In 1895 Southland's Williamina (Minnie) Dean became the first – and only – woman to be hanged in New Zealand. Her story exposed the stark realities of paid childcare and the lack of choice that many women faced in this period.
British and Australian court cases in the 1880s introduced New Zealanders to the
sinister practices of baby farmers: paid caregivers who neglected children in
their care, concealed their deaths or deliberately murdered the infants.
Baby farmers were paid caregivers who allegedly neglected children in their care, concealed their deaths or deliberately murdered the infants. The most notorious was Minnie Dean, who, in August 1895, became the first (and only) woman to be hanged for murder in New Zealand.
The 'Burgess gang' murdered and thieved their way around the South Island during the 1860s. Their most notorious crime was five killings over two days in June 1866, on the Maungatapu track near Nelson. Now you can read their story in a new virtual comic book.
This web feature was written by Steve Watters and produced by the NZHistory.net.nz team. LinksCarl Völkner biographyMaketu biographyMokomoko biographyNotable trials People executed in New Zealand (Wikipedia) BooksSherwood Young, Guilty on the gallows, Grantham House, Wellington, 1998
Walter Bolton was the last person to be executed in New Zealand when he was convicted of poisoning his wife, Beatrice. He was hanged for her murder at Mount Eden prison. The death penalty for murder was abolished in New Zealand in 1961, and there were claims that this was due partly to the circumstances surrounding Bolton's case.
The first execution in New Zealand was that of a young Maori named Maketu, convicted at Auckland in 1842. Walter Bolton became the last to be executed when he was hanged at Mount Eden prison in 1957. In total there were 83 verified executions for murder and one for treason in New Zealand between these dates.
As a consequence of the post-war economic boom there was increasing demand for consumer goods. The 1956 census revealed that more than half of New Zealand homes possessed washing machines, refrigerators and electric ovens.
A generation after the execution of the infamous Minnie Dean, the murder trial of Daniel and Martha Cooper revealed that 'baby farming' was still seen as a solution to the problem of unwanted children in 1920s New Zealand.
Pauline Parker, aged 16, and Juliet Hulme, 15, were convicted of the murder of Pauline's mother Honora at Christchurch on 22 June. Their story was later the subject of Peter Jackson's film Heavenly Creatures.