The Murder of Yorky
The story of Yorky, a sort of semi-anonymous miner-packer, known to everyone throughout the Roxburgh diggings in Central Otago in 1863, provides one of the earliest recorded unsolved crimes in New Zealand. Yorky, an inoffensive 50-year-old, with a liking for strong liquor but no enemies, was found one day in March brutally battered to death in a lonely gully. His horses and a stranger he had befriended had disappeared, and the hunt was quickly up. The search ranged far and wide around the goldfields, and eventually detectives meeting the Dunstan coach at Dunedin arrested a miner, Johnson, on his way back to Victoria, on the grounds that he seemed to answer the circulated description of the man wanted for the murder of Yorky. The pity of it was that with the arrest of Johnson the search was called off, even though none of the identifying witnesses was prepared to swear that the police had the right man. Strong defence evidence was ignored by the committing Magistrate and Johnson faced his trial. But the jury, without leaving the jury box, brought in an acquittal. By this time the trail of the mysterious stranger was cold. The Otago Provincial Council was so convinced that Johnson had been the victim of a grave error that it gave him an ex gratia grant of £500, and public subscription found another £300 to defray the costs of his trial and enable him to continue his journey to Melbourne. The killer was never brought to justice in spite of a feverishly renewed search after Johnson's acquittal.