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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




Commissioner, Armed Constabulary.

A new biography of Branigan, St John appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

St. John Branigan was born in 1824 in King's County, Ireland. He joined the 45th Regiment at an early age and accompanied them to the Cape of Good Hope, where he transferred to the police. His efficiency earned him rapid promotion and he rose to the rank of inspector. During the Kaffir War (1850–52) he saw active service with the Cape Police, was wounded, and won a medal for gallantry. When news of the Australian gold discoveries reached South Africa, Branigan left the police in order to engage in a commercial enterprise. In 1854 he brought a shipload of merchandise to Melbourne, but his speculation did not prove as successful as he had hoped. He therefore joined the Victorian Mounted Police with whom he served until 1861. In the spring of that year, when the Otago Provincial Government was concerned at the increasing lawlessness on the Otago goldfields, Branigan came to New Zealand with 20 hand-picked volunteers from the Victorian Force. With these he quickly established law and order in the mining camps and provided efficient armed escorts for gold shipments from the diggings to Dunedin. The competence and reliability of this force soon won the settlers' confidence and approval. In 1863 Branigan was promoted to the rank of Commissioner. His general efficiency in this post made him known throughout the colony, with the result that in 1869 the new Fox Ministry invited him to reorganise the Armed Constabulary for service in the Te Kooti war. Towards the end of 1869 he assumed this post; however, in the following year, he suffered severe sunstroke and was obliged to retire. Branigan returned to Dunedin, where he remained until his death on 11 September 1873.


Branigan was one of the founders of the Otago Benevolent Institution, which cared for and educated orphan children. He also interested himself in the plight of the vagrant children of the city. In 1866 he prepared a report for the Provincial Council and, as a result, in the following year the Dunedin Industrial School was established at Look Out Point, Caversham.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • Otago Daily Times, 11 Sep 1873 (Obit)


Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.