The Devil's Half Acre - an introduction.
|Walker (now Stafford) St, Hocken photo.|
"THE DEVIL'S HALF-ACRE."
Walker street has long been known as one of the most unsavoury localities in Dunedin, but recently things have reached such a pitch that the police have been compelled to resort to extreme measures to clear out the low characters who infest the neighbourhood. Yesterday, at the Police Court, six women, living in what is known as Bird's right-of-way, were placed in the dock on charges of vagrancy, and Inspector Mallard said if they were not punished they would doubtless go back and give rise to a recurrence of the scenes of dissipation that have taken place there during the last week or two. His Worship ensured a certain spell of decency and quietness by sentencing them each to one month's imprisonment. The evidence of the police disclosed a state of affairs certainly the reverse of creditable. One constable stated that on Sunday last, just as people were returning from morning divine service, he had been attracted to the right-of way by hearing screams. He found in one of the hovels that one woman had got upon the floor "pommelling" her: a half drunkcn man, only half dressed, was lying on an old sofa; and round the door a knot of women, most of them nearly naked, were doing their best to apprise the neighbourhood within a mile or so of what was going on by screaming "murder," and so forth, at their voices' highest pitch. The calm stillness of the Sabbath morning appears to have been liable to rude invasions in this neighbourhood. Nor was the evening treated with any more becoming sanctity. About 7 o'clock Sergeant-major Bevan visited the neighbourhood, and as a result of what he saw, hunted a number of young lads away from the place. Sergeant Andersen said the place was a regular resort of lads of about fifteen and sixteen, and Chinamen, and among the ennobling sights he had seen was a woman stalking about in a perfect state of nudity. What the police have seen and heard, it will be allowed, is bad enough but when their backs were turned, there can be little doubt things assumed even a more forbidding aspect. Frequently from Saturday night till Monday morning, when larrikins, often to the number of twenty or thirty at a time, were distributed through the various houses — or "hovels," as they were more correctly described in court — this right-of-way was the haunt and abiding place of vice and degradation in their lowest, most debasing, and brutal forms.
The landlord of this den of debauchery came in for some rather severe rubs. He is a Mr Bird, and he lives in a house closely adjacent, but which of course rears a decent front to the main thoroughfare. He was put in the witness box by Inspector Mallard, who explained that the present prosecutions were as much for the purpose of bringing him under the notice of the Court as anything else. He admitted sometimes supplying the denizens of the houses in his tenancy with "dinners," which be got payment for if he could. For a two-roomed "hovel" he said he asked the moderate rental of LI a week, but his actual receipts on account of it were only 10s a week. On an average he got 5s a week for the rest. This statement was not further proved. If it had been, it might have been found to mean that, taking a three months' average, and deducting those unfortunate slack periods during which his tenants are in gaol, and when, of course, he can hardly expect to get rent, the five shillings a week represented his income from each of these delectable two-roomed dens. "As Mr Bird is in Court," suavely, almost sweetly, queried Mr Inspector Mallard, "perhaps he would kindly promise to raze these places to the ground." But Mr Bird was a bird not to be caught with chaff, and he turned a deaf ear to the blandishments of the charmer. "Then," said the Magistrate, "Mr Mallard's only plan will be so to harrass the tenants that Mr Bird's property will become useless." But the property of a landlord who charges LI a week for houses of such a description, and who rests under the suspicion of making further profit out or his tenants by supplying them with — well, "dinners," is not so easily rendered valueless. The unfortunate thing is that the law has no power over such men. The whole neighbourhood to which we have been referring is peopled by a very poor, if not low class of people. From Mr Bird's peaceful right-of-way nearly one hundred yards down the street, arid half way back to Stafford street, the dwellings are mere dog-kennels. Many of them are even greater hovels than those so described by the police. They arc almost destitute of conveniences of every description, and their inhabitants must live in utter disregard and violation of all habits of decency. There are children amongst them, although, thank goodness, they don't abound there — the soil is not congenial to their growth; and what notions of propriety and decency they must contract! Of course there are other landlords, of these places. Some of them are, as the world goes, most respectable and good living men. They parade the street an a Sunday morning, models of respectability, with a gilt-bound Bible and a suit of orthodox black, and they occupy the front seats in the synagogue. But on Monday morning they are again the heartless landlord. Defaulters who have nothing are turned out, and those who have the wherewithal for security are bound over to pay interest on rent in arrear. This is strong writing, but we have reason for believing the above is not a supposititious case. Legislation, however, may not be able to work any reform here; it may not be able to prevent the grasping landlord going to church with the best of men. But it can and should prevent him trading on the necessities of the vicious and degraded by keeping houses for them that a true Christian would not ask his horse to pass the night in. It surely can cause landlords to provide such a class of houses that it would be to his interest to see they were not inhabited by dirty, degraded creatures, and that they were not injured and depreciated in value by rowdy, fighting tenants. As it is, the landlords of the hovels we have referred to are careless of such matters, and can afford to be so, for if the tenements were utterly destroyed the real monetary loss — as represented by the value of the building — would be less than "an old song."
