A young father loses three wives within seven years…two within just months of marrying him! Is something amiss or was this just a string of incredibly tragic circumstances? William John Perry Colville is the son of William Beckley Colville and Ellen Perry Phillips. To give context, he is the brother of Granny Abbott and the Uncle of Nana Hill.
He was one of eleven children & was born 23rd July 1889, the year following the Colville’s emigration to New Zealand from Cornwall. Interestingly at this time the family were still experimenting with the final spelling of their surname as he was registered as a Colvill. The original family surname is Colwill.
At the time of his death on 27th September 1966, William lived at 91 Keith Street Wanganui . According to electoral rolls he had been living with an Eliza (Isa) Colville before her death in 1957, and the two’s ashes are buried together in plot Rose 782 of the Aramaho cemetery, Wanganui – Rangitikei. I’ve found no record of their marriage and at the time of writing we are still unsure just who this Eliza was?
WIFE NO 1. Eva Dawson
William married Eva Dawson on 1st July 1914, she died during the influenza epidemic on 25th November 1918.
Between one third and one half of the population of New Zealand was infected with the flu. In some places the death rate was as high as 80% of the town’s population, while in others there were very few deaths. By mid-November 1918, influenza had gripped New Zealand but the Department of Health still had not restricted travel around the country, and the infection kept spreading. People came down with the symptoms of the flu very quickly, sometimes collapsing within a matter of hours, and even dying the same day. The only way to avoid catching the virus was by keeping out of contact with other people. There were no flu vaccinations available, and no antibiotics for those who fell ill. Newspapers reported that the young couple had four children together, however I can only find evidence of three; Grace Doreen Mavis in 1915, James Thomas William in 1916 and Lionel Alfred Clarence born just 3 months before Eva died in 1918.
WIFE NO 2. Mary Pollock
William married Mary Pollock on 31 March 1920. Mary was dead within just a few months on 16th October that same year!
Mary’s granddaughter has been in touch and reports that Mary went to work as housekeeper for William, whom she met as a ganger on the railway, in 1918. This may have possibly been when first wife Eva died. Mary already had three children to a Mr John Reid when she met William.
- John Alexander Reid b. 1911
- Isabella Mary Evelyn b. 1914 but died of Nasal Diptheria 1918
- James Earl Magnus Reid b. 1916
Mary & John were together from 1910 until about 1918. It’s thought by Mary’s family that she boarded her own children for two years before marrying Colville in 1920. Then the boys joined her. The boys were not adopted by Colville, but after Mary’s death, both boys stayed with him until they were about 16 years old respectively.
Mary’s death certificate suggests death from heart failure over a period of three days. Prior to her death, a Canadian family member had received letters from her saying she was afraid of her husband William and wanted to go home and passage was being arranged for her and the boys, but she died before she could leave. While certainly not pointing any fingers, Mary’s family are naturally deeply concerned about the untimely death of Mary and are actively seeking to find the truth behind what happened to their loved one.
WIFE NO.3 Davina Rhoda Eliza Cameron nee Walker
A year following Mary’s death, William married his third wife Davina Rhoda Elizabeth Cameron.
Davina was a young widow when she married Colville and already had a 5 year old son, Jessie McKenzie Cameron. Her husband David Duthie Cameron had died 13th February 1918 aged 30 during WW1 in France. He was the son of John and Clara Cameron, of Manakau near Otaki.
Davina and William were married on 6th December 1921. Davina died less than 18 months later on 24th May 1923! She also had a six month old baby daughter, Vera May Colville at the time.
On October 19th 2019, we received Davina’s death certificate and were relieved to see that her death doesn’t appear to be suspicious although doesn’t let her husband off the hook entirely.
Her certificate shows that she died of pyosalpinx, a faecal fistula and general peritonitis. Pyosalpinx (infection & pus in the fallopian tubes) is most often caused by sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea. A faecal fistula is an abnormal opening between the colon and the surface of the abdomen resulting in faecal contents leaking out of the body through the abdomen. It can occur spontaneously following infection or following a surgical procedure.
If any readers have any further information that may assist, please contact me directly, email: [email protected]