Trail of The Great Sequah ends in Gore


Peter Rowley, from the United Kingdom, has arrived in Gore on a voyage of discovery.
Mr Rowley and his wife, Christine, visited the Eastern Southland Gallery earlier this week to talk to curator Jim Geddes about the life of his great-grandfather.
Charles Frederick Rowley, known as The Great Sequah, came to New Zealand and lived in Balfour in the 1900s.
The showman’s life is depicted on two artistic panels created by artists Donna Demente, of Oamaru, and Jeff Mitchell, of Gore, and hung in the Howl at the Moon cafe and bar.
The Great Sequah was born in 1866 in West Bromwich, United Kingdom, and died in Balfour in 1936. He was buried in Gore, Mr Rowley said.
The word sequah meant Cherokee medicine man.
Mr Rowley discovered the story of The Great Sequah when he began delving into family history several years ago.
His great-grandfather was not talked about much within his family, but there were some hints of his colourful past.
“My father once said to me `we come from the circus’ and I thought it was a joke,” Mr Rowley said.
“There were 22 sequahs. Great-granddad was the most successful, so he became known as The Great Sequah,” Mr Rowley said.
“The Great Sequah was well-educated, a showman, a charlatan, but also a gentleman.”
As a showman, he travelled the United Kingdom with a large theatre organ, a carousel ride, a big band and several native Americans, he said.
He later travelled throughout the world, including Europe, Brazil, South Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
“He took people’s teeth out for free, massaged others with sequah oil and other products, all supposed to cure all ills.
“People couldn’t be heard yelling with pain as their teeth came out because of the volume of the big loud band.”
The Great Sequah was compared with the modern-day Richard Branson – a man of his time, he said.
“Although The Great Sequah was a charlatan, in the year 1900, a lady asked him for help which he was unable to give, so he slipped a 5 note under her shoulder strap, saying `I think this can help you more than I can’.”
He said 5 then would be thousands of pounds today.
Before coming to New Zealand, he took his wife and children to South Africa. He returned to the United Kingdom promising to send for them when he had settled in Australia, but he never did.
“He left them there with basically no money and he never went back.”
He did, however, acquire a new partner who lived with him in Balfour, Mr Geddes said.

Looking back . . .This artwork is one of two depicting the colourful life of Charles Frederick Rowley.

Remembered . . . Another artwork depicting aspects
of the life of Charles Frederick Rowley
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