Story: McDonogh, Arthur Edward

Page 1: Biography

McDonogh, Arthur Edward

1809/1810?–1852

Policeman, police magistrate, militia officer, roading supervisor

This biography was written by Richard S. Hill and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 1, 1990

Arthur Edward McDonogh (or MacDonogh) was born probably in 1809 or 1810 in Ireland; his parents' names are unknown. As a young man McDonogh served as an officer in the 5th Fusiliers. By the middle of 1840 he had emigrated to New Zealand, and was living at Kororareka (Russell). Lieutenant Governor William Hobson recommended that McDonogh, who had already been nominated as a justice of the peace, should be appointed police magistrate at the Bay of Islands.

His first task on his appointment on 12 September was to reorganise the police force. He proved to be profligate with money, and 'careless' as to whether it was his own or not. But the availability of 'gentlemen' suitable for high office was limited, so instead of being dismissed he was transferred in November 1840 to the declining Hokianga district.

Thomas Beckham, his successor, discovered that McDonogh had taken with him various moneys belonging to the Kororareka police magistracy, including the police force pay for October. McDonogh declined to answer Beckham's correspondence, and when he did send a cheque it was dishonoured. Hobson rebuked him for these matters and for his 'want of perspicuity' with financial affairs at Hokianga as well. According to policemen who served under him at both police magistracies, McDonogh never made good all of the money.

When, in late 1842, the government decided that the Hokianga police and judiciary could be controlled from the Bay of Islands, McDonogh was temporarily transferred to Auckland. In March 1843 he was effectively demoted by his appointment as assistant police magistrate at the major New Zealand Company settlement of Wellington.

McDonogh found himself, in effect, chief police magistrate for the southern settlements, the incumbent having been hounded from office by the local élite. It was a difficult position, for the company leadership were determined to resist government intervention in their activities. When news of the Wairau affair reached Wellington, in June 1843, the settler leadership attempted to turn Pakeha fear into a campaign of military conquest against the Maori. McDonogh showed 'sound judgment' in preventing this, and his intelligence initiatives proved that rumours of imminent attack on Wellington by Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata were false. He agreed, however, to the swearing in of corps of volunteers as special constables and the sanctioning of defensive constructions. Even this was considered by the government to be 'extremely injudicious' and it hastened the intended appointment of Mathew Richmond as chief police magistrate.

McDonogh, who became a full police magistrate again on 1 February 1844, survived pecuniary embarrassment only because Richmond untangled the mess in which he found the public funds and then ensured that his assistant had no further control over them. In March 1844 Richmond was promoted to become the superintendent of the newly created Southern Division, and McDonogh was appointed chief police magistrate in his place. Although this position was accompanied by that of sub-treasurer, the skills of additional police magistrate John Symonds helped save him from disaster.

But temptation was great, particularly after a pay cut of one-fifth following government retrenchment. By the time of Symonds's transfer to Auckland in February 1845, McDonogh's financial 'deficiencies' were glaringly apparent; he had, for example, gambled away £150 of government funds. The government decided to rid itself of him quietly, and at the end of March the office of chief police magistrate was abolished.

For all his faults, McDonogh was an expert in policing, and was now appointed adjutant in the Wellington battalion of militia. This continued, but on half-pay, when the unit was demobilised at the end of September. He eked out a living with various positions in government service, some of them part-time and ephemeral. McDonogh had become such a controversial figure that a duel had been fought over his reputation; his antagonist, the lawyer William Brewer, was killed by gunshot in the encounter.

In May 1846 McDonogh was placed in charge of a 25 man militia unit at the Taita stockade. But he was not happy. He had been passed over for a leadership role in the Armed Police Force detachment recently established under Inspector David Stark Durie. After he and his subaltern, Lieutenant William White, had led a militia party overland to attack Te Rangihaeata's pa at Pauatahanui, McDonogh felt that his contribution in this and other matters was downplayed. He was mortified when Governor George Grey chose White as an officer in the Armed Police.

After the 'southern war' McDonogh was appointed 'overseer to a route party at the Hutt', a position which he characterised as being little 'above a Common Laborer'. His salary as a director of military roads was £109 10s., but he needed much more to maintain his lifestyle. The best chance of permanent, well-paid employment lay in policing, and with the support of his friends and social peers he frequently petitioned Grey and other dignitaries. This, and the support of Inspector Durie, who had been the second for the pro-McDonogh camp in the duel, secured him a sub-inspectorship in the New Munster Armed Police Force from 1 November 1848. A key police role had now been filled by a person of whom, as the colonial secretary later acknowledged, 'it was known that he was not entirely trustworthy in pecuniary matters.'

McDonogh's superior as sub-inspector, Alfred Strode, was currently in Otago, and McDonogh used his influence to help prevent his return. He thus became effective head of police over the most important part of New Munster province. He did not have an easy job, particularly after major retrenchment in policing expenditure in May 1849 reduced his staff drastically. He was saved from financial disaster by Inspector Durie's superintendence of police finances. Nevertheless, Durie found him to be 'both active and zealous in the discharge of his duties'. He moved in the 'best of circles', and at Wellington, on 28 May 1844, married Ann Eliza Ross, daughter of prominent lawyer and official Hugh Ross. Ross, formerly the attorney general of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), had fired the fatal shot in the duel, and for a wedding present he gave McDonogh the pistols he had used.

In April 1851 Durie was promoted to resident magistrate and the New Munster inspectorship was allowed to lapse. McDonogh, not Strode, became head of the New Munster police. He was still kept away from the men's wages, but could not cope with running the general finances of the Armed Police. This situation drove him into being, more than ever, 'a most inveterate gambler', and he took to 'borrowing' money from his subordinates. They were already on fixed low wages at a time of rising prices, and their morale suffered. McDonogh, hitherto a martinet, now barely noticed slackening efficiency and escalating drunkenness among the armed constables.

When he could extract no further money from his men, McDonogh tricked his senior non-commissioned officer into believing that the government had lifted its embargo on the sub-inspector handling wage distribution. He now dipped into the pay packet moneys, giving his staff worthless cheques to cash for pay and supplies. They could not cope with this situation, and on 2 October 1852, 11 of the 13 privates in the town police risked 'severe punishment' by striking. It was the first strike by sworn police personnel in the colony's history, and McDonogh was humiliated, the more so when the government, realising that it would be impossible to find suitable replacements for dismissed members of such a demoralised force, negotiated with the strikers to get them back to work.

McDonogh knew that any official investigation would result in the uncovering of not just unwise 'borrowing' but also actual theft. A Waikanae private, for example, had received only £3 of his August pay, McDonogh having pocketed the extra £2 8s. 6d. He had also lost the entire current monthly pay packet of the New Munster Police in a bout of gambling. On 26 October 1852 McDonogh killed himself with one of the duelling pistols which had dispatched Brewer eight years before.

'Poor Ross was terribly distressed at the affair', William White wrote later, while Ann McDonogh inherited very little, and was left with a son, Lewis Stuart. The policemen whom McDonogh had defrauded had to fight long and hard to gain reimbursement from the government. The financial tangles left behind by the 'gentleman' policeman were still being unravelled when the province of New Munster ceased to exist in 1853.

How to cite this page:

Richard S. Hill. 'McDonogh, Arthur Edward', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/1m34/mcdonogh-arthur-edward (accessed 23 March 2017)