The Dental Riskits

This morning my research into the New Zealand Free Lance Paper was interrupted by British Gas’s smart new digital technology which required turning off our electricity power. Our smart meter was due an upgrade, mainly in order for me to access this device from my smart mobile phone. I have no wish ever to do this. Never mind, the procedure was required.

What has this to do with an ancient Antipodean journal?

The answer is provided by the story of my great uncle and aunt John and Holly Evans,

Further information came yesterday in the form of a comment from Sarah Birnie, an Australian seeking to add to her own story and perhaps benefit further from ours. As a descendent of Holly’s twin sister, Jackie’s degrees of cousinship chart suggests that Sarah and I are third cousins once or twice removed, depending on Sarah’s age.

This led me to ask my first cousin Yvonne, now living in Spain, for photographs I knew she had of Jack, Holly, and Betty.

One of these images, from the 20th February 1915 issue of the  aforementioned New Zealand journal, shows a flyer advertising The Dental Riskits appearing at His Majesty’s Theatre. From the addresses of other advertisers on page 31 I believe this to be the one now termed St James Theatre, Wellington.

‘The Free Lance was one of New Zealand’s most popular weekly, pictorial newspapers. It was first published in Wellington in 1900 by Geddis and Blomfield as a spin-off from their successful Auckland weekly, the NZ Observer and Free Lance. The publishers split the title, with the Auckland paper becoming the NZ Observer and the Wellington paper taking the name Free Lance.

Despite its initial association with the Observer, the Free Lance soon developed as a separate publication with the Geddis family concentrating on the Free Lance and Blomfield the Observer. The editor James McRobert Geddis (1856-1935) later became sole proprietor and in 1920 the Geddis family formed a private company to run the paper. The Geddis family were involved with the management of the Free Lance until it was incorporated into the New Zealand Weekly News in 1960. Its demise left the Weekly News as the last pictorial weekly in New Zealand.

The Free Lance was a typical weekly; conservative and mainstream with much coverage given to royalty, New Zealand scenery, high society and sport. It was noted for its political cartoons. It carried the work of some of the country’s top cartoonists including John Gilmour, Gordon Minhinnick, Tom Ellis (Tom Glover), E.F. Hiscocks and Stuart Peterson. The Free Lance was fortunate to begin publishing at the same time as there was a flowering of local cartooning talent. The Free Lance not only benefited from this but also played a significant role in fostering this talent and pictorial journalism in general.’ (

As I have now learned, Holly, already having lost two children, died of the dreadful Spanish flu of 1918 – 1920. Following the devastation of World War I this killer wiped out 100,000,000 more lives across the globe. The great aunt I never knew was then aged 28 years and 9 months. The disease was contracted while performing at Rotherham in Yorkshire and she is buried at Harrogate cemetery.

Having lost a wife and two children, John

later married Betty, seen performing in the post highlighted above. Given that her husband suspended her from his teeth, their stage name was most apt. The views of Jack’s dentists are not recorded.

This afternoon we dined on the rest of Jackie’s tasty mixed grill casserole; creamy mashed potatoes; and crisp cauliflower, carrots, and broccoli, with which Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the Saint-Chinian.

P.S. On 2.4.20 I received this e-mail from Gwen Wilson, for which I am very grateful:

‘Hello Derrick

Catching up with your blog posts drew me again to your trapeze performing ancestors.

The Australian newspapers are littered with references to the Dental Riskits. Pages and pages of them. I can easily outline how to look them up if you are interested. This death notice contains some of the most intriguing family history information I have come across.”dental%20riskit”&searchLimits=

and her mother and other relatives  / / /”dental%20riskit”&searchLimits=sortby=dateAsc

There are so many memorial notices it is clear that Holly’s family were very close and in great distress at losing family members in quick succession. She had many siblings. Her twin sister was particularly bereft.


Gwen Wilson’


and here is an extract from a comment of Gwen’s on another post: ‘On a whim, I typed a search on Riskit into our digitised newspapers and immediately returned this article from1926. Not Holly – his second wife. . .“riskit”&searchLimits=’

This describes an accident involving a 20′ fall while performing.



  1. How intriguing! I know nothing of the paper, so it must have had limited circulation among the less aspirational social groups in it’s dying days. The signatures on the two photos are written in the same hand and I can’t make out the word above the names, can you?

  2. Interesting history. I was confused at first and thought you were saying that you and Jackie were third cousins.
    This made me laugh: “The views of Jack’s dentists are not recorded.”

  3. Derrick, this is quite a fascinating story that reads almost as a work of fiction. I can almost imagine it as a novel spanning generations and continents, coming down to adorable chubby little Ella!

  4. I couldn’t figure out the title at all, not even in my imagination, so it was quite a treat to have the mystery solved at the end. I’m going to pass this history on to a friend who lives in NZ, who may well know the publications.

  5. What interesting family history you have, Derrick! And love the photos!
    Someone should write a book about your family!
    (As far as I know, my most interesting, famous, or infamous ancestor was Amelia Jenks Bloomer. I did a blog on her some time ago, now.)
    I’m fascinated by vintage magazines and newspapers, clippings, and photos!
    Ha! on your title AND their stage name! Makes one focus on their teeth and the condition of their teeth, doesn’t it?! 😉 😀 Jack probably tried to keep his profession a secret from his dentist! 😛
    HUGS!!! 🙂
    PS…so sad that so many died so young of flu in those days. 🙁

    1. Thanks very much, Carolyn. My brother Chris was the family historian. He wanted me to help put his research into a book, but died before we got round to it. Apparently we have a surgeon ancestor who bought bodies for dissection. X

  6. This is fascinating. My paternal grandfather died of the Spanish ‘flu whilst living in the then Calcutta – only months after my father was born.

    1. Many thanks, Lavinia. My late brother Chris collected much information which he wanted me to help put into a book. Unfortunately he died five years ago and we never did it.

  7. Man, was I hooked!

    It is sad to learn of the boundless tragedy that wiped out a precious slice of humanity. I am sure some escaped the Grim Reaper by the skin of their teeth.

    1. Thanks very much Uma. Mum’s cousin Ivy, born in England, must have been a baby when her mother, Holly, died. I have learned from my Mum that she was brought up by Grandma Evans.

      1. I can see Ivy was born in 1911, and registered at Salford in Lancashire. Conveniently, Holly was with her parents-in-law when the 1911 census was taken on 2nd April. The address has been blocked out, but the district was Broughton/Salford. I wonder if Ivy was left behind with her grandparents when the Dental Riskits returned to touring?

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