Justice of the Peace duties have been many and varied since the first JP was appointed in New Zealand in 1814.  JPs remained the mainstay of the colony’s primary judicial system until 1868 when Magistrates were appointed.  Since then some JPs continued on the Bench to hear criminal proceedings and to conduct inquests. These days JPs continue to hear minor cases in District Courts (Judicial Duties) while, by far, most are engaged in taking Affidavits and Statutory Declarations and certifying copies of formal documents (Ministerial Duties).

In 2014, on the 200th anniversary of the appointment of the first JP, Thomas Kendall, it was opportune to look back over some of the tasks Justices of the Peace have undertaken in their communities over the decades:

+ From the early 1840s local J.P.s were responsible for revising their district’s Jury List.

+ About the same time, J.P.s were also responsible for granting publican’s licences.  The first issued in New Zealand, to John Johnson for the Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Kororareka (Russell), was signed on the 30th October 1840 only after Justices of the Peace authorised it.

An early Duke of Marlborough Hotel, c 1908. Auckland Museum Collections

+ J. P.s joined Governor Hobson and the Executive Council to form the colony’s first Legislative Council in November 1841

+ In the mid-late 1800s Justices of the Peace had the say on the disposal of strayed stock under the Impounding Act, 1856. Roaming animals would be put in the Public Pound waiting to be claimed by their owner. The Pound-keeper was duty bound to advertise a description of the animals and if no one claimed them he would sell them to defray costs of feed and keep while they had been in the pound. But not before he applied to a JP for an order enabling the sale.

Michael Murphy, JP, sets up Wellington’s first pound 1841

+J.P.s heard witnesses’ accounts after the 1843 Wairau affray, the bloody engagement between Maori and British settlers, which left 22 British and 4 Maori dead.

+ J.P.s residing on the coast were expected to report debris washed up after shipwrecks.

Details were, thus, received on flotsam from the brigantine “Hercules” which foundered on the Kaipara Harbour in 1874 and news of a lifeboat washed ashore from HMS “Dart”, thought missing off North Cape in a storm in 1889. The ship, in fact, survived the gale losing her boat overboard in mountainous seas off Three Kings Islands. She was also reported missing after a second storm, this time in Bass Strait: she weathered that one, too.

HMS Dart
Tasmania Archives

+ In 1850s Governor Sir George Grey introduced what we today would call a Small Claims Tribunal, with JPs presiding. Although controversial, the measure meant that any civil claim could be decided by a Resident Magistrate, or any two or more Justices of the Peace, by way of summary proceeding, provided that neither of the parties were of the native race, that the defendant resided more than 10 miles from the office of any Court of Requests, and that the debt or damage claimed did not exceed £20.

+ Justices of the Peace had two roles in an 1846 law which enabled insane persons to be detained. First, 2 JPs had to be satisfied that medical practitioners testifying about lunatics had appropriate qualifications. Having proved their credentials the doctors could, on oath, give evidence before the JPs that persons were “dangerous lunatics or idiots”, following which Justices of the Peace, where appropriate, had authority to commit such persons to “strict custody”.

+ J.P.s, under an 1880 Act, could vouch for the “good reputation” of an alien seeking naturalisation.

+ In the 1880s J.P.s., exclusively, decided sentences for serious disciplinary matters within the New Zealand Volunteer Forces. The Commanding Officer of J. Battery, the N.Z. Artillery Volunteers, Gisborne, thought he should be entitled to decide punishment and appealed the question in the Supreme Court. Mr Justice Richmond said “under Section 46 of the Volunteer Act the commanding officer is the prosecutor, not the judge… ….the jurisdiction to adjudicate is given to Justices alone”. The proceedings were widely reported in New Zealand newspapers, headlined “Important Decision For Volunteers”.

