Case 30: The Foxton Tragedy

FOXTON. MANAWATU-WHANGANUI. In 1866, Te Awahou was renamed Foxton; named after Sir William Fox the second premier of New Zealand (Premier meaning head of government). Over the next century, Foxton established itself as a small industrial town. Its primary exports were flax, wool and timber; as well as its famous soft drink – Foxton Fizz. 

However, as of the early 21st century, Foxton’s identity is in a state of flux. The once a bustling industry town has been forced to rebrand to something new. Many of the flax mills have been shut down; along with the Feltex carpet factory – forcing many Foxton residents into redundancy. 

The town has attempted to rebrand as a tourist attraction. Cafes populate Foxton’s Main Street; and the town plays host to a Maori carving workshop, the Flax Stripper Museum, a Dutch windmill and Foxton Beach.

As of 2021, Foxton is home to 3,330 people. However, even with its small population, Foxton has events she is ashamed of. 

Visit for more information on this case including sources and credits.

Hosted by Jessica Rust

Written and edited by Sirius Rust

Music sourced from:

Day of Chaos by Kevin MacLeod

Heartbreaking by Kevin MacLeod

Metaphysik by Kevin MacLeod

Lithium by Kevin MacLeod

Myst on the Moor by Kevin MacLeod

Rising Tide by Kevin MacLeod

Clean Soul by Kevin MacLeod

Drums of the Deep by Kevin MacLeod

1 by Divider Line
License: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Case 30: The Foxton Tragedy


This episode contains the term deaf-mute. The term deaf-mute is no longer in use in 2022. Deaf-mute is an antiquated term used to describe people that are deaf and do not speak. The term is even considered derogatory when used outside of historical context. The preferred term today is simply deaf. However, considering the historical context of this story and how the person was referenced in the media at the time; there are some usages of the term deaf-mute in this story.


23rd of January 1855. 9 pm. Early settlers in the riverside village of Paiaka in the Manawatu region are enjoying the evening; perhaps having a late dinner; perhaps just spending time with their loved ones. As the sun began to set, the entire southern part of the North Island was rocked by the largest ever recorded earthquake in New Zealand; a magnitude 8.2 quake.

The island shook violently for 50 seconds as terrified New Zealanders thought it would never end. When the shaking finally did end, the fallout was vast. Large fissures had opened up in the southern North Island with two people falling in one Manawatu fissure; killing them.

Numerous landslides created chaos; as they blocked roads and damaged buildings. A tsunami in the Wellington Harbour damaged buildings on Lambton Quay.

NZ’s natural landscape was scarred but surprisingly only an estimated nine people were killed in the earthquake and its aftermath.

The riverside village of Paiaka was largely destroyed in the 1855 quake and the settlers abandoned the village and moved to the nearby Maori settlement of Te Awahou.

In 1866, Te Awahou was renamed Foxton; named after Sir William Fox the second premier of New Zealand (Premier meaning head of government). Over the next century, Foxton established itself as a small industrial town. Its primary exports were flax, wool and timber; as well as its famous soft drink – Foxton Fizz. 

However, as of the early 21st century, Foxton’s identity is in a state of flux. The once bustling industry town has been forced to rebrand to something new. Many of the flax mills have been shut down; along with the Feltex carpet factory – forcing many Foxton residents into redundancy. 

The town has attempted to rebrand as a tourist attraction. Cafes populate Foxton’s Main Street; and the town plays host to a Maori carving workshop, the Flax Stripper Museum, a Dutch windmill and Foxton Beach.

As of 2021, Foxton is home to 3,330 people. However, even with its small population, Foxton has events she is ashamed of. 


In 1909, the Nye family resided on a farm in Foxton; the farm was dubbed Sunnyside. The master of the house was 43-year-old Thomas Nye (son of prominent New Zealand settler George Nye) and ran the farm to make a living. Thomas had been married previously to Winifred Osbourne in 1887 and the matrimony produced three children; a son Hedley (born in 1889), and two daughters, Violet (born in 1890) and Victoria (born in 1901).

However, the Chief Justice granted the couple a divorce in 1903; a condition of the ‘uncoupling’ was that Thomas paid Winifred 32 shilling per week in alimony. It would also seem that the youngest child Victoria went with their mother while the two older children lived with Thomas. However, it would seem that Thomas Nye found love once more and remarried in 1905 to divorcee Agnes Hogg.

By 1909, the family that lived in the two-story Foxton farmhouse consisted of the patriarch of the house 43-year-old Thomas Nye, his wife 37-year-old Agnes Nye (formally Hogg), and Thomas’ two children; 19-year-old Hedley Nye and 17-year-old Violet Nye. The final occupant of the farmhouse was 13-year-old Lionel Bursten (Anges’ oldest son).

