Although ‘suicide bombs’ were invented nearly as soon as explosives were (eg they were used in the Crusades), amazingly, Murchison was the scene for the first ‘strapped on’ suicide bomber in the world.
Two local farmers had been neighbours for seventeen years but had been feuding continuously. Eventually, Joseph Sewell was taken before a magistrate in July 1905, to answer the charge of ‘stealing a heifer’ from his neighbour, William Neame.
Sewell began getting excited under cross examination. ‘Why is this fellow telling so many blasted lies?’ he exclaimed, ‘I’ve been humbugged with him for years... I’ve enough dynamite on me - l’ll blow the devil to hell’.
The magistrate had noticed that Sewell had not taken his hand out of the pocket of his rather bulky waistcoat, so tried to calm Sewell down and whispered to one of the two constables present, Inspector Wilson, that he should be taken outside if possible.
Fortunately, Wilson managed to get him outside but as the arresting officer, Constable Scott approached to help, Sewell got excited again and suddenly there was a huge explosion which ripped Sewell to pieces.
Inspector Wilson received a huge gash in his face and was taken next door to the pub where the local doctor put in 35 stitches. Although there was no chloroform available, he didn’t make a sound (although it was rumoured there a bottle of whisky involved!)
Next to the policeman, there was a local farmer, Mr Bunn, who had his trousers literally blown off - and his beard! Next to him, Constable Scott was completely unscathed but a Mr Gibbins next to Scott had his hat blown off and the lining ripped out!
The only other injuries were a couple of folk with facial cuts due to flying glass, which was quite remarkable considering that the blast blew the courthouse a couple of inches off it’s foundations.
It turned out that he had threatened the use of dynamite before...
A few years before, he had been involved in an accident, and the solicitor acting for him, Mr Harden, had subsequently sent him a bill for his fees. Sewell was outraged at the amount and after repeated demands to pay it, stormed into Harden’s office in Westport.
Sewell pulled out from his coat a pack of dynamite and exclaimed that he would 'pay him in hell!’ when Harden quickly jumped up and stammered that there was actually no need to pay him then - or indeed ever!
It was only at the inquest, without the fear of Sewell returning to his law office to fulfil his promise that Harden reported this incident!
For more on these stories, visit the Museum in Murchison or check out exploremurchison.co.nz
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