A Murder Story, New Zealand 1905

I first published this sad story of racial discrimination in New Zealand at the beginning of the 20th century on the site, Knoji, 5 April 2010. I believe stories of our past, such as this one, are worth retelling. Can we really say society has learned from such terrible events?

The discovery of gold in three New Zealand locations in the mid nineteenth century resulted, as it did elsewhere, with a rush of miners arriving to test their luck. At first the New Zealand government encouraged Chinese miners, as they boosted the economy of the young country, and were prepared to work over ground abandoned by European miners.

Resentment and racism grew as the Chinese became more established and successful. Public meetings urged the government to stop allowing alien immigrants into the country. In the Otago goldfields and surrounding areas, tensions grew and many outbursts of violence occurred. This discrimination against the Chinese continued long after the gold rush days had ended.

Murder in Wellington

On the night of 24 September 1905, long after the gold rush days, an elderly Chinese ex miner from the West Coast mines was shot twice in the head from behind. At first his cold-blooded murder seemed a mystery.

Next morning, however, a well-dressed gentleman, Lionel Terry, walked into the Wellington Police Station and announced he wished to give himself up for shooting a Chinaman in the head. He explained  he didn’t believe Chinese should be allowed to live in New Zealand and that European and Asiatic races should not be allowed to mix.

On the day of the murder, Terry apparently behaved quite normally. He spent the afternoon with a friend, before having tea at his hotel at 5.50pm. After the  cold-blooded murder he shared supper with a group of friends, including several members of parliament.

Terry conducted his own defence in court, arguing no harm had been done, as he’d chosen an old and crippled man who was only a burden to society. On these grounds he sincerely believed his deliberate act of murder could be justified. He stated that he’d never recognise any law of the land protecting alien races in British countries and his act of murder was deliberate. He believed the issue of the Chinese presence  in New Zealand needed to be brought to the public’s attention. Because of this he was prepared to take the consequences, still believing he’d done no wrong.

Life Imprisonment

It took only thirty minutes for the jury to reach the guilty verdict. The judge handed down the death penalty, but  the Government intervened and changed it to life imprisonment. Terry was soon transferred from prison to Seacliffe Mental Hospital, where he lived the remainder of his life.

This event was believed to be the last major act of unprovoked violence against Chinese arising from the gold mining era.

Reference: Opium and Gold by Peter Butler. Published by Alister Taylor, New Zealand, 1977

Remembering the Last Tram in New Zealand

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I originally published this piece on Suite101 in December 2009. I’ve long since stopped contributing to that site and when I tried to access this post today I found it difficult to retrieve. Consequently I’m reposting it here. Trams once provided transport throughout the world. Very few remain in public use.

On 2 May 1964, a large crowd gathered in Wellington, New Zealand, to witness the last public transport journey of an electric tram in New Zealand.

By 1964 trams had been phased out in all New Zealand cities but Wellington. It was fitting that Wellington should have been the location of New Zealand’s last electric tram, as the city had been the first in the southern hemisphere to introduce a steam tram service in 1878. These were replaced with electric trams in 1904. After 60 years of serving the capital city, the time arrived for the final tram’s last run. People were sad to see the trams go and lined the Wellington streets to farewell a familiar friend.

The Last Tram

It was a festive occasion. Two other trams Nos 250 and 251, led the procession. Decorated in red, white and blue they made their farewell journey through the city streets. People clambered on board, eager to be part of the historic day by taking their last ride. Others were content to watch.

The last trip traveled from Parliament Buildings, near the Railway Station, to the Newtown Tram Shed. In the minutes before departure, the assembled crowds listened to the Onslow Silver Band play ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Tram 252, decorated with black and gold, Wellington’s colors, had a sign above the driver’s window, reading ‘NZ’s Last Tram, End of the Line’. Flags fluttered at the front and from the roof of the tram.

With Wellington’s Mayor, Frank Kitts, in the drivers seat, the bell clanged for the last time, the conductor yelled ‘Fares please’ and away the tram trundled on its final journey.

The Reason for The Service Being Discontinued

When electric trams first started servicing the country, cars were almost unheard of on the roads. As more and more people started owning cars, city traffic became busier. The slow trams became a hazard in the narrow streets as car drivers became impatient to get places more quickly. Buses were considered safer and easier to manoeuvre, and were gradually introduced in readiness for the closing of the tram service.

Final Destination of Wellington Trams

Some of the old Wellington trams now live at the Wellington Tramway Museum, Queen Elizabeth Park, Paekakariki, a short drive north of Wellington. There, people are still able to take nostalgic rides.

Tram No 252, the last tram to run through New Zealand streets, sits in storage at Motat, Museum of Transport and Technology, in Auckland, where it awaits major restoration.

Trams served their communities faithfully for many years in New Zealand, until they were discontinued because of progress. In Christchurch restored trams now offer rides through the city centre.