Cemetery historian Matthew Gray, in his “Tales from the Crypt” column published today in the Western Leader, wrote about the dismissal from the police force in 1897 of one Sergeant Richard Gamble of the Auckland Police Station.
“Burly Irish police sergeant Richard Gamble was in charge at the Auckland central station late one night in 1897 when a constable brought in a man accused of being drunk and disorderly. The suspect loudly proclaimed his innocence but Gamble was in no mood for excuses and helped wrestle him into a cell for the night. The prisoner turned out to be a well-respected businessman with friends in high places and an investigation showed he’d been roughly treated by the arresting officer. Gamble was reprimanded for not listening to the man’s pleadings and was retired from the force – as was the constable. It was an unfortunate end to a long and distinguished career.”
(a) The fracas happened on 18 December 1896, not in 1897.
(b) The suspect, sharebroker George South, wasn’t “brought in” – he’d headed to the police station, carrying a lost 2 ½ year old child, demanding that Constable Timothy McCarthy take charge of the child for safe-keeping until its mother could be located. McCarthy, approached by both South and a Salvation Army worker in Queen Street, declined to do so at the beginning of the incident solely because it was getting close to the end of his duty. Instead, because South remonstrated with the constable in Queen Street about this, McCarthy brought in a report against South to Sgt. Gamble of South’s “interfering with his duty”.
(c) Several witnesses, not really “friends in high places” and all that implies, but fellow sharebrokers, insurance and mining agents who knew South well, stated on oath before the judge at the Police Court hearing in late December, during the days leading up to Christmas, that South, while not a teetotaller by any means, wasn’t drunk. The mother of the child (yes, she came into the picture on that night in question too) testified that South wasn’t drunk, merely “excited”. Apparently, he was emotionally appalled by the seeming lack of care by the police for the safety of the child. And he became angrier the more doors were shut and the more he was told to go off and mind his own business.
(d) Gamble and another constable named Quirke decided, after South failed to calm down in his remonstrations against the conduct of the police, that he appeared to them to be drunk, and should be locked up overnight in the cells below. Each grabbing one of South’s arms, they hauled him (fighting all the way, his legs reported to be sticking out like a mule) down the stairs. At a final bend, South’s legs tangled with those of Quirke and he fell, slamming down the stairs. The two policemen then bodily picked him up, put him on the floor of a cell, and stripped him to his shirt, rifling through his pockets to take his valuables for storage.
(e) Sergeant Gamble wasn't in charge of the station that night -- it was a Sergeant McMahon on duty. Gamble became involved after South, thinking his door was that of the station Inspector, tapped on it with his pencil, wanting to complain right to the top, as it were. Instead, civvy-clothed Sergeant Gamble answered, and things went from bad to worse.
Fortunately for South, he had an excellent lawyer in Theophilus Cooper, and a wealth of good friends prepared to testify to his good character and sobriety that night. Unfortunately for the police the judge, Northcroft, listened to all the evidence and heeded it.
After hearing the evidence on the previous day, he said, he had expressed the opinion that to his mind there had been no interference with the constable in the execution of his duty. When South went to the constable to ask him to take the child the constable knew that he was close upon relief time. There would have been no difficulty in keeping the child, and in asking Constable McCarthy to take the little one South was not in any way guilty of interference. Of course, the constable said he did not know South but that showed a want of intelligence on the constable’s part in not recognising South as the person who had first spoken to him about the child. He (the constable) told South to mind his own business, and this led the accused to go to the station to report Constable McCarthy.It was in evidence that the constable, on being relieved, reported about the child being lost to Sergeant McMahon, and surely the latter should have then sent the constable to look after the little one. It had been urged that South was excited on reaching the police station, but it was undoubtedly the duty of the police to protect life and property, and to do everything possible to assist in the protection of life. Yet McCarthy saw a child two and a-half years of age with a man who (according to the constable’s own evidence) was excitable and frantic and in liquor, and left it surrounded by a mob. He left it with a man who was, he declared, under the influence of liquor, and was so bad as to render it necessary for him (the constable) to report him for having interfered with him in the execution of his duty. What he thought his duty was, or how he construed his duty, he (Mr Northcroft) did not know. He could surely have rescued the child, and if necessary whistled for assistance. However, he went off at relief time leaving the child, who might have been run over in the streets.Mr Northcroft then went on to quote from Mr Brannigan's original regulations framed when he re-organised the New Zealand police force many years ago for the guidance of the constabulary (which, he said, were almost identical with these now in force) as to the duty of the police in preventing as well as repressing crime, and urging the necessity of members of the force discharging their duties with "the utmost forbearance, mildness, urbanity, and perfect civility towards all classes. They should on no occasion, nor under any provocation, so far forget themselves as to permit their feelings to get the better of their discretion, and conduct themselves rudely or harshly in the performance of their respective offices. Nothing would serve more to cause the force to be respected than a general readiness to render kindness and assistance to every member of the community."Mr Northcroft also quoted the regulations to show that the Inspector should be always ready to investigate any charge against a member of the force, and in the absence of the Inspector the Sub-Inspector or Sergeant was to represent that officer. South went to the guardroom and wished to make a complaint, and it was contrary to all discipline that subordinates should take charge of the matter when Sergeant McMahon was sitting at the table. The constables had no right to speak at all in the presence of their superior officer. The