In the meantime, however, the public have to thank the police for their action so far. They have not only done something to root out a den of infamy — for throughout yesterday Bird's right-of-way was as quiet and deserted as if there was no such thing as vice in the world — but they have earned thanks for exposing to some extent the character of the landlords of these places. -Otago Daily Times, 15/8/1878.
|"Assyrian (Lebanese) houses off Walker Street." Hocken Library photo.|
Matilda Hancock, an introduction.
In the Mayor's Court yesterday, before W. D., Murison, Esq.; J.P., James Ward was charged with drunkenness, but having been in the lock-up since Saturday evening, no penalty was inflicted; James Wilkin, for drunkenness, was fined 10s, and Angus McDonald and Edward O'Connel, for drunken and disorderly conduct, were each fined 20s or 48 hours' imprisonment in default of payment. Matilda Hancock, for using obscene language, was fined 20s, with the alternative of 7 days' imprisonment in default. -Otago Daily Times, 6/11/1866.
The above is merrely the fist of many reports, courtesy of "Papers Past" of one Matilda Hancock, charged numerous times with public drunkenness, obscene language and prostitution. She was also sometimes the victim of assaults, described as "a loose character" in 1869.
FREQUENTING A DISORDERLY HOUSE
Matilda Hancock was charged with frequenting a disorderly house occupied by the prisoner Still.
There were 17 or 18 previous convictions against her for disorderly conduct. She was fined L5, or in default to go to gaol for 21 days. William Jefferson was charged with a similar offence. It appeared that when Still and Hancock were arrested, the prisoner, who had been in Still's house, came out, and at their suggestion collected a mob, whom he incited to rush the constables, and rescue the prisoners. He was fined 40s, with the alternative of a week's imprisonment. -Otago Daily Times, 28/12/1869.
This Day. (Before his Worship the Mayor, and J. Thomson, Esq., J. P.)
DRUNKENNESS. Chas. Griffiths, was fined 5s, and Samuel Farra L5 or 14 days’ imprisonment. Matilda Hancock was fined L5 for drunkenness, LlO or three months’ imprisonment for using obscene language, and was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment for being a habitual drunkard, the sentences to be cumulative. -Evening Star, 13/9/1870.
This Day. (Before his Worship the Mayor.) DRUNKENNESS. William West was fined 5s, and Matilda Hancock 40s, or a fortnight’s imprisonment, for drunkenness.
