Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Police Commissioner St John Branigan 1823/4-10/9/1873, Otago Armed Constabulary

In Dunedin's Southern cemetery one of the more impressive memorials, carved with the martial symbols of a soldier, is that of Police Commissioner St John Branigan.  Branigan was an Irishman, an ex-soldier, a policeman on the goldfields of Victoria, Australia, when the Otago gold rush began and, mindful of some of the less disciplined miners of the Victoria rush, the Otago Provincial Council decided to organise an armed constabulary to keep order.

The Otago gold rush was the sixth most lucrative in world history.  The almost completely alluvial nature of the gold meant that, in the first years, Otago was known as a "diggers' field" - a place where men with simple equipment could make a fortune.  It is estimate that, in just the first two years of the Otago Rush, 42 tons of gold was won from the gravel.  At time of writing, the value of that amount of gold is a shade under NZ$2744 000 000.  I feel I need to repeat that it was just for the first two years.

The experience of the nearest rush to Otago, in Victoria, Australia, showed the need of a force to keep order on the fields.  Thus the Otago Armed Constabulary was formed, with Victorian policeman St John Branigan at its head.

Local Intelligence.
Mr. St. John Branigan, the Inspector of Police, has arrived by the Oscar. The Herald thus notices that gentleman's departure from Australia : —
"To-day we shall lose one of our most active and zealous officers of the police of this colony. Mr. St. John Branigan, who during the last three years has been stationed in Melbourne in charge of the force, takes his departure in the 'Oscar,' for New Zealand, having received an appointment to organise and take charge of the police force at the Gold Field at Otago. During the time that Mr. Branigan has been amongst us he has won the good opinion of all with whom he was acquainted by his gentlemanly conduct and urbanity. He was also held in great esteem by the men under his command, who have testified their regard for their officer by presenting him with a very handsome gold watch and chain. His own friends have likewise shown their regard for him by the presentation of a testimonial in the shape of a handsome clock, bearing a suitable inscription, accompanied by a complimentary letter signed by the Mayor, the Police Magistrates, and nearly all the Solicitors practising in the City Court. While we express our regret at losing Mr. Branigan, we may at the same time congratulate the colony upon the fortunate circumstance that at present, thanks to his exertions and those of other intelligent officers, there is little scope for one of his professional ability. We wish Mr. Branigan every success in his new career, and we feel sure that New Zealand will gain by his services."  -Otago Witness, 31/8/1861.

The escort from the Dunstan and older fields arrived in town yesterday afternoon, with, the following quantities of gold: —  
               ozs:   dwt
Dunstan 8,383: 5 
Tuapeka 2,579: 10 
Waitahuna 579: 10 
Woolshed 530: 0 
Total 12,075: 6 
This is about the same amount as was brought by the last escort; an increase of 500 ozs from the Dunstan being accompanied by a decrease from Tuapeka. The escort carts have been very unfortunate. The axle of one which should have arrived yesterday, snapped when about nine miles from town and a spring cart had to be borrowed to bring on the gold. The Wakatip escort has been delayed by a similar mishap. The off wheel of the cart broke on the 30th ult. in Southland, during the last day's stage to the Lake, in consequence of the fearful state of the creeks. Mr. St. John Branigan, the Commissioner of Police, happened to be in the neighborhood with his Honor the Superintendent, making a reconnaisance of the road between the Mataura and the Molyneux, and he arranged to send on a fresh cart without delay. The escort may be expected in town to-day, or on Monday at furthest. It will be remembered that our Lake Correspondent states that the quantity of gold to be sent by this escort was over 22,000 ozs., so that the fortnight's receipt will exceed 34,000 ozs. — Daily Times.  -Southland Times, 13/2/1863.

The Armed Constabulary soon made a name for itself.  The men emulated their chief's style in facial hair, with full whiskers except for the chin.  "The Inimitable Thatcher," famed satirist of the gold rush era brought out a song about the force, titled "They All Shave Like Branigan."  A story about St John himself, whose source I have been unable to find, comes from "Te Ara, the Dictionary of NZ Biography:"

The high profile of his smartly uniformed and heavily armed men manifested the coercive power of the state, and a flamboyant style heightened the renown of the man at their head.  After a small dog had persistently disrupted the dignity of the treasury wagon's entrance to Dunedin by frightening the troopers' horses, Branigan took direct action by joining the procession.  On the dog's approach he calmly unsheathed his sword, lopped off its head, and continued majestically on his way as the decapitated body ran on into a fence.
Uniforms of the New Zealand Wars.  Figure on the left has "shaved like Branigan."

