Ethel Bradley and the Cashel Street Mystery

Part One: Love, Lies and Lost Lives

The Press Ad for Eugene Spitz & Co, ladies' tailors, Cashel Street, shows what a smartly dressed lady would be wearing in 1910-1911. Press Advertisement, 28 July 1910, page 10.
This ‘Press’ advertisement for Eugene Spitz & Co, ladies’ tailors, Cashel Street, shows what a smartly dressed lady would be wearing in 1910-1911. [1]
Peering into the mirror, Ethel May Bradley carefully places her large black hat upon her head. She turns both ways and admires the work her sister-in-law, Clara, has done in adding a new trim of black ribbon. Ethel has a neat figure and in her dark blue serge costume, trimmed with black braid, over a white blouse, she looks the height of modernity. Pinned to her corsage, is a jet brooch – a symbol that she is in mourning for a close relative. Just to make sure she is the height of her mourning respectability she also has a black crepe ribbon around her upper arm.

Ethel pushes her small stockinged feet into a pair of shiny black shoes. Standing back to take in her appearance, her large hat makes her look taller than her actual 5 feet, 4 inch height.

Ethel pats up any signs of stray strands that might have fallen down from her thick dark hair under the hat. Pulled away from her face and clear of her shoulders, any critical observer might think her hair style unflattering, accentuating her pointy nose and prominent brow. Nevertheless it shows her features to their best advantage. After all, her closest friend, Annie thinks she possesses a ‘comely’ appearance. She smiles as she thinks of her beau, the ten year younger Harry Jack, who himself is in the business of making others attractive.

Ethel Bradley. Image: NZ Truth, 18 February, 1911. Source: Papers Past
Ethel Bradley. [2]
Her silver watch ticks over to 7.30 pm. If she leaves now she’ll be in time to get the tram to the city for her evening rendezvous with Harry.

Quickly, she gathers up her peggy-bag and closes the back door of the house of her employer, Mr Weston who resides here at 106 Merivale Lane. She walks down the path and out the gate where she turns east, in the direction of Papanui Road to catch the tram.

Ethel has spent her afternoon as she normally does – preparing the evening meal for her employer, the Christchurch solicitor, Mr. George Weston. Thirty four year old Weston is a bachelor and a busy man,  unable to cook or care for housework. Weston is at the height of his career after devoting his life to studying in the best of Christchurch’s bastions of intellect – Christ’s College and after which the Canterbury College.

That day, Ethel managed to get away at midday to have her dinner with her sister-in-law, Clara and her brother, Ernest, at their home at 18 Acland Street (which ran off Montreal street). She has brought back with her some mushrooms which are a particular favourite.

After lunch, Ethel and Clara had parted company in Armagh street. Ethel had told her sister-in-law that she is unable to go out with her tonight as she is planning to see Harry. She said, however, that she  still had plans to go to the theatre with one of her nephews on Wednesday.

The previous Friday, Clara and Ethel had gone to Beaths to buy a new ‘costume’. Ethel had told Clara she intended to wear it at her impending wedding. Although Ethel is a reticent woman and does not speak much of her private affairs, she has told her sister-in-law that her young man works at Sadler’s Hairdressing and Shaving Shop, near the Zetland Hotel, on Cashel Street west.

By tradition and expectation, at the age of 33, Ethel should be married and surrounded by a brood of children – like most of her fifteen brothers and sisters. It was not for want of trying. Ethel had been married to John Charles Farrant over ten years ago. They had joined in holy matrimony at the Wesleyan Church in Lyttelton on the first day of June, 1898,when she was 21 and he 31. However Farrant had not been the settling kind and the marriage had ended in divorce in 1909.

