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Thames Police staff in 1979, including Hori Chesnutt, right, back row. Photo: SUPPLIED

Reputation precedes Coromandel cop

By Ron Agnew

When posted to Thames Police Station in the 1970s, I found I was the relieving Constable, a task l really enjoyed. I relieved the single constable stations of Coromandel, Whitianga (there was no station at Tairua) and Ngatea.
The late Hori Chesnutt, who had been a soldier in the Korean war, was at Coromandel, Dave Wall at Whitianga, and Bob Cuthbert at Ngatea. I stayed in the motel nearby, to which all the Police calls were switched over. There were no Police cars at these stations, we had to use our own private car on mileage.
It is fair to say I was never the flavour of the month at Coromandel with Hori and Peggy. I arrived with my family at Hori’s Police house, which served as the Police Station as well, to introduce myself, but when I opened the car door, our little dog took off, chasing Hori’s ducks and chickens roaming on his front lawn.
The dog chased them round the back of the house before I could stop him. Next I heard screaming and shouting at the back, and our dog came screaming back pursued by a high-flying hammer and then an axe! Hori was ropeable. “Get that mongrel dog off my property!!” Then Peg came to the front door, ordering us off the property.
I told them who I was, and things settled down a bit.
Hori showed me around his police office, which was a separate room on the front deck. He gave me the keys to the room and the old wooden cell block and the Post Office Box, but said “DO NOT lose it as it was the only ONE I have!!”.
The old wooden kauri cell block at the side of the house, which is now at the Coromandel Museum, was the oldest I had ever seen. It was bare wood and very grimy and smelt strongly of smoke. There was the outline of a body along the wooden bench prisoners sat on and slept on.

Hori said a prisoner had set fire to his mattress while Hori was out dealing with other matters, which had then charred the interior of the room. Sadly, the prisoner did not survive.
Hori had quite a reputation within Police circles. The previous decade, he had been called out in the early hours to a youth burgling the chemist shop.
Hori arrived as the offender ran from the scene. He yelled for the offender to stop and stand still. When the offender ignored this advice, Hori drew his old police revolver and shot the offender in the backside.
Hori drove the offender, in agony, to Thames Hospital, where the bullet was removed, and the offender was later discharged. However, Hori never had another burglary in town for four years after this incident. Police hierarchies were not too impressed with Hori’s methods of Policing, and he was charged at a police tribunal.
Hori was fined the maximum allowed then: 40pounds was a lot of money in those days. A Sunday News reporter offered Hori a lawyer to appeal the charge, in exchange for the story. On appeal, the fine was reduced to20 pound.
The local Coromandel community held an appeal to pass the hat around to pay Hori’s fine. I enjoyed relieving Hori.
His children Russell, Joanne and Raewyn, would pop in the office to check out the new policemen doing Hori’s work. However, even though I had to deal with a number of fights in the pubs and main street on Friday and Saturday nights and also complaints of assault by the publican at the top pub, and one fatal accident on the gravel road to Colville, I don’t think Hori ever forgave me because I lost his post office box key! I couldn’t think where I last saw it.
In 1979, the Police built a new station in Coromandel for Hori and gave him a Police car. I continued relieving him on his holiday time but would continually get calls to help him shift the sheep at the golf club. I had to put the blind ones in the boot of the Police car, while slowly following the mob down the road to new pasture.
– Ron Agnew is a former Thames Police officer