Thomas’ 19-year-old son Hedley was deaf by the ‘visitation of God’ (i.e. he was born that way)

Hedley was described at a later date as a person with great fondness for animals but had a propensity to become very moody and stubborn. At 9-years-old, on the 9th of February 1897, Hedley was sent to the Sumner school for the deaf (officially called the Sumner Deaf and Dumb Institution) in Christchurch where he was reported to have been an exemplary student (as well as the star athlete of the school). Hedley returned from Christchurch in 1904, at 14-years-old, and began working on his father’s farm.

There is some evidence that Hedley was unhappy working on his dad’s farm. Hedley had attempted other professions but struggled in the role due to his conditions; this evidence is detailed in the 10th of July 1909 edition of the NZ Truth newspaper, “The boy was first put to learn woodcarving and showed some considerable skill, but his infirmity told against him, as, being a deaf-mute, he could not converse and consequently was unable to be left in the shop, where he might have to meet and explain matters to clients. He was found employment in another sphere, but again his infirmity told against him. He seems to have had an objection to working on the farm as the solitude of the life, combined with his infirmity, appeared to get on his nerves and became a trial to him”.

Hedley also reportedly had this exchange with his stepmother, Agnes, at some time in 1909. Agnes asked Hedley, “Why do you not help your father and be a better boy?”. Hedley replied in writing, “No; I will kill my father sometime. “Why? Your father is a good man” Agnes replied. “No; my mother told me I could because he is a bad man” Hedley concluded.

On the afternoon of the 4th of July 1909, 43-year-old Thomas Nye went shooting for fowl. During that time, Hedley Nye retired to his bedroom at approx. 7.30 pm. He was reported to be in a good mood. Thomas Nye returned from shooting at around 8.30 pm that evening with one dead duck. Thomas left the shotgun in the kitchen. Later that night, Thomas’ wife Anges placed the gun in its usual spot, behind the door in the corner of the kitchen.


On the morning of the 5th of July 1909, around 1 am, 43-year-old Thomas Nye was asleep with his 37-year-old wife Agnes in the downstairs bedroom. The two youngest children Violet and Lionel were asleep upstairs.

Thomas was awoken by rustling down the hall; it was coming from the dining room. Thomas Nye ‘struck a light’ and wandered down the passage to find out what the commotion was about. Thomas got to the base of the stairs; looking into the dining room. It was here Thomas discovered that the noise was his deaf son 19-year-old Hedley fiddling with something. On closer inspection, he saw that Hedley was loading Thomas’s single-barrelled breech-loading shotgun. 

Hedley levelled the shotgun at his father and pulled the trigger; BANG! Slugs exited the weapon’s barrel and entered Thomas’ neck. Thomas fell to the ground; hitting it hard.

Upon hearing the gunfire, Agnes called to her husband but received no reply. She quietly crept down the hall and discovered her husband bleeding and unresponsive on the ground by the stairs. Anges looked around; she peered into the kitchen to witness her 19-year-old stepson Hedley ‘fiddling about’ the kitchen cupboard; where the shotgun cartridges used to be kept (they were moved the previous Thursday to the master bedroom)

At this time, Hedley spotted Anges looking at him. With an unloaded shotgun, Hedley began chasing Anges. She dashed out the front door into the dark night and hid behind a nearby tree. Hedley chased her out the door but lost her in the darkness. Hedley returned to the house that was still occupied by his 17-year-old sister Violet and 13-year-old stepbrother Lionel.

As Hedley entered the house; Anges screamed out to the remaining children to save themselves. After she yelled to the children, unable to do much else, Anges dashed over to the next-door neighbour’s house to raise the alarm.

As this was transpiring, Hedley Nye still armed with his father’s shotgun crept up the stairs to where the two occupants of the house remained.

Hedley entered his room at the top of the stairs; he sat on the bed and loaded a cartridge into the shotgun. 13-year-old Lionel peered out of his room and saw Hedley on the bed with the shotgun lying across his knee.

Lionel dashed out of his dark room and past the shotgun-wielding Hedley. Lionel ran for the stairs and began descending them. When Lionel got to the bottom of the stairs; he peered up and saw Hedley pointing the shotgun at him. 

Lionel made a ‘beeline’ for safety but tripped over his stepfather’s body who still lay at the bottom of the stairs. Lionel scrambled to his feet and darted for the nearby sitting room. Lionel burst through the door and locked it after him.

After twenty seconds Lionel opened the door and peered out. Hedley was rummaging through the kitchen cupboard again; looking for the missing shotgun cartridges.

