OPUNAKE (kindly reproduced from POLICING IN THE MOUNTAIN SHADOW by Margaret Carr)
The Opunake Police Station was inherited by the Police Force when
the police and military branches were separated. Also inherited was
Constable John Twomey who had been stationed there since 1883. He
stayed at Opunake until 1897, when his place was taken by Charles
Cooper. Cooper had spent 13 years in the Armed Constabulary and New
Zealand Constabulary Forces and in the Police Force had served at
Auckland, Wellington, Pahiatua, Palmerston North, Woodville and
Masterton. In November 1898 he was sent to open the Aramoho station
Following him, Constable Thomas Hickman arrived from Pungarehu.
About 1902 the Cyclopaedia of New Zealand said:
"The Opunake Police Station adjoins the Courthouse and consists of a
constable’s residence of six rooms, a lockup of two cells, and
stables. Mr. Thomas Hickman, Constable-in-charge, also acts as clerk
of the court."
During his time in Opunake, Hickman was not afraid to take on the
establishment. In August 1907 he charged a number of prominent
citizens with unlawful assembly after a Mr. Hill was tarred and
feathered. Hill had allegedly been paying too much attention to a
wife in the town. A group of men seized him, dragged him down the
road, tarred his head, face and hair, set fire to it, then threw him
in a stream. Every time he tried to crawl out he was pushed back in
until he was rescued by Hickman.
The arrested eight ended up in the Supreme Court at New Plymouth,
but sympathy seems to have been with them. Against the judge’s
instructions, a grand jury headed by Mr. Newton King found the men
The men celebrated by going to a nearby photographic studio and
having a group photograph taken with their supporter, Mr. Walter
Dudley, who was chairman of the Opunake Town Board. They later
presented Mr. Dudley with a cane topped with a silver tar pot.
As for Hill, he ended up in jail. In an incident in Hawera, again
involving someone else’s wife, he was horsewhipped by the irate
husband. In November 1907 he was charged in relation to a nasty
telegram he sent the husband, convicted and sentenced to four months
with hard labour.
On Hickman’s retirement in April 1911, George Clark Clouston
arrived. When he retired he had been running the Opunake police
district for 27 years — then became mayor and ran the town for
He was born in the Orkney Islands in 1874 and served in the Leith
Police Force for two years, his conduct giving "entire satisfaction"
according to his testimonial. He had worked as a farm worker and
with the herring fishing fleet from the age of 14 until he joined
the police at 20. And, after migrating to New Zealand in 1896 he
worked at various jobs before joining the New Zealand police in
1899. Clouston was stationed at Wanganui for seven years and
Normanby from February 1907.
In April 1911 came his transfer to Opunake. For the first 17 years
of his time in the town, Clouston was also the clerk of the
Magistrate’s Court, and the collector of agricultural statistics.
On his retirement in November 1938, numerous functions were held to
mark the occasion, including three civic tributes, a mock court and
a special function to honour Mrs. Maude Clouston. A Scots
publication, recording the events, wrote:
"A native of Stenness and brother of Mr. James Clouston, Whitehall,
Mr. Clouston is 65 years of age. Educated under the late Mr. Magnus
Spence, Mr. Clouston worked at farming, and at the herring fishing
from Stronness for a few seasons. In his early twenties he joined
the Police Force in Leith, and after serving two years there
migrated to New Zealand forty years ago. Joining the police there,
he served faithfully and well as the following references amply
prove, retiring with honour and dignity, carrying with him the
goodwill of the entire community and a wallet containing no less
At one retirement function, which proved too big for St Patrick’s
Hall, the mayor, Mr. A. J. Brennan, pointed out that over 50 years
Opunake had had only three policemen on permanent duty there.
Constable Clouston’s tact and ability had been largely responsible
for his district being free of crime, while his "eminent fairness"
in dealing with all classes of the community had been a particular
feature of his service. One speaker said Clouston seemed too young
to retire, "if the reported incident of a recent sprint from the
cliff-top to apprehend an offender was correct".
A speaker on behalf of the district’s Maori community also paid
tribute to the constable’s tact. Clouston had not treated the Maori
any different from the Pakeha, and he had the virtue of appearing
sightless when necessary.
Mr. Brennan told one gathering that many citizens had grown up with
Constable Clouston as the local policeman. In their childhood,
Clouston had been the bogeyman, ready to answer the summons of
parents to wreak retribution for wrong-doing. As youths, they bad
seen him as the representative of authority, stern and severe, ready
to check any outbreak of irresponsible hooliganism. In later years
the constable had
assumed the position of counsellor and adviser, ever willing to
consider the problems placed before him and to direct the solution.
The illuminated scroll presented to the constable was signed by the
magistrate, the mayor, the chairman of the county council and the
heads of the Opunake Electric Power Board, racing club, seaside
improvement society, RSA, federal band, rugby club, golf club,
tennis club, bowling club, surf and lifesaving club, cricket club,
athletic club and farmers union.
Two years later in 1940, George Clouston defeated Mr. Brennan, 208
votes to 174, and became the second mayor of Opunake. During his
service to the public he twice officiated at Vice-Regal visits, the
first in 1921 when he was the constable, and the second as mayor in
the middle of World War II, when Opunake celebrated its diamond
He retired as mayor in 1947, and in 1950, aged 76, was still a
borough councilor. Fo,i George Clouston was also the District
Coroner from 1942 until 1948. He died aged 95, 30 years after
Clouston’s place at the police station was taken by Constable Hugh
Shields. The former Irish bricklayer expressed some trepidation in
taking over Opunake after Clouston’s long service there, but in the
end stayed on for 16 years himself before retiring in 1954.
Even his successor, Alexander Stewart Ward, served six years in the
town. Ward was another who had travelled extensively in the course
of his police work. After joining the police in Wellington in 1928
he was stationed at Palmerston North, Marton, Ohura, Kaeo, Whangarei
and after Opunake went on to Wanganui East and Ashhurst.
Constable James Douglas Hugh Boyd from Matamata succeeded Ward.
A new police station was built in the 1960s and when Rahotu was
closed in 1980, two constables were stationed there. It had been
thought that most of the workers required to build and run the Maui
A production platform and the Oaonui on-shore station would live in
Opunake. But this proved false. Opunake grew hardly at all.
Two fires marked the police history of Opunake in the 1980s.
In October 1982 the Opunake High School lost its hall,
administration block and several classrooms in the biggest fire in
Taranaki for some years. The damage was so extensive a cause was
never established, although it was believed to be arson. CIB members
spent days sifting through ash and charred timber, in the hope of
finding some clue.
Then the police station office itself was badly burnt and a number
of records destroyed in 1983.
As a two man station after the closure of Rahotu, the Opunake staff
changed quite regularly.
Pat Paton replaced Doug Mills at Okato in 1984, and Constable Wayne
King was posted to Opunake. When Terry Corbett moved on in 1988
(also to Okato), Opunake was left as a one-person station, with
Constable Malcolm Greig in charge.
"The History Of A Small Town Police Station", Norrie Keenan
"Policing In The Mountain Shadow", Margaret Carr