May 10, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Murder on the Maungatapu track | NZ History

1 min read


On this day in 1866

The murder of five men on the Maungatapu track, south-east of Nelson, in June 1866 shocked the colony. These killings, the work of the so-called Burgess gang, resembled something from the American Wild West.

Richard Burgess, Thomas Kelly, Philip Levy and Joseph Sullivan had all come to New Zealand via the goldfields of Victoria, Australia. Three of them had been transported to Australia for crimes committed in England. They were just the sort of career criminals that the Otago authorities had feared would arrive following the discovery of gold in the province. The South Island goldfields offered potentially rich pickings for criminals in the 1860s.

After killing a lone prospector, James Battle, on 12 June, the gang ambushed and murdered a party of four on their way to the West Coast the following day. They were arrested in Nelson within a week, having aroused suspicion by spending money freely. Their trial was followed with great interest; sketches and accounts of the case were eagerly snapped up by the public. It became all the more intriguing when Sullivan turned on his co-accused and provided the evidence that convicted them. He escaped the gallows; the other three men were not so lucky.


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