Canterbury’s First Murder Trial – 7th September 1863

On the 7th September 1863, George Lumley was found guilty of the manslaughter of Cornelius O’Connor at the Christchurch Supreme Court. He was sentenced to 3 years hard labour. As his charge had been dropped from murder to manslaughter, he escaped a death sentence.

On the evening of the 10th July 1862, Lumley and O’Connor were two of four overnight guests of the Mason’s Hotel in Timaru. They arrived separately and no hostile behaviour had been noted between the pair by fellow guests.

Around 11 that night, Mr. Mason showed his guests to their rooms, Lumley retiring to Room 3 while O’Connor was set up on a sofa bed in the adjoining sitting room. Half an hour later, another guest heard voices so he got up and opened his door. He witnessed O’Connor lying on the couch while Lumley was on his feet, leaning up against a nearby table. The witness heard something about £75 in which O’Connor told Lumley to go back to his room. When Lumley didn’t leave, O’Connor got to his feet and twice lightly slapped Lumley’s face before grabbing him by the collar to lead him back to his room.

As the witness watched from his doorway, Lumley produced a knife and O’Connor stated that very fact as it was driven into his lower belly. Two more stabs followed but the first had been enough to be fatal.

“For God’s sake, landlord, turn out, here’s a man stabbed!!!”

Upon hearing this, Mr. Mason –who was in Room 4 – was quick out of bed, pulling on his pants as he went. He found O’Connor on the bed in Room 1, his bowel lying out on his belly. Lumley was calm and simply handed over the bloodied knife and said “Spare my life.”
He then told those around him that he was going to a nearby friend’s house and that is where the police could find him. He left and was where he said he would be when he was arrested.

O’Connor was seen by a doctor and had a small bit of surgery but died 34 hours later.

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