MOFFITT, Trevor;

3rd Oct 1941, Bert Cropper Being Threatened by Graham

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1987
Oil on board
600 x 600mm

Inscriptions: Moffitt 87 [l.r.] 8 "8th [sic] Oct 1941. Bert Cropper / being Threatened by Graham" / Price $1500 / oil on H/B. [verso]

This painting is from Trevor Moffitt’s well-known series relating the killing spree carried out by Stanley Graham in the West Coast region of Te Waipounamu on 8 and 9 October 1941. Moffitt began researching Graham in 1985, reading as much as he could and visiting site of the killing, Koiterangi (now Kōwhitirangi), near Hokitika.[1] He did not watch the 1981 film about Graham, Bad Blood, since he did not want it to influence him.[2]

Moffitt worked on the Stanley Graham series from 1986 to 1987, producing ‘51 paintings, roughly a chronological description of Graham’s lifestyle leading into the shootings and manhunt’.[3] The series is, in part, a commentary on the dangers of a society that neglects mental health and encourages men to ‘bottle things up’. Moffitt commented, ‘The lessons of the man [i.e. Graham] are still to be learnt—that a lack of communication leads to violence in society.’[4]

3rd Oct 1941, Bert Cropper Being Threatened by Graham is among the most visually striking works in the series. It has long been called 8th Oct 1941, Bert Cooper Being Threatened by Graham. Sergeant William ‘Bill’ Cooper was killed by Graham on 8 October; however, there was no ‘Bert Cooper’. The title inscribed on the reverse of the work identifies the subject as Bert Cropper, one of Graham’s neighbours. The men had two run-ins. The first encounter, on Friday 3 October, is described in detail by H. A. Willis:

‘Bert Cropper’s car had been giving him trouble and so, on the Friday evening, at his home in Koiterangi, he carried out repairs. After some tinkering he judged the machine to be ready for a trial run. He set out towards Mt Camelback, but just outside the church his car rattled to a stop. The land on the opposite side of the road to the church was of course Graham’s, largely hidden by bordering hawthorn and blackberry hedges. Cropper lifted the bonnet to see whether he could restart his car. He bent over his motor and examined it. Suddenly an angry voice roared, “What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing prowling around here?”’

‘Straightening up, Bert Cropper saw Stanley Graham glaring at him across the hedge. He had noticed that Graham always seemed to have a rifle with him over the past month, but this evening he could not tell as Graham was partly obscured by the hedge. The doubt was enough to cause Cropper to hesitate before replying, and to answer with as much calm as he could muster. “I’m just fixing my car, Mr Graham.”’

‘Trembling with ungovernable rage, Graham waved his finger at Cropper and bellowed, “You’d better shift pretty bloody quick—I’m going to deal with you.”’[5]

The second encounter between Cropper and Graham, on Wednesday 8 October, also took place near Graham’s house. Cropper had carried out a minor job at the local school before it opened for the day. Graham confronted him as he was leaving the school, accusing Cropper, falsely, of helping to poison his cattle. Graham’s wife encouraged her husband to ‘give him the hot end of a rifle’.[6] Cropper took off on his bicycle.

Since Moffitt’s painting shows Cropper with his car, as he did on 3 October, it seems that the date given in the original title, 8 October, is erroneous.

 

[1] Chris Ronayne, Trevor Moffitt (Tāmaki Makaurau: David Ling, 2006), 126.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 110.

[4] Ibid., 121.

[5] H. A. Willis, Manhunt: The Story of Stanley Graham (Ōtautahi: Whitcoulls Publishers, 1979), 60.

[6] Ibid., 66.

Exhibition History

Boom Time: Works from the Bank of New Zealand Art Collection, Tauranga Art Gallery Toi Tauranga, 14 March to 24 May 2009

From the BNZ Art Collection, City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, 4 December 1998 to 21 February 1999

Trevor Moffitt: Stanley Graham Series, Louise Beale Gallery, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, 2 to 20 November 1987

Illustrated

Gregory O’Brien, We Set Out One Morning: Works from the BNZ Art Collection (Tāmaki Makaurau: Bank of New Zealand, 2006), 70.

Provenance

2022–
Fletcher Trust Collection, purchased from The Bank of New Zealand Art Collection Part II, Webb’s, Tāmaki Makaurau, 27 September 2022, lot 122

1987–2022
Bank of New Zealand Art Collection, purchased from Louise Beale Gallery, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, 1987

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