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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
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.



Provincial and National Police Forces

The first rules and regulations governing the police in New Zealand were issued in 1852 and included a summary of the principal duties of the Constabulary prescribed by British law. When provincial councils were formed in 1853, provincial police forces were set up in Auckland, Wellington, and Canterbury, and, later, in Otago.

The new colony kept its house in order fairly well, especially in the towns. In 1857, according to a newspaper, “Wellington and Auckland each have a smart police force of about 20 men…. theft and violence are particularly rare”. Police duty consisted of keeping the peace among “tipsy sailors, sawyers and bush settlers” and “occasionally capturing and incarcerating them”. When the gold rushes occurred in the early sixties the police on the goldfields often had a hard time keeping the peace. Many crimes of violence and theft were committed. Among those who came seeking their fortunes were desperadoes, some escaped criminals from Australia. In certain provinces, notably Otago, a strong police force had to be created and in this respect St. John Branigan gave outstanding service.

It was not until 1886, when Parliament passed the Police Force Act, that New Zealand had a national civil police force. In New Zealand's first 46 years police work had always been a part of other duties; in the Armed Constabulary the New Zealand military forces and the police have a common national origin. From this time onwards policemen were unarmed and carried out their duties in a community which respected the law. The use of firearms, except in grave emergencies, was neither desired by the Force nor considered necessary to keep order.