200 years of the JP RSS

Regional Ramblings - Our "Different History"

Ric Carlyon - Monday, August 31, 2015


They Must Be Snobs!

In the mid-1880s a law change meant Mayors were appointed, ex-officio, Justices of the Peace. It was supposed to be the first step towards elected JPs. Mocking this move in the House of Representatives, opposition parliamentarians rose one after the other to move that every member of every Education Board be a JP, then members of River Protection Boards, followed by all members of Charitable Aid Boards, members of Roads Boards and County Councillors. Then, with further ridicule, it was proposed all Members of Parliament be JPs. Finally, “I move every elector in the Colony be a JP”, called out Edward Wakefield, Member for Geraldine, “they will do much better than many already appointed!” While this trifling in the House was ignored, revealing news came from Auckland – that appointed JPs would resent having to recognise ex officio JPs at their meetings and socials. “We can hardly believe this,” reported the Star, “some of the Justices of the Peace in Auckland must be dreadful snobs!” Notwithstanding, in 1893 they had to acknowledge Elizabeth Yates, of Onehunga, the first woman elected Mayor in the British Empire, and by virtue of the office, a J.P. ex officio, also the first such appointment held by a woman in the Empire.



“Don‘t you know who I am?”

In 1879 there was the strange case of a JP having the local constable, PC Bashford, locked up during a licensing hearing at Malvern. The JP, Colonel De Renzie James Brett, Major General and Scott-Pasha, Sultan's Army, and Knight of the Medjidie (3rd Class), Member of the Legislative Council, Justice of the Peace for New Zealand and Colonel of Her Majesty's 108th Foot, was about to hear the first application for pub licences when  he engaged with the policeman. “Do you not know me?” he asked. “No”, said the policeman which was the wrong answer when speaking to someone who wanted his decorations from 4 crowned heads, his military service in Burma, India and the Crimea recognised… and acknowledged with a crisp salute. The Colonel shouted across the courtroom - “You, constable, have passed me three times today without saluting – if you don’t recognise me then I shall make you, and you’ll be kicked off the force”. Constable Bashford held his ground. “These are not the actions of an officer and a gentleman: of course I shall not salute you!” Too much for the 79-year-old Colonel – “Sergeant, arrest that man!” Poor Bashford was escorted away and stayed in the cells for 11 hours. He took an action against false imprisonment which was probably dropped to save the well-decorated and community-minded gent further public embarrassment.

Central Districts

Poor Advice from a JP 

In a Dannevirke Licensing hearing in 1905 the Magistrate, Mr James, SM, heard complaints about the licensee of the Makotuku Hotel, trading illegally on a Sunday. Brass bandsmen, playing locally, had their lunch at the hotel and then after the performance they returned for refreshments at the bar. The publican said he had been given very good advice that if he served drinks without charge no offence was being committed. His adviser was none other than Pastor Ries who should have known better on three counts. As a clergyman he should have observance of the Sabbath upper-mind. As a Justice of the Peace he should have known the law. Thirdly, as a member of the Licensing Committee he must have known the Licensing Laws intimately. The Magistrate said the advice he gave was wrong: technically the law had been broken. But in all conscience he couldn’t convict Geddes. However, things evened out. Geddes was immediately charged with another breach, convicted and fined.

Eastern Bay of Plenty

Wrong Person, Wrong Plea

A man named Hori, according to newspaper reports of the day in March 1941, had been arrested, bailed, and had his appearance before the local JP fast coming up. He knew he was in for a fine but wanted to get off as lightly as he could. So off to into town and in Whakatane’s main street he found the sign pointing to a lawyer’s office. Along the corridor, up the stairs, he entered an office and immediately addressed the man behind the desk. “I’ve been pinched” he said, “and I want to get off lightly… here’s some money”, throwing some coins on to the desk, “look after me and make sure I’m treated right in Court”. The man at whom the cash had been aimed looked very startled and was about to become very indignant. He was a local JP occupying an office next door to the lawyer. The defendant had taken the wrong entrance and it was only this explanation that saved him from a charge of blatant bribery.

