Racist killing in Wellington's Haining St

24 September 1905

Jo Kum Yung memorial plaque
Jo Kum Yung memorial plaque (Ricky Prebble)

The murder of retired miner Joe Kum Yung in Wellington’s Haining Street highlighted the hatred some felt towards New Zealand’s small but long-established Chinese community. His killer, a white supremacist named Lionel Terry who had recently arrived in the country, committed the brutal crime to promote his crusade to rid New Zealand of non-European immigrants.

Born in Poonyu County in Canton (Guangdong), China, Joe Kum Yung had arrived in New Zealand about 25 years earlier, after spending several years mining in Victoria, Australia. An accident on the West Coast, where he was pursuing a gold mining claim, left him with a broken leg. No longer able to work and now elderly, he had the opportunity to return to China after the local Chinese community raised enough money for his fare. Instead, he decided to move to Haining Street in Wellington, the centre of the capital’s Chinese community.

On the night of 24 September 1905, Joe Kum Yung was walking along Haining Street when he was shot from behind by Terry. He was rushed to hospital but died soon after. Terry surrendered to police the next morning. When his case went to trial in November, he conducted his own defence. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. Despite Terry’s own resistance to suggestions he suffered from mental illness, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment on the grounds of insanity.

Later diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, Terry spent the rest of his life in Lyttelton prison and Sunnyside and Seacliff mental hospitals. He died in 1952. In 2006, a memorial plaque to Joe Kum Yung was unveiled by the Wellington Chinese community on the site of the shooting in Haining Street. The event included the lighting of incense in a traditional ceremony to honour his spirit.