In 1866, the ‘Burgess/Kelly Gang’ murdered five men on the Maungatapu track, near Nelson, in New Zealand’s most infamous case of bush-ranging. The gang’s subsequent arrest, trial and hangings set the whole colony aflame with a mixture of morbid curiosity and righteous indignation.
This play examines the relationships between gang members Burgess, Kelly, Levy and Sullivan as they plot and carry out the murders, are arrested, tried, then executed. From Burgess’ remarkable death row ‘confession’, to Sullivan’s betrayal of the others in return for a pardon, to Levy’s possible innocence, and Kelly’s emotional histrionics, everything about this remarkable tale was inherently dramatic. Murder, mayhem, love, loyalty, betrayal, honour, comradeship, justice and injustice… this story has it all.
'That dark episode [the Maungatapu murders] is the one large event in the history of Nelson. The fame of it traveled far. Burgess made a confession. It is a remarkable paper. For brevity, succinctness, and concentration, it is perhaps without its peer in the literature of murder. There are no waste words in it; there is no obtrusion of matter not pertinent to the occasion, nor any departure from the dispassionate tone proper to a formal business statement—for that is what it is: a business statement of a murder, by the chief engineer of it, or superintendent, or foreman, or whatever one may prefer to call him..."