Lionel Terry killed Joe Kum Yung to draw attention to his crusade to rid New Zealand of Chinese people. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment on the grounds of insanity.
Joe Kum Yung’s murder in Wellington’s Haining Street in September 1905 highlighted the depth of hatred some people had for Chinese. Many Chinese men, socially isolated from other elements of New Zealand society and faced with loneliness, sought solace in opium and gambling. The notoriety of Haining Street, in downtown Te Aro, fuelled considerable anti-Chinese sentiment. The effects of these activities were often exaggerated, which played into the hands of men like Lionel Terry.
In July 1905 Terry walked 1400 km from Mangōnui to Wellington, attracting considerable attention as he went. Along the way he distributed copies of The shadow, a book of verse with a long introduction on the need for racial purity. He also gave lectures on the threat posed to New Zealand by the ‘yellow peril’. When he arrived in Wellington on 14 September, he tried to convince members of the House of Representatives and immigration officials that all non-European immigration should be stopped. His pleas met with little success, and in an effort to gain further publicity for his views he shot Joe Kum Yung on the night of 24 September. Terry surrendered to the police the following morning, handing over his revolver and a copy of The shadow.
When his case went to trial in November, Terry conducted his own defence. He was found guilty and sentenced to death, a sentence that was commuted to life imprisonment on the grounds of insanity. Later diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, Terry spent the rest of his life in Lyttelton prison and Sunnyside and Seacliff mental hospitals.
Terry escaped from Sunnyside twice in 1906 and from Seacliff in 1907 and 1908. His allegations of mistreatment at both hospitals and at Lyttelton prison gained him a level of public sympathy. While most condemned the murder of Joe Kum Yung, many shared Terry’s dislike of the Chinese. It is said that a petition for his release was circulated, and that the Chinese community responded with a counter-petition.
Terry died at Seacliff Mental Hospital on 20 August 1952, aged 79. He had spent the last 12 years of his life in solitary confinement.
Image: Lionel Terry self-portrait (DNZB).