Tales of Banks Peninsula
No. 20.—The Mysterious Disappearance of Mr. Dicken
No. 20.—The Mysterious Disappearance of Mr. Dicken.
In the article entitled "French Farm and the Survey," brief mention is made of the mysterious disappearance of Mr. Dicken, of French Farm, but merely a few words were given, and it is therefore with much pleasure that we are able to lay before our friends a clear and detailed account, that was furnished our informant by Mr. Edwin Silk, who was, at the time Mr Dicken disappeared, renting some land from him, in conjunction with Mr. Tribe. It appears that in the summer of 1857 Mr Dicken and Mr. Silk went out one morning to look after some stray cattle. They went over a lot of country in the neighbourhood of French Farm, and got home unsuccessful at 4 p.m. Mr. Dicken then declared his intention of searching for the missing stock on the Barry's Bay fern hills He accordingly went out on his pony, refusing the company of Mr Silk, who offered to go with him. He had a collie slut following him. When evening came, and Mr. Dicken did not come back, Messrs Tribe and Silk were both anxious, for the roads were very bad, and they feared he might have had a fall They therefore got out the dingy, and pulled to the Head of the Bay Hotel, which was then kept by Anderson, in order to find out if anything had been seen of Mr. Dicken there. Finding on their arrival that he had not gone in that direction, they went to Barry's Bay. Mr. Tribe had brought a cornet that he was in the habit of playing with him, and when they got to the Barry's Bay hills he made them ring again, but to their mortification and dismay there was no response, and they had to return home.
Next morning they renewed their search in the flax and scrub that were on the edge of the bush that fringed the Barry's Bay fern hills. At last, in a pig track, they saw the marks of the pony's feet, and following the trail they came to the pony himself. He was tied to a flax bush, but so lightly that the least pull would have set him loose. There, however, he had evidently stayed since the previous night, and further observations showed Mr. Dicken's own page 187track leading into the bush, They followed it for a few chains, but it then became imperceptible, and though they again and again tried to see where it led, and Mr. Silk knew the print of the boots so thoroughly as to be able to identify their marks anywhere, they could find nothing to guide them. Eventually they returned to French Farm and gave the alarm to Mr. Dicken's family, and to the people living at Akaroa. Search parties were organised, and every hill and gully was searched for a week, but without result. The search was most thorough. There was a big totara tree in the bush, and each party on going in used to mark on this tree the direction in which they were searching, so every gully was scoured Miss Dicken offered a reward of £500 for the body of her brother, alive or dead, but the men could not have searched better than they did for any reward. The Maoris offered to come for a certain sum down, but they did not fancy having anything to do with a corpse, and rather shunned the search, their superstition being awakened by the whole matter. What seemed most puzzling was that the dog did not come back, as it would if anything had happen to Mr. Dicken. At last the search was given up and the Akaroa people went back, the understanding being that if the dog came back, or there were anything fresh happened, Messrs Tribe and Silk should make a smoke at a certain point to let the Akaroa people know.
Just, a fortnight after Mr. Dicken's disappearance, Mr. Silk was at the back of the house at French Farm, washing his clothes, when, looking round, what was his astonishment to see Mr Dicken's slut crawling up to him. She was a mass of skin and bone, and must have been fasting during the whole of her absence, and she crawled up to him in that guilty way which dogs have when they know they have done wrong. Her hair was matted and stained with red clay, and this struck him as most remarkable, as there was no red clay to be found in the neighbourhood of Barry's Bay, the nearest being some miles away.
Mr. Silk gave the signal agreed on, and three boat loads of men came over from Akaroa, and they took the slut to page 188the place where the horse was found, and tried to make her show them the road her master had taken. All was useless, however, for she would not go anywhere, and eventually the second search had to be abandoned without any result, and the mystery has never been solved to this day. Mr. Silk had a list of the things Mr. Dicken had with him, so that the body might be identified if it were ever found. One of these things was his pipe. It was a clay, and a triangular piece had been broken out of the bowl, so that it would hold very little tobacco. Only the day before his disappearance Mr. Silk had said to him, "I had better give you another pipe," but he was a small smoker, and replied, "No, the pipe holds enough for me." Mr. Silk could also identify his knife, and the pattern of the nails in his boots, which was peculiar. Some day perhaps this knowledge may help to solve the mystery. The slut became the property of Mr. Thomas Brough, and was eventually killed for biting one of his children.