Far North

A Rapid Retreat

Seamen from the ship in Northland port came to see the JP. Business completed, there was a comment passed about previous time when the JP did not help. Tempers rose, shouting broke out, bad language flowed. The JP managed to shut and bolt the door and stood behind it. Afraid for his life he armed himself with the nearest weapon he could grab. But the seamen were determined, their strength probably fortified by liquor, and they began tearing down the JP’s house. The door surround was the first to be attacked. Alarmed by the noise, locals turned out to help the beleaguered JP. Within minutes there was a hundred in the crowd and the outnumbered sailors beat a hasty retreat to their ship.  The year was 1815 and the JP whose residence was saved was Thomas Kendall, this country’s first JP. The angry seamen came from the Phoenix and they had no real reason to attack the New Zealand’s first JP. It was said they gave up so promptly when scores of Maori appeared on the scene because, according to Robert McNab in his history book From Tasman to Marsden, they had heard the word on the New Zealand coast - that the natives were cannibals, and, McNab adds, that they were always hungry.


A Fine Judgement

JPs are often called on to serve their communities when an objective, trusted, viewpoint is called for. So it was in the 1870s in Patumahoe, South Auckland, when local JP Captain Waller Harris was called on to be the judge at the annual Boxing Day horse races. He would have been asked in earlier years but he trained a couple of useful gallopers, so had a conflict of interest.  Now, at the 1874 annual event the JP was faced with a very difficult decision. In the sixth on the card, the hurdles handicap over a mile and a half, well-matched hacks ran very closely until the favourite, “Eclipse”, threw its jockey. Embarrassed but undaunted, the rider remounted, galloped furiously, caught up and came in for what today would be called a very close photo- finish. Captain Harris, JP, discovered he could not reserve judgement till later and that he had to decide on what he had just seen without the assistance of further adduced evidence, argument or assistance from the Court Clerk. Nor could he remand the matter sine die. Everyone awaited his decision. He gave the race to “Eclipse”, and was greatly relieved there was no sign of an appeal. Thus another weighty decision handed down… but, as usual, not necessarily universally accepted. Mr Barriball later contended that his useful bay, Barney, took it out and was due the three sovereigns in prize money.      


Land Rush

With land ballots in full swing on the East Coast in 1911 there was an all-out rush to get the accompanying statutory declaration sworn. Gisborne Justices of the Peace were run off their feet, especially those who had offices in town. “We have been besieged by applicants,” one JP said, “and we have had to entirely suspend our usual business in recent days. I have signed 85 of these documents to date and I am resigned to giving my services fulltime to satisfy the unceasing rush of applicants”. As the Gisborne Times noted at the time “…a JP’s lot is often not a particularly happy one!”


Wintering Over

In the late 1800s Gore JPs were well acquainted with a local, John O’ Dyer, nick-named the Missing Link by locals who believed he was the bit that was missing in Darwin’s Theory. O’ Dwyer, a remittance man, roamed Southland doing odd jobs. He had a terrible temper whenever challenged, he always used rough language and his clothes were never exactly clean. He was particularly argumentative when intoxicated. Local JPs often dealt with him for being drunk in a public place, but there were thefts, too, over the years: a gold watch from a local farmer, six bottles of whiskey from the Gordon pub and then there were other appearances for using bad language. On one occasion he came before the local J.P. in June, just on the approach of Southland’s freezing winter weather. Jack appeared not too warmly clad, suffering from the cold. Mr MacGibbon, J.P., in passing sentence, considerately remarked, 'It’ll be three months' imprisonment this time, John - now that’ll see you through the worst of our winter.”


The Hilarious “J.P.”

Justices of the Peace in Te Aroha, Paeroa and Thames had the opportunity in early 1906 to see the 3-act comedy “The J.P.” which was staged in their various towns. Many other J.P.s throughout the country no doubt attended the hit production during its 20 week nation-wide tour. It starred actors from London and, according to newspaper critics, “provided a welcome evening of hilarity”. The plot centred on Caesar Montague, J.P. who in a typical Jekyll and Hide scenario was very proper and reserved at home going about his J.P. duties, but once abroad in France where his staid and upright position in society was unknown, he let himself go, getting into all kinds of impossible and hilarious situations. The “Ohinemuri Gazette” reported only a fair attendance that January night in Paeroa despite what its critic thought was the funniest show ever presented in the town…”indeed the audience was kept in one continuous roar of laughter from the rise to the fall of the curtain”. Local J.P.s may have seen something of themselves in the storyline!?

 Hawkes Bay

No Alternatives

In February 1904 two JPs in Hastings had to consider an application to have a man bound over to keep the peace. Their worships decided on another course they thought better suited the circumstances and convicted the man for using insulting and provoking language, imposing a fine of three pounds. Their alternative justice was immediately appealed and they found their actions set aside by the Supreme Court in Napier. The conviction was quashed.


Hutt Valley & Districts

Defining “Slop”...

The scene was in the Hutt in August 1904 when a youth under caution from police began taunts aimed at the constabulary. “You’re a slop!” he shouted and was promptly arrested. “Coppers”, “Peelers”, “Bobbies”, “Razas” and “Crushers” okay, but not “Slop”. In Court the defendant’s lawyer made his case to the JP. “Police are beginning to stand on their dignity”, he said, “and anyway I have searched with diligence through Webster’s Dictionary and can find nothing that shows the word “slop” to be offensive. On the other hand it could be taken as a term of endearment describing the constable’s tunic. ‘Slop’”, he said, “refers to clothing, a loose coat or smock frock, the term possibly arising from the early police uniform. So that can hardly be insulting”.  But the JP on the bench had little appetite for a lesson in clothing fashions of yesteryear, ignored the defence and stood by the policeman. “The force must be protected” he said “with a fine”.



Tarred and Feathered

An ongoing and widely-known torrid affair between a farmer and the local blacksmith’s wife was the talk of Kaikoura in late 1906, soon escalating to a case of assault being heard by J.P.s in the local Courtroom. The blacksmith, well aware of the enduring assignations, wasn’t interested in avenging his honour by confronting the amorous farmer. But his brother soldiers in the mounted rifles were up to the job and corralled the ardent farmer at the river bed. Despite a good defence mounted by the philanderer, the military had the numbers and forced him to strip. They then proceeded to tar- and-feather the naked man. Vowing retribution, he prosecuted the posse but found townsfolk and the presiding J.P.s lacked sympathy. The cases were dismissed.        


Nelson Tasman

“Amateur Magistrates”

Judgement by two JPs in Nelson in 1879 led to many newspapers of the day asking in their editorials whether untrained “honorary and amateur magistrates” should continue to be allowed on the Bench given, as they put it, “the extraordinary decisions that we repeatedly hear from many parts of the Colony”.  The Nelson case involved a man arrested for using obscene language in Nelson’s main street. Witnesses told the Court he was assaulted by police while being taken in and then again in the lock-up. There, they said, 2 policemen seized the prisoner by his whiskers, banged his head against a wall before he was knocked to the ground. In Court a charge of using obscene language failed. Not satisfied, the constable laid a further charge, of assaulting a policeman. In that defended hearing, despite unchallenged evidence of the policemen’s brutality, the two J.P.s convicted, ordering a fine of ten shillings. The newspaper “New Zealander” fired a salvo against the way JPs were appointed saying “There are many equally sagacious individuals writing J.P. after their names in the Colony, and it is too bad that the liberties of the people should be entrusted to people who are not only above suspicion, but have insufficient intelligence to discharge the duties of the responsible office they undertake”.



New Brooms Sweep Clean

Fresh faces in Waipu pleased the Northern Advocate newspaper’s correspondent when, in 1890, there was a change of both Justice of the Peace and policeman in the town. Before the constable came, the scribe wrote “some hair-brained youth galloped home from church knocking down two or three worshippers, a petty assault case would result in a free-fight between the Clans, lazy graziers left their dead cows to fester beside the highway, larrikins gave rent to war… and oh… so many gave impeachment to the no-licence area and its absence of liquor outlets. But now with the new constable and J.P. all that’s changed… it’s a fine of 3 pounds for furious riding and other penalties in the Court. And there’s not a reckless rider, a larrikin, a sly-grog seller, or any other nuisance from the Cave to the Cove, the Dan and Beesheba of Waipu”. The correspondent added that the town was no more unruly that any other. “It’s just that with a population of 1,200 a constable is warranted and what better officer that P.C. Abrams, whose motto is “sauviter in modo, fortiter in re”, gently in manner, firmly in action.

North Otago

JPs Resolve Question of Custody… or Bail

The Oamaru Mail on 8th August 1893 noted that James Ashby, alias Tommy Lambert, “…who is well known in police circles…” was before the Court again. He was charged before J.P.s William Murcott and James Findlay with killing a ewe, value 16 shillings, the property of John Anderson of Moeraki, with intent to steal the carcase. Constable Joyce sought a remand for a few days because one of the witnesses was ill, unable to attend to testify. After consideration their Worships granted a remand for 7 days. They had to consider whether it would in custody or on bail. Accused was then charged with stealing a piece of timber, value two shillings and sixpence from the same person. After hearing all the evidence the accused was sentenced to eight days in Oamaru Jail. The question of bail during the remand on the other charge no longer arose – the JP’s had conveniently seen to it that Mr Ashby would be behind bars for a week. 



Riot: Bloodshed, J.P. Obstructed

No fewer than eight JPs - Captain Cargill, Henry Jeffreys, Charles H. Kettle, Edward Lee, James Macandrew, Dr William Purdie, Robert Williams, and Alfred R. Chetham Strode - took the bench in Dunedin in September 1852 to hear serious charges resulting from fighting among some of the town’s best-known businessmen on Princes Street. Unrepeatable insults were traded, walking sticks were used as weapons, blows were traded and there was bloodshed during the riot over an argument about an article in the local newspaper. A passer-by, Justice of the Peace William H. Reynolds, tried to break up the melee, later prosecuting one of the assailants for obstructing him while he was carrying out his duty. The crowded Bench agreed, imposing a fine of 2 pounds and costs but Mr Reynolds thought the JPs had been too lenient and said he was resigning as a JP  in disgust. He later reconsidered. Several court cases followed as various parties in the affray prosecuted their ungentlemanly aggressors and the Court ordered fines ranging from a salutary one shilling to a whopping five pounds, the maximum amount within its powers.

Rotorua & Districts

Crowded House

Rotorua JPs Nesbitt and Johnson never officiated at a more crowded court than in July 1937 with 18 defendants lined up, awaiting their turn before the Bench. Their appearance followed a police raid on a boatshed suspected of being a gambling den. When police rushed in, one man leapt fully clothed into Lake Rotorua and emerged some hours later when police relaxed their search, but was picked up. The Prosecutor told the crowded court that the boatshed was a den of iniquity, a menace to the community, with big sums being gambled morning, noon and night and even on Sundays. “One man”, the police sergeant said, “tried his best to escape, leaping into the freezing lake. Lucky he didn’t drown. He’s the one sneezing and sniffling in court this morning”. The JPs entered convictions and fined each of the gamblers four quid, the occupier of the boat shed 75 pounds.  


South Canterbury

A Political Appointment… or Envy?

“Great Scott! Where will the line be drawn?” The question was posed in Letters to the Editor of the Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser in July 1896, commenting on the appointment of a new Justice of the Peace at Little River. “I notice that the native school teacher is the person on whom the honour has been conferred,” the letter says and asks “who is he, and what has he done? Is it because of the extreme deference he has shown to the local M.P.? We already have two resident J.P.s, men who are well qualified, highly esteemed and of independent means. If another J.P. is needed why should a comparative stranger been appointed in preference to many old residents, intelligent and respectable men? Yours, Honour to whom honour is due”.  


Winton Wants…

“A resident Justice of the Peace is urgently required at Winton”. So said the Southland Times in June 1875. “The nearest lives upwards of two miles away, and is approachable only by a fearful road, with many creeks, several of them often unfordable, except on horseback,” the Winton correspondent reported. “An incident which occurred last week will illustrate and exemplify what I wish to convey. A very harmless (to all, except himself) drunkard had been tumbling about and had cut his face, so it was a charity to lock him up. When sober he had to be marched over two miles to the nearest J.P., through a mud bog, and through creeks, as the constable, quite rightly, has just one horse. The absence of the constable from his station upon such frivolous duty is a public grievance and the appointment of some suitable resident to the Commission of the Peace would obviate all this”.

South Taranaki

JP: Pioneer Town Planner

Hawera JP, J. Livingstone, took a unique centre-stage role in the development of South Taranaki, when in September 1875 he was asked to chair a meeting on behalf of Provincial Government, called to define the boundaries for the proposed new township of Hawera. Mr Livingstone had to contend with the owners of ten acre blocks who wanted to be outside the town, but they quickly saw the light and relented. The JP must have followed the Sport of Kings, perhaps a betting man,  because he made sure the race course was included within the boundaries, making the size of the township a rounded 420 acres. It was noted many new houses were being erected and the Roman Catholic Church, enjoying record attendances, was moving the church from Waihi into the township and greatly extending its capacity to cope with record congregations. 


South Otago

Shortages on the Gold Fields

The rush of prospectors to the region in the early 1860s left Otago short of officials to service the sudden and migratory population on the goldfields. In December 1861 the Otago Daily Times claimed the Government was “unaccountably neglectful, guilty of a flagrant, unjustifiable breach of duty” when it failed to commission officers required. The article noted that Major Edward Croker-Stewart J.P., at Tuapeka is on the Commission of the Peace and therefore can act as an ordinary, but not as a Resident, Magistrate. “We believe he has found it necessary on several occasions to exceed his functions by acting as a Resident Magistrate, and probably he has laid himself open to heavy penalties. Captain Baldwin, of Waitahuna, is not even a Justice of the Peace, so he is unable to sit on the Bench. His position has been most disagreeable and painful and we believe that nothing but a desire not to inconvenience the public service has prevented him from throwing it up. Magisterial duties devolve on a gold fields' warden ex-officio, and daily, almost hourly, so Captain Baldwin must have felt the annoyance of being unable to perform duties that naturally pertained to his office. It is a monstrous thing that a population of 6,000 or 8,000 persons should be left for months without the protection of a Magistrate. We do not hesitate to say that such a thing is unknown elsewhere in the British Dominions”. 


Policeman… Prosecute Thyself

“Call Alfred Ernest Rowell, sergeant of police from Stratford” called out the Clerk of the Court in Stratford on a September morning in 1928. The J.P. presiding had the spectacle of a sergeant of police proceeding to prosecute himself. He charged himself with permitting the police station chimney to catch fire, contrary to borough by-laws. “I am afraid I must plead guilty” the sergeant told the court “and the section is mandatory unless it can be proven it was not my fault as occupier. The fire brigade dealt with the outbreak and said the chimney was very dirty indeed. So the law applies to me. I point out, your worship that I am a first offender and find I must prosecute myself otherwise I could not, in all conscience, prosecute others. I’m afraid I have to advise Your Worship that the maximum fine is as high as five pounds”. The JP ordered a fine of ten shillings with three shillings costs. “Stand down” said the Clerk and the Sergeant resumed his usual place in Court and prosecuted other miscreants on the day’s list.


JP Stands For… ?

Detectives had to run covert inquiries when cleaning up after a case of bookmaking in Hamilton in early 1930. The bookie had been convicted and fined a hefty 300 pounds for running a betting business using a Post Office Box in Hamilton under a false name. Now police were on the trail of the bookie’s Huntly agent who signed the betting slips merely “J.P., Huntly”. Determined to catch the J.P. involved, detectives had been intercepting betting slips as they arrived at Hamilton Post Office. But not one of them revealed the author: all were signed merely with the letters “J.P.”, and “Huntly” so detectives’ suspicion fell on all J.P.s in Huntly and around about.  Then police got lucky. One betting slip was signed J.P., Huntly, and for once with the added information, Phone 114. So which J.P. had that phone number? Detectives moved into Huntly to arrest the errant J.P.  Post and Telegraph Department records showed Huntly 114 was Joseph Powell’s phone number. He was arrested and though he pleaded not guilty to making bets with a bookie, a jury found him guilty. The moral? Don‘t assume J.P.  always stands for Justice of the Peace. Joseph Powell was entitled to use his initials, even for nefarious operations!  