+ In the handbook “New Zealand Justice of the Peace” by W. C. R. Haselden, 1895, J.P.s are advised of their new responsibilities within recent legislation. In the past year, Haselden reported, the following had been added to existing J.P.s’ duties: Abattoirs, Criminal Code, Destitute Persons, Gaming, Indictable Offences, Lunatics, Oaths, Offensive Publications, School Attendance, Shipping, Sea Fisheries, Shops and Shop Assistants and the Stamp Act.  “This,” wrote the author, “is illustration of the speed in which legislation is going on”.

+In March 1928 Mrs Nellie E. Ferner and Miss S. E. Jackson were given a unique role. Under Section 27 of the Child Welfare Act they were appointed Justices with jurisdiction on the bench in the Auckland Children’s Court. Mrs Ferner had sat with the presiding magistrate as “associate member” since April 1925 when that court was constituted but for those 3 years she could only tender advice on cases brought forward. Mrs Nellie Ferner founded the Sunshine School in the old Nelson Street School in 1928, a day-care haven for children as they recuperated after hospital treatment and for others needing care. Fresh air, good diet and sunlight were features of the institution, later credited with fewer cases of delinquency seen by the Courts. Miss Jackson was, until 1925, matron of the Mount Albert Industrial Home. She retired after 34 years’ service, so had wide experience in child welfare work.

The Sunshine Club buildings were demolished in 1965: Boystown replaced it
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 7-A1874

+ For many years J.P.s sat as Coroners. The Evening Post in 1936… “Magistrates in New Zealand by virtue of their office are Coroners, and every Coroner by virtue of his office is a Justice of the Peace. The Coronership in this country is not confined to Magistrates, there being a number of Coroners who are not Magistrates. They are usually appointed from the ranks of the Justices of the Peace to determine when, where and why death occurred”.

+ JPs also regularly acted as coroners at inquests into the cause of fires, whether or not they resulted in death or injury. The enquiry was to decide the cause, and, if necessary, to make any recommendations, usually to try to prevent recurrence – but sometimes to charge a person with arson. In 1889 B. O. Stewart, J.P. “and a respectable jury” (as the Daily Southern Cross newspaper put it) inquired into a fire that destroyed Mr Roberts’ Port Waikato home. The jury could not determine the cause.

But it was different in 1926 when A. S. Laird, J.P. conducted an inquest into a blaze that wiped out almost the entire township of Raurimu. “I return an open verdict. In my opinion evidence is insufficient to warrant a charge being made, and… I find that the Spiral Hotel was burned down under suspicious circumstances, and that all the other buildings were destroyed as a result of the fire in the hotel”.

Fire swept through Raurimu’s business area. Auckland Museum Collections

+ Consider Mr Phillip Sebastien Riley’s long day in December 1934 when as a J.P. he witnessed an attempt on the world sheep-shearing record at Pihama in Taranaki. Crack shearer Percy de Malmanche put through 409 sheep in 9 hours, breaking the world record. Mr Riley issued a certificate to that effect, adding in his own handwriting that de Malmanche, unlike some shearers, had himself caught and dragged each sheep from the pen. (The record survived until the 1950s when Godfrey Bowen broke it.)

+Electoral – In the old days it was up to J.P.s to scan the electoral rolls to ensure only eligible people were listed, and at the other end of the process, J.P.s to this day are still deployed to observe the final official counting of votes after elections.

+Electoral – J.P.s in earlier times were required to witness electoral petitions when there were challenges to the declared result of local body elections.

+New regulations to the Poisons Act in 1937 meant a J.P. or police officer had to vouch for the identification of those persons not known to the pharmacist who wished to buy the more potent poisons.

+J.P.s signed off destruction of animals. In February 1934 a severely injured horse lying in the road in Lower Hutt was destroyed by police after a J.P. signed an appropriate enabling certificate pursuant to the Police Offences Act.

+As late as 1939 if a J.P. signed a declaration, satisfied that a deceased person’s estate, or relatives, had insufficient funds to pay for the burial, the trustees of any cemetery were obliged to bury the body free of charge.

