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Auckland Naval Base Murders
This triple murder was the first case in Auckland where a Pakeha was found guilty since the founding of the city, one hundred years before. Even though there would have been murders by the score before this, this murder was on a New Zealand Naval Base so it drew attention from both the Navy and the police.
In 1841, Lieutenant Robert Snow was the officer in charge when the Royal Navy founded it's first naval base in Devonport, on the North Shore in Auckland. Lt. Snow lived on the base with his wife, Hannah, and their two daughters. Six years later they still resided in the same cottage with their neighbours being a few local Maoris and European settlers. A shipping signal station manned by Able Seaman Thomas Duder could be seen on Mount Victoria.

On Friday, October 22, 1847, the ship named HMS Dido was anchored off the North Shore. Benjamin Baker, the ship's quartermaster, was on watch duty and at around 1am spotted a fire on the North Shore Naval Base. He reported this to his Captain who ordered they go ashore with a crew to assist if needed. On arrival at the scene, they found Lt. Snow's cottage ablaze. They could not vanquish the flames and saw no sign of the occupants of the house. Unable to locate the family anywhere on the base, the worse was feared. After the flames had died down, the wreckage was sifted through
A scaffold was built over the site of the crime where Joseph Burns was hanged, a practice which was afforded highwaymen in England.
and the searchers came across an horrific sight. The burnt and mutilated bodies of Lt. Snow, his wife, and their baby daughter Mary. This now became a case of murder. It was alleged that Lt. Snow had been known to have run-ins with the local Maoris and one had threatened to burn down his cottage. Able Seaman Thomas Duder testified that he had seen the cottage on fire from the signal station and he also saw two Maori canoes nearby. He also helped identify the Snows' bodies.

The Snows had been brutally tomahawked and stabbed before their house was set on fire. Through a long trail of deception the crime was attributed to Joseph Burns. His statement was that he paid too much attention to bad women and drink. At his trial Joseph Burns was found gulity of the murders of Lieutenant Robert Snow, his wife and baby daughter. One of the two children was away at the time and survived.

A scaffold was built over the site of the crime where Joseph Burns was hanged, a practice which was afforded highwaymen in England.


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Joseph Burns, first person executed in European tradition,17 June 1848.

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