The Tetley Affair
Joseph Tetley, a swindler and a gentleman
Marlborough was shaken by a scandal in the 1860s, when a Member of Parliament ran off to South America with £40,000 of investors’ money, and never returned.
When Frederick Weld returned to England from his time in Marlborough, he brought with him tales of a lush and verdant land where those seeking to escape England could become prosperous sheep farmers. He published a pamphlet, Hints to Intending Sheep Farmers in New Zealand1, which inspired many young men to leave their homes and seek their fortunes in Marlborough.
One of those young men was Joseph Tetley. Born to poor Yorkshire farmers in 1825, he managed to elevate his status by marrying well: his wife, Elizabeth Dodsworth, was the daughter of a baronet. His new connections with the gentry allowed him to meet Weld at a party, likely in 1856. He read Weld’s pamphlet, and the two hit it off. Tetley left for New Zealand in 1857.2
With his connections and a recommendation from Weld, he managed to secure a meeting with Nathaniel Levin: a prominent Wellington businessman. Levin provided Tetley with financial backing, and Tetley purchased a parcel of land in Kekerengu, close to Weld’s station at Flaxbourne.3
Within ten years, Tetley owned over 1000 hectares in Marlborough alone. He was elected the Picton representative on the Marlborough Provincial Council in 1867,4 and appointed to the Legislative Council in Wellington later the same year.5 It seemed everything was going smoothly for Joseph Tetley.
On a trip to England in 1864, he met four young men: Digby Garforth, Henry Wharton, Frederick Dull and Richard Beaumont. He impressed them with his talk of Marlborough, and they sailed for New Zealand together in 1865.6
Unbeknownst to them, Tetley was playing them from day one. In what appears to be a con a decade in the making, he failed to transfer them any livestock, and instead used their money to borrow heavily without security. He recommended a scheme whereby they would receive only 1/8th of their investment, and they were so charmed that they took him up on it. Beaumont in particular was so impressed with Tetley’s talk that he wrote home for more money. The four men invested a total of £22,000 in Tetley, with a large majority of it coming from Beaumont.7
Elizabeth, his wife, died of yellow fever in 1868, and Tetley returned to England for her funeral. During this time, Beaumont got a good look at Tetley’s financials, and came to a series of shocking realisations. Tetley had not left enough money to run the properties, and was £14,000 in debt to BNZ Picton, and £24,244 to Levin and Co.. All capital invested was gone; Beaumont lost £15,000, and Nathaniel Levin lost £6,000 personally.8 Adjusted to 2017 rates, Tetley ran off with under $7,000,000 NZD.
Tetley never returned to New Zealand. Instead, he sailed for Montevideo, Uruguay: a well-known haven for English reprobates.9
Of course, the scandal didn’t end when Tetley disappeared. Back in Marlborough, Richard Beaumont was furious at being deceived. He blamed Nathaniel Levin: claiming that Levin was complicit in the crime. Levin at this time had just been appointed to the Upper House of Parliament. In a precarious position, he sued for slander to put rumours to rest.10 Both Beaumont and Levin’s cases were pleaded in the Nelson District Court in 1869. Under pressure and after being absent from Wellington for too long, Levin was forced to resign from the Upper House, less than 18 months after taking his seat and without giving a single speech.11
The trial was widely publicised. Although the jury found that Levin had not actively colluded in the scam, they did find that he had been suspicious of Tetley’s behaviour, and failed to warn Beaumont and the others. Both Beaumont and Levin left the court with nothing,12 and Levin would leave New Zealand forever, one month after the conclusion of the trial.13
Beaumont didn’t do too badly out of the business. The three properties owned by Tetley, with the assistance of his three young partners, including Beaumont, became known as Starborough. In about 1872, Beaumont became the sole owner of Starborough until 1895, when the Land for Settlement Act 1894, saw the station split up by the Government along with 21 other large Marlborough estates.14
The scandal of the gentleman-turned-rogue swept the country: how could Tetley – a man of such good standing – throw it all away for the money? Tetley gave no answers, and was never brought to account for his crimes. He became such an infamous drunk and scoundrel in Montevideo that he acquired the nickname ‘The Pacific Slope’. He lived out the rest of his days there, dying rich and happy in Colonia, Uruguay, in 1878.15
2017. Updated Dec 2020
Sources used in this story
- Weld, F.A. (1860). Hints to Intending Sheep Farmers in New Zealand. London: Edward Stanford. Retrieved from ENZB:
- Hunt, Graeme, (1952). Hustlers, rogues & bubble boys: white-collar mischief in New Zealand. Reed Publishing, Auckland.
- News of the Day (1867. January 12th). Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, p. 3.
- The Evening Post (1967, July 8th), p 2.
- Supreme Court [Levin v Beaumont] (1869) The Colonist, p. 1, Supplement
- Supreme Court
- The Daily Southern Cross (1871, January 20th).
- The Evening Herald (1869, December 20th).
- Nicholls R (1990). Levin, Nathaniel William. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand
- The Awatere. In The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Nelson, Marlborough & Westland Provincial Districts (1906). Christchurch: Cyclopedia Company
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Further sources - The Tetley Affair
- Hunt, G. (2001), Hustlers, rogues and bubble boys: white collar mischief in New Zealand, Auckland, N.Z.: Reed. p 17, 19-22, 102.
- Kennington, A.L. (1968), The Anglican church in the Awatere: a parish history Blenheim, N.Z. Express Printing Works p. 7, 8-9, 51.
- Kennington, A.L. (2007), The Awatere: a district and its people, Christchurch, N.Z. Cadsonbury Publications p. 43, 46, 48-49, 73, 107-109, 155.
- Loftus, H. J. ( 1997), The Tetley affair or colonial dreams and nightmares, Waikanae, NZ: Heritage Press Ltd.
- The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Nelson, Marlborough & Westland Provincial Districts] Marlborough Provincial District - The Marlborough Land District (published 1906) p 310.
- McIntosh, A. D.(ed) (1977), Marlborough: a provincial history, Christchurch, N.Z. : Capper Press p. 424
- Sherrard, J. M. (1966), Kaikoura: a history of the district, Kaikoura, N.Z. : Kaikoura County Council p. 104, 105, 136, 139-141, 160, 274, 298.
- Stevenson, M. W. (1988), The Awatere valley today and yesterday, Blenheim, N.Z.: A committee of Awatere Valley Women’s Division Federated Farmers p 221.
- Taylor, J.(comp.) (2000), Flaxbourne: its people and their stories, Ward, N.Z.: Flaxbourne Settlers’ Association p. 28, 253.
- Justices of the Peace, Advertisements (1859, January 26) New Zealander, p.2 supplement (retrieved 8/6/17).
- The pastoral lands of Marlborough province (1865, August 29) The Colonist
- The Colonist (1869, August 24)
- Evening Post (1869, June 26)
- Nelson Evening Mail (1869, November 24)
- Supreme Court (1869, November 25) Nelson Evening Mail
- The Nelson Evening Mail (1869, November 26)
- Civil sittings (1869, November 27) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle,
- Papers relating to Joseph Tetley and Dodsworth family (MS-Papers-9067-2) (Alexander Turnbull Library)
- Mowat diaries, Alexander Turnbull Library and Marlborough Historical Society’s Archives.
- Joseph Dresser Tetley, Miss Dodsworth and Jessie Cruickshank Crawford, (retrieved 8/6/17).
- Kekerengu Station. A history. Retrieved 26 June, 2017:
- Kekerengu Station. New Zealand Heritage:
- Levin, Nathaniel William, in Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand (retrieved 8/6/17).