The following paragraph is taken from the Telegraph of Saturday last. "Our readers will remember that at the last session of the Criminal Court, a person of the name of Cunningham was convicted of sticking up Mr Skinner, the manager of the New Zealand Bank, in the neighborhood of the Dunstan, but the notes and property taken were not found. We are glad to be able to state that Cunningham has made a confession to the Chief Commissioner of Police as to the place where the money and notes are planted. Should his statement prove to be true, the discovery of the notes will be gratifying for more reasons than one — it will he satisfactory to the jury who considered the evidence (though conflicting) sufficient to warrant a verdict of guilty; to the Judge who sentenced the prisoner to a most severe — though if guilty, yet well merited — punishment; to Mr Skinner and the Bank, who will recover a considerable amount of property; and lastly, to the public, who will be relieved from the apprehension that the stolen notes are in circulation. We understand that MBranigan left this morning at daylight to verify the statements made by Cunningham. We speak with a slight hesitation about this confession, from the fact that it was made yesterday, and that yesterday was the first of April" We can only hope, for the credit of humanity generally, that the atrocious idea contained in the concluding sentence may be unfounded. Fancy a Government official made an April fool by a gaol bird, and that official, Mr St. John Branigan. It is too horrible to contemplate. (We have since learned, from the Dunstan Times, that Commissioner St. John Branigan, after a patient and diligent search, had not found the money.)  -Lake Wakatip Mail, 9/4/1864.

April 18th,
Since my last the Molyneux has slightly risen. It commenced slowly to rise on Thursday morning till about noon on Friday, during which time it increased nearly two feet; it then remained stationary till Saturday afternoon, when it steadily commenced falling again; although we have had no rain here, judging from atmospheric appearances, there must have been some further up country. A number of claims that were in work are now idle, but it is to be hoped they will not long remain so; miners are still flocking in, and a very large number of parties working on he river are doing remarkably well, the large increase of this fortnight's escort over the last will fully prove that. Mr Commissioner St. John Branigan arrived on Wednesday about midnight, having with him in charge the robber Cunningham, who was convicted of sticking up Mr. Skinner, the agent of the Bank of New Zealand. According to what we hear up here, the prisoner, since his conviction of the robbery, confessed to the authorities on the 1st inst., that he was the guilty party, but not so the man Murphy, and that he, the prisoner Cunningham, planted the notes just where he landed from Fraser's boat, at Muttontown Creek, after crossing the Molyneux; also, that he would discover the spot to the police, as well as the locale of the pistol. It is almost needless to say that the search for both notes and revolver was a fruitless one, no traces of either the one or the other could be found, although the rascal pointed out, or was supposed to do so, the exact hiding places of the two. For the notes a very strict search was made, and the banks of the river near the landing place were turned over and over, so that had they been anywhere near they undoubtedly would have been found.  -Otago Daily Times, 20/4/1864.

Excerpt from:
Look at the scene when the first gold was sent overland and was taken from Hokitika to Christchurch by the newly-opened Otira-Arthur's Pass coach road. (It was also the last; after that all shipments —millions of pounds worth — were by sea.) Trotting ahead of the wagon are two police troopers, armed with carbine and revolver. Another armed trooper is on the front seat with the driver; and two more follow as rearguard. A digger, bound down the Otira from the Canterbury side, eases off his swag as he sits on a boulder to watch the escort climb the steep road. He asks another swagger: "Why the divil do all thim polismen be wearin' Crimea whiskers that way?" (The long side-whiskers were all the fashion, which, was set by the Police Commissioner, Mr. St. John Branigan.) "Why," says the other digger, "haven't ye heard about the new song that fellow Thatcher does be singing down in Hokitikky, 'We All Shave Like Branigan'? That's the song, and it sets the boys roaring fit to split. And every man jack of the polis wears thim, and fine lads they are — not wan of thim under six feet, and they ride and shoot like the divil himself."  -Auckland Star, 1/12/1932.

