There are all sorts of fascinating Christchurch stories to be found on our website. This one has a definite touch of Christchurch Gothic. The Howard Mystery, or The Severed Hand. On 16 December 1885, at Taylor’s Mistake, a hand was found by two men fishing off the rocks. Identified by a ring still on it, the hand was claimed by a Mrs Sarah Howard as being that of her husband. Mr Arthur Howard’s clothing had been found on Sumner beach on 11 October the same year.
Mr Howard, who was a mechanic had life insurance to the value of ₤2,400 - a considerable amount of money for this time. The sum Mrs Howard stood to gain raised police suspicions. This led to the two fishermen who found the hand and Mrs Howard being arrested for conspiracy to defraud an insurance company.
Mr Howard was later tracked down in Petone, at a YMCA picnic (both hands intact) and was arrested. The hand was later identified as that of a woman but despite the exhumation of several graves in an attempt to discover the hand’s owner, to this day the identity of the hand's owner is not known.
Archives New Zealand has a great article about Arthur Robert Ramage Howard and the Severed Hand mystery, with an image showing the trial entry from the Return of Prisoners Tried, Christchurch Supreme Court, for 5 April 1886, [CH53/6], held in the Christchurch Office of Archives New Zealand.
Read more about the Severed Hand mystery
- Christchurch Crimes and scandals 1876-99 Geoffrey Rice
- The Mystery of the Severed Hand Lost Christchurch
- The mystery of the severed hand, Chapter XXI in Cheerful yesterdays by O.T.J. Alpers, Whitcombe and Tombs Limited, 1930.
- The severed hand; or, The Howard mystery : with portraits of Mr and Mrs Howard, the Messrs Godfrey, and the mysterious hand. Christchurch: Capper Press, 1974.
- View a Severed hand set of stories on DigitalNZ.