Sergeant John Nash


The Police Act 1886 established New Zealand's first national, civil, police force. Sergeant John Nash of Nelson was the first non-commissioned member appointed to this Force on 1 September 1886. He had the number '1' displayed prominently on his headgear. 

Sergeant John Nash

Sergeant John Nash, July 1887. Nelson Provincial Museum, W.E. Brown Collection 16898. No.1 prominent on his headgear.

Nash was born in Killarney, Ireland, in about 1822. He arrived in New Zealand in 1845 as a member of the 65th Regiment of the British Army, stationed in New Zealand. He received a medal for his “hot work” with the “Maories  in Horokiwi valley” in 1846.1 On leaving the Army in 1857 Nash joined the Nelson Provincial Armed Constabulary (ACF) as a constable. In 1859 he married Sarah Newport of Brook Street.2  He was promoted to Sergeant in 1863 and by 1866 he was Second Sergeant and third in command of the Nelson Provincial Police Force, under Seargeant-Major Robert Shallcrass.

In 1863 John Nash was stationed at Westport during the goldrush. Local businessmen regarded him as an "excellent officer" and a "very steady man", but diggers were disgusted that he actually tried to enforce 10 o'clock closing.3 Press comment made his rigid disciplinary approach to policing notorious.

By 1866 Sergeant Nash was back in Nelson, as Second Sergeant and third in command of the Provincial Police Force. In 1867 he played an important role in finding and arresting the Burgess Gang, responsible for the Maungatapu Murders, which shocked the Nelson Province. The gang was hiding out in Nelson waiting for a ship to New Plymouth. Nash also recovered the firearms used in the crime partly by creating “sundry obstacles” to the large number of people who went out to recover them when they heard the confession of one of the murderers. Nash was awarded a gold watch for his work, now held at the Nelson Provincial Museum, and was promoted to First Sergeant of the ACF.

In 1875 Nash complained of his policeman's lot to the Superintendent of Nelson, saying that his 160 pounds a year was inadequate because "At the present time I am on duty from 7pm to 7am and in addition to this I have to Summon Jurors for Coroners Inquests, attend the same and also the Criminal sittings of the Supreme Court without any remuneration".His application was denied.

His wife, Sarah, died in 1876 “after a long and painful illness”.5 Nash later remarried, to Selina Goddard of Motupipi.

In 1886, the Police Act was introduced, creating New Zealand’s first national civil police force, replacing the ACF and the Armed Police Force (APF). The APF, of which Nash was allegedly a member, was a colony-wide paramilitary style police force formed in context with the Land Wars to defend against attack and was made up of both Pākehā and Māori members. Unlike the APF, the newly formed New Zealand Police Force focused on crime prevention and keeping the peace rather than maintaining defence.

On 1 September 1886, Nash became a member of the national police force as Sergeant, becoming New Zealand’s first con-commissioned Police Officer. 

Sergeant John Nash fob watch

Gold Fob watch awarded to Sergeant John Nash. Thomas Russel and Son, August 1887. Nelson Provincial Museum

Nash was discharged on superannuation in 1887 after 30 years’ service with the police, in its various forms. Aged 59 he was deemed too old to continue working. He was given the newly struck New Zealand Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.

After leaving the police Nash didn’t retire, but became 'Inspector of Nuisances' for the Nelson City Council, a much sought-after position which he won against 29 other applicants. As the ‘Inspector of Nuisances’ and ‘Registrar of Dogs’ for the City of Nelson, Nash was responsible for ensuring that the town streets were clean and free of horse dung and rubbish, and that businesses were sanitary and street lamps were working.  He also had to make sure dogs were under control and that the dog tax was collected.

Nash died in 1893, survived by four children of his first wife, Sarah (nee Newport), his second wife Selina (nee Goddard) and their six children. He had named the youngest - born in the year he became 'policeman number one' - Sargeant John Nash.6

2020 (updated 2021)

Sources used in this story

  1. The father of the Police Force (1882, June 21) The Colonist, p.3
  2. Married (1859, November 16) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, p.2
  3. Hill, R.S. (1986) Policing the colonial frontier, part IIWellington, N.Z. : Historical Publications Branch Dept. of Internal Affairs : Government Printer
  4. Establishment of the New Zealand Police. Retrieved from New Zealand Police, October 2020:
  5. Deaths (1876, October 19) Nelson Evening Mail, p.2 
  6. Neale, J. (1986). The Nelson Police: the story of the Nelson police district 1841-1986, Nelson [N.Z.] : New Zealand Police, Nelson District, p. 28-9

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Further sources - Sergeant John Nash


  • Neale, J. (1986). The Nelson Police: the story of the Nelson police district 1841-1986, Nelson [N.Z.] : New Zealand Police, Nelson District, p. 28-9
  • Hill, R.S. (1986) Policing the colonial frontier, part II. Wellington, N.Z. : Historical Publications Branch Dept. of Internal Affairs : Government Printer
  • Carson. K. (1990) The longest beat: A Social and Pictorial History of Policing on the West Coast. Greymouth, New Zealand P.M. Deazley and the New Zealand Police


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