ASSAULTING A CONSTABLE, Matilda Hancock and John Howard were charged with assaulting constable Haldane, while in the execution of his duty. It appeared from the evidence that at a quarter past four o’clock this morning, the constable hearing screams, proceeded to the house of Hancock, in Walker street, where he found her and the male prisoner fighting. He interfered, and seeing that the woman was drunk, arrested her, and she escaped from him into the house. He followed her, when Howard sprang upon him, seized him by the beard, and desperately biting his thumb, which he had managed to get into his mouth. The constable then drew his baton and used it, at the same time spinning his rattle, but before assistance could be got the prisoners had succeeded in ejecting him from the house. On the arrival of Sergeant Coneys an entrance was forced into the house, and the prisoner Hancock arrested. The other prisoner made his escape by the hack window, but was captured shortly afterwards, Hancock was fined L5, with the alternative of a month’s imprisonment; and Howard, whose face bore marks of its having come foul of the constable’s baton, L5,or a month’s imprisonment. He was also fined 10s for tearing the constable’s uniform. -Evening Star, 24/10/1871.
At the Mayor’s Court, this morning, Isiah Potitika, a Native, and Lewis Reid, were each lined 5s, with the alternative of twenty, four hours’ imprisonment, for drunkenness. Brown, for using obscene language in a public place, was fined 20s, or three days’ imprisonment. An information by one Matilda Hancock against John Howard, for assault and unlawfully beating, was dismissed, there being no appearance of either party. His Worship the Mayor occupied the Bench. -Evening Star, 22/1/1873.
Vagrancy. —Matilda Hancock pleaded guilty to a charge of making use of indecent language, within the hearing of persons passing, in a right-of-way off Walker street. His Worship said the language was of a most disgraceful character, and fined the prisoner in the full penalty of the law, L10, with the alternative of three months’ imprisonment. -Evening Star, 14/2/1873.
William Pearce, an introduction.
CITY POLICE COURT
Disorderly Conduct.— William Pearce and Matilda Hancock, for conducting themselves at Kensington in a manner calculated to provoke a breach of the peace, were each fined 20s, in default three days’ imprisonment. -Evening Star, 6/3/1877.
CITY POLICE COURT
Larceny. —A charge, against Matilda Hancock, of stealing a silver watch and chain, of the value of L5, the property of John Sharp, was dismissed. When the alleged theft took place, the prosecutor was in a brothel, and the Bench did not consider the evidence sufficiently strong to warrant a conviction. -Otago Daily Times, 16/6/1876.
THE COURTS - TODAY
Messrs Eliott and De Lacy, J.P's, occupied the Bench at the Police Court yesterday. A little girl named Anna Maria Hutchins, three and a half years old, was committed to the Industrial School for seven years. The mother of the child, Matilda Hancock, a woman who is continually before the Court, and was yesterday before it for drunkenness, pleaded hard to be allowed to keep the child, and cried bitterly on hearing that it had to go to the institution. She professed to be quite willing to pay for the child's maintenance, and handed over the first week's fee (5s 6d) then and there. The Bench took some pity on the wretched woman, and let her off without punishment on the charge of drunkenness.-Evening Star, 14/10/1879.
William Pearce, a stabbing.
CITY POLICE COURT
Stabbing —William Pearce was charged with having stabbed Joseph Mitchell on the 4th inst. Prosecutor deposed: I am a laborer, living at Pine Hill. About two o’clock on Saturday afternoon last I went to the prisoner’s house in Stafford street, and asked if Mrs Hancock lived there. Prisoner, who was getting out of bed, said "yes,” so I went in. After I had been in the house for about an hour, prisoner said, “You b— you have been cohabiting with my wife.” I denied this, and the next thing that I was aware of was that a sheath-knife bed been stuck in my head. I looked round, and he stuck the knife into my upper lip. He next struck at my breast, but I closed with him, wrested the knife from him, and threw it away. I then became insensible. As soon as I recovered I left the house. I met a constable and he took me to tho hospital, where my wounds were dressed
—Matilda Hancock stated that she was living with the accused. She knew the prosecutor, who was at her house on Saturday. She heard a quarrel going on, but did not witness it. She afterwards saw blood on the floor. The knife produced was prisoner’s, Sergeant Gearin arrested the prisoner in a house off Stafford street. The knife produced witness found on the table. The floor was covered with blood, and the walls and furniture were bespattered.
