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Joseph Eppright was born in 1845 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Merritt Eppright born in 1815 in New Jersey and Mary Valentine born June 10, 1821 in Philadelphia. Merritt and Mary were married on July 10, 1837 in Philadelphia. Joseph was one of eight children; Samuel born 1839 in Pennsylvania; Mary Francis born 1841 in Pennsylvania; Joseph born 1845 in Pennsylvania; Georgeanna born 1847 in Pennsylvania; Maria born January 1850 in Pennsylvania; William born August 12, 1854 in Philadelphia; Emma born 1855 in Pennsylvania and Sallie born 1860 in Pennsylvania.  His mother died on June 10, 1861 in Philadelphia and his father died sometime after 1880.

By 1860 Joseph was no longer residing in the household of his parents, but with a carpenter named Robert McKensie and his wife Elizabeth,, still in Philadelphia.  At the age of eighteen, Joseph enlisted for three years in company K of the 29th Pennsylvania Infantry, the ‘Jackson Regiment’,as a private, and was mustered into service on December 10, 1863.  The 29th Pennsylvania Infantry began organizing on  June 29, 1861 and began mustering in volunteers on July 1, 1861 with Colonel John K. Murphy as senior Field Officer. Joseph though did not join the 29th until the eve of 1863. On the December 13th the regiment moved by rail from Bridgeport, Alabama, and arrived in Philadelphia on the 27th where the original volunteers were disbanded.

On the March 31st the regiment, consisting of twenty-one officers and five hundred and eighty-eight men moved by rail to Louisville, Kentucky, and then on to Sherman's army, preparing to move on Atlanta. The first sound that greeted the ears of the men on emerging from the rail cars was the booming of cannon coming from the direction of Talahoma, Georgia. From May 1st until September 8th they were involved in the Atlanta (Ga.) Campaign. On the 2nd of April the command drew three thousand rounds of ammunition and eight days' rations. On the 9th of April the command reached Bridgeport, Alabama Taking up the line of March on the 4th of May, over the old ground through Lookout Valley and across Lookout Mountain, amidst a storm of battle rarely equalled, it encountered the enemy in force at Buzzard's Roost. At Rocky Face Ridge the regiment joined the division, where the troops engaged the enemy with heavy loss at  Rocky Faced Ridge and Dalton from May 8th til the 13th. The Twenty-ninth had two men killed and thirteen wounded.

They participated in the Battle of Resaca May 14-15, near Cassville on May 19th, New Hope Church May on the 25th, New Hope Church and Allatoona Hills May 26-June 5th and at Kennesaw Mountain from June 10th through July 2nd. The position at Kenesaw proved to be one of great strength, the Confederates repelling every assault with great slaughter. The Twenty-ninth lost two killed and a number wounded in the operations in front of Kenesaw. After Kenesaw Joseph’s unit saw action in twenty-four additional battle locations, after which they witnessed the surrender of Confederate General Johnston and his army. The 29th then marched to Washington, D.C. arriving on May 20, 1865, participated in the Grand Review and Joseph mustered out with the rest of his company on July 17, 1865. The Regiment had lost a total of 3 Officers and 99 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and1 Officer and 84 Enlisted me had died from diseases.

After his service in the war, Joseph shipped aboard a whaler and eventually wound up in California, where he was employed two years before again boarding another whaler which was wrecked in the Arctic. Joseph survived and then made his way to Honolulu, Hawaii where he acquired a berth aboard a barque for a short period of time.   In about December 1872, Joseph shipped out aboard the whaling barque “Rainbow”, which ended up in New Zealand.

The Rainbow was docked at the Port of Russell in the Bay of Islands on May 13, 1873. Russell, formerly known as Kororareka, was the first permanent European settlement and sea port in New Zealand. It is situated in the Bay of Islands, in the far north of the North Island. Kororareka was part of the Port of Russell and after Russell (Okiato) became virtually deserted, Kororareka gradually became known as “Russell”. It was there the crew were allowed shore liberty which led to tragedy and the final chapter of Joseph Eppright’s life.

