‘Massey’s Cossacks’ storm 1913 Strike exhibition

1913 Strike.

Police museum staff dressed as 20th century constables for the opening of the 1913 Strike exhibition, which details a waterfront battle between police and striking wharf workers, at the Museum of City and Sea in Wellington last month.

The three-week strike, which effectively put a stranglehold on cargo transport and choked the Wellington harbour with ships laden with goods, prompted the government to employ 1500 farmers and civilian volunteers as ‘special constables’.

Special constables, who quickly became known as Massey’s Cossacks, were each issued with an armband, a regulation baton and a lapel badge and had all the powers of a regular police officer. Unfortunately, the police ran out of batons so many special officers bought or fashioned their own from wheelbarrow spokes or axe handles.

NZ Police Museum Director Kamaya Yates says the employment of temporary constables set a certain precedent for NZ Police. “The issue of temporary constables comes up now and then throughout the history of the New Zealand Police. During the 1951 waterfront dispute and the 1981 Springbok tour, plans were drawn up to use special constables. It all goes back to this time,” she says.

As well as donating their time, the Police Museum staff also donated some hand-carved batons and pillar-lock handcuffs for the Wellington-based exhibition which runs until 25 November.

Kamaya says the Police Museum is working on collaborating with more museums and galleries, so that the general public can gain a better idea of the role of police in New Zealand history.

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