—Dr Roberts, house-surgeon to the Dunedin Hospital, said that he saw the prosecutor in the Hospital on Saturday afternoon. He was bleeding profusely from a wound in his head. He had two other wounds — one on the cheek and the other on the lip. The knife produced would inflict similar wounds to those on the prosecutor.
—After receiving the usual caution prisoner said that all he had to say was that they were quarrelling.—His Worship then committed the prisoner to take his trial at the next sittings of the Supreme Court.
-Evening Star, 6/12/1880.
William Pearce, 40 years of age, wounding with intent. Dr Roberts was called, and gave evidence that the wounds must have been inflicted upon the prosecutor with considerable force; that the prosecutor was weak with loss of blood, and that it must have been a week or ten days before he regained his strength. Mr Haggitt said that there were 11 previous convictions against the accused. Mr Caldwell identified the prisoner as the person against whom the convictions referred to had been recorded.
His Honor: You appear, prisoner, to have been convicted a number of times for trifling offences —disorderly conduct, drunkenness, abusive language assault - on one occasion, a breach of the peace, and a breach of the Distillation Act; in all you have been convicted 11 times. The sentence of the Court is that you be kept in penal servitude in the Colony of New Zealand for a period of three years. -Otago Witness, 15/1/1881.
CITY POLICE COURT.
Thursday, Ist December. (Before G. E, Eliot and K. Paterson, Esq., J.P.s.) Larceny. — Matilda Hancock was charged with stealing, on the 30th ult., a one-pound Bank of England note from the person of Thomas Montague.—The accused pleaded not guilty.
Thomas Montague stated that he was a labourer, residing in Mosgiel. He came into town on Tuesday, and was accosted by the accused, shortly after 9 o'clock, near Wain's Hotel. He went up to the house of the accused, and after being there some time she snatched his pocket-book from him, opened it, and took a pound-note out of it, after which she threw this pocket-book at him. — Sergeant Gearin also gave evidence.
Vagrancy— The same accused was further charged with having no visible lawful moans of support at Dunedin on the 30th of November.—After hearing the evidonce of' Sergeant Gearin, the Bench said that looking at the circumstances connected with the first charge, it was quite apparent that the informant had brought the affair upon himself. The accused would accordingly be discharged on that information, but for the second offence she would be sentenced to three months' imprisonment, with hard labour. -Otago Daily Times, 2/12/1881.
CITY POLICE COURT
Sunday Trading. —Henry M. Hills, of the Australasian Hotel, was charged with selling beer to Matilda Hancock on Sunday last. Mr Denniston defended. The evidence stated that the boots had been left in charge of the hotel, with instructions not to supply drink except to boarders. The defendant had since left the hotel —His Worship said that the sale having been made against the will of the defendant, the case must be dismissed. -Evening Star, 22/3/1883.
William Pearce and Matilda Hancock, another stabbing.
SUSPECTED MURDER IN CUMBERLAND STREET.
ARREST OF WILLIAM PEARCE.
A very disagreeable sensation was created in the neighbourhood of Hanover and Cumberland streets yesterday morning by the presence of an unusual number of detectives and police constables, and the report that a woman of ill-fame bad been murdered in one of the right-of-ways off the first-named street. The report proved to be only too well founded, and the police investigation elicited the fact that a woman named Matilda Hancock had been stabbed on Saturday evening, and bad died from the result of the injury shortly after midnight. The woman Hancock had been divorced from her husband for a number of years, and for the last four months she had been cohabiting with a man named William Pearce, a fish-hawker, who has been arrested since on suspicion of the murder. Recently they shifted from the south end of the town to a small house at the back of the National Hotel, situated in a right-of-way off Cumberland street. Both Pearce and his paramour, it is stated, were of drunken habits, and it appears that on Saturday evening last they commenced one of their usual drinking bouts. The statements current vary as to whether they were alone, or whether there was company in the house; but there seems little doubt that at the time a number of the neighbours were present, and that drinking was carried .on to a considerable extent. The difficulty which the police have so far had to contend with is the reticence of the neighbours, and their apparent desire to screen the prisoner Pearce.
