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No. 32 (September 1960)
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Fifth Instalment


A somewhat sketchy account has already been given about Gotty in the preceding pages and our task now is to fill in the gaps in his life story. In doing so the writer found himself in rather a dilemma on account of the lack of personal family records from which one might have been able to confirm or reject the authenticity of certain stories which have been published from time to time. In the present account there is very little the Gotty family can add to what has already been told, and for our purpose we have had to examine material available from a number of sources and also evidence supplied by various writers in several newspaper articles and other publications.

According to the family the name Gotty was the anglicised rendering of his name, Goethe, by Gotty himself. The story is that he found Englishspeaking people had much difficulty in pronouncing his name correctly, and eventually he took the line of least resistance and from Johann Maximilian Goethe he changed his name to John Gotty. We have no information as to when the change was made.


Gotty arrived in New Zealand about the year 18381, and was an inn-keeper in Auckland until 1842, when he removed to Wanganui2. After settling in Wanganui he bought a section and built the Rutland Hotel, which long remained the principal, if not the only, hotel in Wanganui3. James Garland Woon in his biographical notes on Gotty4 wrote:—

“He must have been a man of means … He was … a ‘Count’ in his own right”, but “never for reasons of his own, assumed the title, or even allowed himself to be addressed as “Herr” John Gotty, preferring to be known as plain John G. It was said that he had been engaged in more than one ‘affair of honour’ in the Fatherland … I can vouch for his courage, pluck and determination. He would have proved a dangerous customer to tackle! For energy, industry and perseverance it would have been hard to beat honest John Gotty. He continued in the hotel business for several years and then sold out to Mr James Speed.”

This is recorded in a deed dated 3rd August, 1863 (Vol. 7 Deeds, Fol. 470). The purchase price was £660. By the late 1860s his name appears on the electoral roll as a land-owner in Wanganui and he is listed in the Wellington Provincial Gazette as a run-holder5.


In December, 1870, Gotty was involved in a Supreme Court case 6, and from the evidence we learn that he owned a farm of 2000 acres at Kaikokopu7. The case concerned a disputed purchase of Gotty's livestock and chattels and an alleged breach of an agreement for delivery of 2500 sheep, five horses, two ploughs, two carts, twenty pigs and 90 head of cattle, at the purchase price of £750–£350 in September and the balance later. The agreement was made in June, and provided that Gotty was to graze the livestock free of cost for the intervening three months. Before the date for delivery Gotty sold the livestock and chattels to another purchaser. The case was heard before a special jury and the hearing extended over two days. Gotty's lawyer argued that the purchaser had “contrived to lead Gotty into a most disadvantageous transaction, and that the price was utterly inadequate for the cattle, stock etc.” Among those who gave evidence was F. A. Krull, the German consul, who deposed that he had found Gotty “a pleasant man of business and would have no hesitation in doing business with him. He also said he had done a great deal of business with Gotty. Another witness said he had known Gotty for “25 or 26 years, and he always talked erratically, especially if you talked about Prussia.”

David Peat, who purchased what stock was on the farm at a later date and who was co-defendant with Gotty, gave evidence that he and his partner, Alexander, had a mortgage on Gotty's land (Gotty, in evidence, had said the mortgage was for £8000 and he had failed to raise finance to meet the mortgage on due date.) Under a power of attorney from his partner Peat had bought the property for £11,300, and the livestock, then on the land, was purchased on valuation:—90 cattle (at £4 per head), £360; 2 horses (at £10 per head), £20; 1 horse, £20; 20 pigs (at

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17s 6d per head) £17 10s; 1700 sheep (at 5s 6d per head), £467 10s; a total of £885.

Peat further deposed that he had “promised Gotty, as he was an old settler of the colony, that he could have a homestead and fifty acres of land as long as he lived.”

At the end of the case the jury decided in favour of the plaintiff and awarded £174 5s damages against Gotty and Peat. Nevertheless, in answer to the question as to the adequacy of the price stated in the agreement for the converted chattels, the jury said, “Decidedly not, nor do the jury consider the purchase a creditable one on the part of the purchaser.”

