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Tales of Banks Peninsula

No. 17.—John Henry Caton

page 178

No. 17.—John Henry Caton.

There is a very picturesque bay on Lake Forsyth named after the subject of this memoir, who was well known all over the Peninsula as a dealer in stock. He was a man of a great variety of trades, up to anything, and was much liked by many in the early days. He once kept the Canterbury Hotel, in Lyttelton, and afterwards (in conjunction with D. Taylor) purchased a run near Taumutu, at the head of Lake Ellesmere. It is said he was born in Smithfield, close to the celebrated market, and he used to boast that be had been connected with stock since his birth, for that reason, He went to Sydney in 1849, and came to Canterbury rn 1853. It was about 1860 that he purchased the run previously mentioned, and entered extensively into cattle dealing, a pursuit which made him known in every corner of the Peninsula, from which he drew no small portion of his supplies.

The great event in his life happened later. He arranged with Mr. William Wilson, of Christchurch, familarly known as "Cabbage Wilson," to enter into a speculation for buying a large number of cattle in Nelson and Marlborough, and taking them to Dunedin, where they were scarce. Mr. Wilson found the money, and the large drove was collected north and driven south, where they were disposed of at a large profit, the purchase money exceeding £2000. Hia instructions were to bank this money in Dunedin, where he received it, but this he did not do. He returned from Dunedin with the money in his pocket, in company with Mr. H. Prince, and when they arrived at the Waitaki, the boundary river between Otago and Canterbury, he tried to make an arrangement with one of the men that when they were crossing the river they should create a disturbance amongst the dogs, so that a stock whip might be used, and in the scuffle a carpet bag he carried, supposed to contain the money, might be lost overboard. The man in question agreed, and when they were crossing the river the plan was carried out, but, unluckily for Caton, a passenger rescued the carpet bag before it page 179sank, so that this plan failed. They rested that night on the north side of the Waitaki, and Caton made an excuse to leave the camp to look after some horses in the river bed. He went a way. and during his absence night came on, On his return he asked the tent keeper where was his carpet bag, about which he evinced great anxiety. He afterwards called attention to the tent being cut, and declared the carpet bag had been taken, and after a long search the carpet bag was found ripped open, and despoiled of its supposed contents of £2000. Prince, being afraid he might be accused, gave notice to the police, and when Caton reached Rolleston, Detective H. Feast, Sergeant Major Pardie, and our friend Sergeant Willis, of Akaroa, were waiting for him, They searched him without result, but at the bottom of a pair of long boots, hung over a chair to dry, the £2000 was found. The trial created great interest, and he was eventually sentenced to four years' imprisonment at Lyttelton Gaol. After his release he went to Sydney, where he was drowned some time after in the river McLachlan. He was a man of remarkable talents, and might have made quite a prominent figure in life had it not been for his unfortunate propeneity. His name is quite a byword in the county. The latter event recorded took place about 1872.