Under the heading of "Dignity and Impudence" the Wanganui Chronicle gives the following: — "Everybody here who enjoys the pleasure of being acquainted with Mr. St John Branigan, 'the great demilitariser,' is aware how much he stands upon his dignity. A good story about this reaches us from Wellington, in a private letter. Branigan it seems, often gets telegrams, and the telegraph boys not having the fear of the big man before their eyes, delivered the despatches in the ordinary manner. The 'demilitariser' however, insisted that the boys should present the message with one hand, while 'saluting' with the other, and said as much to one of them. To this, however, the youngster demurred: — 'Look here,' said he, 'I ain't paid for saluting, and I wont do it without a rise in my wages, there's your message, sign the paper, and fork over the tin.' The great demilitariser fell back in his chair disgusted, and complied. He has since been heard to express a mournful conviction 'that that boy will come to be hanged.' "   Evening Post, 3/9/1870.

Mr St. John Branigan has been empowered by the Governor to convene Courts-Martial, as occasion may require, for the trial of offences committed by the members of the Armed Constabulary Force.  -Grey River Argus, 17/1/1871.

An Auckland telegram in yesterday's issue intimated that Mr St. John Branigan was suffering severely from sunstroke, and a later telegram states Mr Branigan had been removed to the Lunatic Asylum. As a calamity befalling a useful public servant, many will regret to hear of this illness of Mr Branigan, and it is sincerely to be hoped that the cerebral affection from which lie suffers is only of a temporary character.  -West Coast Times, 10/2/1871.

Mr. Commissioner Branigan. — A Wanganui paper states that the late Commissioner, St. John Branigan, will visit his native country, as a long sea voyage has been recommended as the best remedy available for his malady. We (the Chronicle) have heard that there are no fewer than forty seven candidates for the vacancy caused by his retirement. Among these is Mr. Atcheson of the Wellington police.  -Taranaki Herald, 29/3/1871.



MESSRS. VENNELL, MILLS, & CO. have received instructions, to sell by public auction, at the residence of St. John. Branigan, Hobson-street, on Tuesday, the 30th inst., 

The whole of his Household Furniture and Effects, comprising — 

Drawing-room chairs, couch, easy chairs, tables 
Brussels carpet, hearth-rug Fenders, fire-irons, pictures 
Window curtains, dining room chairs Couch, 
Brussel carpets, hearth rugs 
Singers sewing machine, pictures 
Bedsteads, bedding, chest drawers, washstands 
Towel horses, toilet glasses 
Oilcloth, door mats, kitchen utensils 
Crockery, garden tools, &c., &c. 

Particulars in catalogues. 

Sale at 2 o'clock.   -Evening Post, 22/5/1871.


Mr Gisborne has intimated his intention again in a Bill for the purpose of granting a pension to Mr St. John Branigan, late Chief Commissioner of Armed Constabulary. He is now convalescent, residing in Dunedin.  -Cromwell Argus, 7/11/1871.

The Commissioner. — A painful piece of intelligence reaches us from Dunedin. Poor St John Branigan, on account of whose affliction so much sympathy was evoked, we now learn has had a relapse, and attended with symptoms which preclude all idea of a restoration to his faculties. His condition was such as to necessitate his being placed under restraint, and it is even thought that his physical organisation will not long outlive the loss of reason. — Independent.  -Wanganui Herald, 27/3/1872.

Mr MACASSEY moved — "That an Address be presented to His Honour the Superintendent, requesting that he will he pleased to cause to be laid on the table of the Council copies of all correspondence accessible to the Government, relating to the original appointment of Mr St. John Branigan, as Commissioner of Police, Otago, a return, showing the reductions from time to time made in the salary of Mr Branigan while in the Provincial service; and a report from the medical attendant of the Lunatic Asylum, Dunedin, regarding Mr Branigan's present condition and prospects of recovery." Carried.  -Otago Witness, 18/5/1872.

We learn with very great regret that Mr St. John Branigan, on Saturday evening, received a paralytic stroke, which has deprived him of the use of his right side. We feel sure the news of Mr Branigan's misfortune will evoke universal sympathy, not only in this Province, but throughout the Colony.  -Otago Daily times, 27/5/1872.

