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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 1, Issue 2, May 1957

An Early Incident

An Early Incident

Passing along Rutherford Street, Nelson, recently, I noticed some demoltion work being done on No. 130, and this brought back vivid memories of the man who lived on this site some 65 years ago. This man, by name Blicker, had, over the span of several years, caused very considerable worry and financial loss to individuals and groups in our Nelson community.

Of German extraction, Blicker was a very secretive, morose type; a widower, he lived by himself, his working hours devoted to his trade as a bricklayer and plasterer. The house, No. 130, which he built for himself, was a two-storey brick building, heavily decorated; a striking feature was the pair of four-foot images of Joseph and Mary set in recesses on either side of the front door. The street frontage was a large brick wall, with unusually wide steps leading up through the central portion; these steps led to a circular pond, again in brick, with a fountain playing in the centre. And a flight of steps led along the side of the house. Another point we shall have to remember was that at the back of the house, which was fairly high above Rutherford Street, there was a brick-paved yard, with two sheds on the southern side, effectively blocking any view of the yard from the street below. From this yard a flight of brick steps led steeply up the rear bank. About two-thirds of the way up this flight, a side flight of steps led around into a set-back portion of the house wall—and, be it noted, suddenly ended alongside an upstairs window.

Our master-bricklayer, over the years, became more and more a recluse; more and more morose; more and more difficult to approach without evoking tirades against the community in general and against those who built in wood (such a perishable material) or in concrete.

At this time the community was alarmed and dismayed by a series of disastrous, inexplicable fires. Some of us may remember that fire razed the newly-completed Central School, the large skating rink that once provided enjoyment in Rutherford Street, the original Hampden Street School, and quite a number of recently built dwellings. A fire in the office of the "Colonist" newspaper (now the site of R. W. Stiles and Co.) was put out in time.

It was soon obvious that these fires were not accidental. The police, dur-page breaking their investigations, found, while inspecting those two sheds of Blicker's backyard, a number of sacks of shavings and more tins of kerosene than would normally be required by an old man living on his own.

Suspicions had to be supported, however, by more definite information; and so for several weeks constables were Hidden near these sheds, and in the stables across Rutherford Street (where Baigent's timber area now stands). The police authorities, however, were completely baffled by the fact that Blicker was never seen in the act of leaving or entering his house—yet, invariably, as soon as the sound of the fire bells had died away, a light would appear in Blicker's upstairs bedroom; and then the watchers would note the gas-jet in the downstairs hall being lit; and then the front door would open, and out would come Blicker, waiting to hail the first passer-by with the anxious query, "Where's the fire?" As this was the invariable routine, and as his house had been under surveillance all the time, the police came to the conclusion that, despite his anti-community utterances, his sacks of shavings and his kerosene, Blicker could not be the culprit. And so they turned their attention to watching other suspects, but again without any success.

To check up on my own information and to gather in any other details I called on our reliable old friend in matters Nelsonian, Miss Jane Bond, and I now give an outline of our conversation.

"Do you remember Blicker, Miss Bond?"

"My word I do. I was the pupil teacher at Hampden Street when it was burned down. One duty was to lock up the school at closing time. The firebells rang out one Saturday night; looking out of my window I could see from the way that the College was lighted up by the glare that it was my school on fire. First thing next morning two policemen arrived at our place to ask me questions.—Did we have any fire in the building during the day? Did I lock up securely? Did I notice any pupil wearing a suit made of a kind of serge. similar to the piece, which, soaked in kerosene, had been picked up near the school?"

"The ultimate solving of the mystery of the fires," said Miss Bond, "must be credited to our little fox terrier, Hone. He always followed by father who edited the 'Colonist,' a morning paper. Dad, of course, was at work most of the night, and Hone would be with him. Now you will remember, Mr Baigent, that as the police seemed incapable of catching the fire-raiser, the citizens, desperate to prevent further losses, formed a vigilance committee and that the members of this committee used to patrol the main streets each night.

"On one particular night two men on this duty went past the "Colonist" office. Hone, hearing their subdued talk, followed them along the street. When they were passing the old 'Mail' office Hone suddenly stopped, and began sniffing and whimpering excitedly at a grating on the level of the pavement. His excitement attracted the attention of the two men. They put their trust in 'dog-sense': they immediately began investigating, and, sure enough, they unearthed Mr Blicker, complete with a neatly arranged pile of kerosene-soaked rags to act as a wick and piles of shavings all set for a successful fire."

Thus Blicker was caught and brought to trial. Found guilty, he was sentenced to seven years in gaol to be followed by deportation.

After the verdict had been announced Blicker confessed, and explained his routine. He would go out of his house via the upstairs window early in the morning, but, instead of descending to the Rutherford Street level in front of the house he climbed to the top of the side brick steps, quietly opened a well-oiled sliding window in the washhouse of the adjoining building, belonging then to Dr. Cotterill, crossed the backyard of this section and thus reached Wellington Street. After lighting the night's fire with the slow-moving "fuse" he returned by the same route, got into bed, with all lights out—waited patiently for the fire-alarm to sound, giving him his cue to rise, go downstairs, peer out of his front door, and seek information from those hurrying to the scene of the fire.