A family story about the Von Tempsky Violin

There is a family story about the Von Tempsky violin which had been owned by my great grandfather Tim Howard until 1898. Apparently the violin was a 1625 Maggini*. Howard had been a policeman and a farmer near Invercargill and by all accounts a good violinist or fiddle player as they would have said.

“On Von Tempsky’s death the instrument came into the hands of one of the soldiers attached to his command, Mr Tim Howard, who is now settled on a farm at Orepuki. Mr Wilson purchased it from Mr Howard in Invercargill about 1898 for a considerable sum of money.
According to the story told by Mr Howard, the violin was on one occasion, during the progress of the Maori war, placed on top of a six-horse waggon, which capsized over a precipice. The horses and driver were killed, and the waggon smashed to pieces, but the violin and case slid to the bottom, and were picked up none the worse.
Twice the violin fell into the Wanganui river and floated downstream. The first time it was brought to shore by a pointer dog, and the second time it was picked up by a boat, escaping injury on each occasion.”
In 1908 the violin was in the possession of Wilson’s granddaughter but it seems to have disappeared since, The paper said, “The most wonderful thing about the instrument is some beautiful inlaid work on the back, characteristic of Maggini. The scene depicts an old Italian castle or monastery, and the workmanship is wonderful. A quaint inscription in old Italian adds interest to the relic, which is undoubtedly one of rare value”.

That story was in the Dominion on 23 April 1908. Another version of the story over here Also linked to over here

Tim Howard b 1856

Tim Howard with a violin. We don’t know if it was the one in the famous story.

Tim Howard was born in 1856 which would have made him 12 years old when von Tempsky died in 1868. It is not impossible but I sincerely doubt they had any child soldiers in Von Tempsky’s unit.

However as the story explains – Howard sold the violin in 1898 and so by that time 30 years had elapsed since Von Tempskys demise.

Maggini came from Brescia which was an Italian town known for making stringed instruments including violins. The comment above about the inlaid picture of the castle on the back almost certainly rules out the violin being an actual Maggini at all.

* It probably means that the violin was a French copy made in the Alsace region.

The originals did not have that and there were only about 60 made..

I would guess there is another story would explain how an Irish immigrant to Southland managed to get hold of an exotic violin but this is a pretty good one.

We don’t know when** Howard arrived from Ireland but we do know he was married in Wellington at St Mary’s Cathedral on 16 July 1886. Our best guess is that Tim Howard and the woman he married (Elizabeth Dorgan from Tralee in Ireland) both came out to New Zealand in the later 1860’s at the earliest. Elizabeth was born in 1855 and died in 1921.
** I’m looking into it – we can probably find out which ship he arrived on. (Done)

** Update: May 2018- Found out that Thomas arrived from Limerick in January 1880 in Wellington. He was single and his occupation was given as a labourer. The boat he arrived on was called the Eastminster. (Von Tempsky died in 1868 so Howard never met him in person.)

1845 to 1852 in Ireland were the years of the great potato famine. We know that Tim Howard was born in 1856 so he was born immediately after the famine which was still a time of great emigration. He may have been born in Fedamore near Limerick and or some records say Cork.

From looking at the history of Maggini violins it is clear that by the 1800’s there were many German copies made. (Maggini died of the plague in c.1630)

Unless someone finds the actual violin it is difficult to know but it seems more likely it was a copy of a Maggini rather than the real thing.

Von Tempsky was an adventurer born 1828 and died 1868 in NZ. He left Prussia in 1846 to go to the Mosquito Coast which was either Honduras or Nicaragua when he was only 18. He also travelled to the Californian gold rush and the Australian Goldfields in 1858 finally arriving in New Zealand 1862 for some more gold chasing in the Coromandel.

Again it is possible (but improbable) that he inherited a very rare violin before he left Europe in the 1840’s but I’m wondering why anyone with a 200 year old violin would be so careless. Surely even in the 1840’s a violin like that would have been highly valued by orchestra players in Europe much more so that in Australia or New Zealand.

From what I can read about Von Tempsky art & character he was larger than life and so was my great grandfather – or so I’ve been told.

As they say in New Zealand – good story bro.