public should always have the right to make a complaint when they felt aggrieved, and South was within his rights in coming with the child to make a complaint. The complaint should certainly have been taken, though South might have been asked to put it in writing. What right they had to turn him out of the room he (Mr Northcroft) could not conceive. Why McMahon was not called he could not conceive. He was the officer on duty and was in uniform. He was the only non-commissioned officer present, and should have heard the complaint, but instead South was turned out by one constable and then by another. He (Mr Northcroft) was astonished. He was sorry at what had occurred, for it was only with the assistance of the public generally, and by a kindly feeling towards the police force, that the latter could do their work in a community like this, where they are shorthanded. Therefore, they should conduct themselves with good feeling wherever possible, and thus cause the force to be respected and looked up to.South must have kept his temper very well. Most people, especially in an English community, under great provocation were apt to use “cuss" words, at any rate if people got annoyed they would often hear at least a "damn," and he had heard it himself from people he would not have expected it from. (Laughter.) A constable might smell a glass of beer on a man, but if all such were to be considered drunk they would have to enlarge their prisons very much. Therefore he (Mr Northcroft) did not place much weight upon the evidence on that point. South would be discharged. He had simply tried to do what every man should do for a little child under the circumstances. He said he would relieve the woman [Salvation Army woman] of the child, and simply kept his promise. It was certainly most unfortunate tor South to get into trouble befriending a child and assisting a woman.Mr Cooper asked the Bench to express an opinion as to South’s sobriety.His Worship: I don't think there was a question about it.Mr Cooper asked that South be discharged without any imputation on his character.Mr Northcroft said he would do so. Mr South’s case had been a very unfortunate one, but it might have been very serious if he had been a perfect stranger, or if his friends had not rallied round him the way they did.Mr Cooper: He might have got thirty days.The case was then discharged.
Auckland Star 24 December 1896
The response from the Police Minister came swiftly. It was reported by 6 January 1897:
Today the Hon. T. Thompson, Minister of Justice, forwarded to Inspector Hickson a memo embodying the decision he had arrived at as the outcome of the inquiry into the recent case of the police v. George South, sharebroker. The police, it will be remembered, charged Mr South with being drunk and disorderly, and with resisting Constable McCarthy in the execution of his duty. The charges were dismissed, the magistrate commenting severely on the action of the police concerned in the case. The Minister, after going repeatedly through the papers relating to the case, has come to the following decision on the matter :—First-class Sergeant Gamble to be requested to send in his resignation; first-class Sergeant MacMahon to be requested to send in his resignation; first-class Constable Timothy McCarthy to be dismissed from the force; third-class Constable Quirke to be dismissed from the force; first-class Constable Clark to be reduced to the second class and to be transferred from Auckland to another district as soon as arrangements can be made.Inspector Hickson has been requested to give immediate effect to this decision. Mr Thompson has also forwarded a departmental memo, to the Commissioner of Police, Colonel Hume, with remarks on the circumstances which led him to the above decision.It is understood that no civil action is to be taken in connection with the complaints made by Mr South against the police.
Auckland Star 6 January 1897
Sergeants Gamble and MacMahon tendered their resignations to Inspector Hickson yesterday afternoon. They will now be enabled to apply for their compensation allowances (one month's pay for each year of service). Sergeant Gamble has seen 31 years of service, and Sergeant MacMahon about 20 years.
Auckland Star 7 January 1897
The Government have decided to grant compassionate allowance to ex-Police Sergeants Gamble and MacMahon at the rate of a year's pay each.
Auckland Star 8 January 1897
Some of the garbled facts about the case may have come from the kind send-off for Richard Gamble from the Observer when he died in 1907. (The Observer itself, during Gamble's career checking shopkeeper's wares and weights had had some things to say during a turnips-in-the-coffee case in the 1890s about Gamble's stubborn refusal to back down when proved wrong, however ...) He was buried at Waikumete Cemetery.
Richard Gamble, whose death was reported this week, was for many years one of the most conspicuous figures in the local police force. Tall of stature, and burly of figure, he could not fail to be conspicuous, because he was a subdued Goliath amongst his stalwart comrades. Away back in the seventies, when the late Mr Broham was the local inspector, and Mr Purdy, now living in retirement at New Plymouth, was sub-inspector, Mr Gamble held the rank of sergeant, and was also the local inspector of weights and measures. He was a good police officer, with an intelligent conception of his duties and responsibilities, and more than the ordinary amount of capability. Being of an affable and kindly disposition, he was also very popular with the men under him and the general public.
Mr Gamble rose to the rank of sergeant-major, with the charge of the station and the control of the city police, and he would have risen still further if it had not been for the unfortunate circumstances connected with the arrest of Mr South, a well-known man about town. The arrest was made by a stupid and aggressive constable, who rough-handled his captive on the way to the station. South was not drunk, as the constable alleged, and he counted upon being released when be got to the lock-up. Instead of that, Sergeant Gamble refused to listen to his remonstrances, and, when he resisted, actually took a hand in conveying him to the cell. There was an enquiry and, as a result, Sergeant Gamble and the constable were both retired. Thus ended a promising career in the force.
It was strange that Gamble should have been drawn into the affair, because he was of a most kindly disposition, although, like most Irishman, somewhat impulsive. He was a County Waterford man.
Observer 9 November 1907
So if Sergeant Gamble hadn’t lost his temper that night in December 1896 and had instead called for the Inspector, or simply not become involved – he might have had a better end to that long career.