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.



The Thompson Case, 1901

A case described by that doyen of New Zealand jurists, Sir Joshua Williams, as “almost, if not altogether, unprecedented”, was that of Alexander Thompson, a seaman of the s.s. Otarama at Port Chalmers in 1901, who was twice charged and discharged on an indictment for the murder of a greaser on the same ship, one George Gibbs, who was stabbed to death during a general mêle in the forecastle of the vessel. Thompson was committed for trial by a Magistrate, but when he appeared in the Supreme Court the grand jury ignored the bill, and he was discharged. As he left the courtroom the Crown Prosecutor issued the order to the Police: “Arrest that man again immediately”. Thompson appeared once again in the lower Court, charged on precisely the same evidence, and a Magistrate and two Justices of the Peace committed him for trial for the second time. A somewhat diffident grand jury accepted the bill on Thompson's second appearance, but they had the benefit of a carefully reasoned and thoughtful direction by the trial Judge (again Sir Joshua Williams) on the peculiar situation that had arisen. On this occasion the grand jurors, like their predecessors, debated the matter for several hours and eventually sought a direction from the Judge on the point whether a majority decision of the jury would be acceptable and binding.

Within a few minutes of being advised that no fewer than 12 of the grand jurors must be agreed upon the confirmation of the bill, the grand jury returned with the second “no bill” in the case. Thompson was discharged again and no further attempt was made to place him upon his trial.