THE OLD DAYS
REMINISCENCES OF THE WEST COAST. RECOLLECTIONS OF A PIONEER. THE BURGESS-KELLY-LEVY. SULLIVAN MURDERS. Whilst the pioneers have this week been exchanging stories of the early ''rush" uays on the West Coast, not -a few experiences of those times were being related in Wellington by tnose who have been unable to undertake the long journey to Hokitika to attend the jubile e celebrations. Recently there was printed (perhaps for the first time} an extraordinary letter written by Burgess, one of the notorious gang of murderers, when under sentence of death in Nelson Gaol for participation in the Maungatapu crimes. That letter is evidence of the extraordinary nature of some noted criminals. Burgess had assisted—according to the testimony of one of the gang (Sullivan) —in committing 74 murders, and yet he writes that he will eoon be in heaven. "Sweet soul," he says, "rest assured that though til© pulse will have ceased to beat in the hand that answers yours, I trust it will be beating in heaven." According to an eyewitness of the execution of Burgess, he proved to be an arrattt coward when walking to the galJOws—he had almost to be carried by the warders, and his face Was almost the colour of parchment with fear.
"June 14, 1866, was the date when Burgwt*, Levy, and Kelly were hanged in Nelson Gaol," Mr James M'Dowell, now of "Wellington, who witnessed- the execution, stated to a. l, Post" reporter. "I was in Oreymouth," he added, "when Mr Dobson, the country engineer, was murdered by the thugs at a lonely spot some three miles from Greymouth. Mr Dobson had been missed for some days. The packers on the track to 'Twelve Miles' notice at one part of the track an offensive smell. They thought it was a dead sheep, 'bub on investigating the cause of th e stench, they found the body of Mr Dobson, fully clothed, with his theodolite on his back, and his money in his pocket. The money consisted of notes and silver. The ' gang never took any money for fear of identification. They always appropriated the gold dust and nuggets, which used to be carried by the diggers in 'shammy' leather bags. Dobson s body was brought into Greymouth. An inquest was held at Kilgour's Union Hotel. Mr W. H. Revell was Coroner, and I was foreman of the jury. One of the witnesses was De Lacy, -who kept the Cosmopolitan stables. *He got tn e notion that he was being tried, and said : 'I will confess. I did not do th e murders. I merely supplied them with horses.' In the course of his examination he said ! that the suspected murderers had gone in the Kennedy steamer, Captain Whitwell, to Nelson. The police at once sent word to Nelson. It was there ascertained that the gang had gone to the Wakamarino goldfields, and from there they were traced back to Nelson. ExDetectiv© Trimble knew of them as bad characters in Victoria; and he assisted the police in following up the murderers. They were found in Harley's hopgardens behind a big thorn hedge. Several of the police in plain clothes went into the gardens as if they were ordinary workmen. The uniform policemen closed in on the road near by. W r her. the police in plain clothes came on tht murderers they found them engagedl in dividing the gold which they had taker from the last four victims they had strangled. Th e police at once rushed and overpowered, them before they could , set out their revolvers, for they wei* fully armed. They were tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. Sullivan, who turned Queen's evidence, was reprieved, but the other three were hanged. Sullivan remained in gaol for a long time after his reprieve. • It felt by the authorities and also by himself that had he been immediately released he would have been killed by the infuriated miners, to avenge the numerous deaths he and his confederates had caused. He was eventually smuggled away, disguised, to Victoria, where he formerly lived, and. ultimately, I believe, died of cancer in San Francisco. Burgess's letter recalls the fact that Levy was a Jew and he acted —and persuaded his partners in crime to act —on the old law-. "If you shed man's blood by man shall your blood be shed." The gang of thugs shed no blood. The method by which they committed then murders was as follows: They would watch for. a lonely digger walking along a track with his parcel of gold for the bank. One of the four men would overtake him and; enter into conversation. A second member of the gang would then approach. When he got close enough, the first man seized the victim by the throat, the second confederate pinioned his arms and assisted in dragging him down backwards. In a few moments they would have the unfortunate man strangled. I examined Mr Dobeon's body at the inquest. Ther€ were four distinct black marks of tht fingers on one side of the throat and the thumb mark on the other side. I was present, as I have said, at the hanging of the three men at Nelson. 1 have seen several men hanged, but 1 have never seen greater. cowards than Burgess, Kelly, and Levy. .They all had to be assisted on to the scaffold by warders. They seemect in a state of collapse through fear, and their faces wer* the colour of parchment. It was never known for certain how many murders they committed, but' Sullivan said he believed they had murdered 74 persons. They buried a good many of their victims in the beach between Hokitika and Greymouth, others were buried in the gullies, whilst in other cases the bodies were left where the murder had occurred. All four men were known to the Victorian police. How they disposed of the gold was never discovered. They had about £IOOO worth of gold on them when they were arrest, ed.
OIIARITA BANK ROBBERY. Okarita, a township a considerable distance south of Hokitika, was a great gold centre in 1865. The diggers used to com© in from Five Mile and bring large quantities of gold to the banks for sale. There were, as in other mining townships, a number of hotels and dancinarooms in Okarita. On one occasion in 1866 a party of goldminers came in with their gold at night. They inquired for the manager of the bank as they wished to deposit their gold in the bank.' The manager was found, and he placed the gold in the bank safe. The party then went to a dance, at Ik© conclusion of, which the manager and bis returned to the bank and slept there, as was the custom then. The manager \
missed his keys next morning. He found the safe locked, and on procuring a duplicate key discovered that the safe had been robbed of gold, coined gold and notes, amounting to £37,000, none of which -was ever recovered; the robbers were never brought to justice.
THE TIDAL WAVE OF 1866. "I was living," adds Mr M'Dowell, "in Westport at the time of the great tidal wave of 1868.. I was standing on the wharf with Mr Leslie, of the Bank of New Zealand. He drew my attention to the fact that the water in the river aad receded some 25 or 30 feet. 'Why, ;he bottom has fallen out of the river,' ne exclaimed in terror. Shortly afterwards w 6 saw a. great wall of water out \o sea, beyond the Steeple Rocks. It seemed as if the sea and eky were meet, ing. With a great roar the huge wave approached the shore. We thought we were doomed, but as the wave reached tha shallow water it broke, and its menacing aspect became less and less. It surged up the Buller River for miles, ind in some places overflowed the banks. This tidal wave apparently had some connection with the earthquakes in South America, and. the extraordinary subsidence to a great! extent or the western coast of that continent. Some time after the tidal wave, a ridiculous preliction was made that there would be another tidal wave in the following year. Large numbers of people bought 'ents and encamped on the the higher ground at Hokitika on the day of the predicted visitation, but of course, nohing happened."
Permanent link to this item
THE OLD DAYS, Nelson Evening Mail, Volume XLVIII, Issue XLVIII, 13 January 1914
THE OLD DAYS Nelson Evening Mail, Volume XLVIII, Issue XLVIII, 13 January 1914
Using This Item
See our copyright guide for information on how you may use this title.