Lionel Terry grew up in England and travelled to South Africa, Rhodesia, the US and British Columbia after serving in the Royal Regiment of Artillery and the Royal House Guards. In South Africa he developed strong racial prejudices. By the time he arrived in New Zealand in 1901 these prejudices had developed into an obsessive hatred of the Chinese. A striking-looking, charismatic man, Terry walked from Mangōnui in the far north to Wellington in July 1905, stopping along the way to campaign against non-European immigration. Shortly after this, he shot Joe Kum Yung, an elderly Chinese man, and used his trial to publicise opposition to Asian immigration. Terry was sentenced to death, which was commuted to life imprisonment on the basis of his mental instability. He was later diagnosed as schizophrenic.
This highly idealised self-portrait was produced in Seacliff Mental Hospital near Dunedin, where Terry was confined between 1914 and 1952.
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