Archdeacon Arthur Stock of Wellington is honoured for his six-year campaign to win the freedom of a man wrongly convicted of murder on perjured testimony.
Rangitikei farmer Walter Tricker was sentenced to death in 1864 for murdering his neighbour.
To most people it was obvious that, when a £500 was offered, the key witness changed his story to incriminate Tricker, who had a watertight alibi.
Among those who smelled a rat was Stock, who immediately began a campaign in support of Tricker.
He persuaded the Government that it would be unwise to carry out the death penalty but they would not take the logical next step and free the man.
But Stock did not give up and forced two inquiries, both of which conceded Tricker's alibi but then concluded that he must have committed the crime the night before even though he had an equally watertight alibi for that time.
Public outrage redoubled and, in early 1870, Stock channelled the righteous anger at a public meeting in Wellington.
"Never have I on any occasion or under the most inspiring conditions heard such a thunder of spontaneous and unanimous applause as that which greeted Mr Stock's appearance on the stage," reporter James Mitchell recalled years later.
"The venerable gentleman's opening words ring afresh in my ears as I write, as though but newly uttered. Raising his hand to still the storm of applause, in almost pathetic tones he said: 'I came not here for your applause, but to seek your assistance to gain justice and liberty for an innocent man wrongly condemned'."
A committee of influential people was formed, and at last, the Government was persuaded to let the wronged man out of jail. He was freed in May 1870 but it was 20 more years before he was finally pardoned.
Arthur Stock is New Zealander of the Year for saving the life and winning the freedom of Walter Tricker, who, but for his intervention, would certainly have been hanged.
From the Herald archives:
'The Rangitikei Murder', New Zealand Herald, 30 August 1864
Biography of Arthur Stock, NZETC