Officer's death 100 years ago recalled

23:00, Feb 05 2013
Police historian Ray Carter, centre, with Shannon Constable Charlie Rudd, left, and Central District area commander Superintendent Russell Gibson
LOOKING BACK: Police historian Ray Carter, centre, with Shannon Constable Charlie Rudd, left, and Central District area commander Superintendent Russell Gibson outside what remains of the Albion Hotel, more recently known as the Albion Tavern, where Constable John Doyle was fatally injured 100 years ago.

Police in Shannon have commemorated 100 years since the death of Constable John Doyle, who died after a routine callout went wrong.

Mr Doyle died on February 5, 1913, aged 35, five days after he was attacked in the "chaff room" adjoining the stables at the back of the then Albion Hotel.

The Manawatu Standard recorded the incident, which was later compiled along with other stories in police historian Ray Carter's book on the history of the Palmerston North police district entitled Beyond the Call of Duty.

Mr Doyle was called to the Albion Hotel twice on February 1, 1913, to move on some men who were found near the stables.

After initially telling three men to leave, two returned saying they were there to sleep. They took exception to being asked to leave, and later gave evidence that they had permission to be there.

They set upon Mr Doyle, breaking his leg, and causing facial and "other" injuries. With no doctor available, Mr Doyle was prescribed "half an ounce", or about a tablespoon, of whisky every four hours by the local chemist.


It was two days before he was able to get to hospital in Palmerston North, where he died a short time later.

His wife, who had been in Auckland at the time with their two children, was unable to return before he died.

Peter MacDonald was arrested and wanted to plead guilty, but the matter was deferred while Mr Doyle was in hospital. It later went to trial and MacDonald was found guilty of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

During the trial, the doctor who treated Mr Doyle said he died of "delirium tremens", an alcohol withdrawal involving sudden and severe mental or nervous system changes, brought on by the shock of his injuries.

The officer was a "chronic alcoholic" according to the doctor, who told the court that the term could be applied to "a man who was always tippling, but who was able to attend his work".

There is no suggestion Mr Doyle was drunk at the time of the incident, and it was disputed in court as to whether a sudden cessation in drinking could cause delirium tremens.

The jury concluded that had he not been attacked, he would not have died.

Mr Carter recounted the story of Mr Doyle in a morning tea at the Shannon police station yesterday morning.

It was he who recognised Mr Doyle's name had been left off the list of officers who died in the line of duty that was drawn up before the opening of the Porirua police college in April 1981.

Plaques had been made bearing the name of each officer, and hurried arrangements were made to add his name to the wall ahead of the Queen's 1981 visit.

The morning tea was attended by Central District area commander Superintendent Russell Gibson, who acknowledged Mr Doyle's sacrifice.

The situation in which Mr Doyle was injured was the sort of basic event officers attended now, but Mr Gibson hoped updated procedures and greater focus on officer safety had gone some way to preventing similar outcomes today.

"It just highlights how it is unfortunately, the plain, everyday, type of events that we think nothing of attending that are potentially the most volatile and dangerous."

Manawatu Standard