The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 7 (November 1, 1933)
Famous New Zealand Trials — The Trial Of Tuhiata
Whilst we may not wholly agree with Plutarch in his saying, “Man is neither by birth nor disposition a savage, nor of unsocial habits, but only becomes so by indulging in vices contrary to his nature,” yet it must be conceded that the indulgence of vicious habits removes from many the veneer (it is so often only a veneer) of respectability that culture provides. In the case of the uncultivated native, however, the savage passions of destruction and self-protection are always near the surface.
In 1880, one of the few but very popular English periodicals was the “Graphic.” Its illustrations were better than most of its rivals. In those days there was no infra-red photographic process—indeed, no photographic process at all available for the reproduction of scenes on the cheap or inferior type of paper used in newspapers and periodicals.
New Zealand, in those days, was little known in England. Great interest, however, was shewn in the sketches of our incomparable bush and mountain scenery, of Maori pahs, and of fierce looking Maori chiefs with their faces scored in strange designs, appearing in the “Graphic.”
The artist who sent these sketches to the “Graphic” signed the work “M. Dobie.” To few was it known that the contributor was a lady.
Mary Dobie was a charming young lady who, with her mother, went adventuring out to the Antipodes, where her father's sister had married Major Goring, then occupying a military post at Opunake. He was the Inspector of the Armed Constabulary for the district, and was quartered in the military redoubt. Times had grown peaceful, for Te Whiti, the chief of the tribe of Maoris, was friendly with the pakeha invader.
Mary Dobie had been on the staff of the “Graphic” for some years, and her reputation as an artist of high quality was already well established. Daily she would go wandering along the lonely roads from Opunake, usually confining her companions to two dogs, belonging to Major Goring. She would stop at a stream to sketch a scene of sparkling water rippling over rocks and under the fronds of the native ferns; she would stop in a glade through which could be caught a glimpse of a mountain top, and she would sketch some old and friendly Maori chief. Miss Dobie was always so full of high spirits and youthful enthusiasm and charm that she had friends both pakeha and Maori in plenty.
It was a beautiful day when Mary Dobie, on Thursday, the 25th November, 1880, set off for a walk to Te Namu, proposing to sketch if she saw some scene that “caught her eye.” She bought a pencil from the store and started down the main road soon after lunch. Not having returned for dinner, inquiries were made about the village to see if she had called to see any of her friends. Then, as nothing was known of her movements since she set out for Te Namu, anxiety took the place of mere curiosity. By 8 o'clock the whole village was alarmed, and a small party was quickly collected. Down the road the party went, and ere long the dead body of the young woman was found party concealed under a native flax bush. Her throat was cut from ear to ear.page 33
Within an hour a white man, named Stannard, was arrested and charged with the murder. He was the person last known to have seen Miss Dobie on the high road, and his clothes were deeply stained with blood. Horror swept through the whole settlement, and astonishment that Stannard, who had always been well regarded, had been arrested for the ghastly crime. Many refused to believe that Stannard, who strenuously denied the charge, was capable of committing it.
The rest of the story can best be told as it was enacted at the Supreme Court, at Wellington, when a Maori, named Tuhiata, stood his trial on the charge of having murdered Mary Dobie. Only one comment should, however, precede the narrative, and that is to explain why Stannard was not sent for his trial.
The preliminary proceedings, which were in the nature of an inquest, were held before a jury and a coroner, Mr. J. M. Gibbes. During the two days of hearing, on the 27th and 29th November, 1880, it became clear that Stannard had had nothing whatever to do with the crime and that the blood on his shirt and his trousers were from the nose of his horse, which had fallen headlong and broken the skin about its nose. It was this blood with which Stannard's clothing was stained. When the Coroner was about to sum up to the jury, they interrupted him and said they were satisfied that there was no evidence at all against Stannard, and it was their wish that he should be released at once. Addressing him, Mr. Gibbes said: “I congratulate you. You leave this room entirely free, without any stain on your character.”
Tuhiata (or Tuhi as he was familiarly called) was committed for trial on the charge of murder after the jury at the inquest had returned their verdict. No doubt, partly on account of the intense feeling and interest in the trial at Opunake, and partly for convenience, an order was made changing the venue of the trial to Wellington.
The trial began on the 13th December, 1880, before the Chief Justice. Mr. Izard appeared for the Crown, while the accused was represented by Mr. Forwood.
The jury was selected before the prisoner was brought into Court, and the following are the names of the jurors empannelled:—Messrs. Duncan McDougall, Henry Rudland, David Williamson, James Sloan, Robert Garland, George Perkins, William Thompson, John Infield, Edison Smith, John Smith, Andrew Compton, and James Webber.