The reason for raising the mortgage was not stated during the case, and the writer raises the speculation as to whether Gotty had raised the money for meeting the cost of educating his sons The reader will remember that it has been stated in newspaper articles that Gotty sent his sons abroad to complete their education. One writer wrote:—“John and George, born and bred in Rangitikei, were educated at Oxford at a cost of £7000.”8 In another newspaper article it is stated: —“One of the few papers which Gotty left was an account of his sons' education. He says it cost him £7000—at a time when money had a far greater value than it has to-day.”9

It is from statements such as those quoted in the preceding paragraph that the Gotty family have formed the opinion that the writers of some of the newspaper articles have had access to the missing papers, previously referred to in this account. Members of the family have made widespread inquiries for these papers but so far without result. Gotty's son, John, left the papers with his solicitor, the late Alfred M. Lyon of Marton; the lawyer who also drew up his last will and testament on the 26th January 1917.10


After the sale of his farm Gotty lived a retired life with Puhiwahine at Matahiwi, on the south side of the mouth of the Rangitikei River. Gotty's son, John, lived a few miles away at Ohinepuhiawe, and his children were often with their grandparents. Te Keehi says that they all had fond memories of their grandfather and his kindly nature. According to the family Gotty was in receipt of a regular remittance from Germany. He and Puhiwahine often attended tribal gatherings, and he was always made welcome by the tribesmen, all of whom held him in the highest regard. When he was unable to attend Gotty saw to it that Puhiwahine was well cared for on her journeys. He took a good deal of interest in tribal affairs, and his advice was often sought by the chiefs. He had by then become quite a fluent speaker of the Maori language.

In his eighty-fourth year, after being confined to his bed for three months, Gotty passed away peacefully in the arms of his son, John, on the 30th April 1893. He was buried in the Matahiwi cemetery. The name Matahina for the cemetery is a typographical error in the Death Certificate.

John registered his father's death and supplied the following particulars:

  • Description of Deceased: John Gotty, Farmer, Age 84

  • Name and surname of father: Anonia von Goethe.

  • Name and surname of mother: Emma von Goethe.

  • Profession or occupation of father: Cavalry officer in the Prussian Army.

  • Married at Poaru, Taupo, N.Z. at the age of 40, to Elizabeth Rangihiriawea.

  • Deceased was born in Germany and had been in New Zealand 55 years.

  • Living issue: Two sons aged 48 and 46.

The Rihi—the other name of Puhiwahine—is the maorified form of Lizzie. The writer was under the impression that Rihi was a baptismal name, but according to John Rangimatiti the name originated with Gotty who gave her the name Elizabeth when they were married. The changing of names was quite a common thing among our Maori people.


Various writers of newspaper articles, since the death of Gotty, have made the claim that he was a son of the famous German poet-dramatist, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. One of these articles goes on to relate that Gotty, whilst attending “one of the Fatherland's universities” had become the “leader” in some “political strife”, and had eventually been “deported by the appropriate authorities.” He then wandered “from place to place and clime to clime” until finally his “wanderings brought him to New Zealand.”11

Another article tells a story about “a visitor to the home of the poet-philosopher” who discovered that “his wild son Johann Goethe” had killed “a fellow student in a duel”, and had “departed to an unknown foreign land.” This story continues with the statement that the date of Johann's departure “coincided with that of the sailing of Yohann Gotty for Maoriland, and the identity was subsequently confirmed.”12

The third article13 mentions that an original portrait of Goethe by Georg Melchoir, which had been painted in 1779 and had been lost for a century, was traced by Professor Wahl, director of the National Museum at Weimar, to New Zealand. The portrait was retrieved and is now in the museum at Weimar. The portrait represents the poet in one of his plays, “Iphigenia”. This account went on to say, “The presence of the picture in New Zealand may be due to the fact that a son of Johann Wolfgang Goethe came to New Zealand nearly a century ago … It is reputed he had been involved in some agitation in Germany and he became a wanderer and eventually settled in New Zealand.”