By James Cowan.
CAPTAIN SWINDLEY’S LITTLE JOKE. Written for the Otago Daily Times.
It is just about 60 years since someone in the Government conceived the brilliant idea of converting all the colony’s military forces into policemen. They did not call them precisely that, but it amounted to the same thing, greatly to the disgust of sonic of the old (and young) professional soldiers who had begun their careers in the Imperial Forces. No doubt, the reorganisation was in some respects an excellent thing, and certainly the New Zealand Armed Constabulary soon established a reputation for efficiency and discipline and for gallant conduct in the field. For all its semi-civil character on paper, it carried out regular campaigns on the East and West Coasts and in the Interior of the North Island. After the return of peace, the A.C. Field Force, while continuing to garrison redoubts and blockhouses on the Maori frontiers, did a great deal of useful work in making roads — in fact, many of the roads that are now main highways were first formed by these soldier-policemen-navvies. 
Mr Commissioner St. John Branigan, who was the civil head of the Armed Constabulary in its early years and was always keen for the demilitarisation of the force, had an unrestful time of it with his military officers. He was an excellent policeman, but he was totally out of sympathy with the soldierly aspirations of the officers and men who did the work. Many of them could never get used to the police idea and ideals.
The inspectors and sub-inspectors preferred the military equivalents of their ranks, major and captain, and “private” was naturally considered a more fitting discription of a frontier fighter than "constable.” It must have boon rather confusing at first, too, to find a company described as a “ division.”
MBranigan always tried to impress on his subordinates the fact that they were not soldiers but constabulary; but when those “constables” got into action under such leaders as Whitmore and McDonnell, Roberts, Scannell, and Northcroft, they speedily forgot that they were police, and proved themselves a competent bushfighting corps of regular soldiers. It is to the commissioner’s credit that he worked hard to provide the force with the most efficient arms procurable; be realised that police must possess up-to-date weapons and equipment. In the period 1870-71 Captain Swindley, afterwards a settler at Te Puapua, near Whakatane, was an officer of armed constabulary stationed at Opotiki. Swindley was a capital soldier, a skilled bushman and scout, and a highly popular man with his comrades. He was a great raconteur, and rather given to practical jokes. And his special aversion was his superior officer, Commissioner Branigan. Swindley amused some of his friends with pen-and-ink drawings depicting himself in the uniform of a London policeman carrying a baton. This illustrated the fate which he professed to believe would overtake the A.C. Field Force. He had his photo taken in that costume. These caricatures were circulated from post to post, and at last the story came to the ears of Mr Branigan. The rest of the story is told in a diary kept by the late Captain G. A. Preece, N.Z.C., covering the period of his active service in the Government forces. Captain Preece sent me a complete copy of this diary shortly before he died. Swindley, he wrote, was at the Constabulary Depot, Mount Cook, in Wellington, when he was sent for by MBranigan. ‘
I understand, Captain Swindley,” said the commissioner, ‘‘that you have been caricaturing the force by exhibiting some pictures showing what you expected to be, what you were, and what you would become, the last in the uniform of a London policeman with a baton.” Captain Swindley, who was never at a loss, replied: “Oh, no, sir. In my various occupations I have had my photograph taken,” and he took a packet of small photo-cards from his pocket. “Here is one, showing me as a digger on the West Coast. Here is another, as a surveyor’s chainman. The third shows me in A.C. officer’s uniform. The fourth is as I found myself in the field, with a shawl round my loins, a carbine over my shoulder, a revolver on my belt, and a haversack on my back. I heard that you were going to demilitarise the force, so I thought I would make my collection complete. Those are very old, so you can see that it was with no intention of bringing the force into ridicule.” Mr Branigan took it in good part, said Captain Preece, and no more was said about it at the time. Probably the captain agreeably entertained the commissioner with some of his funny stories. But Swindley, incorrigible joker that he was, could not leave well alone.
The commissioner’s official life was brought to an unfortunate close about the beginning of 1871, consequent upon the effects of an old sunstroke. Preece wrote in his diary (July 14, 1871), after recounting the incident just related “I am afraid Swindley must be held partly accountable for poor Branigan's condition. Some time after the Wellington interview, he sent the commissioner the following extract from Mark Twain’s “Innocents Abroad”;
“ ‘But perhaps the most poetical thing Pompeii has yielded to modern research was that grand figure of a Roman soldier, clad in complete armour, who, true to his duty and full of the stern courage which has given to that name its glory, stood to his post by the city gate, erect and unflinching, till the hell that raged around him burned out the dauntless spirit it could not conquer. We never read of Pompeii without the natural impulse to grant to him the mention he so well deserves. Let us remember he was a soldier, not a policeman, and so praise him. Being a soldier, he stayed, because the warrior instinct forbade him to fly. Had he been a policeman he would have stayed also, because be would have been asleep.’ “This quotation,” said Captain Preece, “was sent to Branigan shortly before he went off, Swindley said he thought it might have been this that affected him.”  -Otago Daily Times, 17/9/1927.

