Skip to main content
Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




In New Zealand it is a criminal offence to challenge or provoke another person to fight a duel. If two people deliberately fight a duel in which one is killed, the survivor is guilty of murder. Consequently the full facts concerning a duel are often not recorded.

Polack v. Turner (1837 and 1842). The mutual animosity of the merchant, J. S. Polack, one of New Zealand's well known pre-Waitangi settlers, and the innkeeper, Ben Turner, was manifest in a running gun battle on Kororareka Beach in 1837 in which Turner was wounded. The second duel took place in 1842 when Polack was shot in the elbow and Turner received a bullet in the cheek.

Brewer v. Kelly (1840). William Brewer, a solicitor, was chaffed about a young lady and threatened to call out the next man who coupled their names. John Kelly, a surveyor, continued the ragging and in the ensuing duel on Oneroa Beach, Kororareka, part of his wig was shot away.

Ross v. Brewer (1844). Brewer was again involved in a duel, on this occasion with H. Ross, a solicitor, the quarrel arising from a case in the Wellington County Court. The disputants met at the head of Sydney Street gully, Thorndon, Wellington, on 26 February 1844, and at the first exchange of shots Brewer was seriously wounded, dying on 4 March. The coroner found that the evidence did not prove by whom the wound was inflicted. The leader in the New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator of 9 March condemned duelling and exhorted the Legislature to deal with this barbarous custom.

Phillpotts v. Falwasser (1844). Henry Falwasser, editor of the Auckland Times, was called out by Lieutenant George Phillpotts, RN (who later lost his life storming Hone Heke's pa), for adverse comments on the conduct of the war in the north. A duel took place in Auckland near where the Northern Club is now situated, probably soon after 10 September 1844. Falwasser received a bullet through his coat tail and Phillpotts lost a button from his uniform.

Renaut v. the Commissioner, Le Rhin (1845 or 1846). Dr Renaut, ship's surgeon, and the Commissioner of the Le Rhin, after a difference of opinion, met on the beach at Akaroa to satisfy honour with pistols at 25 paces. The Commissioner fired first but the priming cap was defective. Renaut then fired low and grazed the right thigh of the Commissioner who still demanded satisfaction. Before any further action could be taken Commodore Berard, commander of Le Rhin, appeared and put an end to the affair.

Featherston v. Wakefield (1847). Dr I. E. Featherston, editor of the Wellington Independent, strongly attacked the New Zealand Company's land policy in the issue of 24 March 1847. It is probable that this editorial opinion sparked off a duel between him and Col. W. Wakefield which is thought to have taken place on 25 March at Te Aro, Wellington. Featherston fired first and missed; then Wakefield fired into the air with the comment that he would not shoot a man who had seven daughters. The seconds at this duel were: for Featherston, Dr Dorset; and for Wakefield, F. Dillon Bell.

Gisborne v. Blackmore (1850). On 14 September 1850 a duel was fought at Auckland between William Gisborne, at the time a Justice of the Peace, and Blackmore. The disagreement arose at a party when a thrown orange rebounded from a guest's head to the face of another. This latter gentleman did not appreciate the light-hearted nature of the gesture and demanded an apology from the thrower. This was not given and in the consequential duel neither suffered physical injury. But public opinion sternly condemned the contestants and the Executive Council suspended Gisborne for a time from the Commission of the Peace.

Muter v. Robinson (1856?). Captain D. D. Muter, a settler at German Bay, Akaroa, had a land dispute with C. B. Robinson, the first Magistrate of Akaroa. The seconds were Cooper (Robinson), later Collector of Customs at Timaru, and Crosbie Ward (Muter). The duellists met on a bush track at Holmes Bay. At the first shot Robinson fired in the air; then Muter aimed at his opponent but missed. Muter wished to continue but the seconds intervened and the affair closed.

Hart v. Woodley (1863). A duel between M. B. Hart and Woodley is reported in Jacobson's Tales of Banks Peninsula, but there is doubt as to whether the pistols were loaded.

Revans v. Harrison. Harrison made rude remarks about a lady friend of Samuel Revans, editor of the New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator. This resulted in a duel fought with pistols at Pipitea Point, Wellington. Neither contestant was injured.


John Sidney Gully, M.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S., Assistant Chief Librarian, General Assembly Library, Wellington.

Next Part: Pseudo Duels