What particulars have so far been gathered point to the conclusion that a quarrel took place in the house on Saturday evening, and it is suspected that Pearce, becoming enraged at the woman Hancock, seized knife and stabbed her in the side of the abdomen. The woman lingered all through the next day, and, according to Pearce's statement, she became very sick towards evening, and was continually vomiting. Notwithstanding this, medical aid was not procured, and the woman died shortly after midnight on Sunday. At half-past 8 yesterday morning Pearce reported to the police that his wife had died suddenly the night previous. The police at once proceeded to the house, and found the body of a woman, lying on a mattress on the floor. The body was bruised and cut, and there was a gaping wound about an inch lung in the abdomen, a little above the hip, on the left side.
Dr Copland was called in early on Monday morning and examined the body, but what remarks he may have made about the matter have not transpired. Subsequently Dr Coughtrey met him, and the two medical gentlemen made a post mortem examination of the body, the result of which will be disclosed at the adjourned inquest. Meanwhile the result of the investigation led to the arrest of the man Pearce by Detective Bain yesterday morning, on a charge of wilful murder. Pearce is by occupation, a fish-hawker. He is of a reddish complexion, and about 5ft 2in in height. He has previously been imprisoned in Dunedin Gaol, and it is only six months since he was liberated, after serving a term of 12 months on a charge of stabbing. The deceased was well known in Dunedin a few years back as the wife of a hotelkeeper who held the license of a house in Princes street south.
The city coroner (Dr Hocken) was of course communicated with yesterday, and an inquest was formally opened in the afternoon, at the National Hotel, Great King street.
The Coroner, in addressing the jury, said he regretted very much that it had been his duty to summon a jury together for such a case on the eve of the holiday. He would not, however, detain them long, as he purposed adjourning the inquest till the Friday following. They had met to consider the death of a woman of ill fame named Matilda Hancock, who had expired that morning in a house in Cumberland street near the Baptist Church. Evidence to the effect that the woman had been stabbed during a drunken quarrel would be forthcoming. He regretted that there were such a great many of these drunken rows occurring in Dunedin, and that cases now and then came under his notice where women had died after a long period of debauch. If it had been merely one of those cases which, unfortunately, too frequently occurred in their midst, he would not have summoned a jury together, but the case under notice was of a totally different nature. In the present instance it had been discovered that the woman had received a severe wound, and the probabilities were that this wound had been tha cause of death. That afternoon, however, he only purposed calling evidence regarding the identification of the body, and then the inquest would be formally adjourned till another date. William Pearce, the only witness called, deposed that the deceased Matilda Hancock was 42 years old, and a native of Adelaide. She had a daughter seven years of age. Witness had known her for a number of years, and had lived with her during the last four months. She was a woman of very drunken habits. The inquest was at this stage adjourned till Friday at 3 o'clock. It is stated that the prisoner was living with the deceased previous to serving his last term of imprisonment, and that it was in her house that he committed the offence for which he was sentenced. -Otago Daily Times, 1/1/1884.
THE MURDER OF A PARAMOUR.
Dunedin, Friday. The inquest on Matilda Hancock was resumed to-day, and the first witness was Annie Fiedel, the neighbour who had gone to see the woman after she received the wound. The woman told her Pearce had stabbed her. Witness bathed and dressed the wound, and told Pearce he ought to go for a doctor, but he did not. Witness asked Pearce about the stabbing, and he said they had a few words and he did it in a passion. Sarah Boyd, also a neighbour, gave evidence. In her examination she said Mrs Pearce told her she got the wound by falling in the yard on a piece of glass. To Inspector Welden: Witness said that after the police sergeant had taken deceased's clothes away several women were in Pearce's house, and one of them, pointing to a knife on the mantelpiece said, "I wonder if that is the knife." Another said if it was it should be put away. Pearce then went to the mantelpiece, and put something in his pocket, and coming over to witness, whispered, "Can I put this in your house?" Witness answered, "Oh, nothing in my house." Pearce went out, and did not return for fully half an hour. The further evidence given was corroborative of that previously taken, and Doctors Coughtrey and Copeland also gave evidence. Dr. Copeland stated that he had been called in within an hour after death, which occurred about midnight, and told Pearce he could not give a certificate, but recommended him to communicate with the police. Pearce did so about five or six o'clock. The jury returned a verdict equivalent to wilful murder, and the Coroner committed Pearce for trial. -Auckland Star, 5/1/1884.
Tuesday, January 8. the charge of murder. William Pearce on being arraigned on a charge of murdering Matilda Hancock pleaded not guilty.
Prisoner : Can I speak, your Honor?
His Honor: Yes.
Prisoner : Will you give me a lawyer ? I have not a shilling to defend myself. I want a good lawyer.
His Honor: I think that should be allowed. Is it not usual, Mr Haggitt, in charges of murder, for the Government to provide funds for counsel?
Mr Haggitt: I have never known it to be done, your Honor.
His Honor: I think there is one case where the Government paid a lawyer for the defence of a prisoner.
Mr Haggitt: I think not, your Honor. I don't recollect any such case.
His Honor: I think I certainly recollect. When a man accused of murder is not in a position to pay for counsel some provision should be made for his defence by the public authority. The Registrar will make some communication to the Government and see what can be done. If nothing can be done — if Government refuse to find the necessary funds to enable the prisoner to be defended — then all I can do is to suggest that some member of the Bar might volunteer his services.
Mr Haggitt: That is all that can ever be done. There being no funds, your Honor is not in a postion to assign counsel.
His Honor: No; I am not in a position to assign counsel unless there is some fund to pay counsel out of. The Registrar mentioned that in the case of a Maori charged with murder Government had retained counsol for him. His Honor: That was done. I don't see, if a Maori was provided with counsel by Government, why a white man charged with murder should not also be provided with counsel. I will communicate with the authorities, prisoner, and see if they are willing to provide counsel for you. If they will not, I have no power to assign you counsel, but then it may be that some member of the Bar will volunteer to defend you gratuitously. I hope that that will be done.
Prisoner: Thank you, your Honor.
The case was then adjourned. -Evening Star, 8/1/1884.
THE DUNEDIN MURDER CASE.
By Telgraph.) The charge of murder against Wm. Pearce for having stabbed Matilda Hancock has occupied the Supreme Court all day. The evidence was much the same as given at the inquest, but was stronger against the prisoner, as a witness named Freeman deposed that the prisoner had admitted to him having committed this deed, saying that he had struck the woman when she had provoked him, but did not intend to kill her. To a detective Pearce had also admitted having thrown the knife with which he did the deed into the bay. His Honor summed up strongly against the prisoner, telling the jury he could see no evidence of the provocation which would reduce the crime to manslaughter. He added that a recommendation to mercy would no doubt have some weight. At seven o'clock the jury returned to ask whether a verdict of manslaughter would be accepted, stating their were of the opinion the prisoner had done the deed without premeditation. His Honor directed them that the absence of premeditation alone would reduce the crime to manslaughter. They are now condsidering a verdict.
LATER. The jury in the murder case were locked up all night. The foreman said there seemed not the slightest possibility of the jury agreeing. -Timaru Herald, 15/1/1884.
MURDER AT DUNEDIN.
A man named William Pearce has been found guilty of murdering a woman named Matilda Hancock. The two were cohabiting together, and both were abandoned characters. The woman has been frequently convicted of drunkenness and prostitution, whilst Pearce, only a few months ago, came out of gaol after serving eighteen months on a serious charge. The woman was stabbed on Dec. 29 and died next day at noon. The two had been drinking together and had a quarrel. The wound was a gaping one on the left side of the body above the hip. The woman lingered in her own house til about one o'clock next morning, when she died, and about eight o'clock Pearce reported to the police that the woman had died suddenly during the night. The police found the body with the wound on it, and also several bruises. The woman was lying on a mattress. An inquest was held in the afternoon, at which the only evidence taken was that of Pearce, who deposed to the identity of the deceased. He had known her for eleven years and had lived with her for four months. She had a daughter 7 years old, and she herself was 42. A post-mortem examination showed that death resulted from the wound. The woman was the divorced wife of a man who was well known to the police in Dunedin some years ago.
The inquest was resumed the following day. The first witness was Annie Feidel, a neighbour who had gone to see the woman after she had received the wound. Hancock told her Pearce had stabbed her. Witness bathed and dressed the wound, and told Pearce he ought to go for a doctor; but he did not. Witness asked Pearce about the stabbing, and he said they had a few words, and he did it in a passion.
Sarah Boyd, also a neighbour, next gave evidence. In her examination-in-chief said Mrs Pearce told her she got the wound by falling in the yard on a piece of glass. To Inspector Weldon: Witness said that after the police sergeant had taken deceased's clothes away several women were in Pearce's house, and one of them, pointing to a knife on the mantelpiece, said: "I wonder if that is the knife." Another said if it was it should be put away. Pearce then went to the mantelpiece and put something in his pocket, and coming over to witness whispered: "Can I put this in your house?" Witness answered: " Oh, no; nothing in my place." Pearce went out and did not return for fully half-an-hour.
Thomas Lawson deposed that on the Saturday night previous to deceased's death Pearce and she were quarrelling about the back of the house. Both were very drunk. Pearce was speaking to someone else, and said: "I know her better than you. I have lived with her for three years, and I ought to know better than you what to do with her." On Sunday afternoon he heard the woman had been stabbed, and on Monday he was told she was dead. Witness' wife took a shilling's worth of beer into the house, and witness went in to get a share of it. He was then pretty "tight." There were several knives on the mantlepiece, and some one said the knife should be done away with. There was a general knowledge that the woman had been stabbed, and a feeling that as she was dead it would be a pity to see Pearce get into trouble. One of the knives which was on the mantelpiece when he went in was not there when he went out. The knife was lying there after the police took away the deceased's clothes. Another neighbour, Ann Proven, deposed that deceased had told her she was stabbed by Billy (Pearce). After the death Pearce said to witness, "I may be taken up for this case; will you take charge of my fish knife?" but witness replied "No." The further evidence given was corroborative of that previously taken, and Drs Coughtrey and Copeland also gave evidence. Dr Copeland stated that he had been called in within an hour after death, which occurred about midnight, and told Pearce he could not give a certificate, but recommended him to communicate with the police. Pearce did so about 5 or 6 o'clock.
The jury returned a verdict equivalent to wilful murder, and the Coroner committed Pearce for trial.
Subsequently prisoner was tried on the charge of murder at the Supreme Court, and the jury found him "Guilty," with a recommendation to mercy. -Lyttelton Times, 30/1/1884.
LOCAL AND GENERAL
The sentence of death passed on William Pearce at the last criminal sessions for the murder by stabbing of Matilda Hancock has been commuted to imprisonment for life. -Otago Witness, 16/2/1884.
AN INSUBORDINATE PRISONER.
DUNEDIN, Oct. 6. The man Pearce, convicted, at the January sittings, of the manslaughter of Matilda Hancock, was guilty of gross insubordination on board the prison hulk, on Saturday afternoon. In the evening he was brought before the Mayor as one of the Visiting Justices, who, having heard the charge, ordered him to a week's solitary confinement. In accordance with the Prison Regulations, Pearce will be brought before the City Police Court in the course of the week. -Star, 7/10/1884.
THE COURTS - TODAY
Breaches of the Prison Regulations.— William Pearce pleaded guilty to pretending Illness, using insolent and threatening language to a warder, and otherwise behaving In a refractory manner.— He was remanded until Wednesday. -Evening Star, 13/10/1884.
And here Mr William Pearce fades from the public record.