Friday, October 3, 2008

Harry Turnbull: a “Sly Grogger” in Avondale

It was during World War One, in Avondale, October 1915. The NZ Corps of engineers (known as the “Avondale” Tunnelling Company) were stationed at the Avondale Racecourse for training in the ways of Army discipline for their stint later on out on the battlefields of France. An entrepreneurial sort named Harry Turnbull saw a golden opportunity and a market waiting to be capitalised on. Which was the reason police raided his shop.

In August that year Turnbull came to Avondale township, and opened a “fish and soft drinks shop”, somewhere in the present-day Mainstreet area. He had once been a hotelkeeper. Within two months of his arrival on the scene in the growing shopping centre, the Defence Department chose Avondale Racecourse as the site for the Tunneller’s training, and nearly 400 members of the Expeditionary Force swelled the township’s population from October to December. Men who found themselves camped in a “dry” district, six miles by train from the pubs in the central city, and with wartime regulations which banned the selling of liquor to members of the “Defence Forces” or Expeditionary Force for consumption off-premises. The Turnbull case was to become the first tried before the courts in Auckland under these regulations.

Turnbull claimed in court that he had a “friend in camp” who could not keep whiskey and beer for his own consumption there, so Turnbull took it upon himself to supply the necessary liquid refreshment from his shop. He claimed that he didn’t wish to take any money for the alcohol from the soldiers who came to his shop (on hearing the news of a liquor supplier in “dry” Avondale, so close to the camp), but took it anyway after they insisted. He claimed before the magistrate that he had “very little liquor out at his shop” (a jar of whisky and six bottles of beer, it was said). The constables who raided the premises with a search warrant after a complaint from camp officers and a trip in disguise to buy alcohol there along with a real soldier, stated that, in fact, “his shop was fitted up like a miniature bar, with glasses on the counter and in the back room.” The police found “a number of empty beer and whisky bottles strewn about.” The undercover policeman and the soldier “were supplied with drink without the slightest trouble, getting three rounds of whisky, while the soldier was given a little in a bottle to take away, the price being a shilling.” Turnbull also took money for the alcohol, and gave change, “without demur.”

His legal counsel, who did not stay for the rest of the court proceedings after making one argument (leaving Turnbull to plead his own case), asked the magistrate to consider that “the intention of the legislature was that the regulation should apply to licensees of hotels” only. This, however, was dismissed. “Outside of licensees,” Mr. F. V. Frazier, S.M. said, “there are barmen and all sorts of people, to say nothing of barmaids, that might sell liquor to the soldiers, and the intention was to put down a particularly harmful practice.”

Turnbull then challenged the charges, stating that he had not admitted to selling alcohol to a soldier in uniform, claiming that the charges couldn’t stand as it had been the undercover policeman who had paid for the liquor. This was denied by the corporal there, who stated he paid the shilling, not the policeman. Turnbull was convicted and sentenced to one month’s hard labour for selling liquor to uniformed members of the Expeditionary Force.

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