Mr. Forwood tried to secure an adjournment, as he wanted to call Colonel Roberts to establish, if necessary, that a certain statement, alleged to be a confession, had not been freely given by the prisoner. The Chief Justice, however, ordered the trial to proceed, and promised Mr. Forwood that if the evidence were later required by him he would, if necessary, adjourn the trial to enable the calling of Colonel Roberts.
Thereupon Mr. Izard opened the case to the jury. He told them that the case was very clear, and he warned them to come to their conclusion only on the evidence and not to allow themselves to be affected by prejudice or horror at the brutal crime.
The story was then told to the jury by the witnesses. First, Major Forster Yelverton Goring told how he had helped to form the search party, and how the body of the poor woman was found, fifteen paces off the main road from Opunake, near the village of Te Namu. He saw her throat was cut, but her clothes were not torn. He said she was a very active, strong woman, and was in the habit of chatting to natives.
Martin Coffey, the local storekeeper, said that at 2 p.m. on the 25th November, Miss Dobie called and bought a pencil, which he sharpened for her. Between 11 a.m. and 4 or 5 p.m. on the same day Tuhi called in several times. Although he had not noticed what trousers Tuhi was wearing on his earlier visits that day, the witness remembered that on his last visit he was wearing only one pair, in which was a large hole. About 8 p.m. Tuhi called again and paid 3d. for a box of matches. He said he had no money, and from his appearance he had been drinking a great deal.
The next witness, William Henry Eyes, who lived at Punehu, five miles south of Opunake, page 34 page 35 said that he had noticed Mary Dobie leave Coffey's store about 2 p.m., going north. About half an hour later Tuhi, on horseback, rode past rapidly. He was then wearing two pairs of trousers. That night, about 9 o'clock, while the witness was talking at his house to a member of the Armed Constabulary, Tuhi looked in, and, on seeing his friend with his rifle by his side, fled. The witness said that the Maoris in the district were always getting drunk, and the law prohibiting the supply to Maoris of intoxicating liquor was a “dead letter.”
Then, after some less important witnesses had given their evidence, Walter Stannard, who had first been arrested in connection with the murder, swore that he did not know Mary Dobie. He said that he had seen the young woman on the main road between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. He did not stop or speak to her. He was riding very fast at the time.
William Wilson, a member of the Armed Constabulary, then swore that he had found the body of the murdered woman. The upper part of the body was concealed by a flax bush. On the following day the witness found a pair of trousers hidden in a bush about six feet from where he had found the body of Miss Dobie. Dr. Langer Carey, who had examined the body at the redoubt, whence it had been borne, deposed to the fact that the neck had been cut in four places on the right side. There were, he said, many other cuts. Her body had not been violated, of that there was no possible doubt.
This brought to an end the first day's hearing, and as the Judge was about to adjourn the Court, the jury intimated that, if by sitting later, they could finish the case the next day they would like to do so. At this the Chief Justice assured the jury there was no possibility of finishing by the morrow.
Next morning the first witness was Harry Middleton, mine host of the Telegraph Hotel. His evidence was designed to reveal the fact that Tuhi was pressed for money. He said that Tuhi told him on the day of the crime that he was going to Te Namu to sell his horse, and that with the proceeds of the sale he would pay him the debt he owed. He added that somewhere between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. he bought a flask of brandy. At that time, the witness swore, Tuhi was quite sober. Tuhi had worried him to sell him a pair of moleskin trousers, but he had refused to extend Tuhi's credit.
What happened to the flask of brandy was told by the next witness. Aubrey Harvey. He told how Tuhi had borrowed a bridle in the morning, and somewhere about 5 p.m., as he was fumbling with the flask, it slipped from his hands on to the stairs and was broken.
Hare Pihama, a Maori chief from Oeo, south of Opunake, deposed that he was driving along the main road with a number of other Maoris on the 25th November. He passed Te Namu about 4 p.m. He saw Tuhi when he reached Opunake. Tuhi asked him to buy him a pair of trousers. For, as Tuihi said, “you see mine are all broken,” as he showed the trousers to Pihama. Tuhi at that time was quite sober. Then the rest of the Maori party gave their evidence bearing out Pihama's statement.
At this stage Constable Connor was recalled to produce the bridle he had found sixty or seventy yards from the site of the murder. Mr. Forwood then cross-examined him with regard to a statement he was supposed to have made to induce Tuhi to admit the crime. He was asked if he did not say to Tuhi, “If you confess that you killed this woman all they will say will be ‘Don't do it any more,' and they will put a stop to it?” Constable Connor denied having said so.
Rona Martin said she went to the whare of Tamati Kaweora on the night of the 25th November. Later, Tuhi came in and ate a meal with them. He was very restless and always looking towards the door. Tuhi's trousers were all torn.
The next witness brought in some new evidence. He was of the Armed Constabulary. He examined the trousers of Tuhi and found blood stains. On the trousers, too, he found a human hair which was not Tuhi's, and was just the same as deceased's. The arrest of Tuhi by the police was then told briefly by Constable Knowles. A small boy of eleven years of age told how he had found a blood-stained knife on which was scored the initials “T.H.” The knife had been admitted by Tuhi to be his.
The third day opened disastrously for Tuhi Mr. C. W. Hursthouse, a surveyor and a Maori linguist, spoke of a conversation he had had with Tuhi. Mr. Forwood vainly tried to stop this statement from being admitted, but it went. Mr. Hursthouse said he warned Tuhi that anything he said might be used, but Tuhi merely said: “I did it.” Mr. Hursthouse said, “Was it you?” and Tuhi said “I only.”
Then came the deadly evidence of George Taylor. He must have been a Maori, for he said he spoke Maori better than English. He told how he spoke to Tuhi two days after the inquest. Tuhi said:
“I know that I shall come to some death. I know it in consequence of my bad dream. In my dream I saw a man falling a tree upon my whare. The house fell down with the exception of two posts, one at either end, and the ridge pole. I knew that it was a dream concerning death, either for me or for my younger brothers. I know now that the dream concerns myself, that is all my dream. I had no intention of killing the woman when I left, going that way. When we met I said ‘Where did you come from?’ She did not understand. I asked again. The woman was frightened and gave me money, 6/4. She said: ‘I will tell the soldiers about you.’ I was then afraid for having taken the money. The woman ran away. I dismounted and tied up my horse and caught her. I threw her on the ground and choked her. Then I let page 36 go. After a while she got up. I then ran and cut her throat with the knife. I dragged her along and hid her. I heard Hone Pihama and his party drive past.”
Then the case for the Crown closed. Mr. Forwood intimated that it was not his intention to call evidence. Whereat, Mr. Izard briefly addressed the jury, telling them that the case was clear, and reminding them of their duty to bring in a verdict according to the evidence.
Mr. Forwood spoke for half an hour. He told the jury of the effect of a verdict adverse to his client, and asked them to infer from the evidence that the crime was an impulsive act of homicidal mania, produced by his drunken condition. He asked the jury to reduce the crime to manslaughter.
The Chief Justice summed up strongly against the prisoner. He said it was impossible to show motive. There had been no violation, no struggle, no robbery. He told them that the presence or absence of motive ought not to affect their verdict, if they were clear that the prisoner had killed the deceased woman. He reminded the jury that the plea that drink had been responsible for a sudden manical act sought support from the evidence only of Coffey. All the others swore that Tuhi was sober. In any event, the fact that he had acted under the stimulus of intoxicants did not exonerate the prisoner. The prisoner's statement showed that there had been no provocation. He asked the jury to weigh the evidence with care. It was really very simple.
Advertising New Zealand's rail-served tourist attractions. Mr. H. C. Campbell's stall in the recent Show at Dunedin. This stall, which was most effectively arranged, included amongst its many interesting exhibits, a fine working locomotive model built by Mr. G. G. Buick, of the railway staff, Christchurch.
The jury retired at 2.13 and returned at 2,38 with a verdict of Guilty Of Murder.
The Chief Justice at once sentenced him to death. Tuhi's execution was fixed for and was carried out on the 29th December, 1880. On the 23rd December he wrote the following letter to the Governor:-
“Go, this letter of mine to the Governor. Friend, Greeting. I have heard that I am to be put to death on Wednesday, and I am willing to die on that day, but I have a word to say to you. Let my bad companions, your children, beer, rum and other spirits die with me. Let these persons, beer, rum, and other spirits die with me; they led us to commit wrong, and now let us die together, die death on the day that I am to die; it will not be right that they survive that day, but I and my bad companions should die together, lest they should remain to lead people to death; but as I am to die, let spirits die also; do not leave any of its kind in the world; let it be destroyed from the face of this earth, lest it should remain to cause trouble to man; man would then be answerable for his own trouble. If it was destroyed it would be well; man would then seek his own troubles; then it would be well there would be no cause for trouble. That is all. From Tuhiata.”
Even in those days, apparently, drink was used as it has on other occasions since been used, as the excuse, quite falsely, for crime.