'Pistols at dawn': deadly duel in Wellington

26 February 1844

Duel with pistols, 1830
Duel with pistols, 1830 (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

William Brewer died of wounds received during a pistol duel with another Wellington lawyer, H. Ross, on 26 February 1844. The duel followed a quarrel over a case in the Wellington County Court.

When the two men faced off in Sydney St, Thorndon, Brewer fired into the air but ‘received Mr. Ross’ ball in the groin’. He died four days later.

Although several people witnessed the duel, the coroner’s inquest concluded that there was no proof as to who had inflicted the wound. The fact that the survivor of a duel could be charged with murder may explain the witnesses’ reticence. Or perhaps it was a case of ‘what happens on the duelling field stays on the duelling field.’

Brewer was no stranger to duelling. In 1840 he had ‘threatened to call out the next man’ who associated him with a young woman. Surveyor John Kelly called Brewer’s bluff and was lucky to survive the resulting duel on Oneroa Beach at Kororāreka (later Russell) – part of his wig was shot away.