Christchurch’s First Court Case

As the citizens of Christchurch went about their business at the Land Office (which is now a part of the Canterbury Provincial Chambers), upstairs, in a very small room sat four of our founding fathers, squished in side by side behind a small table.

They were John Robert Godley (founder of Canterbury), Mark Stoddart (first European to explore Lake Coleridge and whom also named Diamond Harbour), Captain Simeon (remembered in the naming of the suburb of Barrington and Simeon Street) and Edward Jerningham Wakefield (son of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, owner of The New Zealand Company) and they were to hear the very first session of court in Christchurch. It was the 15th May 1852.

The case was Dalton vs. Duffty for assault. As the court took a look at those involved, it was recorded down that George Dalton “…exhibited marks of desperate punishment…”

It was a Tuesday evening in May 1852. Darkness settled over the Deans’ farm of Riccarton, work was done for the day and only the candles in the kitchen building were still burning.

Around the dining room table sat Deans’ employees George Dalton and his wife, William Murden, William Prebble (remembered in the naming of Prebbleton) and a man only listed as Andrew. I am taking a wild stab and guessing this could have been Andrew Wilson, Riccarton’s gardener. An unnamed young woman or teenager was also present.

They all sat around playing cards, passing around a bottle of ‘grog’. Nearby in the Staff Whares, Charles Roe and Thomas Cass were asleep. Mary Williams – Riccarton’s current caretaker in John Deans absence – was tucked up inside Deans Cottage. Thomas Cass had been one of the earliest surveyors and very good friends with the Deans’. He had in fact just a year earlier, surveyed the land that would become Homebush.

Around 11pm, a very drunk Samuel Duffty made a grand entrance into the kitchen. A well known trouble-maker, he had no plans to change his stripes this evening. Shocked by Samuel’s language and his quarrelsome attitude, Mrs. Dalton told the young female employee to head off to bed; the company wasn’t fit for a young woman.

“I’m going to wring your nose off,” Samuel hissed at Mrs. Dalton, “and yours too,” he finished off by pointing at George. Before George knew what to do, Samuel swung in a punch and knocked George to the floor. He then proceeded to bury his foot in George’s stomach over and over.

In the darkness, both Thomas Cass and Charles Roe woke to the commotion. Quickly dressing, the pair ran from their whares and met at the kitchen door. Inside, a full fist fight was on the go and both men pushed their way in to break both the gentlemen up.

Less than a fortnight later, above the busy hum of the Land Office, the story was being told to four of the most important men in Canterbury. From the public area
sat all the witnesses to this scandalous fray.

“George, did you say anything to aggravate Duffty?” Captain Simeon asked.
George claimed that he had said nothing and John Robert Godley asked him to swear that that was the truth.
“Did you not call me a convict and a transport?” Samuel interrupted.

All the witnesses were sworn in and all gave their versions of the story. Both Thomas Cass and Charles Roe heard someone yell “Murder!” and to this, they responded. Charles Roe reported that on arriving at the door, he had heard Samuel say to George,
“I’ll teach you to be quiet”.

After the fight, Samuel supposedly said to Charles Roe that George “…wanted to be King over me and everyone else…”
Both William Murden and Andrew [Wilson?] both said their piece but did admit that they weren’t exactly sober.

Thomas Cass took the stand and informed the court that Samuel had already been fired from Riccarton for previous disturbances but had just recently been re-hired.

Samuel Duffty was found guilty of the assault of George Dalton. He was fined 50 shillings – 20 of these to go to George directly.

*image courtesy of The Lyttelton Times*

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