In the course of duty .. The gravesite of Timaru constable James Dorgan, who was killed in 1921 while on duty in Stafford St. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

It is a reminder of the dangers all police officers face on a daily basis, but a danger they are willing to confront for the safety of our communities.

Police gathered for a service at the Timaru Cemetery on Friday to remember fallen colleagues.

The Police Remembrance Day service, attended by sworn police, police employees and members of Fire and Emergency New Zealand, was held at the gravesite of Constable James Dorgan, who was shot and killed in Stafford St, Timaru, in 1921. His murder remains unsolved.

Canterbury rural area commander Inspector Dave Gaskin gave an introduction and Senior Sergeant Dylan Murray read the names of the 32 police officers killed on duty since 1886 and gave an account of the circumstances surrounding the deaths.

The service concluded with a prayer by police chaplain Mike Coe.

Police Association president Chris Cahill said the day provided a chance to reflect and honour those who had made the ultimate sacrifice of giving their lives to protect their fellow New Zealanders.

“It is a reminder of the dangers all police officers face on a daily basis, but a danger they are willing to confront for the safety of our communities.

“It is a sobering occasion for the families and friends of the dead and current officers and police employees who attend, and it is extremely important that they all feel supported.”

The day falls on September 29, the feast day of the Archangel Michael, patron saint of police, and is observed with a service at the Royal New Zealand Police College and other services around the country.


James Dorgan was born in Ireland and moved to New Zealand as a young man, working as a farm labourer before joining the New Zealand Police in 1912, aged 28.

He briefly served in Christchurch before transferring to Timaru, where he was stationed from 1913 until his death in 1921. Const Dorgan married Agnes Mary “Minnie” Dorgan in 1915, and they had three children.

On the night of August 26, 1921, 37-year-old Const Dorgan was on beat patrol along with two other officers.

Const Christopher and Const Dorgan each walked part of the main street, while Const McCullough patrolled the back street of the town.

At 12.30am on August 27, Const Christopher discovered that the glass in the doors of T&J Thomson’s drapery and clothing shop had been covered with paper.

Light could be seen glowing through the gaps.

He signalled to Const Dorgan that a robbery was in progress.

The two officers tried the doors but found them locked. Const Christopher went to the shop owner’s nearby house to get the keys, leaving Const Dorgan to guard the shop.

Suddenly, shots rang out.

Const Christopher ran back to find Const Dorgan staggering out from behind the shop, saying “he fired four shots at me and ran up the back. Get me a drink, I’m done, I’m done!”

A doctor was called to the scene but it was already too late.

Const Dorgan had been shot in the chest, and died shortly after the doctor arrived.

Const Dorgan’s funeral was one of the largest seen in Timaru at that time. Shops closed to allow their owners to attend the popular constable’s funeral.

It is possible that the offender had hidden on a balcony until the owner closed the shop.

When disturbed by the police officers, the offender abandoned two bags of clothing taken from Thomson’s store.

Police took 70 sets of fingerprints and closely questioned several suspects in the search for the officer’s killer.

Despite extensive investigations, the murder of Constable Dorgan remains unsolved.

Source: New Zealand Police Museum
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