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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 5 (August 1, 1934)

Famous New Zealand Trials — The Trial of Whakamau

page 24

Famous New Zealand Trials
The Trial of Whakamau

On 23rd November, 1868, a young Maori named Whakamau, saw a pedlar, Frederick Korncrop, travelling from Ohau along the track that led to Otaki. Whakamau knew that Korncrop had in his possession the golden tokens that would enable him (Whakamau) to buy whatever he coveted. It was a lonely track, there would be no one to see or hear, and Whakamau, seized with an impulse to kill, followed Korncrop and attacked him with a tomahawk.

When Whakamau, who lived with members of his tribe at Ohau, was arrested for the murder, the Government of the day, in order to strengthen the faith of the Maori in the British sense of fair play, engaged one of the leading counsel of Wellington to defend Whakamau. The Maoris came from all parts of the district and followed every phase of the case with the greatest interest.

The trial took place at Wellington and the Crown was represented by the Attorney-General and Mr. Izard. Counsel for the defence was Mr. W. T. L. Travers.

The Attorney-General, after the formalities of empanelling a jury were completed, opened the case by saying that the main evidence against the native in the box was a statement made by the prisoner himself and a statement made by the deceased pedlar. The statement of the deceased, however, was subsequently rejected as inadmissible.

The facts briefly related by the Attorney-General were that Korncrop would be shewn to have left Ohau on the 23rd November, 1868, for Otaki. The prisoner was seen to follow in the same direction some time later, and the deceased was seen at the Otaki ferry with a dreadful head injury. The prisoner's mat was found near the scene of the murder and nearby was also found the tomahawk that Whakamau often used. Having thus briefly stated the facts on which he relied to establish the guilt of the prisoner, the story was then taken up by the witnesses.

The first witness to give evidence was John Turner, the ferry-man at the Otaki river. At either side of the ferry, which was half a mile wide, there was a bell, used for attracting the attention of the ferry-man from one side of the river or the other. As Turner was resting on the north side of the ferry he heard the bell ring on the opposite side. He looked across and he saw a man violently ring it and then collapse on the ground. Turner pulled his ferry over as quickly as he could and, leaping out, dashed up to the prone body of the man who had rung the bell. The man was in a fainting condition and smothered in blood. “Pick me up and take me to Langley's. I am dying,” he said. As Turner bent down to raise him the man's coat fell from his shoulders and, to his horror, Turner saw a large cut in the back of the man's neck. The pedlar was wearing white cord trousers, a black coat and a Crimean shirt. He had neither hat, boots or sox, and his clothes were smothered in sand.

Turner helped the man into the ferry and hurried him across to Langley's Ferry Hotel. Though Turner did not know him by name he recognised the man as a pedlar who peddled his wares up and down the country. A day or two later Turner saw him in his bed in the hotel. Two days later he died. In answer to Mr. Travers, Turner said that the man lay in the bottom of the ferry and he had put his arm round him to help him from the ferry to the hotel.

Eliza Langley, the wife of the proprietor of the Ferry, said that she saw Korncrop coming from the ferry on the 23rd November. When she noticed him he was coming in the gate by himself. At the same moment Turner was fastening the boat. When she saw Korncrop she noticed that he was covered with blood and she at once sent for Dr. Smith. Her husband and Constable Purcell put Korncrop to bed. There was blood, sand and dirt on the wound at the back of the head. The unfortunate man never rose from his bed. Day and night Mrs. Langley nursed Korncrop page 25 until he died on the Sunday evening following his arrival. Korncrop insisted that he would not recover. When he reached the hotel on the Monday he exclaimed: “For God's sake send for the doctor; I am dying.” To the Judge Mrs. Langley admitted that she had previously said that Korncrop did not think he was dying. That statement, however, was wrong, she said, and she now wished to explain all. An attempt was then made by Mr. Travers to establish that the man had not died from the injury alone, but by the subsequent neglect of Dr. Smith. The doctor applied wet towels and when the bleeding had stopped he covered the wound with two strips of plaster.

The evidence of Dr. John Baxter Smith then followed. He described himself as a surgeon, and the coroner for Manawatu. He had occupied that position, he said, for several years. He had no medical diploma, but he had practised medicine and surgery ever since his arrival in New Zealand. He had also assisted a surgeon in England and had practised alone in India. Dr. Smith then went on to say that he had attended the deceased and that he was a friend of his. His Christian name was Conrad and his true surname was Kornrupp. When he went to Langley's in answer to the summons on the 23rd, he found his friend dying. There was a large clot of blood and sand under the right ear. The wound was three inches long commencing one and a half inches below the lobe of the ear, and half an inch in depth. The man's brain was injured. At that time Dr. Featherstone was also in the house. Dr. Smith then said that he removed the fragments, as he called the foreign matter, from the wound. He gave Korncrop some brandy. There was no arterial bleeding. He applied some plaster and wet towels. He did not apply any further plaster on the next day as there had been no bleeding overnight. On the Tuesday, however, he gave his patient some calomel; on the Thursday, Rochelle salts and on Friday six grey powders, which were to be taken every two hours. The latter medicine was given because he feared his patient might develop convulsions.