Fifteen of the crewmen all went to the Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell and began drinking heavily after having been at sea. While there all were in good spirits and during the time Joseph had even played a game of  ‘single-stick’ with Thomas Garrity the 3rd Mate on the ship. Late that night, however, as Joseph was returning to his ship with William Fisher, Thomas Garrity and other crew members after a night of drinking, and their all being drunk, Joseph and Garrity got into a disagreement.  After a heated exchange of words, which led to a scuffle, Joseph in a fit of temper before William Fisher knew what was happening, drew a knife and stabbed Garrity; who later died.  His story of what happened and how it transpired, both then and after his conviction, however, was vastly different from what came out at his trial.

Before the police arrived, Fisher, being Joseph’s best friend, took Joseph’s bloody knife and hid it, trying to protect him. When the police did arrived, they took Fishers knife thinking it was the murder weapon. And Joseph and William Fisher were both arrested; and stood trial for the murder of Thomas Henry Garrity. Joseph was charged with “Murder” and William Fisher was charged with being an “Accessory to Murder”.

Sir George A. Arney served as Chief Justice, A Mr. Brookfield served as the Crown Prosecutor and the two men were defended by a local solicitor, Mr. Bennett. Both Joseph Eppright and Thomas Garrity entered a plea of “not guilty”. As the case began the Crown Prosecutor called his first witness, Louis Lymes, 2nd Officer of the whaling barque Rainbow on which the two men had served. Joseph and Thomas had been seamen aboard the Rainbow and Garrity had been the 3rd Mate. Lymes stated he had went ashore with the Rainbow’s Chief Officer, or Chief Mate who is responsible directly to the captain, and Thomas Garrity on May 13th. Like all the crew, they ended up at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel, as that was where every body was doing their drinking. He said after awhile they decided to return to the ship and on the way met Joseph Eppright and William Fisher. According to the witness, Garrity asked Eppright to go aboard, presumably because he was drunk.

He stated that a few minutes later Eppright said to Garrity, “Don’t you know what I can do?”, to which Garrity replied “No”. Eppright said “Then I’ll show you”, at which time Eppright swung a blow to Garrity’s head and Garrity responded by knocking Eppright down. William Fisher then stepped in grabbing Garrity’s shoulder saying “Let him go, he’s only fooling”.  Garrity responded by saying, “This rather hard fooling to slap a man on the face without provocation, but I take it as a joke, and let it pass.” Garrity helped Eppright up and the two of them stepped off to themselves so they could talk.  Afterwards, Eppright was heard saying that he didn’t fear any man on the ship.  

Lymes stated he then witnessed Eppright approach Fisher saying, “Fisher, give me that knife”; after which Eppright told several men standing around “Gentlemen I tell you all that there will be some knifing done tonight”.  Afterwards Lymes said he was in a house, but heard Eppright who was standing outside say, “They are in here and can’t get out any way but this.” Fisher was then heard saying, “If he gets you down I’ll kick his head off”.

Lymes, another man and the Chief Officer then went towards the end of the wharf where several men were standing including Eppright and Fisher. Eppright called Garrity aside and asked him why he had knocked him down. At the same time Eppright put his hand in his belt and delivered a severe blow towards Garrity’s chest, instead hitting him in the arm. Garrity called out he had been hit with a sling-shot, but witnesses saw it was not a sling-shot, but a knife, as blood spurted out all over his trousers and boots. Fisher, at the time the blow was struck, was some eight feet away and asked Lymes if he was ready to go aboard, as he was. Also replying to Fisher’s question, Eppright remarked, “So am I” and told Fisher, “Take this knife, I’ve got through with it”. Wittnesses, however, could dot see if Fisher took the knife from Eppright or not.   Cross examined by Mr. Bennett, none of the ensueing witnesses could recall Eppright and Garrity ever having had even a quarrel and didn’t know if Fisher had given Eppright a knife or not.