A very large number of persons, not only in Dunedin and Otago, but throughout the entire Colony as well, will read with sincere regret the announcement we have to make to-day of the death of Mr St. John Branigan. It is well known to all, that for upwards of three years past, Mr Branigan had been suffering from a malady brought on by exposure when engaged in the discharge of his arduous duties as Commissioner of the Armed Constabulary in the North Island, and on Wednesday death put a sudden end to his sufferings. Mr Branigan was 49 years of age at the time of his death. He was a native of King's County, Ireland, and at an early age he entered the army, joining the 45th Regiment. In this regiment he proceeded to the Cape of Good Hope, where he left the army and entered the police force. In his new capacity he distinguished himself by his efficiency, and rapidly rose to the rank of Inspector. During the Caffre war the Cape Police were employed on frontier duty, while engaged in which Mr Branigan was wounded. As a set-off to this, however, he received a medal for his gallantry. Shortly afterwards the news of the wonderful gold discoveries in Australia induced MBranigan to leave the Force, and he entered into a commercial speculation, purchasing a schooner, which he loaded with merchandise, and in which he sailed to Melbourne, where he arrived in 1854. His speculation not proving a remunerative one, he entered the Victorian Police as a cadet, and so distinguished himself that in the short space of eighteen months he had passed through the intervening grades and risen to the rank of Sub-Inspector. He remained in Victoria until 1861, when he was appointed to form a Police Force in Otago. In the beginning of the spring of that year he arrived in this Province with twenty volunteers from the Victorian Force. At that time he held the title of Inspector, but not long afterwards he received the designation of Commissioner. His career in this Province is too well known to require any extended notice. That he proved a most able organiser and director of a police force, and that he brought the Otago Force to such a pitch of excellence that it was universally admitted to be one of the best, not only in these Colonies, but in the world, are facts with which our readers are familiar. In September or October, 1869 Mr Branigan resigned his post in Otago to undertake the organisation of the Armed Constabulary Force in the North Island, under the General Government. Prior to his leaving Dunedin, a public meeting was held (on the 22nd Oct.), at which Mr Branigan was presented by His Honour the Superintendent on behalf of the inhabitants of the Province, with an address, recounting his services to Otago and expressing the regret felt by the Province at his departure. In making the presentation, His Honour dwelt in terms of well-deserved eulogy, upon Mr Branigan's services in preserving law and order; and he also stated that the original idea of the establishment of the Otago Industrial School, as well as (to quote His Honour's own words) "the whole of the subsequent arrangements, the organisation, and so forth, of the institution," were due to Mr Branigan. On the same day, Mr Branigan was presented by the members of the Force he had lately commanded, with a very handsome testimonial, of the value of £100. Unhappily, the hopes expressed for Mr Branigan's welfare in his new sphere of duty were destined not to be realised. He threw himself into the work of organising the "demilitarised" Armed Constabulary with the energy characteristic of him, and while thus engaged he received a sun-stroke, from the effects of which he never recovered. This misfortune incapacitated him for duty, and at the very time when he was most required, he was laid aside. At length, after more than three years of suffering, as we have said, death has released him, the release coming as suddenly as the blow that cut him down in the prime of his strength and usefulness. He leaves a widow and family to mourn his loss. 
It is not necessary for us to add anything in praise of the deceased. His services, as the Superintendent said in presenting him with the testimonial above mentioned, speak for themselves, and we may add that they will long continue to do so. When we listen with pardonable pride to the encomiums passed upon our Police Force, and reflect on the benefits the efficiency of that Force confers upon us, as well as when we call to mind the good work the Industrial School is doing, the thought will naturally recur that the foundation of that efficiency was laid, and that that good work was begun, by Mr St. John Branigan.  -Otago Witness, 13/9/1873.