Mary Anderson. J. P.
Alexander Turnbull Library

+ In June 1945 Auckland J.P. Mary Anderson, was reputedly the first woman to sit on the bench as a Magistrate. She had been appointed JP in 1943.

+ In 1863 importation of cattle regulations were liberalised in Southland with a role for JPs. Stock arriving in port from Australia could now be landed without a declaration signed overseas to the effect that the animals came from a disease-free environment. Under new rules the importer could swear a statement before a local Magistrate or 2 Justices of the Peace attesting that to best knowledge and belief the animals came from a “clean” area, free from infectious disease, and once the statutory form was completed the cattle could be landed.

+ For decades J.P.s swore-in volunteer members of Fire Police until the office was phased out in 2010. Once sworn, individuals had the power under the Fire Service Act of police constables at fires and other emergencies.

Fire Police cap badge c.1933

Auckland had the biggest Fire Police Unit which began in 1933 and over the years grew to a fire brigade in its own right of 60 volunteer members. The Unit’s first Captain was Harry Jane, J.P., who swore in the members annually.

+ J.P.s were regular witnesses at executions until capital punishment ended in 1957. The 1858 Act provided for any JPs who wished to be present to attend but that they must remain until after the hanging and then sign testimony that sentence had been carried out. A Justice of the Peace also made orders to any appropriate person who, within 8 hours of the hanging, was allowed to view the body.

+ J.P.s and the Riot Act. Prior to reform of the Crimes Act in 1987, J.P.s were among those authorised by law to read a clause incorporating the so-called “Riot Act”. Where 12 or more persons unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously assembled together for the disturbance of the public peace, a J.P. using a loud voice first had to command silence. And, after that, openly, and with equally loud voice make a proclamation – ”Her Majesty the Queen commands all of you to disperse immediately and to go quietly to your homes or to your lawful business, upon pain of being charged with an offence punishable by imprisonment for 5 years. God Save the Queen!”.

+ J.P.s had a role in the Destitute Persons Act 1908. Presented with a complaint on oath that a parent is not providing for a child under 16 years of age, a J.P. was able to issue a summons requiring the parent to show cause why a maintenance order should not be issued.

Sources :

Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand

RCC 2014

In 2014 Justices of the Peace in New Zealand celebrated 200 years since the first JP took up office in the Bay of Islands. Thomas Kendall was appointed in November 1814, the first Justice of the Peace inaugurating one of the oldest institutions in New Zealand.  These articles were published to mark the centenary in 2014 so we could get to better know Thomas Kendall, JP.

THOMAS KENDALL – Quick facts about our first J.P.

Thomas Kendall, J.P., b. 1778 – d. 1832
Alexander Turnbull Library G-618

  • Born Lincolnshire, 13th December 1778, younger son of farmer Edward and Susanna
  • He grew up in rural North Thoresby, Lincolnshire
  • Married Jane Quickfall in November 1803
  • Had a ‘religious experience’ in London in 1808 and moved his family to Marylebone
  • Accepted into the Church of England Missionary Society and sailed for Sydney in 1813
  • June 1814 – First exploratory trip aboard “Active” to set up a Mission in Bay of Islands
  • June 19 Kendall leads a church service aboard “Active”, attended by Maori leaders
  • July returns to NSW accompanied by influential Maori chiefs Hongi Hika and Ruatara
  • Appointed first J.P. for New Zealand by NSW Governor, Macquarie, 12 November 1814

Rev. Samuel Marsden’s party arrives Bay of Islands, December 1814*

  • Arrives back in Bay of Islands mid-December 1814, with Samuel Marsden and others
  • 5 prisoners, seamen-deserters, held by Kendall in Bay of Islands and sent to Sydney in 1815
  • 1815: wrote “New Zealander’s First Book” published in Sydney – first Maori words in print
  • Started first school in Rangihoua, 1815
  • With J. L. Nicholas and Maori chiefs, in 1815, signed the sale of the first plot of land in N.Z.
  • Made an unauthorised visit to London in 1820 with chiefs Hongi Hika and Waikato

