It’s not clear exactly who notorious New Zealand prison escapist Isaac Robinson was.
The blond, blue-eyed soldier was supposed to have been born in County Tyrone in Ireland and joined the British Army in 1854.
His most distinguishing feature was a brand on his chest - D for deserter - which he got for deserting four years after enlisting in the British Army. For this he got 84 days imprisonment in 1858. Later he attempted to cover it with a tattoo.
Even his age is uncertain - some references list him as 25 - others 31.
In 1860 he was tried again for being absent without leave and losing his uniform and kit.
By that time his superiors had had enough. He was shipped out to Melbourne, Australia with the 40th regiment.
He wasn’t having it though and tried to desert again. He was court martialled in 1861.
Robinson got into plenty of other trouble, breaking windows, assaulting others and being disorderly.
By 1863 he had been shipped to New Zealand and in 1864 he was on trial in Te Awamutu for deserting - and once again losing his kit.
Getting rid of his clothes would turn out to be a familiar refrain in his life.
He was sentenced to the stockade at Mount Eden and then likely dishonourably discharged and cast out.
He got a job in 1865 working for Adam Chisholm on Waiheke Island, supposedly looking after the cattle and horses, but after three days Chisholm tried to pay him off. Robinson took offense at the small amount he was offered and assaulted Chisholm, taking all the money he had, a gun, two pistols and threatened another man.
He was caught and sent back to Mt Eden for six years but in January 1866 he escaped by concealing himself among the rocks in the quarry and slipping away while no one was looking.
It started a pattern that lasted until he vanished from sight for good.
He had been wearing a highly visible prison uniform but knocked down and forcibly stripped a man of his clothing, including a lavender-coloured coat, near Onehunga.
Robinson headed for South Auckland where he found work - while everyone was looking for him elsewhere.
Days later he was caught by two police officers and sentenced to six more years.
It didn’t last long. On October 17 he escaped again. He had been in irons but after a period of good behaviour they were removed and while he was working in the mason’s department he ran off, hiding in the officers’ quarters until he could go over the wall.
He took off his coat and turned his prison shirt inside out.
He stole another man’s boots and jacket. The boots didn’t fit so he knocked out another man, stealing his boots and trousers.
It took until November to corner him again and he went to a Supreme Court trial.
This time he got four years for escaping and six for assault on top of his other jail terms, bringing him to a staggering 22 year jail term.
His final escape was in March 1872 - he simply walked out, managing to dress himself in warder’s clothes and arming himself with one of the warder’s pistols.
The next day he was seen in the Waitakere Ranges by a police detective who took careful aim and fired. Robinson plunged into the bush but has never been seen again.
It’s unclear if he was shot and crawled off to die, but there were sightings later in the year that came to nothing. In 1873 a man thought to be him was apparently working in a hotel in Maraetai then possibly being on the Bella Mary bound for Tasmania.
Whichever it is, no one now knows where he lies.
Photo by Deleece Cook.