“To his horror Turner saw a large cut in the back of the man's neck.”

“To his horror Turner saw a large cut in the back of the man's neck.”

On the Monday when Korncrop first saw the witness he said to him: “I'm killed; I'm dying, take care of my watch.” The doctor tried to cheer his friend up, but Korncrop shook his head. Dr. Smith then sent for Mr. Halcombe, the magistrate.

The doctor went on to say that the cause of death was the splitting of the skull with the resultant injury to the brain. Then Mr. Travers began his cross-examination. Dr. Smith said that he had had previous experience of brain injuries. This particular one had been made by a heavy, sharp instrument applied forcibly. The deceased must have been stooping when struck. When the post-mortem was conducted on the body of Korncrop the head had been opened in the ordinary way. He said that there was suppuration of the brain while he was treating the injury. He denied that an artery had been cut and later bled. Here the Judge interposed and remarked that that would not exonerate the prisoner. Mr. Travers said: “If death was caused by subsequent treatment that would be sufficient.” But the Judge would have none of that and promptly ruled against such a contention. Dr. Smith said that he encouraged the deceased with the hope of life, but Korncrop insisted that he was doomed. The doctor added that he, too, thought that his friend was dying.

The next witness was the Superintendent of the Province, Dr. I. E. Featherstone, who happened to be at the hotel when the deceased was brought in from the ferry. He said that he examined the man “slightly.” There was a decided fracture of the skull, but his pulse was quiet and the symptoms were favourable. What precisely Dr. Featherstone meant by the last statement when he immediately added: “The wound was such as almost certain to result in death,” it is impossible to surmise. In crossexamination he said that he had known of such injuries not proving fatal.

Constable Purcell then gave evidence. He said that he had known the deceased as Korncrop and he saw him on the 23rd with Dr. Smith. He said that Korncrop was wounded and much exhausted. He was present when the wound was washed clean by Dr. Smith. In his opinion there was very little bleeding from the wound. He heard Korncrop say: “I am dying, do something for me.” The constable told him that he would ask the magistrate to take his depositions and then he would see the man who had attacked him. Three days later the prisoner spoke to the witness. The witness said that he told the prisoner that he had inflicted a terrible injury upon Korncrop. The prisoner said “Kahore” and, placing the constable in a stooping position, put his hand on the back of his (the constable's) neck.

Then came Mr. A. F. Halcombe, J.P., who said that he had taken the deceased's depositions at the hotel. He then proposed to read what he had taken down, but Mr. Travers strenuously objected to such a course. The deceased had not been proved to have believed he was dying. It was necessary, in order to make such a statement admissible, that the deceased should definitely be sure that he was dying, and that degree of certainty had not been proved. Mr. Izard contended that the evidence was sufficient to meet that objection, but the Judge thought otherwise and the statement was rejected. (It is to be remembered that the Crown relied on that statement as one of the two principal pieces of evidence to establish their case.)

The evidence of John Gower, a farmer who lived between Ohau and Waikawa, was next taken. He came across an iron-grey horse. It was carrying a new saddle and pack. He led the horse away and Hemi, a native boy, met him. He was carrying a haversack which was covered with blood. Then he found a mat which was blood-stained and he noticed two sets of foot marks. Gower said that he gave the mat to Hemi. On the 16th January, Gower page 26 said that he had found the tomahawk produced. On the blade of the tomahawk were light-coloured human hairs.

Then Mr. A. Knox told that the prisoner had lived at Otaki for about three years. On Monday, the 23rd November, he had seen the pedlar about 9 a.m., at Hadfield's. He was a foreigner and had an irongrey horse. Later the witness was with Constable Purcell at Pukukaraki when he saw the prisoner. He asked Whakamau if the other natives in the pa would give him up to the police and the prisoner had answered, “No, myself and others will go to Wellington.” The witness saw him later and heard him asked if he had killed the pedlar. At this question, put to him by the witness' mother, the prisoner hid his face and cried. At the police station the witness asked him if he had killed the European and he replied, “Yes.” He told the witness all about it. The prisoner said, “I went inland to Waitohu and then decided that I would follow the European and strike him. I caught up with him at Waihoronumi.”

