Cantab Surveyor Murdered – 28th May 1866

On 28th May 1866, surveyor George Dobson was riding on horseback alone by the Grey River (near Greymouth) when he was stopped by two men. I’m sure confusion soon turned to terror when firearms were produced and an order for gold was made. For poor George, it was a case of misidentification and being in the wrong place at the wrong time but even these facts failed to save his life.

George was just 10 years old when he arrived in Lyttelton with his father (Edward) and younger brother (Arthur), aboard the Canterbury Association’s 4th ship, the ‘Cressy’. He and his brother did not remain in New Zealand for long as they were shipped off to their uncle in Tasmania when Edward failed to find work. But by 1854, the boys had returned to Christchurch which by this time, their mother and other siblings had arrived and Edward had set up a lovely home in Sumner.

As the boys grew up, Edward passed on the skills and love of engineering, surveying and building. Both George and Arthur would have careers along these lines as a result. By the early 1860’s, Arthur had found work as a surveyor for the Canterbury Provincial Government and was assigned a very important project. With the discovery of gold on the west coast, a road was needed to link the Canterbury Plains to the West Coast.

George kept his brother company for the first part of this project before venturing away for work commitments of his own. Arthur went on with his Maori trackers and discovered a passage now known today as Arthur’s Pass. George was one of the later surveyors that confirmed that Arthur’s Pass was the best choice for a road to be built. The family link continued as Arthur’s father, Edward, was the engineer in charge of the road construction.

In 1866, Arthur had moved his life to Nelson as he had been promised work as a provincial surveyor. George had also accepted survey work in Greymouth, constructing roads close to the Grey River. On the days leading up to the 28th May, outlaws Richard Burgess and Thomas Kelly had heard that a gold buyer by the name of E.B. Fox would be passing through the district with his bounty. The two men laid in wait and mistook George Dobson as their prey. George was strangled and his body hid.

Burgess and Kelly fled the area, heading up into the Marlborough district. Here, in the company of Joseph Sullivan and Philip Levy, they robbed and murdered 5 people during 12th and 13th June. These became known as the Maungatapu Murders. Sullivan eventually turned in his fellow murderers for a pardon and a cash reward. Burgess, Kelly and Levy went to trial and were hung (note the death masks). Sullivan also faced trial in spite of his help in breaking the case and did some jail time in Dunedin before leaving New Zealand for Australia. It is believed that he died during the 1920’s.

The township of Dobson is named in George’s memory.

For a more in depth look at the Dobson Family, please check out the following link:

*Image of George Dobson courtesy of*
*Image of the Maungatapu Murderers Death Masks courtesy of –

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