13-year-old Lionel Bursten then quickly locked the door once more and escaped the house through the sitting room window and dashed from the dwelling to safety.

During this time, 18-year-old Violet Nye, hearing the chaos taking place inside the farmhouse, had locked herself in her room. Violet heard her 19-year-old brother Hedley make his way back up the stairs, enter his room and get dressed. She then heard Hedley descend the stairs and exit the front door. Violet observed Hedley from her bedroom window, wandering off into the moonlight still carrying his father’s single-barrelled breech-loading shotgun.


Police and medical personnel were contacted and informed of the situation. Constable Woods and Dr George Adams made their way to the Nye farm at approximately 2 am. They carefully made their way inside the home; not knowing where the gunman was. As detailed in the 7th of July 1909 edition of the Manawatu Standard, Dr Adams described this moment, “On approaching the house [we] heard Violet Nye calling her father from the upstairs window. Could see her distinctly in the moonlight. Constable Woods and [I] entered the house, which was in darkness, and found Thomas Nye lying on his back with his head in a pool of blood… From external appearances. Body on flat of back with the right elbow in the position of holding the candle. Candle found by the right side. A lacerated wound, the size of the palm of one’s hand, in the left submaxillary region, shattering the left lower jaw, severing the carotid artery and jugular veins of the left side. Around the main lacerated wound are numerous hot perforations. In the centre of the wound is the wad of the cartridge. The cervical vertebrae in the wound are shattered on their anterior surfaces. The shot produced were found in the spinal column at the seat of the wound. The heart was contracted and empty. The internal organs were in a healthy condition. In my opinion, death was instantaneous, and the result of the gun-shot wound in the left submaxillary region severing the spinal cord…”

Police were ‘tipped off’ that 19-year-old Hedley Nye was making his way to Levin; approximately 18km south of Foxton. It is unclear whether Hedley walked or if he rode a horse to his destination; as it was unlikely the family had an automobile. If Hedley did walk; it would take him approximately three and a half hours to reach Levin.

Later that morning, at approximately 10.20 am, Hedley Nye, still with a shotgun in hand, was seen walking down Oxford Street (the main street in Levin) by Levin police officer Constable Bogrie.

At some time, Hedley leaned the shotgun on a wall and Constable Bogrie sprang into action; arresting Hedley. Hedley was found with his father’s shotgun, four shotgun cartridges, one memo book, a pair of cuff links (for linking or fastening the cuffs of shirts), one pound, fourteen shillings and two pennies in cash, along with a cheque for one pound, ten shillings, and four pennies. It was theorised that Hedley Nye was trying to board a train to Wellington

With Hedley being deaf; communication was an issue. Constable Bogrie wrote on a piece of paper that Hedley was being arrested for murdering his father; he then handed the paper to Hedley. Hedley apparently accepted this; as he added “Yes” to the sheet. Hedley Nye was taken back to Foxton.


An inquest (a judicial inquiry to ascertain the facts relating to an incident) into the murder of Thomas Nye was held in Foxton on the 6th of July 1909. A day after the shooting.

All the members of the Nye family, Thomas’ wife Anges and the two children, Violet and Lionel, were called to testify to what they saw and heard that night. All three members told the court that they had no idea why Hedley would shoot his father.

Most interestingly, Hedley Nye himself communicated at the inquest. Hedley, described as smiley and happy, was sworn in. He was asked by the coroner (a judicial official who is empowered to conduct or order an inquest into the manner or cause of death) on a piece of paper, “Do you understand the nature of an oath?”. Hedley wrote under the question, “Yes”. “Will you swear to tell the truth?”. Smiling, Hedley added, “I do not think of it”. “Do you know your father is dead?”. Nodding and smiling Hedley responded, “Yes”. “Do you know how he died?”. Hedley was informed he didn’t need to answer this question as he may incriminate himself. Hedley looked confused and wrote, “The shot went through his heart and head and died instantly”. Finally, the coroner asked, “Why did you go to Levin?”. “I go to Levin so the policeman not find me the way”.

The inquest concluded. The coroner returned the verdict, “That Thomas Nye came by death from a gunshot wound inflicted by his son. Hedley Nye”.

The verdict was shown to Hedley Nye and he wrote underneath it, “That Thomas Nye sends the thank you”.


The Trial of Hedley Nye for the murder of his father commenced on the 24th of August 1909 at Palmerston North Supreme Court. Mr T. M. Wilford appeared for the defence. Mr Wilford told the court that he wished to put three issues in front of the jury. The first is “Whether the accused was mute of malice or by the visitation of God”, the second issue being “Whether [Hedley Nye] was able to plead”, and the third “Whether [Hedley Nye] was sane or not”.