Baron Charles Philip Hippolyte de Thierry, Auckkland Museum Collections

  • Met Charles H. P. de Thierry in the UK and agreed to buy land for him in Bay of Islands
  • Kendall is ordained a priest in England in November 1820, his licence limited to N.Z.
  • Collaborated with Professor S. Lee at Cambridge on his book about the Maori language…
  • … “A Grammar and Vocabulary of the Language of New Zealand” is published in 1820.
  • De Thierry’s fantastic plan to colonise NZ is revealed, based on land purchased by Kendall
  • July 1821 – Kendall returns to Bay of Islands
  • He has an affair with Tungaroa, a tohunga’s daughter: his wife elopes with a convict-servant
  • Sought favours with the natives by condoning trading land and firearms with them
  • Was gifted a tract of land by Maoris (for De Thierry?) provided Kendall would reside there
  • August 1822 he is dismissed from the Church Missionary Society, but remains in NZ
  • In August 1823 Marsden returns to NZ to personally banish Kendall…
  • ….but his wife takes him back and they continue living at Matauwhi, away from the Station
  • In 1825 the Kendall family leaves New Zealand for missionary work in Valparaiso, Chile
  • In 1827 the family returns to NSW where Kendall receives a land grant at Kiama and farms it
  • Died 1832, presumed drowned when “Brisbane” foundered at Shoalhaven River, NSW
  • 1837- De Thierry arrives in NZ bombastically styled as “Charles, by the grace of God, Sovereign Chief of New Zealand” only to find Maori are disputing the land which Kendall said he had purchased on De Thierry’s behalf**. Instead, he bought land at Hokianga, again “the start of a colony” with France’s permission. It stalled, then was curtailed, mainly because of British sovereignty over New Zealand with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

  *   Artist unknown, engraving, 1913. Marsden, J. B.ef: PUBL-0158-76. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

**     Dr John Dunmore Lang in his 4th letter to Rt Hon Lord Durham,  Life and work of Samuel Marsden. Christchurch, Whitcombe & Tombs, 1913.



These days there’s some question whether the Governor of New South Wales, Lachlan Macquarie, had the authority to appoint Kendall as a Justice of the Peace, remembering in 1814 New Zealand was governed as part of New South Wales. Notwithstanding, contemporary and later quotes reflect the many parts of Kendall the missionary and New Zealand’s first Justice of the Peace.    

“Marsden’s Lieutenants”, Edited by John Rawson Elder, Coulls, Somerville, and Wilkie and A. H. Reed, published by the Otago University Council, 1934 –

“Kendall, the scholar of the party, an eager student of the language and customs of the New Zealanders, was so much affected by his environment and the general lack of restraining influences as to give way to immorality and drunkenness. The inner conflict revealed in his correspondence, as he strove to reconcile his mode of life with his continued teaching of Christian ethics to the New Zealanders, is a psychological study of the most intense type”.

John Rawson Elder, again, ibid

“…Kendall’s life was a long struggle with self. It is to his credit, however, that he was animated throughout his missionary career by an intense desire to put on record the result of his researches into the customs, ideas, and language of the New Zealanders. He maintained his interest in the Maori from the day when he first set foot in New Zealand as the leader of the pioneer party sent by Marsden to make in the Active the reconnaissance of 1814”.

Eric Ramsden, introducing his review of “Marsden’s Lieutenants”*, in the Sydney Morning Herald, 15 September 1934:

“…there is nothing more tragic, more pathetic, than the story of Kendall’s decline and fall”.

George Eric Oakes Ramsden
National Library of New Zealand

Eric Ramsden again, ibid

“Truth to tell, Kendall was a man of ungovernable temper, a man of unrestrained impulses”.

