Family History – Justice information

Court and police records can provide interesting background information on individuals, both police and criminals.

On this page

The old Supreme Court building, Christchurch [ca. 1930], CCL PhotoCD 3, IMG0039
The old Supreme Court building, Christchurch [ca. 1930], CCL PhotoCD 3, IMG0039

The courts

Most court material, including civil registers and criminal record books, is available to the public if more than 60 years old. Archives New Zealand, Christchurch holds:

  • Supreme/High Court data from Christchurch and Timaru
  • Magistrate’s and District Court data from South Canterbury and the West Coast
  • Magistrate’s Court records from Akaroa, Arowhenua, Ashburton, Cheviot, Christchurch, Christchurch Children's, Coalgate, Culverden, Darfield, Fairlie, Geraldine, Hampden, Kaiapoi, Kaikoura, Leeston, Little River, Lyttelton, Malvern, Methven, Oxford, Rangiora, Sheffield, Southbridge, Temuka, Timaru, Waiau, Waimate and Waimea
  • Greymouth High Court records
  • Magistrate’s Court records (including Warden’s court records) for Charleston, Denniston, Granity, Greenstone, Hokitika, Kumara, Lyell, Matainui, Murchison, Okarito, Reefton, Ross, Seddonville, Stafford, Westport, Waimangaroa and Whataroa
  • All have information on major and petty criminals
  • Fathers of ex-nuptial children are listed

Jury lists

New Zealand jury lists, 1842-1863
These microfiche lists are arranged geographically, from north to south. They were originally published in newspapers and gazettes. Jury lists include the names of male property owners and leaseholders and are a useful forerunner to electoral rolls, which were not compiled until representative government was introduced in 1856.


Provincial and national police gazettes

Police gazettes contain a wealth of information on crimes and criminals.

  • Christchurch City Libraries holds 1869-1877 volumes of the Canterbury Police Gazette, (a longer run is held at Archives New Zealand, Wellington), and two issues of the Otago Police Gazette (a complete run is held at the Hocken Library, Dunedin).
  • The New Zealand Police Gazette was published weekly 1861-1990. Not all editions still exist. It is not held by Christchurch City Libraries, but Archives New Zealand, Christchurch has volumes from the 1870s to the 1920s. Each volume is indexed from 1877 onwards. All Police Gazettes 70 years old and over are open. Permission to access information in later Gazettes must be obtained from:
    The Commissioner of Police
    Office of the Commissioner
    PO Box 3017
    Wellington 6160

Other sources

  • J. Robinson, Of diverse persons: men and women and whores: women and crime in nineteenth century Canterbury. MA thesis, 1983. An excellent guide to the Victorian attitude to women and their offending. Includes examples.
  • Archives New Zealand, Christchurch has indexed police records such as charge books and diaries. Access is permitted to records more than 70 years old. Material is held for Akaroa, Amberley, Blackball, Christchurch, Coalgate, Fairlie, Granity, Greymouth, Hokitika, Islington, Kaiapoi, Karamea, Leeston, Lyttelton, Methven, Murchison, Okarito, Otira, Riccarton, Timaru and Whataroa.
  • Archives New Zealand, Christchurch holds Christchurch police draft correspondence books, including their inward and outward draft letters from the 1870s to the 1940s. The volumes contain frank comment about individuals. If there had been a crime, the police would record who might or might not have done it and why. Also contains information on policemen and their careers.

For further information, you can check the library’s catalogue under the following headings: