Page 1: Biography
Te Āti Awa; policeman, assistant commissioner of police
This biography, written by Sherwood Young, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
William Carran was born on the family property at Bell Block, Taranaki, on 3 August 1898, one of at least 12 children of Ngārongo Kāhau (Kāhou), also known as Mary Bruce, and her farmer husband, Rāniera Kārena (Daniel Carran). Both parents were of the Puketapu hapū of Te Āti Awa. His father was the son of Kārena Taituha and Mary Boyce, and his mother the daughter of Hone Te Oro and Paretauhinu.
After leaving school from standard six, William initially worked on his parents’ property and at the nearby Waitara freezing works during the killing season. On 12 February 1920, aged 21, he joined the New Zealand Police Force at Wellington. As a young constable he enjoyed surf lifesaving, boxing and athletics.
On 22 October 1924, in Wellington, he married Ann Johnston McRobie, a nurse. Carran was one of very few Māori then serving in the police, and after remaining in Wellington for eight years he was transferred in quick succession to Ōtaki (1928), Ngāruawāhia (1929), and Kāwhia (1932) – all communities with significant Māori populations. He understood the Māori language, but decided to pursue a European way of life.
The Carrans were held in high regard in Kāwhia. Their time there coincided with the depression and they provided meals for many ‘swaggies’ in return for work in a large garden developed in a swampy area below the police station and courthouse. Virtually all the vegetables they produced were passed on to needy local families.
Carran was promoted to sergeant in 1937 and the family returned to Wellington, where he was in succession stationed at the Wellington Central, Mount Cook and Wharf police stations. In Wellington he built a reputation as a strict enforcer of the liquor laws: the front of his house in Ōhiro Road had to be rebuilt following an explosion that was linked to this work. He was promoted in November 1943 to senior sergeant at Wellington Central and in August 1945 he took charge of the Taranaki Street Police Station, where he was renowned as a firm disciplinarian by his staff.
Carran’s second term in Wellington ended with a transfer to Auckland on promotion to sub-inspector in June 1948, followed by a further transfer to Rotorua in January 1949. In attaining commissioned rank, Carran became the first Māori to achieve this distinction. Promotion to inspector in July 1950 meant a further move to Tīmaru as officer in charge.
Two years later Carran took command of the Nelson district. In 1954 he gave evidence to a commission of inquiry into the police force, stating that he had objected to his transfer from Timaru to Nelson as he felt he had been penalised for doing his duty in enforcing the gaming and licensing laws. The minister in charge of police had informed him that the transfer would ‘facilitate future promotion’, but Carran did not regard the move to Nelson as promotion. However, in July 1955 he was promoted to superintendent and transferred to take over the Wellington district on 1 November.
On 10 April 1958 he became the first police officer to hold the newly created rank of chief superintendent. He then took charge of the Auckland district, and was made an MBE in June. The early retirement soon after of Assistant Commissioner James Nalder, second in charge of the police, led to Carran’s promotion to this position on 7 August. He took up the appointment in Wellington five days later.
As assistant commissioner, Carran served as deputy to Commissioner Willis Brown. After being granted a nine-month extension of service he retired on 23 August 1960. A few weeks later, on 1 October 1960, he was killed in a level crossing collision with a locomotive at Whanganui: he had been travelling from his son’s home in the city to go whitebaiting in a nearby stream. He was survived by his wife and three sons.
William Carran was a dedicated policeman who was determined to work hard and make his way in his chosen career. He instilled the same ethic in his three sons, who were encouraged and supported in their educational and occupational interests. He was proud of his Māori heritage and of his success in a vocation he took pride in. He led the way for others to follow his example.