Samuel Marsden when Kendall was accepted into Christian Missionary Society, 1813, “Marsden’s Lieutenants”*

“I think Mr. Kendall will prove himself a valuable man for the work. His heart is engaged in the cause – he is very mild in his manners – kind, tender and affectionate, and well qualified to treat with an ignorant heathen”.

Peter Lineham and Allan K Davidson “Transplanted Christianity”**

“Both Kendall and (later) Butler were appointed Justices of the Peace… … although they could only employ moral authority in their attempts to bring law-breakers to justice. The growing incidence of prostitution and drunkenness filled the missionaries with horror… …and they also complained that their own missionary work was being undermined”.

John King, fellow missionary shoemaker and flax spinner –

“If Mr. Kendall were to desist writing against any of us, looked to his own duty, and kept busy, sober and quiet, it would be much more to his credit now and greatly to his advantage in the latter end

John King

“Mr William Hall (fellow missionary and carpenter) and Mr. Kendall quarrel very much, but they both agree to deprive us of what is right”

John King after Kendall reportedly attacked Walter Hall with a chisel in the presence of Hall’s wife and baby-in-arms –

“ Hall retaliated by firing ‘a pistol loaded with two balls’ which ‘set Mr. Kendall’s raincoat on fire and grazed Hall’s wife’s arm’” –

Eric Ramsden again ibid

“Kendall’s supreme effort… …was to sail for England without permission in 1820, with the chiefs Hongi (Hika) and Waikato. Hongi sold the presents he received abroad in Sydney on his return, converting the proceeds into muskets and powder. Thousands perished in New Zealand as a result, slaughtered with the weapons of the Pakeha (European)”.

Peter Lineham and Allan K Davidson “Transplanted Christianity”, **  –

“Kendall engaged in musket trading and he became involved with a young Maori girl of high rank” –,

Francis Hall, missionary who later arrived in Bay of Islands –

“Your conduct is calculated to make angels and Christian men weep and devils and New Zealanders (Maori) greatly to rejoice!”

Samuel Marsden in a letter to Kendall, July 1822 (New Zealand Electronic Text Collection website) –

“…you have ruined yourself in this life, and lost your honourable and sacred rank in society, which you can never regain to the day of your death… …may God be merciful to you. I feel it my painful duty to communicate to you, as agent to the C.M.S. that you will now consider yourself suspended from duty as a missionary belonging to the C.M.S., until the pleasure of the Society is known”

Convict Joseph Backler painted Rev. Samuel Marsden in Sydney,
1832-38 between the missionary’s latter N.Z. ventures
– Alexander Turnbull Library

Samuel Marsden, dismissing Kendall from the Mission, 1822, for immoral conduct and trading muskets and powder again –

“I lament his fall, but it has not been sudden. He could never have acted as he has done… … unless he had been under the government of unruly passions. I only wonder that he was not murdered by the New Zealanders.

Rt Rev Herbert William Williams
Ministry of Culture and Heritage NZ

Rt Rev Herbert Williams, Bishop of Waiapu, reviewing “Marsden’s Lieutenants”*, Waiapu Church Gazette, October 1934 –

“Kendall – headstrong, self-willed, and quarrelsome, he would have periods of deep contrition; and at all times seems to have the Mission much at heart. Even in his disgrace he begged to be allowed to continue his work” –

John Dunmore Lang, Presbyterian Minister, activist and republican –

“It was impossible to find a parallel in the history of Protestant missions of such inefficiency and worthlessness. The first head of it was dismissed for adultery, the second for drunkenness, and the third for a crime still more enormous than either!” –

Professor Samuel Lee, “Director of the Project resulting in this reference work”, Cambridge, 1820 –      

“The Materials for “A Grammar and Vocabulary of the Language of New Zealand” have for the most part been previously collected in New Zealand by Mr Kendall… …the furtherance of the Mission sent out to New Zealand for the double purpose of civilizing and evangelizing the Natives of the country was the general object for which this work was undertaken”.

