MURDER AT LITTLE RIVER – 1887

On the night of the 2nd October 1887, the jolly going-ons at the Lake Forsyth Arms Hotel was in full swing. The Hotel’s owner, Mr. Archibald McNae was leaving the area as his lease had expired. So he was surrounded with his family and friends at the piano, singing their favourite ditty’s at the top of their lungs, bringing their beer jugs together in toasts of best wishes and God’s speed. He had plans to move to the Russell Flats (close to Sheffield) to become a farmer.
Amongst the crowd was the local and much liked wrestler and athlete George Robinson [Clough] (had been 10 years old when his father Jimmy Robinson Clough took the managers job at Homebush), along with other locals simply known in history as Leon, Ray and Hitchens.Around 9pm, the door opens and three men step inside the hotel’s smoky saloon. Their names were Matt Johanson, Nils Jakobson and Anders Hyman. They watched the party-goers for a good few minutes before making their way to the separate dining room. These three men were unknown to the crowd that night; they were just three Russians working at the Coop Saw Mill.

As the clock ticked to 9.50pm, the Russians began to attract attention as an argument erupts between two of them. As it almost comes to blows, George Robinson steps between them and makes the best peace of the situation. As George watches, wandering back to the party, the three men move outside to the front verandah, closing the door behind them.

Around 10pm, Leon steps out on the verandah and immediately notices a body laying face down a few steps away. Standing on the edge of darkness was Nils Jakobson, about to disappear into the night.
Leon calls out to him that he needs to collect his drunken friend and take him with him. Nils shouts back that his friend was just fine where he was. As Nils walks away, Leon quickly heads back inside.

Leon returns with his two friends Ray and Hitchens and they head over to the body. Hitchens lights a match which illuminates Max Johnson’s ghastly pale features. The blood on his clothes glistened black under match light. You can imagine what happened next as the alarm was raised; the entire saloon empties onto the front yard. Matt had stab wound to the right of his heart and multiple stab wounds to his lower stomach.

It seems that only George Robinson kept his head as he quickly mounted his horse and took off after the dead man’s friends. He comes across Nils Jokobson first, quickly dismounting and approaching the suspected killer. George holds out a bottle of drink and says,
“Mate, have a drink”.
Whether Nils goes for the bottle or not is not recorded but George manages to overpower Nils and straps his hands together with his belt. By this time, others from the hotel catch up so George gets back on his horse and goes on the search for Ander Hyman.

Discovered 200 yards from the Hotel, and seemingly heading back to Coop’s Mill, Anders surrenders quietly to George. Both men get put into the lock-up but with Constable Ryan out of town, Akaroa is sent a telegraph for assistance. The men’s pockets are emptied of tobacco and matches and a small knife but instantly considered too small to affect such deadly wounds. Nils had a bad wound to his hand too!

Receiving no answer, Hitchens rides for Akaroa around 3am. He rides in town sometime between 6 and 7 am. Akaroa’s Constable Crockett rides to Little River to take into custody the two men and to view the body on the verandah where it had been left.

On the 5th October 1887, an inquest is held at the Lake Forsyth Arms Hotel before W.B. Tosswill (most remembered today as the man who named Prebbleton). It was concluded that the murder happened because Nils Jakobson was “maddened by drink”. The case then went to the Christchurch Supreme Court on the 14th January 1888 where Nils was found guilty of manslaughter. He is sentenced to life. He only serves a few years.

For bravery, George Robinson is given a great ceremony by the people of Little River. Unfortunately, it is not recorded what he received as a token of their thanks.

A few years later, other Russians struggling to make their living on Banks Peninsula found the dark cloud of the murder was anything but long gone for the locals. When a group of Russians were spotted disappearing into bush around Little River, they were followed. They were witnessed digging what appeared to be a grave. Before all hell broke loose, it was quickly explained that they were about to bury their dead horse who had succumbed to old age.

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