“Filthy and Ferocious Farrant” [3]

John Farrant, Ethel's first husband, is pictured here at the time of his retirement from the Union Steam Ship Company in 1934. Source: Evening Post, 5 September, 1943. Image: Papers Past.
John Farrant, Ethel’s first husband, is pictured here at the time of his retirement from the Union Steam Ship Company in 1934. [4]
Her first husband, Farrant had been a steward with the Union S. S. Company. After a week of marriage, he had left Ethel in a rented room in Willis Street, Wellington and returned to his duties on a coastal steamer. This situation would not have suited most brides and for Ethel, who was prone to bouts of depression, it was not going to work. By October of their first year of marriage, she became ill (the lurrid ‘NZ Truth’ reported that Ethel had contracted a venereal disease from her husband), and her doctor ordered that she return home to Lyttelton to the care of her mother. In May of the following year, only partly recovered, Ethel went to Dunedin to stay with one of her married sisters, Julia David. Julia was nineteen years Ethel’s senior, but the two sisters shared a close relationship.

When fuelled by alcohol, Farrant was a violent man. He had almost strangled Ethel to death and had threatening to blow her brains out with a gun. It was only the quick thinking actions of Ethel’s middle-aged sister, locking Ethel in a room, that prevented him from carrying out his threat.

After this episode, Farrant abandoned Ethel all together, and she was taken in by Mrs Farrant, until the family left for Nelson. After Ethel’s mother’s death in April 1900, and with no support from her husband, Ethel was forced into service to earn a living. She found work in the homes of various Christchurch families before securing her current position in the house of George Weston.

In early 1910, as her decree nisi became absolute, Ethel, assumed her maiden name. It was at this time that she became acquainted with Harry Alexander Jack, a young barber who was ten years her junior.

A Dunedin Sly Groger

Harry Jack, Ethel's 'young man'. Source: NZ Truth, 18 February, 1911. Image: Papers Past
Harry Jack, Ethel’s ‘young man’. [5]
Jack had come to Christchurch from Dunedin in about 1907, where he and his widowed mother, Mary Ann had run a fish restaurant called the Savoy. In 1905, the pair had been charged with ‘sly grogging – selling beer without a license. As he was a youth, and the family poor, the magistrate had let Harry off lightly. He was fined £10 and £1 15s costs, and his mother was discharged. This time Mary had a lucky escape, but in December 1909, she was up before a magistrate again for the same offence. By this time Harry had left Dunedin for Christchurch, the home of his mother’s birth.

In Christchurch, he had obtained work with Alexander Russell at his hairdressing and tobacconist shop on Cashel Street, near the Zetland Hotel. Here he met an older man called Walter Sadler. Sadler had learnt the barber’s trade in Lyttelton. He took over the shop after Russell sold up in November 1910 and continued to employ Jack.

Sadler had been friends with Ethel since they had been to school together in Lyttelton. It was he who introduced Ethel to Harry Jack in 1910. Since their meeting, Ethel visited the shop many times to see Jack. Ethel seemed particularly keen, and would meet Jack at 5pm, when he would go for his tea, or at 8pm when he finished work for the day.

Ethel’s Plan

Ethel had only been working for George Weston since 13th January 1911, and had come to him well recommended. However it soon became clear that she was not qualified for the work. During her sister Julia’s last visit to Christchurch, Ethel had told her that she was unhappy; feeling unsuited to her work. She was depressed and complained of being unable to eat or sleep. Julia, fearing some trouble existed between Ethel and her young man, asked her as much. But her younger told her that all was well. In fact, she told Julia she expected to be given a ring at Easter time and be married some time in the winter. She even told her of the plans they had made to honeymoon in Australia.

On the whole, Ethel appeared to her friends and family to be in good spirits. She had made up her mind to leave her job and on the first day of February she left a letter in Mr Weston’s sitting room, advising him she was resigning and would leave the following week. She was going to start over again. It was her second chance to be a wife and start a family – with Harry and their baby – as Ethel is two and a half months pregnant.

>> Go to Part Two


One Comment Add yours

  1. Wendy Riley-Biddle says:

    If you like to combine geocaching with local history, we have also made Lost Christchurch: The Cashel Street Mystery into a geocache

    The Groundspeak Geocaching Logo is a registered trademark of Groundspeak, Inc. Used with permission.


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