Another witness, Jacob Eckbon a steward aboard the Rainbow, stated that at 9 O’clock that fateful night  he had been standing in the door of the public house [Pub] when he heard Fisher tell Eppright to “Do it if you get a chance” and a short time later, heard Fisher say “I will give you the knife”.  Again, cross- examined by Mr. Bennett, the witness said he had never known Eppright to be anything but a peaceful individual, but at the same time other members of the crew admitted they were afraid of him. Eckbon, the witness, said he had heard Eppright say, if he “had a dollar for every day he had been in prison he would have been a rich man long ago.” He too said he had heard Fisher say “I’ll give you the knife”, but didn’t know if he had in fact done so.

Another witness, George Cook, backed up the evidence given by Jacob Eckbon and said after Eppright had struck the blow to Garrity, he saw Eppright give something that looked like a knife to Fisher.   William Edward Flowerday, yet another witness, stated he was present when Eppright stabbed Garrity and that just before the blow was struck he heard who he thought was Garrity say “If you think you are a better man than me, then come on”; after which he was stabbed.

Taking the stand, Doctor Ford testified he had attended Garrity who had remained at his house from the time he was stabbed until he died on May 26th. He said he was suffering from a severe wound in the arm which might have been inflicted with a weapon like the sailor’s knife the prosecution had produced. The doctor had dress his wound and Garrity for a week had progressed  as well as could be expected, but then he said his wound had broken open causing a great loss of blood from which Garrity had no chance of surviving.  A strong septic was injected into the wound to stop the haemorrhaging wound, but Garrity died a few minutes before 8 O’clock AM on May 26th,  The cause of death was listed as loss of blood due to stabbing. He died still wearing the same clothing he was stabbed in.

A Constable Donovan testified that on May 13th he had received word that a man had been stabbed down near the wharf. Upon arriving he found a crowd and when asked who did the stabbing, Eppright was pointed out to him. Though Eppright denied any involvement, he was arrested and searched but no knife was found. When asked where his knife was, Eppright stated he had not brought one ashore with him. At the time Fisher had been standing with Eppright. On the way to the station house Eppright reported that Garrity had struck him fourl times. Afterwards, Constable Donovan also arrested Fisher and he was charged as an accessory. When asked what happened to the knife Eppright had passed to him, Fisher denied having it, but then asked, “If I tell you where the knife is, will it do Joe any harm?” Later he took the Constable out and revealed where the knife was. The Constable state the case was quite clear against the both of them. Fisher had told him he had hidden the knife because he did not want to see his friend get into trouble. That closed the case for the prosecution.

The Crown Prosecutor summed up the evidence and addressing the jury alluded to the strong evidence of guilt against Eppright. He reminded them of the most telling points from witnesses, calling special attention to the threats that had been overheard and to the recovery of the knife. He reminded the jury that even though Fisher had not struck the fatal blow, he had aided and abetted the crime and that the law recognized that as murder.

With the prosecution over, the defence attorney, Mr. Bennett, gave an eloquent speech submitting to the jury that the offence for which Eppright was accused only amounted to ‘manslaughter’ and that there was not sufficient evidence against Fisher to convict him of implication in the crime. Upon the conclusion of the defence, the Court Justice summed up in an exhaustive review of the evidence, explained the principles of the law regarding ‘murder’, recapitulated on the evidence commenting on each important point and directed the jury as to the principle questions on which they were to base their verdict.

