A piece I Wrote back in 2012. It was published in the Irish magazine, Ireland’s Own.
Tonight I heard the most moving story I’ve heard in a long while.
I was watching Billy Connolly’s World Tour of New Zealand on some satellite channel and Billy was taking the viewer through some of the attractions in the South Island.
He told the tale of ‘The lonely Graves;’ two headstones laid side by side in what appears to be the middle of nowhere. The hero of the tale was a man called William Rigney.
Rigney was from Dublin, a twenty five year old miner who arrived in New Zealand from Melbourne on the SS Atrevida in 1861 to seek his fortune in the Otaga gold rush. Life was hard for these men, many of them drowned, or died in collapsed rock falls. Some were even murdered for their claim. Rigney worked the area along the banks of the Cutha river at the Horseshoe bend diggings.
In late 1864 he came across a small dog guarding a man’s body on the banks of the river. The man was fair, young, handsome and had apparently drowned. Rigney took the body to the nearest town to see if he could be identified but no one knew him.
The police were called from the larger town of Roxburgh. They investigated the death but no one could put a name to the body. Rigney attended the inquest at which the coroner delivered a verdict off death by drowning. He asked for, and was granted permission to bury the body near the place he had been found. He reasoned that although the man was anonymous he must have been someone’s son, brother or grandson, he was somebody’s darling.
Rigney dug the grave himself near the woods at Horseshoe Bend, at the side of an ancient Maori bush track. The entire population of the small mining community turned out for the funeral. The local schoolteacher performed the ceremony. Rigney made a headstone from a piece of old black planking and used his poker to burn the words
‘Somebody’s Darling Lies Buried Here.’
Rigney tended the grave himself for many years. He built a fence around it to keep out the livestock, but the wooden headstone began to show signs of age. So in 1903 the local population ran a collection and built a marble headstone, incorporating the original wooden one behind a glass frame in its base.
Rigney never married, and let it be known that when he died he wanted to be laid to rest next to ‘Somebody’s Darling,’ so that the young man wouldn’t be alone for all eternity. In 1912, forty eight years after finding him, he was laid to rest alongside the man he never knew. On his headstone was written, ‘Here lies the body of William Rigney. The man who buried Somebody’s Darling.
I found myself deeply moved by the story, what a wonderful, selfless thing to do for someone you had never known. The next time I am in company I will relate this tale and raise a glass to William Rigney; a man who cared.