John Rawson Elder again ibid

“Kendall’s writings thus deal with the vicissitudes of the New Zealand Mission, his friendships with the great Hongi and other New Zealand chiefs, his researches into Maori religion and ethics, and his ideas with regard to the Maori language. Taken as a whole they are documents of outstanding interest”.

A korao no New Zealand, or, The New Zealander’s First Book:
being an attempt to compose some lessons for the instruction of the natives
Auckland Museum Collections EMI0001

Erima Henare, Chairman of the Maori Language Commission, March 2014, addressing the Annual Conference of the Royal Federation of New Zealand Justices Associations Incorporated –

“While much of the credit goes to William Williams for translating the New Testament into the Maori language in the 1840s, the basic work, often unrecognised, had been done by John Kendall in his ‘A Grammar and Vocabulary of the Language of New Zealand’, published in 1820”.

“W.R.S.” writing in the “Sydney Morning Herald”, 16th July 1932 –

“As a schoolmaster, Kendall had more work and success. His school was opened In August, 1816, with thirty-three pupils, and a year later there were seventy on the roll, one of the chief, Te Pahi’s, children being of the number”

“W.R.S.” again, ibid-

“During his leisure the schoolmaster prepared a primer of the native language, which was printed (in 1815) at the office of the “Sydney Gazette”. Only one copy of the work is known now to exist, and that is preserved in the Auckland Museum”

“J.E.C.”The Sydney Morning Herald’, 21 February, 1920, reporting the discovery of documents in Thomas Kendall’s own handwriting about his missionary activities in Sydney and New Zealand from 7th March 1814 –

“…all this is a valuable contribution to what may be called the initial chapter in the colonisation and Christianisation of the Dominion of New Zealand”.

Judith Binney, ‘Kendall, Thomas’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography *** –

“He was destroyed by the hostility he encountered from the mission world. He was also blinkered by his religious preconceptions. He ‘almost completely turned from a Christian to a Heathen’ (as he wrote in 1822)… …Kendall sought knowledge and friendship; and he bought them with guns. He rejected his own society, if only for a little while, in recognition of the attractiveness of the Maori world. But his delusion was akin to that of Faust. He discovered that he could not shuffle off the culture he was born to, nor his notion of the overwhelming power of sin, but that he could lose his belief in the pre-ordained salvation of his soul”

Philip Harkness, “ Reading the Riot Act”****

“There was, however a dark side to the trip (to England in 1820). While in England and after meeting King George, Kendall supported Hongi Hika in a deal whereby the exiled French adventurer Charles de Thierry was able to purchase 30,000 acres of land in the Bay of Islands for 500 muskets and other arms and weapons. This shipment of arms precipitated the infamous Musket Wars in the North Island led by Hongi Hika, facilitated by Kendall”.

“The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser”, 14 April 1825 –

“Mr. Kendall has retired from New Zealand, having embarked on board some ship, with his family, hither for South America or America – we remember not which exactly. Recent information bids us report, that the idea of colonising New Zealand is altogether abandoned. A needy adventurer or two attempted to effectuate certain schemes in London, but for want of sufficient resources, their arrangements were necessarily relinquished, and the new colony ended in a bottle of smoke!”



*”Marsden’s Lieutenants“, Edited by John Rawson Elder , Messrs. Coulls, Somerville, and Wilkie, and  A. H. Reed, published by the Otago University Council, 1934.

** Transplanted Christianity, Peter Lineham and Allan K Davidson, 4th Edition, published by the Department of History, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand, 1997, ISBN 0-9583699-0-0. http://www.massey.ac.nz/~plineham/RelhistNZ.htm.  Accessed March 2014.

*** Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 29-Oct-2013.
http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/1k9/kendall-thomas.  Accessed March 2014.

**** “Reading the Riot Act, a 200 Year History of Justices of the Peace in New Zealand”, Philip Harkness, Media Features Limited, Auckland, 2015.

RCC 2014 Updated 2015