Skip to main content

New Zealand's last execution

18 February 1957

Headline about Beatrice Bolton
Headline about Beatrice Bolton (Alexander Turnbull Library, Eph-D-NEWSPAPER-NZ-TRUTH-1956-01)

Walter Bolton, a 68-year-old Whanganui farmer, became the last person executed in New Zealand. Convicted for the murder of his wife, Beatrice, he was hanged at Mt Eden prison following a controversial trial.

Beatrice’s tea had contained traces of arsenic, and, over the best part of a year, she had consumed enough to kill her. Investigators found traces of arsenic in water on the Boltons’ farm, and in Walter and one of his daughters. The defence argued that sheep dip had accidentally contaminated the farm’s water supply.

The idea that Beatrice’s death was accidental lost credibility after Bolton admitted to an affair with his wife’s sister, Florence. The jury returned a guilty verdict.

A newspaper story later claimed that Bolton’s execution had gone horribly wrong. Rather than having his neck broken instantly, he had allegedly suffocated slowly. The botched execution and lingering doubts over Bolton’s guilt fuelled debate about capital punishment in New Zealand. Parliament abolished the death penalty for murder in 1961.

How to cite this page

New Zealand's last execution, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated