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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 4 (August 1, 1933)

Famous New Zealand Trials — The Trial of Lionel Terry

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Famous New Zealand Trials
The Trial of Lionel Terry.

When the reader opened his “New Zealand Times,” in Wellington, on Monday, 25th September, 1905, and read that an old, inoffensive Chinaman had been foully murdered in Haining Street the night before, he did not know that the motive for the murder was the advertising of a book that the murderer had written. The sensation was intense, and there appeared to be a total lack of motive.

The mystery, however, was soon solved. A letter had been received by the Governor from a man acknowledging having done the killing; but before the letter was made public the man himself walked into the police station and calmly, as if he were buying a pound of tea, told the watch house constable that he had committed the crime, and handed over the revolver which he had used to effect his purpose.

The man who had made the call was Edward Lionel Terry. He was at once placed under arrest. The story then gathered up by the police was a strange one, and the trial and the happenings after the trial must indeed be unique.

As soon as the news had been cabled Home, Lionel Terry's father arranged an interview with the “Daily Mirror,” and to make the interview more interesting, supplied the reporter with a photograph of himself and his son Lionel. The interview was an extraordinary one, and can only be described, in all the circumstances, as eccentric. It began with the announcement of the fact that the partnership subsisting between the father and Lionel as land agents in the West End of London had come to an end by effluxion of time. From the facts revealed in the interview, Lionel had not been near the business for some years, and even when he had worked with his father he had been there for only a short space of time. Mr. Terry, senior, supplied a description of Lionel as a fine looking man about 6ft. 3in. in height, handsome and dark, aged 31 years. He said he was descended from a French family of refugees, and that Lionel had the advantage of descent from the great Napoleon.

The connection was apparently a cherished one, for Mr. Terry said:—“Sir Hubert Jernyngham was amongst those who have remarked upon my likeness to Napoleon, and now the inflexible will of the conqueror of Europe has been reproduced in my son. I never knew him to turn aside from any course he started on. Popular as he was, no one could bend or break his will. He would have his own way.”

It transpired from this extraordinary interview that Lionel was born at Sandwich; he was one of eleven children. Apparently he was 31 years old when he committed the crime on the old Chinaman. He was educated at Merton College, Wimbledon. At seventeen he was placed in the office of the West Indian Gold Mining Co., but soon tired of an indoor life, and, without his father's knowledge, enlisted in the army. His father, who seems to have been page 33 a man of some means, bought him out of the army after a few years. He tried to settle him into his own office, but Lionel cleared out to South Africa. There he took part in the Matebele War, apparently with credit to himself and his country. After the war in Matabele, Lionel Terry returned to London, and seems to have stayed there for a few years.

The wander lust next took him to Germany, thence to Dominica, New York, Honolulu, and British Columbia. It was while he was in British Colombia, his father said, that Lionel first expressed publicly his antagonism to the Chinese. His father is reported to have said to the “Daily Mirror”:

“In a letter sent to the ‘Naimamo Free Press’ in January, 1901, he (Lionel) declared that the lack of employment was due to the unscrupulous actions and inordinate greed of the Premier of British Colombia, who would conceal beneath his much vaunted anti-Mongolian mask a despicable scheme to force, by means of poverty and starvation, the men on whom future generations of Canada depend to accept Chinamen's wages.” Mention is made at the interview that Lionel had written two books, the first was called “God is Gold,” and the latter “The Shadow.” It was for the purpose of advertising the latter book that Terry had killed the poor old Chinaman in Wellington.

“He had built himself a home in a niche in a cliff.”

“He had built himself a home in a niche in a cliff.”

The story of the crime was told to His Honour, Sir Robert Stout, Chief Justice of New Zealand, and a common jury, on Monday, 21st November, 1905. Mr. Bell (now Sir Francis Bell), who had been Crown Solicitor for years, prosecuted. The prisoner refused point blank to have counsel to defend him. Mr. Jellicoe had a watching brief on behalf of the Chinese community, but this, of course, did not entitle him to take any active part in the trial.

The first witness at the trial told the Court that he was standing in Taranaki Street, opposite Haining Street. He noticed a tall man, wearing a light overcoat, walk along the street, and as he turned on his way, he raised his arm, fired a shot, then calmly walked on and disappeared into Ingestre Street. Then Joe Duck went into the box, and after having been sworn that he would tell the truth, and that if he did not, might his life be blotted out as the light went out of a lighted match held before him (which he blew out), told how he was standing in the street and saw a tall man suddenly shoot Joe Kum Young.

The story was then told how Joe Kum Young was hurried off to hospital where, in the course of an hour, he died. The Superintendent of the hospital, Dr. Ewart told the Court that the Chinaman had died from the effects of a bullet wound which had entered the back of the head and gone through the brain. Another Chinese gave evidence to the effect that Lionel Terry had visited a house in Haining Street two days before the killing and had wrongly accused the inmates of gambling.

The sensation of the trial was supplied by Constable Young, who said he was on duty in the watch house on Monday, September 25th. About 9.25 a.m. Terry walked into the room and said: “I came to tell you I am the man who shot the Chinaman last night. I take an interest in alien immigration and I took this means of bringing it under notice.” The Constable then called in Inspector Ellison, to whom Terry repeated his story. The Inspector wrote it down and Terry willingly signed it. He was then charged with the murder, the Inspector said, and then he added: “Just before I charged him he handed me two books called ‘The Shadow,’ and he said, “If you read these you will understand the position.’”

When the time came at the trial for Lionel Terry to make his defence, he did not go into the box, but made a speech from the dock. He seems to have read most of it. After acknowledging receipt of the depositions that had been given him, he said: “Firstly, regarding the title ‘Rex v. Lionel Terry,’ which, I opine, being interpreted from a dead language, means the King against Lionel Terry. I wish to express my strong objection to His Majesty being placed in the position of a protector of unnaturalised race aliens in British possessions.”

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He then commented on the number of aliens called in the case to prove his veracity. He added, he suspected the honesty of the interpreter, and then, with a few more opening observations, he entered into his defence. He roundly resented the suggestion that had been made by the Coroner that he was insane. He said that this, and rumours of sunstroke, were false. He added: “Although I believe that such rumours have in some instances emanated from those who were inspired by friendly motives towards myself, it is obvious that should they obtain general belief, the reforms which I am endeavouring to establish may be seriously delayed. I wish, therefore, to deny all such rumours or statements and to declare that I have never suffered from sunstroke or any other mental ailment.” Later on, in expatiating on the meritorious action he had conferred on civilisation, he said: “My action was the result of careful deliberation and was impelled by merciful considerations for all concerned. In choosing as an example an old and crippled man, I realised that my purpose would be accomplished without the sacrifice of one whose existence was other than a painful burden. By thus quenching a flame which was already flickering towards extinction, I have not only conferred a merciful deliverance upon a world-weary man, but have also benefitted those amongst whom he was living and the country in which he had come to live by an act designed to arouse its people from a state of callous indifference.”

Later in his address, he said he was there to test the validity of a law, he would never recognise, namely, that which purported to protect aliens within our shores. He laid down three rules, each of which was to all intents and purposes the same. The first will illustrate them all. “(1) That whereas the British law is the law of a nation constituting a portion of the white race, and whereas the laws of all races are moulded according to the different characteristics of their respective nationalities, all of which vary materially one from another, therefore, inasmuch as it is naturally impossible for the people of two distinct races to possess the same characteristics, so therefore it must be equally impossible for the laws of a people of one race to beneficially control and govern those of another.”

The Chief Justice handled the case from the strictly legal aspect. He told the jury the only real question was whether Terry was sane, that is, whether when he killed Joe Kum Young, he knew the quality and nature of his act. He added that Terry himself said he did and there was no evidence to the contrary.

The jury retired at 12.53 p.m. and returned at 1.25 p.m. Their verdict read as follows:—“Guilty, with a strong recommendation to mercy, on the ground that the prisoner was not responsible for his action, as he was suffering from a craze caused by his intense hatred towards the mixing of British and alien races.”

Terry heard the sentence of death without emotion, and he was then taken away.

The recommendation for mercy was duly considered, and on the judgment of the Ministers of the Crown the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. It was rumoured that Terry resented the commutation. No doubt he thought that the commutation would be based on his alleged mental weakness, and if that were so, as he told the jury, the effect of his killing would be lessened.

From this time on, for many years, Terry proved himself a trouble and expense to the Government. At first he was placed in gaol, but there he made himself such a nuisance that it was evident that he was insane, and after he had been examined by the medical authorities he was declared so. As he was then a lunatic he had to be sent to an asylum for the mentally afflicted. He was duly sent to Sunny-side. No doubt on account of his resenting having been certified a lunatic he threatened to escape, and the first of a number of escapes took place from Sunnyside Mental Hospital on the 29th September, 1906. Luckily he was recaptured the same day.

The notice that appeared in the New Zealand Gazette on the 13th December, 1906, setting aside part of the hospital wing in the Lyttelton gaol as a lunatic asylum was deemed necessary for the effectual detention of Terry. Terry went accordingly to Lyttelton gaol, but did not last long there. No doubt such an eccentric and unmanageable man in a building that was built for the detention of sick men only, was unfit for Terry, for the next reference to him was a reference in the Gazette cancelling the hospital wing in the gaol as a lunatic asylum. The next time Terry came before the notice of the public was the occasion of his second escape. He had been transferred to Sunnyside Mental Asylum, and on the 21st November, 1907, he eluded his attendants. There was always a lot of morbid sympathy or admiration for the man. Letters poured in to the newspapers calling Terry a patriot and a hero ad nauseum. However, the hero was caught on the 12th December, after three weeks’ liberty. He had built himself a home in a niche in a cliff and had been able to feed himself well. After his recapture the publicity continued, and reached such a fever that the Prime Minister thought it necessary to make a statement. The need of a strong asylum for criminal lunatics was strongly expressed.

Terry, however, continued to be of news interest, and on January 14th, 1908, he again escaped from Sunnyside. He was recaptured, however, a few hours later. Again a Gazette notice notified that the hospital and surgery at Lyttelton gaol was a lunatic asylum, and Terry repaired North. In a leader in the “New Zealand Times” of the 6th March, 1908, there appeared the following: “Lionel Terry is an expensive luxury. He is costing this country nearly as much as a Cabinet Minister.” Later in the same leader the paper shews a hardening tendency to this national “hero,” for it said: “If Lionel Terry had been clapped into the prison gang and made to work—work hard—it would have improved him both mentally and