The jury retired at 5:33pm, in charge of the officers of the court, to deliberat their verdict in the case. After deliberating one hour and ten minutes they returned to the court with a verdict of “Guilty of Wilful Murder” against Eppright and with a verdict of  “Guilty of Aiding and Abetting Wilful Murder” against Fisher; recommending mercy be applied to the case of Fisher.   The Registrar  then asked each prisoner individually if he had anything to say as why judgement should not be imposed against them. Neither prisoner voiced a response. The Usher then proclaimed ‘silence’ from the courtroom on ‘pain of imprisonment’ while the sentence of death was being pronounced.   The Chief Justice then donned his black cap and addressed the prisoners  in solemn tones;

“You Joseph Eppright have been found guilty of wilful murder, and you, William Fisher, of aiding and abetting the wilful murder. I must say that, having regard to the class of this crime, I have never known a more heartless case. When I think that you left that poor young man there on the wharf to die perhaps on the spot, it almost prevents one feeling that pity which cannot be altogether extinguished in the human breast towards fellow-creatures situated as you now are. I entreat you both to employ the time left you on earth to make your peace with the God before whom you will soon have to appear, through Jesus Christ our Saviour. The cry of the repentant sinner is heard befor God, and He will be merciful to the penitent. It only remains for me to pass upon you the sentence of the law.”

The Chief Justice then passed a sentence of death in the usual form concluding by saying, “And may the Lord have Mercy on your souls”. Both Eppright and Fisher maintained their composure throughout, and displayed no emotion when they were removed to the custody of the Gaolers to be turned over to Colonel H.C. Balneavis, the Sheriff.

Inside the eastern corner of the gaol a scaffold was built for Eppright and Fisher’s execution. It was a box form twenty-two feet tall with covered sides, seven feet wide with the front opening onto the gaol yard. It could only be seen by the public from nearby Mt. Eden, to the right of the scaffold. On the day of their execution, every possible vantage point of Mt. Eden was filled to the limit with men, women and children who congregated watch the morbid execution. At 7:25 pm Sergeant-Major Parody arrived with eight armed officers who were posted on the surrounding hills to keep back the massing crowds and maintain order. Then at 2:30 am a Wesleyan Minister, the Reverend James Wallis visited Eppright for the last time in his cell. Eppright spoke cheerfully stating that he had at long last had come to Christ. At 6 O’clock the Reverend P.H. Cornford  arrived and they engaged in prayer and religious conversation.

From 4 O’clock Eppright never relaxed, but repeatedly expressed his desire that Fisher be exculpated, that he alone should suffer for the crime, that he held no grievances against anyone and that he had never planned to take Garrity’s life. He said they were all drunk at the time and that his violent temper and his being drunk was what led to the stabbing. He held no complaint against the law, said it was right he should die and said he had lost his best friend. He said in five and a half months aboard ship with him he had never had an angry word between them. Eppright had resigned himself to his fate but felt Fisher should not be executed for a crime he alone committed.

At 8:05 am the Sheriff requested that the executioner secure the prisoner and Epptight rose in a calm and respectful manner and allowed himself to be tied. As the ‘death bell’ tolled the death knell Eppright, with his head held high walked with a firm step from his cell towards the scaffold. On his right walked Senior Warder O’Brian and on his left his executioner who was dress in prison clothes, though he was not a prisoner, his face shielded by a piece of black crape. Immediately behind Eppright walked the Sheriff, the Governor of the Gaol and several other Warders. Upon reaching the gate Eppright looked in the direction of the scaffold and muttered, “God have mercy on me”. He was then accompanied by two men who accompanied him to the scaffold drop. The Rev. Wallis read a short bible verse, followed by a prayer by Rev. Cornford, as Eppright stared at the sky and again said “God have mercy on me” say a few words. The Sheriff consented and Eppright said aloud;

