaga – was called up for military service on 21 May 1918 from his nearby home at 4 Forresters Lane.  And a Mr Hari Bhaga, fruiterer, also appears on a later electoral roll in this neighbourhood at 16 Tory Place.  It would be conjecture to claim any relationship among these surname sharers.

Dhadia’s connection with Parbhic Bhaga of the same age is unknown.  As there are no reports on Papers Past, nor any electoral roll entries or any probate records it is uncertain whether Dhadia Bhaga was connected with any other members of the Indian community who earned a living hawking goods or bottle gathering while residing in Te Aro.  It is also uncertain whether Dhadia was intending to settle in New Zealand or was here short term en route between India and Fiji where Indian nationals entered into 5-year contracts working on sugar cane or other plantations.  They also often passed through New Zealand again on completion of their contract but there is no information to show the purpose of the stay of this flu victim in New Zealand.

 Researched and written by Jenny Robertson

BHAGA, Parbhia or Parbhic

Born c1893; died 17 November 1918, aged 25; buried 19 November 1918

Very little is also known about this person who died on 17 November 1918 from influenza he of 3 days duration and pneumonia for 5 days.  When he got sick, Parbhic had been taken to the temporary hospital operating at St Patrick’s College in Buckle Street, Wellington.  He appeared to have been unmarried, dying the day before Dhadia Bhaga to whom he may or may not have been related and alongside whom he was buried in the Public 2 section of Karori Cemetery.  Parbhic’s New Zealand death record conveys no details of his parents, his father’s occupation, place of birth, time spent in New Zealand, or of his marital or parental status.  Like Dhadia Bhaga, Parbhic also lived in Te Aro, but at the different address of 4 Tory Place, handy to the temporary hospitals around the Basin Reserve.

Neither are there any reports about Parbhic on Papers Past, any electoral roll entries, or any probate, so it is uncertain whether Parbhic Bhaga was related to or in some other way connected with the other members of the Indian community who earned a living hawking goods or bottle gathering while he was resident in Te Aro.  It is also uncertain whether Parbhic was intending to settle in New Zealand or was here short term en route between India and Fiji where Indian nationals entered into 5-year contracts on sugar cane or other plantations.  Such contractors also often passed through New Zealand again on completion of their contract but as there is no information to show the purpose of his residence, occupation, or personal circumstances in Wellington in 1918, it is not possible to conclude anything further about him or his life.

Researched and written by Jenny Robertson

FAKIR, Ravji

Born 1895; died 26 November 1918, aged 23; buried 27 November 1918

Ravji (sometimes given as Rangi) Fakir was born in Bombay (today’s Mumbai). His death certificate records that he had lived in New Zealand for not more than 9 months. It may have been even less: on the passenger list for the Riverina, there was a group of Indian males sailing as steerage passengers, with no ages given and identified as ‘Tourists Travelers Domestics etc’, one of whom was ’R Fakir’. If this was Ravji, he arrived in Wellington on 30 July 1918.

On 16 October of that year, The Dominion published a list of men who had been selected by ballot from the Reserve list for service with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, one of whom was Ravji Fakir Koli. He had given his occupation as ‘bottle gatherer’.

At the time, he was living at 37 Haining Street, an address that matches the one on his death certificate (although that gives his occupation as ‘hawker’). Haining Street was widely regarded as a byword for slum housing. On 20 November 1918, The Dominion published a telling anecdote (mentioned in Geoffrey Rice’s study Black November), about a health inspector who said that he found ‘twelve or fifteen Assyrians’ crowded into ‘one tiny little place in Haining Street – a hovel, reeking with humanity’. The report went on to say that one of the inhabitants ‘was taken away in a bad state, and died’. In a letter to the editor of The Dominion on the following day, 21 November, a correspondent signing himself ‘A Syrian’ vigorously denied the accusation, insisting that there were no Syrians living in Haining Street, that none of his countrymen had so far died of the flu, and that they were ‘not accustomed to living in hovels’. He added that the official had ‘allowed his imagination to run riot’. On 2 December, there was a follow-up story which confirmed that the people living in the Haining Street dwelling were not Syrians but Hindu. Although the death first reported on 20 November was not that of Ravji Fakir because he died six days later, on 26 November, we know that he was living in the area and possibly in the same boarding house with other countrymen from India.

Ravji Fakir did not leave a will. In February 1919, the Public Trustee issued a public notice seeking any claims that might exist against the estate of ‘Rangi Fakir, of Wellington, Bottle Gatherer’. After meeting the funeral costs, his estate amounted to precisely £60 (equivalent to a little more than $6,200 in 2017 values).

Ravji’s headstone gives some additional information. It reveals that he was the ‘father of Sukhi BEN’. Sukhi is a popular name for girls in India, particularly in the north. No trace of her has been found in any New Zealand records which tends to suggest that she remained in India with her mother when her father set off for New Zealand. The headstone would have been installed when the burial plot was purchased, which did not occur until March 1981, 63 years later. It includes some Gujarati script which confirms that the deceased was Ravji Fakir and adds that he came from the village of Akura.

Researched and written by Max Kerr

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