The miner, the curator and the law

New Zealand probate

Mergoscia is a tiny town in the Italian-speaking Ticino canton of Switzerland.

RusconiIt could not be much further removed from Hokitika, a town on the west coast of New Zealand.

But it was there, in Hokitika, that the Swiss-born Battista Rusconi died in 1869, and a descendant of his sister wants to know just why a New Zealand newspaper said his effects were in the hands of a curator.

Reader Vanessa Fussino came a clipping from the West Coast Times, a newspaper published in Hokitika in September 1869, about Rusconi’s death.

The clipping was a legal notice of an order from a judge, and it read:

Upon reading the Affidavits of Leonard Pozzi and Robert Abbott, respectively, I do order that Robert Abbott, Esquire, a Curator of the Estates of deceased persons, shall be Administrator of all and singular the goods, chattels, and credits of Battista Rusconi, alias Margoscia, deceased, and that this Order be published in the West Coast Times newspaper as “The Intestate Estate Act, 1865,” directs.1

“I know you’re not from New Zealand,” Vanessa wrote, “but can you help me understand who Leonard Pozzi and Robert Abbott were and why they were involved with Battista’s estate?”

The Legal Genealogist is happy to oblige, thanks to modern technology, the common law and a common language. The technology, to find records of Battista Rusconi’s estate. The common law — and English-language records — to help understand them.

First off, the clipping is a typical legal notice such as you’d find anywhere giving notice that Robert Abbott had been put in charge of Rusconi’s estate by a judge of the Supreme Court of New Zealand’s Westland District. The purpose of legal notices like this was to alert any family Rusconi might have had — and any creditors as well.

You’ll find similar notices in just about every newspaper published anywhere in the English-speaking world,2 and they’re a wonderful source of genealogical information that shouldn’t be overlooked in your research.

Second, we know from the clipping that Rusconi died without a will. That’s what the word intestate means: “Without making a will. A person is said to die intestate when he dies without making a will, or dies without leaving anything to testify what his wishes were with respect to the disposal of his property after his death. The word is also often used to signify the person himself.” 3

When we get to who Robert Abbott was and why he was involved, there’s a big clue in the clipping: the specific reference to “The Intestate Estate Act, 1865.” That tells us there’s a specific law out there that the court was operating under. In 1865, the New Zealand legislature — called the Parliament — adopted a comprehensive law governing estates where the deceased hadn’t left a will, explaining that it was “expedient to make better provision for administering the estates of persons who have died or shall hereafter die possessed of property within the Colony of New Zealand in cases where no will or letters of administration relating to such estates shall have been proved or granted in the Colony.”4

As amended in 1866, its key provisions were these:

• The Governor of New Zealand was “from time to time to appoint fit persons to be curators of intestate estates within the Colony and to define and appoint the districts within which each curator shall act and such curators shall hold their offices during pleasure.”5

• The curator’s job was to receive information about deaths and, if no-one from the deceased’s family applied to handle the estate within three months of the death, to notify the court and ask to be named the administrator of the estate.6

• Once the curator was ordered to handle the estate, he had to publish the order twice in local newspapers7 — which is why this particular notice was published.

• The curator had all the powers needed to handle the estate “as if letters of administration had been granted to him in the ordinary course…”8

• A percentage of the money collected by the curators while handling estates went a fund9 to finance the system and pay the salaries of the curators, who also received a commission for handling each estate.10

So Robert Abbott was the official curator for the District of Westland — and also Registrar of the Supreme Court at Westland, the Registrar of Deeds, the Deputy Commissioner of Stamps — and even the Paymaster.11

To find out who Leonard Pozzi was, however, we’d need the records of the estate itself. And that’s where the technology comes into play — because they’re online, at FamilySearch.

It turns out that Leonard Pozzi was a hotel keeper in Hokitika, and one of two people who reported the death to Abbott (the other was identified as Domenico Pipperini).12 He and Abbott both filed affidavits to the court explaining what they knew about Rusconi’s death.

Pozzi said Rusconi was a native of Switzerland who’d lived in Victoria before coming to Waimea where he’d been mining for gold, and that he had “died in the hospital at Hokitika …, on Saturday the fifth June one thousand eight hundred and sixty nine.” His only assets were two deposits of £50 each and “a half-share in a claim at Shamrock Terrace of little or no value.”13

Abbott’s affidavit recited the same facts and added that the “deceased left his mother and one sister, his relations and next of kin, him surviving, who reside at Margoscia, Canton Tessino, Switzerland.”14 He later filed an inventory showing the assets: a deposit receipt for £50 dated 10 April 1869, a second receipt for the same amount dated 13 March 1869, and the half share in the gold mining claim at Shamrock Terrace.15

After expenses of administration, Rusconi’s assets of £59.7.7 were paid over to the intestates fund.16 And Vanessa now gets the fun of trying to find out if her ancestors, Rusconi’s sister and mother, ever saw any of that money.

Let us know!!


SOURCES

  1. Order of Judge, In the goods of Battista Rusconi, … intestate,West Coast Times, 27 September 1869, Page 1; digital images, Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand (http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz : accessed 15 Jul 2013).
  2. And presumably outside the English-speaking world, though The Legal Genealogist has enough trouble with English and can’t speak first-hand about newspapers published in other languages.
  3. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 640, “intestate.”
  4. “An Act to amend the law relating to the administration of the estates of deceased persons in certain cases” (30 Oct 1865), in Walter Monro Wilson, compiler, Practical Statutes of New Zealand (Auckland : Wayte & Batger, 1867), 604 et seq.; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 16 July 2013).
  5. Ibid., § III, as amended by § II of the Act of 8 October 1866.
  6. Ibid., § X, as amended by § VI of the Act of 8 October 1866.
  7. Ibid., § XII.
  8. Ibid., § X.
  9. Ibid., § XV.
  10. § XVII, as amended by § IX of the Act of 8 October 1866.
  11. “Nominal Roll of the Civil Establishment of New Zealand on the 1st of July 1869,” Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives of New Zealand, Volume 2 (Wellington : p.p., 1869), 552; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 16 July 2013).
  12. Affidavit of Robert Abbott, 21 September 1869, Hokitika District Supreme Court, Probate Estate File, Battista Rusconi, file no. 71, 1869; digital images, “New Zealand, Probate Records, 1848-1991,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 15 Jul 2013).
  13. Ibid., affidavit of Leonard Pozzi, 7 June 1869.
  14. Ibid., affidavit of Robert Abbott, 21 September 1869. Note that Abbott couldn’t spell the name of the town or canton!
  15. Ibid., inventory filed 11 December 1869.
  16. Ibid., accounting filed 11 December 1869.
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One Response to The miner, the curator and the law

  1. OK. So he came to New Zealand to mine for gold!

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