Gravestone tells hell of a story

The volunteer gravestone cleaning group Friends of Wakapuaka aroused my curiosity, prompting me to walks around various parts of the cemetery. One particular gravestone that caught my eye marks the resting place of Bill and Lois Sixtus—a double grave. Bill aged 27years, Lois aged 23years, 24th December 1955—Christmas Eve!

This got me curious so I researched the story behind the gravestone. Google, newspapers, local researchers and recorded stories soon revealed one ‘hell of a story’. Then my attention was drawn to the book “RJ’s Story” by Robin Bloomfield (River Press, Picton 1994) where good friend Robin tells of the incident in full.

The two families had travelled from Motueka to Nelson to do their Christmas shopping, in particular the extra supplies for their planned holiday to Torrent Bay the following day. Robin and his wife drove by car while Bill and Lois travelled by boat, their holiday supplies for both couples loaded on board ready for the trip to Torrent Bay.

When Bill & Lois set off from Nelson, the sea was “a bit rough but we didn’t think too much of it”. Lois liked to sit on the front deck and lean back against the wheelhouse.

It was not until later that day that Robin and his wife Val were alerted to an incident at Mapua. The boat had been found aground on a nearby beach, with its motor still running but no-one on board. That is until someone climbed on and found a baby fast asleep in the cabin. This was soon established as being Raewyn, the 12 month old daughter of Bill and Lois.

Bill’s body was later found washed up on the beach and Lois’s body was found floating in the Mapua channel. Family concluded that it was likely that Lois must have slipped off the deck in the rough seas and when Bill tried to pull her back on board, her wet weight and size was too much and Bill also ended up in the sea as the boat motored on.

Sadly for all the families and friends, Boxing Day 1955 was spent at Wakapuaka Cemetery and all the supplies in the boat were consumed by mourners rather than the happy holiday makers at Torrent Bay.

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