Skip to main content

'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, Hugh Cokeley 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. Ross, too, had a colourful past - while serving as crown solicitor in Hobart, he was accused of embezzlement and absconded before being brought back to face trial in 1842. After being acquitted, he left for Wellington, where he set up a law practice in Lambton Quay. He served as a lieutenant in the colonial militia during the 1846 conflict in Wellington. After retiring from legal practice in the 1850s he settled in Rangitikei, where he died in 1869, aged 73.

How to cite this page

'Pistols at dawn': deadly duel in Wellington, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated