Author(s): GEOFFREY RICE
While researching a different book, historian Geoffrey W. Rice was poring through old newspaper reports and was struck by the number of articles about crime in Victorian Christchurch. Fascinated by what he was reading, he became diverted from the task at hand and set about writing this book instead: about crime and punishment in the first 25 years of Canterbury settlement. The stories are drawn from newspaper reports, with further detail added from police records and the court minute books. The events are contextualised by Professor Rice's extensive knowledge of the times. It is not an academic study; nor is it a work of fiction. Rather it is an attempt at evidence-based reconstruction of crimes and courtroom proceedings, opening a window on the lives and deeds of ordinary people who lived in this place over 140 years ago. History is usually written by the winners, and it is rare to hear the voices of ordinary folk from the remote past. Yet such were the shorthand skills of 19th-century newspaper reporters that courtroom testimony and cross-examinations were often captured verbatim, especially in the more sensational murder trials. Reading these reports one can almost hear the voices of the past. We catch glimpses of cabbies, shopkeepers, clerks and housewives going about their daily work, with descriptions of homes or workplaces, and the occasional fight in a pub. The stories are often dramatic and even sensational, sometimes horrifying, sometimes amusing, often rather sad. Their crimes mirror the difficult realities of colonial life.