The remission of Sullivan - Maungatapu murders

Letter regarding remission of Sullivan's punishment

Superintendent Nelson to Superintendent Canterbury: reasons for remission of punishment for [Joseph] Sullivan in Maungatupatu [Maungatapu] murder case, 31 December 1866.


J.J. Sullivan
Reasons for the remission of punish(ment)
Superintendents Office
20th September 1866


The Prisoner Sullivan having been found guilty and sentenced to death for the murder of James Battle it has become my duty to inform the Government of all that I know in connection with his case and to state the reasons why I think the Government cannot honourably allow the punishment of death or, I fear, any other punishment, to be inflicted upon him for this murder.

Sullivan has given the Government a very large amount of useful information and there is every reason to believe that he confined his statements very closely to the truth as they are being constantly confirmed by facts that from time to time are being brought to light. I hold quite a pamphlet of disclosures that have thus been made by him which I trust will be the reasons of ridding the West Coast of most of its desperate characters.

Sullivan is I consider entitled to a free pardon.

1st. Because he could not give the evidence the crown required in the case of Mathieu without criminating himself for the murder of Battle and had he treated the Government with less confidence he could probably have stipulated for a pardon for both murders as had the Government known of the murder of Battle a pardon would no doubt have been offered for it as well as for the murder of Mathieu and Pontius and Dobson.

2nd. The service in which the crown employed Sullivan caused him to make many disclosures which were used in evidence against himself.

3rd. The same service placed him in the Court and to a great extent before the same jury as that by which he was tried, in what is not a legal position for an accused man in our English Court of Justice. The Prisoners he gave evidence against, previous to his own trial having necessarily been allowed, both themselves and by counsel, to bring up Sullivan’s previous conviction and any antecedents they might think calculated to prejudice his case in the eyes of the Court and Jury.

4th. When Sullivan asked me to allow him a legal adviser or Counsel I told him that the Crown Solicitor was his legal adviser and thus recommended him to confide all he knew to the gentleman who prepared the case for his prosecution.

5th. I have constantly encouraged Sullivan to tell the Government everything he knew connected with the Commission of Crimes in this Colony and assured him that the only chance of saving his own neck was to tell the whole truth and that he need not fear that this Government would take any advantage of the new letter of their proclamations.

You will thus see that my honour as well as that of the General Government is pledged to take no advantage of disclosures he makes to the conviction of other criminals and I feel so sure that you will consider that the good faith of this Government so imperatively - demands a pardon that I need not enter into the question of the policy of granting it although what unites the circumstances is very evident.

It also appears to me better that the Government should at once admit the necessity it is under to grant the culprit a pardon thus to appear to underrate the magnitude of his crimes by any mitigation of his sentence.

Steps must of course be taken to keep him in custody as long as we want him and if no other means are at hand he could be arrested for the murder of Dobson.

I trust I need hardly say that no person could regret more deeply than I do the necessity that compels the release of such a horrible and dangerous character, but I look upon it as a heavy price we are obliged to pay for necessary and important disclosures and as a means of creating a wholesome distrust of each other amongst the desperate villains who may band together for such nefarious purposes, a distrust that would I fear be almost annihilated were we to deal with Sullivan in any other way that which I have now recommended.

I have the honour to be


Your abject servant,

Alfred Saunders