Story: Broberg, Charles Robert

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Broberg, Charles Robert

1870–1937

Policeman

This biography was written by Sherwood Young and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 3, 1996

Charles Robert Broberg, one of the first New Zealand-born policemen to reach commissioned rank, was born at Auckland on 22 May 1870, the son of Charles Gustav Broberg, a mariner, and his wife, Felicia Bowden. Broberg was working as a blacksmith when he joined the Permanent Artillery in Wellington in 1894. Later that year while on secondment to the police, he rescued a man from the harbour and was awarded a certificate of merit from the Royal Humane Society of Australasia.

On 7 January 1895 Broberg was sworn into the New Zealand Police Force and posted to Dunedin. He was described at the time as 5 feet 11¼ inches in height with fair hair, a fresh complexion and blue eyes. In 1897 he moved to Wellington to join the detective branch of the force, and before long was instrumental in apprehending a number of criminals. Recognition for this work came in 1899 when he was designated a detective. In June 1901 he was a police escort for the duke and duchess of Cornwall and York during their visit to New Zealand.

The following month the commissioner of police, J. B. Tunbridge, announced that Broberg had made a 'most regrettable blunder' in 1900 in erroneously identifying a local house-painter, Charles Lillywhite, as Arthur Blatch, a man wanted for murder in Colchester, England. The identification had been based on the evidence of witnesses, and although there was a growing body of evidence to the contrary Broberg and other detectives remained convinced they had the right man. It was not until Lillywhite was extradited to England that his innocence was established.

Broberg's career did not suffer as a result. In 1904 he achieved what has been described as his greatest professional feat: the arrest of James Ellis, alias John McKenzie, for the murder of Leonard Collinson. The arrest followed searches extending over several months in remote parts of Wairarapa and Hawke's Bay. Broberg and a colleague were disguised as swaggers when Ellis was finally apprehended at the foot of the Ruahine Range, west of Hastings.

For several months in 1906 and at the end of 1907 Broberg was involved in another difficult search, this time for Hare Matenga, a man suspected of several robberies in the East Coast–eastern Bay of Plenty area. During the search Broberg, with a constable and a guide, scoured the hills around Gisborne, sleeping rough and living on meagre provisions. The 1906 winter was the worst in many years and Broberg reported that for the first three months they had the 'life of dogs'. They were all suffering from rheumatism in the knees when Broberg suspended the search in December. Hare Matenga was arrested a year later and Broberg received a £40 reward for his part in the arrest.

Earlier in 1907, on 18 April, Broberg had married Annie Ellen Cowan at Limehills, Southland. In 1909 he was promoted to chief detective at Wellington and in 1915 to sub-inspector at Dunedin. In 1917 he transferred at the same rank to Auckland. The following year the commissioner of police, John O'Donovan, brought him to his headquarters in Wellington. One of Broberg's first tasks was to represent the police on a special committee to draft regulations to control boxing. He also assisted O'Donovan with the volume of correspondence generated by an increase in the number of police districts between 1918 and 1921.

In 1919 Broberg was one of four commissioned officers on a committee of inquiry into co-ordinating the relative rights and status of the uniformed and detective branches with respect to promotion. Later in the same year he was promoted to inspector. In 1920 he accompanied the prince of Wales on his tour of New Zealand and received a personal gift from the prince.

In 1924 Broberg was promoted to superintendent but remained at police headquarters. In 1927 he was involved in his third royal tour, that of the duke and duchess of York. On this occasion he was given a personal present from the duke and duchess and the duke made him a member (fifth class) of the Royal Victorian Order. Broberg retired from the police on 31 March 1928, at the age of 57. After his retirement he lived in Wellington where he was a well known member of the Victoria Bowling Club.

Charles Broberg died on 20 November 1937 at his home in Wellington, survived by his wife and a son. He was remembered as one of New Zealand's foremost police officers. Despite the early error over the identity of Charles Lillywhite, his reputation was, in large measure, based on his success as an investigator.