Wreck of the Ariadne, 1901
When the Ariadne, a schooner-rigged luxury yacht, reputed to have cost £30,000, foundered at the mouth of the Waitaki River, north of Oamaru, in 1901, Lloyds' surveyor in New Zealand (Captain Willis, of Lyttelton), after attending the nautical inquiry at which the master, Captain George Mumford, lost his certificate for three months, considered that some further investigation on his part might be profitable to his principals. Lloyds' interest in the craft stemmed from the fact that the Ariadne, bought for £2,000 in 1898, had been insured with them for £10,000. The Ariadne's owner, Thomas Caradoc Kerry, a globe trotter of means temporarily in Sydney, had sent the vessel to Port Chalmers for refitting and provisioning. Captain Willis was intrigued by the fact that a craft of that type should have been dispatched right across the Tasman from a free port like Sydney for such a purpose. He sought out Captain Mumford and finally extracted from him the startling information that Kerry had promised Mumford £400 if he would cast the Ariadne away on the voyage to Port Chalmers. The idea, according to Mumford, was to wreck the yacht, buy another, and then wreck that in the Straits of Magellan.
Captain Willis paid Mumford the £400 in consideration of a full confession, with documents, if any. These Mumford obligingly supplied, and in due course he appeared with the owner, Kerry, and a crew member, E. J. H. Freke, in the Supreme Court in Christchurch to answer charges of conspiracy to cast away the Ariadne. The trial was notable for the legal representation engaged. Mr Justice Denniston was on the Bench. T. W. Stringer (later Mr Justice Stringer) prosecuted with the assistance of Michael Myers (later Sir Michael Myers, C.J., (q.v.)), and Kerry was defended by C. P. Skerrett (later Sir Charles Skerrett, C.J., (q.v.)) and A. C. Hanlon of Dunedin. Mumford was represented by George Harper (later Sir George Harper).
The case looked to be a strong one for the Crown and Lloyds, but as the evidence snowballed it disclosed an unmitigated fraud on the part of Mumford, and branded him as a liar, a perjurer, and a forger. His documents were proved to be as false as his confession. In the end it took the jury only two hours to acquit Kerry (Freke had earlier been discharged from the case) and to find Mumford guilty. He was sentenced to four years' gaol. The case deserves a place among notable trials by reason of the exemplary but characteristic impartiality and fairmindedness of the Crown Prosecutor, attributes which, perhaps as much as any other, distinguished the career of Sir Walter Stringer both at Bench and at Bar. The sequel to it all took place some months later in London when Kerry recovered his insurance on the Ariadne.