The witness said that before the prisoner told him this he mentioned he had done it for money, and then went on with his story of the crime in these words: “We went together as far as Waikawa creek. The European told me to cross. I did so and the water came up to my chest. He told me to come back and fetch his goods and he would pay me. I found shallow water and seeing this he rode his horse across and did not give me the goods to carry. I thought to myself, you, presently, will be struck down by me. He knelt down to put on his boot. I bent down and put my hand under my mat. He saw, and I stopped. As he put on the other boot I quickly took out my tomahawk and struck him. He rolled over. He got up. I saw blood and was afraid. I ran away. I looked back and threw the tomahawk away. I ran to Porahau.” The witness then added that he was present at the native pa when the other natives handed Whakamau over to him. They merely said, “Go.” In cross-examination the witness said that he got the statement from the Maori by asking him questions and then taking his answers.

The chief of the tribe to which the prisoner belonged said that the Maori boy had given him the haversack produced. He also added that he was present when the prisoner was taken into custody. The Maori boy then gave evidence to the effect that on the 23rd he had seen the deceased on the beach and not far away from the prisoner. He said that he had found the haversack. That closed the case for the Crown; and save for the admissions made by the prisoner and the possible identification of the tomahawk as the prisoner's, there was little else to connect him with the crime.

Mr. Travers did not call any evidence for the defence and the Crown did not trouble to sum up the case to the jury. In his address to the jury Mr. Travers said that he had to admit that there was a strong case against the prisoner, but in his submission the charge was not sheeted home. Identity of the prisoner as the murderer had not been established. He asked the jury to remove all feeling of racial differences. Counsel then reminded the jury that, except for the confession allegedly made to Knox, there was no evidence, connecting prisoner with the crime. There was no evidence that the blow had been given at Ohau. Perhaps it had been inflicted miles nearer Manawatu. It was true that there was no evidence connecting anyone. The jury ought to utterly disbelieve Mrs. Langley's evidence. Mr. Travers said that it appeared that Dr. Smith had treated the deceased properly, but the jury must remember that, in the circumstances, more than a mere confession was necessary to sheet home the crime to the prisoner in the dock. If there was reasonable doubt about the matter the prisoner was entitled to it. It was always for the Crown to prove the guilt and not for the prisoner to establish his innocence.

The Judge then proceeded to address the jury. He told them, as had counsel for the defence, to dismiss from their minds any feelings of racial differences. This trial should show the natives we were disposed to fair trials. The prisoner had the benefit of able counsel and they should be able to satisfy that justice would be done after proper inquiry. He regretted that the preliminary inquiry had been bungled. It was also to be regretted that the prisoner had not been faced with the dying man. An adjournment had been granted to the prisoner in order to impress him that he would get a fair trial. So far as the medical evidence was concerned there was no justification to suggest there had been negligent treatment. The Judge said he thought Mrs. Langley had made some mistakes in her evidence, but they were not material. Dr. Smith had proved an unsatisfactory witness in the box, but it was not material. The cause of death was clear. The first question was: was the pedlar murdered? The answer was that it was quite clear he was. The Judge said he agreed that a confession alone was not enough to entitle the jury to convict. But in this case there was other evidence. The prisoner was seen following along the same road as the deceased. The Judge also referred to the other facts that seemed to point unerringly at the prisoner. The prisoner, too, was not mad, so no question of not being responsible for his act on that ground had been suggested or could be suggested.

The jury took half an hour to deliberate and then returned finding that Whakamau had murdered the unfortunate Korncrop.

When the customary question was put to the prisoner whether or not he had anything to say he said: “I did not murder the man. That was only concluded from the deceased's statement. I was arrested on account of the clothes I was wearing, but they were common clothes. I was accused by a relation and was given up to the police.”

In sentencing the prisoner the Judge said: “You have had a most faithful, fair, and just trial. The jury say you are guilty and I entirely concur in their verdict, for no other could be arrived at on the evidence. You have had the benefit of able counsel to find any ground of escape for you, but your counsel and your own statements have failed to find any such ground. Your trial has caused much expense, but it will not be useless if it shews your neighbours that equal justice will be done to European and Maori.” The Judge then referred to the statement the prisoner had made and added: “I do not know if you have any creed or if you believe as men of sound reason do, in a future state of rewards and punishments, but as a Christian judge I am bound to tell you that in a Christian country, according to our belief, a man who commits murder and dies without repentance must expect a far greater punishment in the world to come. I trust, therefore, that in the few days still left you, you will take advice and endeavour to obtain pardon from God for your sins.” Then followed the formal and awful sentence of death.

On Tuesday the 23rd March, 1869, the sentence of death was carried out. One small detail in the gruesome business might as well be mentioned, for it seemed to shew that the executioner was a novice at his job. The white cap was drawn over the head of the prisoner before he climbed the steps to the scaffold and he had to be led up the steps by the assisting police. It is usual, of course, not to cover the prisoner's head until the very last moment.