Story: Violent crime

The first execution

Water colour painting of young Māori man

In 1841 Maketū Wharetōtara murdered five people in Elizabeth Roberton's household, where he was working, at Motuarohia (Roberton) Island in the Bay of Islands. His victims included Isabella Brind, the granddaughter of Ngāpuhi leader Rewa. Maketū took refuge in the village of his father, Ruhe, who decided to deliver his son to the police and avoid conflict with Rewa. While Maketū pleaded not guilty in court, he had previously made several confessions, citing disrespect and ill-treatment from Roberton and her servant Thomas Bull as the reason for the murders. He was executed on 7 March 1842 and initially buried in the grounds of Auckland jail. Later Ruhe succeeded in getting his son’s remains exhumed and buried with other family members in the Bay of Islands.

Using this item

Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference: E-216-f-011
Watercolour by Joseph Jenner Merrett

Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

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How to cite this page:

Greg Newbold, 'Violent crime - Murder and manslaughter', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 June 2024)

Story by Greg Newbold, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 3 May 2024 with assistance from Greg Newbold