“Yellow Peril” fanatic.
A new biography of Terry, Edward Lionel appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Lionel Terry was born in Kent, probably in 1874. He is said to have come of a well-to-do family, allegedly related to Napoleon. Terry claimed to have been educated at Eton and Oxford. In 1892 he enlisted in the Royal Artillery at Woolwich but transferred soon afterwards to the Royal Horse Guards. More than 6 ft in height and of athletic build, he served as a private, doing guard duty at Whitehall. In September 1895 Terry bought his discharge. After studying art for a time in London, he went to South Africa where he joined the mounted police in Bulawayo. His travels later took him to the United States and Canada where he is said to have been secretary of a trade union.
Terry arrived in New Zealand in May 1903 and found employment in the Head Office of the Department of Lands and Survey. A few months later he left for Taihape where he worked at bush felling and announced his intention of buying land and settling down. In 1904, however, he was back in the Department, which sent him as a surveyor to Mangonui in North Auckland. In South Africa, and later in British Columbia and the western United States, where he lived and worked in close contact with Chinese immigrants, Terry had become obsessed with a hatred for coloured races. His lonely existence in Mangonui increased this obsession. He wrote a pamphlet entitled The Shadow containing a lengthy introduction on the need for racial purity and two poems on the same theme. Dedicated “To my Brother Britons”, he had this printed in Auckland with a crudely executed melodramatic cover by his own hand. On 19 July 1905 Terry left Mangonui and walked 878 miles to Wellington through Auckland and the Rotorua district. Everywhere on the way he handed out copies of his pamphlet. When he arrived in Wellington, on 14 September, he went to interview members of Parliament and the Commissioner of Customs to urge action against coloured immigration. He also wrote to Dr Maui Pomare suggesting that the Maori people be confined to Stewart Island and the Chathams. Meeting with little response and, in an effort to arouse from apathy “the Pig Islanders” – as he called his fellow New Zealanders, Terry took the dramatic step of murdering an elderly Chinese in Haining Street on the night of 24 September 1905. His victim, Joe Kum Yung, was a penniless semi-invalid almost 70 years of age, who had spent most of his life mining for gold in Westland. Shot through the head, Kum Yung died soon afterwards in hospital. Next day Terry surrendered to the police, handing in his revolver and a copy of The Shadow to explain his crime. His trial aroused tremendous interest in New Zealand and overseas. On 27 November, he was sentenced to death by the Chief Justice, Sir Robert Stout, but two days later his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
Terry was sent to the Sunnyside Mental Hospital but, after several escape attempts, he was transferred to Seacliff Mental Hospital where he remained till his death. He spent his time gardening, walking, reading, and writing verse. At times he succeeded in escaping, thus reviving interest in his case. In his later years, Terry became convinced that he was a second Messiah. He wore a white robe and sandals, grew a beard and long hair down to his shoulders, and spoke of the menace of communism. He died at Seacliff on 20 August 1952.
by Herbert Otto Roth, B.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S., Deputy Librarian, University of Auckland.
- The Kaiwarra Mystery and More Famous Trials, Carson, W. H., and Sheehan, J. R. (1935)
- Freedom, 10 Sep 1952, “The Strange Story of Lionel Terry”, Hardwick, J. M. D.