The remains of the late Mr St. John Branigan were interred in the Southern Cemetery on Saturday afternoon. Throughout the forenoon the town wore a quiet appearance; in the afternoon nearly all the shops in Princes street were closed, and a long time before the funeral procession appeared, its route, from the Octagon to Custom House square, was lined with people. A four-horse hearse, with black plumes, conveyed the coffin to the Octagon, where it was transferred, wrapped in the Union Jack, to a gun carriage, drawn by four black horses, with head feathers and trappings. The coffin was covered with black cloth, mounted with gilt and black furniture, and on the inscription plate — which was of great length — were the words —
St. John Branigan, Died 10th September, 1873, Aged 49 years. The order of procession was as follows —
Two Mounted Constables. 
Provincial Band. 
Gun carriage, with Body. 
Mourning coach, containing Archdeacon Edwards and two sons of the deceased. 
Chief mourners. 
54 Children of Industrial School, led by Mr Britton.
17 Members of the Police Force, and Officers and Retired Officers. 
10 Officers and Warders of the Gaol. 
Volunteer Force. 
25 Members of the Fire Brigade. 
City Councillors. 
Spectators crowded the streets along the line of march, and the band played the Dead March in "Saul." The chief mourners were the Commissioner of Police, Dr Hocken, Messrs Hodgkins, Martin, and Logan. Lieut. Colonel Cargill, and Major Atkinson, the staff-sergeants, and the captains of the town companies, were present among the volunteers, but, with the exception of the Artillery, the companies were poorly represented. A large number of the late Police Force, organised by deceased, also joined in the procession. On arriving at the cemetery, the coffin was borne by Sergeants Bevan, Dean, Golder, and O'Neil, to the grave, the pall bearers being Messrs G. K. Tun on, W. D. Murison, P. Power, R. B. Martin, J. T. Wright, and Dr Hocken. The burial service was read by Archdeacon Edwards.  -Otago Witness, 20/9/1873.

Southern Cemetery, Dunedin.  DCC photo.

The Commissioner of Police has obtained three designs by Mr Godfrey, the well-known sculptor of this city, for a monument to be erected over the grave of the late MSt. John Branigan. The cost of such a monument is expected to be about £100, and it is proposed that the sum should be subscribed by the members of the Otago Police Force, as well as those of the Armed Constabulary with whom Mr Branigan was connected. Mr Branigan was, in his lifetime, instrumental in having monuments raised over the graves of members of the force in Otago, and the present proposal is, therefore, at once a fitting tribute to his memory, and a delicate mode of recognising his services. Independent of these considerations, however, Mr Branigan's services entitle him to this mark of respect, which will be most appropriately paid him by those with whom he was especially identified.  -Otago Witness, 25/9/1873.


Two monuments to men who in their time were widely known and respected throughout the length and breadth of New Zealand, have lately been erected in the Southern Anglican Cemetery, Dunedin. The one is an Eleanor monument, built on a foundation of concrete sunk six or eight feet in the ground. Its basement is composed of blue stone, and the upper portion of Kakanui freestone, and it occupies a corner section fronting the vault of the Jones family. Upon a marble slab on one side the following epitaph is engraved: — "In memory of St. John Branigan, who departed this life on the 10th September, 1873, aged 49." On the opposite side this inscription appears: "This monument is erected to the memory of St. John Branigan, late Commissioner of Police, by the officers, sergeants, and constables of the Armed Constabulary and Otago Police." A chaste piece of artistic work, a chef d'oeuvre of Mr Godfrey's, is cut on another side. It represents a set of police accoutrements. A uniform cap rests between two spear points of two furled flags, below which hang an unsheathed sword and scabbard and a pair of spurs. The memorial is a worthy token of regard by those who erected it. Within fifty yards of this spot another monument rears its head, a model of simplicity and humility, virtues of the man of whom it stands in remembrance. It is a plain white marble obelisk, and on it, in deep cut letters are the words "Wilson Gray." This alone is the sole record of him who lies beneath one whose kindly nature is too widely known to require any posthumous extolling.  -West Coast Times, 5/5/1876.

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