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A Wicked Man | by Archives New Zealand
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A Wicked Man

Hokitika’s resident magistrate Gerard Fitzgerald was described as a “wicked” man and his conduct compared to the “lowest blackguards who frequent the lowest dens of inequity” on 26 October 1871


His accuser was George Chamberlain, who had recently been released from the Hokitika gaol where he had served four years for perjury. Chamberlain’s crime had enabled criminals Burgess, Kelly Sullivan and Levy to evade justice and go on to commit one of New Zealand’s most notorious crimes, the Maungatapu mountain murders. But this is a mere aside to the story.


A huge tranche of papers remains mute testimony to accusations of corruption that led to a commission of enquiry and has the ingredients of a Charles Dickens novel. It all started when a hopeful Hokitika Borough Council contender, bellringer John Breeze, took exception to having a coat thrown over his head when he was electioneering. He struck the man he thought responsible with a stick, was fined and refused to pay damages. When bailiff Thomas Christian tried to seize property from Breeze, his wife attacked him and pulled out his beard with her hands. Fitzgerald described her behaviour “as violent as it could possibly be” but the locals didn’t believe him. This escalated into a community petition in support of the Breezes.


The recently released Chamberlain (described by authorities as malicious, insolent and insubordinate) formed an alliance with Breeze and in a series of detailed and highly literate reports painted a picture of torment and depravity in the Hokitika Gaol, with corrupt oversight from Fitzgerald - who he accused of being a drunken whoremonger - and his “henchman”, Christian. It ended as dramatically as it had begun with Fitzgerald in the dock while the court crier called repeatedly for his accuser Breeze, who failed to appear. Eventually the whole case was thrown out of court. The community launched another petition this time in favour of Fitzgerald. In an ironic twist many people signed both petitions.


Shown here is the announcement of the intention to hold a commission of enquiry by Judge Charles Ward.


J1 119 a 1871/2944 (R24288181)


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Uploaded on October 8, 2020