Justice Henry Samuel Chapman - the first Supreme Court judge in Wellington - must have wondered what on earth he was hearing when a case of drunken piracy hit his court in March 1850.
Chapman had been in the job less than a year when the odd case came before him.
George Jefferson and John Jones were charged with an alleged plot to take charge of the William and James and take off for America.
Chapman was sitting as a Vice-Admiralty court - basically a juryless court that had jurisdiction over legal matters related to maritime crimes. It was the first time such a court had sat in New Zealand.
As a crime, piracy is very rarely used in New Zealand - even though it remains on the books to the present day.
But Chapman can’t have expected anything like this little plot.
The barque William and James was outfitted to take passengers. Jefferson was a seamen on board while Jones was a passenger.
Thomas Morgan was the master on January 12, 1850, when Jefferson came up to him while the ship was in Queen Charlotte Sound and said he did not intend to go to Taranaki where the ship was bound, but to California to make a fortune.
He wanted Morgan to shift course or agree to be put ashore. After this momentous announcement Jefferson and Jones went to the forecastle of the ship.
It appears they were drinking - anything they could get their hands on from beer to spirits. One person said there were 14 bottles on the ship and none when Jefferson and Jones finished with them. Drunk, both with power and liquor, they proposed they should head away from New Zealand and if they did not have enough provisions, a spot of cannibalism would do.
Morgan and the cook got into a boat and headed for help which arrived to take back the ship.
Jefferson and Jones were arrested and dragged before the court. But their clever lawyer had a plan. Once the Crown had presented its whole case the lawyer reminded Chapman that at no point had it been proven that the ship was owned by a British subject.
Chapman was forced to concede that was true - and gave a verdict of not guilty.
Chapman had been born in London to a civil servant father Henry and wife Ann. After a private education he went to Canada where he worked as a merchant before starting a newspaper. After returning to England he studied law.
After arriving in New Zealand he became a judge of the Supreme Court living in Karori.
Later he went to Australia where he was a judge before returning to New Zealand as a judge in 1864.
Chapman married twice, to Catherine DeLancy Brewer who tragically drowned along with three of their seven children. He later married Selina Frances Carr. Several of his sons followed him into law, carving out their own distinguished careers.
He died in Dunedin in December 1881 and is buried in the Northern Cemetery.
Photo by Raimond Klavins.
Fran and Deb's updates