An Early Tragedy
If not the first, at least one of the most significant of the early murder trials in New Zealand was that of a young Bay of Islands chief, Maketu, for the brutal killing of a Mrs Roberton, her two children, and a half-caste servant, at Kororareka, in November 1841. Maketu made no secret of his crime and in consequence posed a pretty problem for a Government hardly yet established and totally lacking in law-enforcement authorities. It was Maketu's own father who delivered him up to justice after a meeting of chiefs at Paihia, and the prisoner was tried before the colony's first Chief Justice, Sir William Martin, at the first criminal sitting of the Supreme Court in New Zealand. In every respect the occasion was an embarrassment to the Administration. First, it was necessary to make the mechanics of trial intelligible to the Maori; and secondly, it was essential that the European notion of the sanctity of human life should be demonstrated.
To this end, Maketu's trial, originally fixed for 28 February 1842, was postponed for a day to enable a European to be tried for murder first, in order to convince the Maoris that English law was no respecter of persons, but was prepared to treat Maori and Pakeha alike. The European was found guilty of manslaughter only, but Maketu was convicted of murder and was hanged. His body was buried in the precincts of the old gaol in Queen Street, Auckland, but a year or two afterwards his relatives were permitted to take the remains away.