Black sheep in the family?

Thank you to Melanie Lovell-Smith and Katie Fordyce for this blog about the Police Gazettes. 

The Police Gazettes are now available on Papers Past.

What do Agnes Vallance, Agnes Skervington, Amy Laing, Amy Bennett, Amy Cameron, Amy Shannon, Amy Chanel, and Percy Redwood all have in common? Well, they are all aliases used by confidence trickster and male impersonator Amy Bock as she romped her way through New Zealand, defrauding her employees and, most notoriously, marrying a young woman in South Otago.

You can now trace Amy’s career in and out of prison by searching the New Zealand Police Gazette (1877-1945). We have just made this title, along with the Canterbury Police Gazette (1863-1877) and the Otago Police Gazette (1861-1877) available and fully text searchable on Papers Past.

Amy BockAmy Bock dressed in men's clothing. Stuart, Henrietta, fl 1950s, Postcard albums Ref: PA1-q-1020-54-2. Alexander Turnbull Library.

If you would like to hear more of Amy’s life, RNZ’s podcast Black Sheep has an episode that covers her early life in Australia, as well as her later life in New Zealand, or you can read her biography on Te Ara: Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Brief history of the police gazettes

The Otago Police Gazette, established in 1861, was the first to be published in New Zealand. It was based on similar police gazettes from Australia. It was followed by the Canterbury Police Gazette in 1863, the Southland Police Gazette (1864), and the Auckland Police Gazette (1865). Of these early gazettes, only the Otago and Canterbury ones have survived and been digitised.

The provincial gazettes were then merged to become the national New Zealand Police Gazette, from July 1877. Overall the police gazettes were published for nearly 130 years, ceasing publication in 1991.

The gazettes were distributed to police stations around the country and were a working tool for the police. Ongoing investigations, violent crime, wanted criminals, missing people, stolen goods, recovered property, horse and cattle thefts, runaways, deserters from Her Majesty’s Service, and international criminal cases are just some of the crimes covered in the gazettes. There are also the occasional photographs of unidentified dead bodies.

Descriptions of wanted people and convicted criminals, including their hair colour, eye colour, their gait, the shape of their jaw, their complexion, their distinguishing tattoos, and their clothing are some of the most fascinating details to be found in the gazettes. Information about the police, including appointments, promotions and dismissals are also included. As these were working tools, you’ll find that many of the digitised pages contain handwritten notes, added as the police updated the information on cases and criminals.

Mugshots

Perhaps the most arresting feature of the gazettes are the pages of mugshots, published monthly from October 1908. To start with, these were photographs of prisoners who had been discharged. From 1915 photographs of prisoners in custody were also included. (However, not every prisoner will have a mugshot in the gazettes.)

If you’re interested in finding out more about mugshots themselves, the Police Museum has an excellent online exhibition that talks about the invention of mugshots, their introduction to New Zealand, their limitations, and how the police use mugshots today. Sydney Living Museum also had a fascinating exhibition “Underworld” – a series of photographs taken of suspects known as the “Specials” in more informal poses than the traditional mugshot front and profile views.

A page of 12 mugshots, showing the side profile and full face image of 7 men and 1 woman.

A “charming bit of silk and muslin goods”

Underneath the mugshots are references to where information about the prisoner appeared in the gazette, as well as their fingerprint categorisation. For example, you can find out that May Hallet, alias Curtain (pictured above) appeared in the court at Cambridge in July 1908 on two charges of false pretences, by going to p.387 of the 1908 Police Gazette (P. G. 08/387). She is described there as a prostitute with brown hair, large blue eyes, and a medium-sized nose.

Searching for May Hallet in the newspapers on Papers Past reveals more of her story. In 1908, she travelled from Auckland to the Waikato, pretending to be from a well-off family. She convinced a young woman in Thames to give up her job to be her maid, later abandoning her in Cambridge, and had also persuaded “ numerous gay young bachelors [to lay] their hearts at her feet…” according to the Star. Described the following year as a “charming bit of silk and muslin goods” by the NZ Truth, Miss Hallet continued to travel through the country pretending to be a member of the upper classes and inducing young men to loan her money. By 1911 she was back in England, and in court there too.

Digitisation of the Police Gazettes

Archives New Zealand had photographed the Canterbury, New Zealand and Otago police gazettes and made them available through their online search tool Archway in 2017. You can find information on that project and how to access them on Archives’ Facebook page.

They then kindly provided us with their high-resolution images, and we put those through the normal Papers Past digitisation process so that the gazettes are now fully text searchable.

Thank you

We’d like to thank both Archives NZ and the New Zealand Police for their assistance in getting the police gazettes on Papers Past. We also owe Katie Fordyce a massive thank-you. Katie waded her way through all 43,706 pages sorting them, removing the index pages and renaming them for us — an essential but tedious job! We are very grateful to her.

If you have any feedback on the Police Gazettes, please email us at paperspast@natlib.govt.nz

By Melanie Lovell-Smith

Melanie is a Digtisation Advisor at the Library working on the selection and digitisation side for the Papers Past website.

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Margaret Schmidt August 30th at 12:17AM

Hello, I live in Tasmania - can someone help please . I would love to find a photo of my late husband's GG Grandfather - Gottlieb Schmidt and his brother Carl Schmidt (emigrants from Prussia in 1875) and were from Norsewood, who were involved in a fight with some Englishmen who pulled down their tent - near a railway line, possibly Ormond, North Island. Gottlieb was accuse of stabbing someone and together the brothers were jailed in the early 1800's. Have always wondered if there were photos of them in the Police Gazettes. Jailed at Napier, but later sentences were shortened. Have police report from Papers Past. Thanks so much if anyone can help! Cheers for now!

D S Smith August 30th at 2:11AM

Fabulous reading!... What a character Amy Bock was...goodness. Thank you so so very much for your time and correlation of information.. Fantastic work. Looking forward to the next ...