Murder in Devonport

I discovered a crime site today which was a bit of a shock.

The crime was a triple murder and it happened one night in Devonport, Auckland 166 years ago.  The victims were Lieutenant Robert Snow, his wife Hannah and their young daughter, Mary. Lt Snow was the officer in charge of the Royal Navy’s first base in Devonport and he had lived with his family in a small cottage on the base for 6 years. In the early hours of Friday 22 October 1847, the Snow’s cottage went up in flames.  Crew from a Navy ship in the harbour saw the fire but by the time they arrived the cottage was ablaze and couldn’t be saved.  The bodies of Lt Snow and his family were found inside the blackened ruins.  They had been brutally murdered before their house was set on fire.

After months of investigation, Joseph Burns was convicted of the murders. Burns was a heavy drinker, a thief and a thug who drifted from job to job. He was sentenced to death by hanging and a gallows was erected on the site of the Snow’s ruined cottage. Joseph Burns was publicly hanged there on 17 June 1848.  He was the first European (originally from Liverpool, England) to be executed  in NZ for a capital crime.

Walking along King Edward Parade which follows the shoreline from Devonport Village towards North Head (approx 45 minutes), there’s a small bronze plaque marking the site of the murders and the execution. It’s easy to miss but it’s not so easy to forget what happened here all those years ago.

Things to know before you go:

  • In addition to the Waterfront Walk along King Edward Parade, there are other trails in Devonport. You’ll find details of several DIY walking tours at

Categories: New Zealand

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