Archibald Milne’s unsolved murder - Grave Story #1
It was an argument with his father that caused Archibald Milne to sail to the other side of the world, arriving in Wellington aboard the Lady Nugent on March 17, 1841. Within nine months he would be dead. His death remains one of New Zealand’s earliest unsolved murders and sparked conflict between Māori and settlers.
Archibald and his fellow “intermediate-class” passengers were filled with optimism on their journey to New Zealand, but optimism soon turned to despair when they found the land they had been promised and purchased from the New Zealand Company was not forthcoming. In a letter dated 26 August 1841 to Colonel William Wakefield, the New Zealand Company’s principal agent, Archibald and other settlers complained about the lack of surveyed sections in Wellington available to them. Archibald, who was a magistrate in England, was unhappy with Wellington and had planned to return to his homeland. He never made the journey.
On Wednesday, 15 December 1841, Archibald’s body was found partly submerged on the beach just over a kilometre south of Petone. He was 35 years old. He had been beaten around the head and face and his skull had been fractured. He was partly-clothed; his blue jacket, cap, white moleskin trousers, one sock and his watch were missing. There were two suspects, one was Archibald’s friend John Osborne, with whom he had argued in the days before the murder, and the other a young Maori man named Awaho. At the inquest into Archibald’s death, several witnesses described seeing a Maori man following Archibald along the beach shortly before his death. At the inquest they identified Awaho as the man, however, Awaho testified that he had not been on the beach and they were mistaken. The Coroner gave the jury a stern warning about the need to avoid bringing Maori and settlers into “collision by an imprudent or injudicious act” as the result might be “melancholy and disastrous”. The jury found a verdict of “wilful murder against some person or persons unknown”.
With the case unsolved, the chief police magistrate, Michael Murphy, offered a reward of fifty pounds for information that would lead to the conviction of the guilty party. No one came forward. The case created some disagreement among the settlers, some of who felt police had failed in their investigation of the case and failed to charge Awaho with the murders, while others felt that Awaho was implicated simply because he was Maori.
In February 1842, there appeared to be a breakthrough in the case. Osborne was arrested as he left Wellington for Nelson and charged with the theft of a coat and tablecloth belonging to Archibald. Osborne came up for trial on the theft charges but was acquitted as there was no proof that he had actually stolen the items. And there the case remained until December 1843 when Awaho became the prime suspect in the theft of a gown and cape, two nightgowns, a waist coat and two silk handkerchiefs the property of Emma Stutfield. Efforts to arrest Awaho resulted in conflict between police, soldiers and Maori. The New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator reported that when the clothes take from Mrs Stutfield were retrieved from a box belonging to Awaho, Archibald’s stolen clothing was also seen in the box, but when it was searched again several days later by police and Archibald’s cousin James Smith the clothing was not found. Awaho was found guilty of the theft of Mrs Stutfield’s property and sentenced to two months’ imprisonment.
Archibald’s murder gradually faded from memory, until 2 January 1845 when Awaho tragically committed suicide. Shortly before, Awaho had again been charged with theft, this time of “some biscuits”. Writing two years later, Edmund Halswell, the Magistrate who had sentenced Awaho to imprisonment for the theft of Mrs Stutfield’s clothing, stated Awaho had been banished from Ngauranga and Petone by his relatives because of those thefts and had found refuge at Pipitea Pa. Halswell went on to say that Awaho had shot himself through the heart as he was “ashamed” of being charged with another theft.
Archibald was buried in the Public Cemetery in Wellington (now Bolton Street Memorial Park) on 17 December 1841. He has no headstone. The records do not state where Awaho was interred.
The Milne family were dogged by tragedy. Archibald, who reached the age of 35 was one of the longest-lived of his at least 10 siblings. Check below to find out more about the Milne family and find out if you might be related to Archibald and others from his family who came to New Zealand.
Archibald Milne and his twin brother John were born on 17 August 1807 in Kirktown of Alvah in Banffshire, Scotland to John Milne and Jean, whose maiden name was also Milne. The Milnes were a noted family and considered British gentry. The Milne family had owned and operated the large Mill of Boyndie for more than 200 years.
Many of Archibald’s brothers died very young:
None of Archibald’s siblings came to New Zealand, but his cousin James Smith was one of Wellington’s earliest settlers, having arrived in 1840 aboard the sailing ship Coromandel. James had a successful career as an auctioneer and general storekeeper in Wellington. He married his business partner’s sister Marian Rollason Wallace in 1846 and had six children. Marian died in 1858 in England and James died in 1876 aged 58 and is buried in Bolton Street Memorial Cemetery.
Their children and grandchildren, many of whom lived in Wellington and the Wairarapa, were: