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.


SULLIVAN, Joseph Thomas


Maungatapu murderer.

Joseph Thomas Sullivan was born in Ireland of Catholic parentage, and brought to London where he attended primary school. After a career as a prizefighter he became a baker. Convicted for burglary in 1840, he was transported to Tasmania where he received his ticket-of-leave in 1845. He then “jumped” to Victoria. There, in 1846, he married Frances (Sullivan) by whom he had two sons. Recaptured and sent to Port Arthur, he was released in 1853. Sullivan then ran a public house at Wedderburn, Victoria (1855–66). He arrived in Hokitika on 10 April 1866, meeting Burgess and Kelly who used their knowledge of Tasmanian days to induce him to join them. These three, with Levy, together formed the gang who committed the series of killings at Maungatapu, Nelson.

Sullivan turned Queen's evidence at the trial and, on promise of pardon, secured his confreres conviction. But he incriminated himself in evidence of complicity in Battle's murder, and for this stood trial, and was sentenced to death. This was commuted, and Sullivan gave evidence in Hokitika at the trial of others of the gang (1867). He was pardoned on 11 March 1874, and sailed for England. Returning to Victoria in December 1874, he was arrested and his deportation to New Zealand was ordered. The New Zealand Government refused to receive him. Nothing further is known about him from that date.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.


Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.