Tale of his­toric mur­ders just as rel­e­vant to­day

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By SI­MON MAUDE

A new play re­vis­its the true story of a man hung on Devon­port’s fore­shore for com­mit­ting a triple mur­der.

But more im­por­tantly, the play’s au­thor, Michelanne Forster, says it tells the story of two sis­ters’ re­la­tion­ship with each other in the face of hor­rific do­mes­tic abuse.

Forster, au­thor of 18 plays and a for­mer Michael King writ­ing fel­low, wanted to tell the women’s story with­out ‘‘glam­ouris­ing’’ the Devon­port mur­ders which gripped the coun­try in 1847.

Al­ways My Sis­ter’s dark pro­tag­o­nist, Joseph Burns, ‘‘was an evil man,’’ Forster says.

Burns, a vi­o­lent al­co­holic, mur­dered the Snow fam­ily in their home, mu­ti­lat­ing their corpses to make it look like they were killed by lo­cal Maori.

He then tried to si­lence his sus­pi­cious de-facto wife, Mar­garet Rear­don, by slit­ting her throat. While in jail for his failed at­tempt against Rear­don, Burns falsely ac­cused an­other lo­cal, Thomas Duder, of the mur­ders.

Burns even tried to marry Rear­don, which un­der 19th cen­tury laws meant Rear­don couldn’t tes­tify against him.

Through­out Rear­don’s ordeal liv­ing with Burns, her sis­ter Sophia Ald­well strug­gled to not be dragged down by her sis­ter’s plight.

‘‘The play re­ally asks, ‘am I my sis­ter’s keeper?’ How far should I go to get my sis­ter out of harm’s way?’’ Forster says.

Jus­tice was swift cru­elly mis­placed.

In 1848, Burns’ act was neatly matched by his pun­ish­ment, but Rear­don was tried for per­jury, trans­ported to Tasmania and sen­tenced to seven years’ forced labour.

Burns, found guilty of the mur­ders, was hung on Devon­port’s fore­shore, near the site of his crimes.

‘‘We can still see the same thing hap­pen­ing to­day with bat­tered women, but to­day we have an un­der­stand­ing of what hap­pens to a bat­tered wife,’’ Forster says.


The play­ers: From left: Jess Say­ers, Chris Tem­pest, writer Michelanne Forster and To­rum Heng.

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