Justice Cooper (His Honour) told Mr Wilford to proceed. Firstly, three people were called to the stand to testify about whether Hedley Nye was mute due to malice or the ‘visitation of God’. One of which was Hedley’s uncle Archibald Reginald Osborne. He told the jury that Hedley had been mute his whole life and added, “He could speak well when he left the school for mutes, but, since then, he had gone back”.

The jury returned a verdict on this first issue without leaving the jury box, “That [the] accused stood mute by the visitation of God”.

As for the second and third issues, Mr Wilford explained to the court that Hedley Nye was suffering from hallucinations. This exchange was detailed in the 25th of August 1909 edition of the Dominion newspaper, “… Mr Wilford explained to the Court. While counsel was with him last night, accused counted eighteen babies in different parts of the room. Then he had a delusion that his father was still alive, and was in the house. He declared that he had seen him since he was shot. Again, he had the delusion of grandeur. He said also that he could see in the dark – a common delusion of lunatics. Counsel then read a number of answers to questions which he had put to accused, which were wild and unintelligible.”

Dr Crosby, the Medical Superintendent at Mountview Asylum, took the stand. He told the court that he thought that Hedley was displaying signs of insanity. Telling the court that Hedley spoke to him about seeing babies and said that he acted at times like “a caged animal”. Dr Crosby told the Court that when he asked Hedley why he killed his father, Hedley replied on a piece of paper, “I was shoot my father on purposely because he was killing the babies”.

Mr Wilford asked, “It is your opinion that he is a lunatic, and unable to plead?”. Dr Crosby replied, “Yes”. Mr Wilford followed up, “Do you think it possible for him to understand the evidence given against him in these court proceedings?”. Dr Crosby gave a definitive, “No”.

Two more doctors were called to testify on Hedley Nye’s mental state. Both repeated and corroborated much of what Dr Crosby said.

At this point, His Honour Justice Cooper summed up the evidence for the jury, “I think you will have no difficulty in coming to a decision. Whatever his condition was in 1904 when he left Sumner (School for the deaf), it has undoubtedly deteriorated to a very great extent and certainly explains his acts in the dock today. You are not asked to say whether he was insane on the day he killed his father, but whether he is in such a condition of mind now as to understand the nature of the proceedings. The evidence seems to be very clear, and to proceed with the trial would be quite contrary to the law”.

The jury, without leaving the box, returned a verdict of lunacy, therefore found that Hedley was unable to plead.

At this time,  Justice Cooper committed 19-year-old Hedley Nye to the Porirua Lunatic Asylum.


Little is known publicly about Hedley Nye’s life after he was committed to the asylum. So it is unclear what became of him post-1909. We could find no evidence Hedley ever married or had a family of his own. 

We do not even know whether he was committed to the asylum for the rest of his life, or if he was deemed fit to return to society at some point. However, there is some evidence to suggest that Hedley Nye spent the remainder of his life in the Porirua Asylum.

What we do know is that Hedley Nye passed away on the 17th of May 1966 and was buried in the Porirua Cemetery. His epitaph reads: In Loving Memory of Hedley Thomas Nye, Born 2nd December 1888, Died 17th May 1966.


Internet Articles
Te Ara, Story: Historic earthquakes,
Te Ara, Story: Manawatū and Horowhenua places,
Wikipedia, Foxton, New Zealand,,_New_Zealand
Wikipedia, Deaf-mute,
RNZ, Former Feltex factory closes,
Geni, Thomas Nye,
Geni, Hedley Thomas Osborne Nye,
Billion Graves, Hedley Thomas Nye,
Life lines – A Genealogy Blog, Nye, Staff, Osborne and Honore families,

Manawatu Times, Foxton Tragedy, 7 July 1909, Page 5,
Manawatu Times, Murder at Foxton, 6 July 1909, Page 5,
NZ Truth, The Foxton Tragedy, 10 July 1909, Page 5,
Manawatu Standard, The Foxton Tragedy, 7 July 1909, Page 5,
Manawatu Times, Foxton Murder, 13 July 1909, Page 5,
Taranaki Herald, Foxton Murder Case, 24 August 1909, Page 3,
Dominion, The Foxton Tragedy, 25 August 1909, Page 4,
Manawatu Times, Murder at Foxton, 6 July 1909, Page 5,
Marlborough Express, Foxton Murder Case, 24 August 1909, Page 8,

One thought on “Case 30: The Foxton Tragedy

  1. Thanks very much for the very interesting look back at NZ’s past. Our wee country has had it’s share of mayhem and heartbreak for sure.
    All your hard work is truly appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s