Eketahuna Waits…

Lack of a J.P. in Eketahuna was called to public notice in March 1889 when the correspondent for the newspaper Wairarapa Daily Times wrote that a man known as “Happy Jack” had been the last occupier of the town’s lock-up, charged with drunkenness. “It’s surprising that a J.P. hasn’t been appointed from residents of this town to attend to such matters” the columnist noted. “The nearest J.P. lives 2 miles away, another one lives 3 miles away - not very convenient when a Justice is required in a hurry. Mind you,” the article continued, “both are very attentive to their duties when called upon, even for the trivial case of trying a drunk. But then, I suppose we will get everything we want to make Eketahuna a paradise when the pigs begin to fly”.  [Nearly 130 years later things have improved with real advance towards the paradise so yearned… there are now 4 J.P.s listed on “Find a JP” as residing in the town]


Trams – or the Bench?  

You could have heard a pin drop during an extremely awkward silence which prevailed for some little time at a Wanganui Borough Council meeting in March 1914. Councillor Fred Harkness had demanded to know why the tramway engineer, a JP, was occupying the bench at the Magistrate's Court on Friday morning instead of attending to his duties at the power-house. Breaking the silence, several councillors expressed regret that the matter had been introduced so publicly, particularly as the engineer often worked overtime. Others thought he should get permission from the Mayor each time he was called to sit on the Bench. The Mayor defended the J.P. but Fred Harkness was unrelenting. “The people of Wanganui pay a high salary yet allow him to spend his time in the service of the Government serving on the Bench. Besides…” he said, “…a borough official should not act as a Justice of the Peace”. The explanation for the engineer’s absence was accepted, Fred Harkness dissenting.


J.P. Called in to Clean Up

Early in 1841 law and order was falling apart in New Zealand’s first organised settlement and the settlers of the fledgling Port Nicholson (Wellington) wanted protection - not from criminals, but from “the outrages of the police establishment". There was plenty of evidence that police were bashing up prisoners in the cells, making dubious arrests, confiscating liquor and bullying those they came in contact with on the streets. The Police Magistrate, Michael Murphy, condoned and contributed to the lawlessness when he declined to hear cases against the police. A packed public meeting asked trusted Justice of the Peace, Dr George Samuel Evans, to take over from Murphy “and clean up the mess”.  And he did, but the “get tough” attitude did not last. It obviously didn’t suit the establishment and within a month a revised list of JPs was issued and Evans’ name had been dropped.  But Murphy retained his warrant and was soon to be appointed Chief Police Magistrate. Dr Evans (Evans Bay is named in his memory) went to Australia where he was a successful politician.

West Coast

JPs find a Sure Cure

The severe winter weather on the Coast in 1877 prompted an advertisement in the daily newspaper “Grey River Argus” which included testimony from several Justices of the Peace. “Cold weather will be the forerunner of indisposition such as rheumatism, sciatica, lumbago, neuralgia, and muscular shifting pains”, the advertisement said. “Ghollah's Great Indian Cures have been pronounced, by numbers of well-known Colonists to be the Wonder of the Nineteenth Century, through the extraordinary cures that have been effected in their own cases by these lndian medicines. Amongst these may be mentioned M. B. Hart, Esq, ex- Mayor of Christchurch, Melville Walker, Esq, J.P., of Lyttelton, John Griffen, Esq, J.P. of Dunedin; and Mr Alex. Mackintosh, of Mackintosh Bay, a very old Colonist and now 76 years of age, who had been suffering from rheumatism for fourteen years, but is now quite cured. See testimonials, and get the medicines off H. Williams, Chemist, wholesale agent for Greymouth, and from all medicine vendors — [Advt]”

Trackback Link
Post has no trackbacks.

Members' Login

Need Help?