The fourth article states that “Family tradition says he wounded a nobleman in a duel at his university and was exiled. But other sources sug-

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gest that his politics were too radical for his time, and he had to flee from the university to escape prison.”14 The present writer has been in touch with the family whilst engaged in writing this account, and must state that there has been no “family tradition” of the nature as stated in the above article.

The extraordinary thing about these stories is that no proof or authority for making the claim that Gotty was a son of the poet has been put forward. It is also rather remarkable that the claim has never been challenged. One would have thought that such a claim would not have escaped some questioning as to its authenticity; especially in view of the fact that the life story of Goethe has been very fully recorded and nowhere is there any mention of a son other than Julius August Walther, the poet's son by Christiane Vulpius.

The present writer has made a search through various books on the life of Goethe for some link between the poet's family and Antonia—Gotty's father—as given by his son, John, in the Death Certificate. The search so far has been without any definite result; however on present knowledge it is just as impossible to disprove the story as to prove it. For instance, the name “Antonia” and the other details in the Death Certificate could be explained as a pseudonym for the poet; another possibility is that Gotty was the poet's grandson by one of his early romantic connections.

On the assumption that F. A. Krull, the German consul in Wellington in 1870 as mentioned earlier in this account, might have left some record as to the antecedents of Gotty, an enquiry was made at the German Consulate in Wellington and Dr Noehring was good enough to reply on the 23rd of July 1959, I very much regret to advise that, unfortunately, all files of the former German Consulate in Wellington were lost through the consequences of war. Therefore, I am not in a position to give you the requested information.” We are still making inquiries in Germany; not only as to the claim that Gotty was a son of the poet, but also about Antonia von Goethe and Emma von Goethe.

At a family conference the writer was handed a genealogy stated to have been copied from the genealogical records of the Mormon Church. This family tree is obviously spurious. It shows Gotty as the son of Walther Wolfgang von Goethe, one of the grandsons of the poet, and Gotty is noted as having been “born about 1839.” The reader will remember that we already have evidence that Gotty was born in 1809, and that he arrived in New Zealand in 1838.


Last July, the Ardmore Teachers' College staged a Maori operetta, “The Dream of Rewi.” It told the story of a popular college graduate, Rewi, who believes he has a duty towards the Maori people. He dreams he is Kahukura, a warrior, who in folklore bring Te Kupenga, the fishing net, to his tribe. The net is symbolic of progress. Years after the dream, Rewi has realised his duty in helping the hand-in-hand progress of Maori and Pakeha.


A Maori Youth Club has been formed at Taurranga. Amoung its objectives are the fostering of Maori traditions and arts and crafts, and to raise funds for a memorial to Maharaia Winiata. Officers are: The Mayor of Tauranga, Mr D. S. Mitchell, and the Rev. F. N. Finlay; President, Mr S. Wanoa; Secretary, Miss P. Auhaka; Treasurer, Miss C. Smith.

1Death Certificate of John Gotty. Certified Copy No. 6063.

2Miss Millar's Notes on John Gotty, Alexander Turnbull Library.

3Volume 1 Grants 255 Register 5 Folio 385 Sections 171 and 172–2 roods. Town of Petrie (former name of Wanganui). Crown Grant under the hand of Sir George Grey to John Gotty, settle, registered 2.45 p.m. January 8th, 1853.

4Woon, James Garland: Wanganui Old Settlers, December 1901. Pages 1617, 46 and 53.

5Miss Millar's Notes.

6Wellington Independent, December 17th, 1870.

7The name Kaikokopu is derived from a stream and lagoon on the south side of the mouth of the Rangitikei river. The Maori name for the locality is Matahiwi. (Information from Te Keehi, a granddaughter of John Gotty).

8“J.H.S.” in The Advocate of Marton, “No. 25 —Passing Maori Memories”, undated, in writer's possession.

9New Zealand Herald, 28th October, 1950. (to be concluded)