On 6 March 1885, Ernest Rowland Davis was sentenced to 15 years in gaol for two offences: 'forgery & uttering'  and 'causing laudanum to be taken to enable him to commit an indictable offense.' These somewhat vague and confusing charges conceal the menacing story behind his mug shot.

In 1883, Davis arrived in Port Chalmers using the name 'Bennett'. He introduced himself as an ordained minister and an accredited agent of the British Imperial Sick Benefit and Life Assurance Society. Although he was actually just a ship's baker, Davis used his false credentials to commit a number of scams until he was run out of town. Davis then travelled through New Zealand using a string of false names, and claiming to be everything from a church missionary to a medical doctor to an insurance agent. He stayed in places like Wakouaiti, Greytown and Dunedin, just until the locals grew wise to his scams, like forging entries in Saving Accounts books, pretending to raise money for the Church, or building up debt before skipping town. One man who he had swindled in Dunedin described him as "a skunk, every inch of him." Davis also left behind a series of questionable incidents with young ladies. One young woman even had to call the Police in order to stop his long, frequent, uninvited visits- what we might call stalking today.

When Davis arrived in Christchurch in 1885, he carried on his old tricks. Claiming to be an agent for the National Sick & Burial Society, he forged a charity account book in order to steal £300. Although he was eventually caught and charged with forgery and uttering, it was too late to prevent his more serious crime: "causing laudanum to be taken to enable him to commit an indictable offense." Still under the guise of being an agent for the National Sick & Burial Society, he recruited a young woman named Elizabeth Jane Essey to work for him as a canvasser. Davis began courting Essey, and quickly asked her to marry him. As her fiance, he convinced her to visit him at his house, where he served her a cup of cocoa that he had laced with laudanum (a popular Victorian drug which combined a mixture of opium and alcohol).

After ingesting the laudanum, Essey became 'insensible.' She blacked out and awoke the next morning in Davis' bed. Although she begged him to still marry her, he refused. She feared that the incident would be exposed if she turned him in and her reputation would be ruined forever, so she didn't go to the Police. Luckily, the truth came out when Davis was questioned about the original forgery and uttering charges, and he was brought to justice.  The case was well-documented in New Zealand newspapers in the 1880s and Davis became a publicly despised character. 


"Christchurch Supreme Court." Wanganui Chronicle, Vol. XXIX, Issue 10940 (10 July 1885), 2. Papers Past: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=WC18850710.2.17&srpos=1285&e=-------100--1201-byDA---0laudanum-all

"Colonial Career of the Convict Davis (Canterbury Press)." Evening Post, Vol. XXX, Issue 16 (18 July 1885), 1. http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=EP18850718.2.39&srpos=1300&e=-------100--1201-byDA---0laudanum-all

"Telegrams." Southland Times, Issue 8057 (11 July 1885), 2. Papers Past: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=ST18850711.2.10&srpos=1289&e=-------100--1201-byDA---0laudanum-all

"This Day." Star, Issue 5359 (11 July 1885), 3. Papers Past: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=TS18850711.2.18.2&srpos=1288&e=-------100--1201-byDA---0laudanum-all

Rogues Gallery

Chelsea Nichols, March 2010. Unless otherwise stated, all images and information found on this website are property of the New Zealand Police Museum.