 “Well gentlemen, the knife with which this crime was committed was not Fisher’s knife. The man never knew anything about it til after the deed was done. It was not his knife. I know they brought witnesses against me at the trial. The police officers took Fisher’s knife, and, after the deed was done, Fisher took my knife and hid it and that was all he had to do with the matter. I don’t see why he should be so severely punished. I know that I have to appear before God. I give my thanks to all for the kindness I have received here. I kneel to him and pray forgiveness. I have been well treated since I have been here, having arrived a total stranger. In respect to Garrity, I’ve been with him five and a half months. I never had a word with him, but been to him like a brother. When we came on shore the row commenced, and the deed was done. Almighty God knows I never intended to murder him. The row commenced through liquor and passion. I say nothing about those who calummated (sic) my character; they made remarks that if  I had as many dollars as I had been days in prison, I should be a rich man. I forgive them and I can call my God to witness that I never was a Justice of the Peace in my life. About 15 of us, all told, came on shore and got drunk. I repented of the deed and never attempted to run away, and I never denied it; but the man died and I now die here trusting in God to forgive my sins. God bless the ministers and all my friends. Constable Donovan I forgave him; he kept me 19 days in a cell like a dog, without light or sunlight and kept us handcuffed. I bear no ill-will to anyone. Goodbye Mr Cornford, goodbye to all, goodbye, Mr. Cornford; don’t forget to write my friends. Jesus died for all. Jesus have mercy on me, Jesus have mercy on me”

The hooded executioner then adjusted a white cape over Eppright’s head as Eppright continued saying “God have mercy on me”. The lever was pulled to release the trapdoor, but due to the scaffold being built of green wood, which swelled, it didn’t open. Eppright was asked to step back, the bar was again fixed, the rope adjusted and the bolt was drawn; Eppright’s last words were “Jesus save my soul”, as he dropped to his death on July 29, 1873.  He was allowed to hang for one hour, as prescribed by law, before being cut down, placed in a rough coffin and prepared for the official Inquest.

After the Inquest, Joseph Eppright was buried within the gaol, beside Heremita Kahupaera who was executed for being one of the Volkner murderers,  a block of basalt stone with the letter ‘E’ inscribed to identify the grave. Eppright was the sixth man to be buried beside the scaffold in the Mount Eden Stockade gaol.

After 1882 all nine graves in the prison yard were exhume  and reburied near the north-east corner of the gaol and then exhumed  a second time on October 19, 1989 and removed from the gaol for re-burial elsewhere. When the bodies were removed the second time the identity of the individual bodies was lost and the exhumation was undertaken to meet Maori cultural protocols; and were reburied in a different Marae. Joseph Eppright being one of the nine unidentified, the other eight being Maori prisoners, he was buried together with them according to Maori cultural traditions

Before the execution of Eppright and Fisher, a petition was presented to the Governor by inhabitants of Auckland asking the Governor to grant a pardon for both men; unfortunately, it went unheeded.

In all official records Joseph Eppright’s name is spelt.


Archives New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand

Civil War Data Systems Databank

Daily Southern Cross, Newspaper, July 11, 1873, Vol. XXIX, Issue 4955, Criminal

        Sittings Before His Honor Sir G.A. Arney, Knight, Chief Justice.

Daily Southern Cross, Newspaper, July 11, 1873, Luceo  Non Uro

Daily Southern Cross, Newspaper, July 30, 1873, Vol. XXIX, Issue 4971, Execution of Eppright

Daily Southern Cross, Newspaper, August 4, 1873, Vol. XXIX, Issue 4973, pg. 3,

        Our Church-Goer. The Rev. P. Cornford on “The Murder’s Contrition”.

History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865

Manager Judicial Libraries, Higher Courts, Ministry of Justice, New Zealand

Joseph  Eppright, Family birth records

Ministry of Justice, Wellington, New Zealand

New Zealand Department of Corrections, Systems & Infrastructure, Wellington, New Zealand

New Zealand Maori Council

North Otago Times, Newspaper, August 19, 1873, Vol. XVIII, Issue 860, Pg. 4, Eppright’s Last Words.

Petition of Certain Inhabitants of the City of Auckland, 1873

Rootsweb Family Group Sheets

1850 Census, 13 Aug 1850 - Ward 4, Southwark, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania p. 272

1870 Census, 16 Nov 1870 - Ward 1, Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1880 Census, 1880 - District 28, Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

29th Pennsylvania Infantry Regimental Roster


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