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Timeline for The Best Man in His World

On May 25, 1866, George Dobson, a young surveyor with the Westland Survey Department, left Hokitika, New Zealand, on foot, heading towards Greymouth via the Arnold track, to inspect some roads. On May 28, his journey ended abruptly when he encountered members of the Burgess/Kelly gang four miles from Greymouth. It took Inspector William Henry James six weeks to find his body, and months passed before the last of his killers was brought to trial. By then, three members of the gang had been hanged for a mass murder committed up on the Maungatapu Track near Nelson. Below is a timeline of events, with links to news articles of the time from Papers Past, the New Zealand government database.


Before the Murder: 1865 

February 24: A meeting in Christchurch hears that “Mr. George Dobson has been dispatched to endeavour to construct a road to the West Coast by the Gorge of the Waimakariri, over a low and passable saddle previously discovered, and through the
valley of the Otira River.” 

Lyttelton Times

March 14: The papers publish  George Dobson's report.  
Lyttelton Times

March 16: The papers report that Mr. Edward Dobson and his son George have departed for the Upper Waimakariri to explore a pass through the mountains. A team of 50 men awaits Mr. Dobson’s orders at Arthur’s Pass, named by George for his brother Arthur Dudley Dobson
Lyttelton Times

May 24: The Press comes to George Dobson’s defence over a critical article published about his findings published in the Lyttelton Times: 
Lyttelton Times |  Christchurch Press

August 26: The government issues instructions for George Dobson "to build a road 10 feet wide from the mouth of the River Grey, along the southern bank to its junction with the Arnold; thence along the Arnold to Lake Brunner, and along the southern side of the lake to the Pakihi, from whence there is a good road to the Teramakau. The work is to be commenced at once, and such a number of men to be employed as will complete it in
two months." 
West Coast Times

It is this road Dobson is inspecting when he is murdered.  

After the Murder and Leading up to the Trial, May 281866

June 6: Papers note that George Dobson is missing on the Arnold Track; his father, Edward Dobson, has left Christchurch by Cobb’s Coach to organize a search for his son.  Lyttelton Times

June 9: The papers note that Edward Dobson has gone upriver (Grey River) in search of his son.

June 14: Papers begin to speculate that George Dobson has met with foul play. 
Lyttelton Times

June 16: Members of the Burgess gang are arrested in Nelson, and the public fears that they have also killed Dobson, who has been missing for more than two weeks.  Christchurch Press

June 16: All hope of finding Dobson alive has been abandoned.  
West Coast Times

June 23: The government posts a reward notice.  
Grey River Argus

June 28: John Joseph Sullivan, the “oldest and worst-looking of the [gang]” confesses to the Maungatapu murders, and tells police the gang murdered George Dobson before they left Greymouth for Nelson. None of the bodies in Nelson have been found.  
Lyttelton Times

July 6: Inspector James finds the body of George Dobson, when he smells something and notices the boot of a toe sticking up from the ground. 
Grey River Argus

July 8: George Dobson is buried in the cemetery, South Beach. The mourners carry his coffin the three miles from the Albion Hotel to the cemetery. 
West Coast Times

July 9 and 10: An inquest is held. 
Grey River Argus

July 10: Wilson sends for Inspector James in prison and tells James that he is having nightmares, and seeing “such dreadful things.” He asked to have someone else put into the cell with him. 
GreyRiver Argus

July 10: At the end of the second day of the inquest, Inspector James charges James Wilson (alias Murray) with the murder and remanded to Hokitika. The jury finds Dobson is the victim of “willful murder.”
Grey River Argus

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