Events In History


The death penalty

  • The death penalty

    The first execution in New Zealand was that of a young Maori named Maketu, convicted at Auckland in 1842. Walter Bolton became the last to be executed when he was hanged at Mount Eden prison in 1957. In total there were 83 verified executions for murder and one for treason in New Zealand between these dates.

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  • Page 2 – The first execution

    On 7 March 1842 Maketu Wharetotara, the 17-year-old son of the Ngāpuhi chief Ruhe of Waimate, became the first person to be legally executed in New Zealand.

  • Page 4 – The last execution

    Walter Bolton was the last person to be executed in New Zealand when he was convicted of poisoning his wife, Beatrice. He was hanged for her murder at Mount Eden prison. The

  • Page 5 – List of executions

    Between Maketu's execution in 1842 and Walter Bolton in 1957, there were a further 82 executions.

  • Page 6 – Further information

    This web feature was written by Steve Watters and produced by the team. Information about the execution of Maketū Wharetōtara was updated in 2021.

Capital punishment

  • Capital punishment

    There were 83 verified executions for murder and one for treason in New Zealand between 1842 and 1957. The activities in this feature provide opportunities to discuss views around the death penalty.

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  • Page 1 - Capital punishmentThere were 83 verified executions for murder and one for treason in New Zealand between 1842 and 1957. The activities in this feature provide opportunities to discuss views around

Maungatapu murders, 1866

  • Maungatapu murders, 1866

    The 'Burgess gang' murdered and thieved their way around the South Island during the 1860s. Their most notorious crime was five killings over two days in June 1866, on the Maungatapu track near Nelson. Now you can read their story in a virtual comic book.

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  • Page 2 – The Burgess gang

    Richard Burgess, the gang's ringleader, originally known as Richard Hill, had been transported from London to Melbourne for theft at the age of 16, arriving in 1847

  • Page 3 – The crimes

    In May 1866 the Burgess gang embarked on a crime spree on the west coast of the South Island that would culminate in the murder of five men on the Maungatapu Track.

  • Page 4 – Sullivan's betrayal

    Joseph Sullivan claimed to have acted solely as a lookout for the gang, and told the police about the killing of James Battle, incriminating the others

  • Page 5 – The trial

    Deposition proceedings against the gang began on 2 August 1866 amid great excitement. Only now was it revealed that Sullivan had informed on the others.

  • Page 6 – The executions

    Members of the Nelson Volunteers surrounded the gaol on the morning of the execution to ensure that 'good order was maintained' by the public.

  • Page 7 – Aftermath

    When Joseph Sullivan returned to Hokitika to give evidence about the robbery of the Hokitika police camp and the murder of George Dobson, a mob called for him to be lynched

  • Page 8 – Further information

    Further reading and links to information about the Maungatapu murders

Baby farmers

  • Baby farmers

    Baby farmers were paid caregivers who allegedly neglected children in their care, concealed their deaths or deliberately murdered the infants. The most notorious was Minnie Dean, who, in August 1895, became the first (and only) woman to be hanged for murder in New Zealand.

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  • Page 2 – From childcare to baby farming

    High-profile British and Australian court cases in the 1880s introduced New Zealanders to the sinister practices of baby farmers: paid caregivers who neglected children in

  • Page 3 – Minnie Dean

    In 1895 Southland's Williamina (Minnie) Dean became the first – and only – woman to be hanged in New Zealand. Her story exposed the stark realities of paid childcare and the

  • Page 4 – The Newlands baby farmers

    The sensational murder trial of Daniel and Martha Cooper revealed that the difficulties facing single mothers and unwanted children continued well into the 20th century.

Crime timeline

  • Crime timeline

    ’New Zealand is often seen as a relatively safe country, but as this selection of notable crimes shows, the country has had its share of homicides, violence and other criminal acts. This timeline of more than 75 events can also be viewed as a map.

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  • Page 2 – Further information

    Links and books relating to NZ crimes

Policing the war effort

  • Policing the war effort

    In 1914 the New Zealand government moved quickly to strengthen the rule of law and keep the country focused on winning the war

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  • Page 1 - Policing the war effortIn 1914 the New Zealand government moved quickly to strengthen the rule of law and keep the country focused on winning the

Homosexual law reform

  • Homosexual law reform

    The homosexual law reform campaign moved beyond the gay community to wider issues of human rights and discrimination. Extreme viewpoints ensured a lengthy and passionate debate before the Homosexual Law Reform Act was passed in July 1986.

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  • Page 3 – Birth of the gay movement

    Social and political groups for homosexuals in New Zealand began with the Dorian Society in the 1960s. Within a decade, sexual and social liberation was in the air.

  • Page 4 – Reforming the law

    To bring about change in the law, the gay movement needed a parliamentary champion. It found one in Labour MP Fran Wilde.

Children and adolescents, 1930-1960

  • Children and adolescents, 1930-1960

    The need for the New Zealand government to promote national interests during the Depression and the Second World War created a renewed appreciation of the role of the family within society.

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  • Page 4 - The post-war family As a consequence of the post-war economic boom there was increasing demand for consumer goods. The 1956 census revealed that more than half of New Zealand homes possessed

The 1920s

  • The 1920s

    The 1920s was the decade that modern New Zealand came of age. Despite political and economic uncertainty, the country shrugged off the gloom of war to embrace the Jazz Age - an era of speed, power and glamour. Explore an overview of the decade and a year-by-year breakdown of key events.

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  • Page 6 - 1923 - key eventsA selection of key New Zealand events from

New Zealanders who resisted the First World War

  • New Zealanders who resisted the First World War

    Lists of men who for a variety of reasons refused to serve in the First World War.

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  • Page 3 - Convictions for sedition 1915-18The War Regulations Act 1914 allowed citizens to be arrested and charged with sedition for making ‘disloyal’ or ‘seditious’ statements, either verbally or in print. This


  • Parker, Pauline Yvonne

    While attending Christchurch Girls' High School, Pauline Parker met Juliet Hulme and formed the friendship that was to radically change the course of both their lives. In 1954, the pair were convicted of murder in a sensational case.

  • Sutch, William Ball

    Even before his arrest, trial and acquittal on spy charges in the 1970s most New Zealanders had heard of Bill Sutch. He was a prominent citizen – known for his work as an economist, writer, public servant and diplomat.

  • Ross, Sydney Gordon

    Sydney Ross was perhaps the greatest political hoaxer in New Zealand’s history.


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