Home' Greymouth Star : September 30th 2017 Contents Saturday Afternoon
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were asleep, the fires banked down, a blanket of
coal smoke lying thick over old Greymouth.
At 2am senior sergeant Simpson is asleep in his
Arney Street house when he is woken by a huge blast.
The entire house sways. Kitchen walls are shattered and
windows are blown out. A well placed cupboard saves
the policeman’s wife and young child from the force of
The bomber had been right there, in their garden, in
the darkness, placing the charge in an angle forward
of the kitchen chimney and wall. A high explosive was
used, powerful enough to shatter the bench and sink,
and splinter the chimney. The charge was fired by a live
The targeted house was just a stone’s throw from the
Greymouth Police Station, then located around the
corner where the Army Hall is in Gresson Street.
By morning the newspaper printing presses rolled
into action around New Zealand as news of the attack
Then it all went strangely quiet.
July 24 was a wet day with a westerly brewing and the
bar too rough for shipping. Tarzan was playing at the
Again at 2am on a Thursday, constable Black is warm
in bed in his O’Grady Street home, Blaketown when
a hole is blasted in the door, showering the constable
and his wife in glass. Again, similar to the Arney Street
bombing, the charge is left by the front door and a fuse
The town is outraged and the government offers
a £200 reward — $20,000 in today’s money — but
according to the national press, there are no clues.
Far overseas, in the United States, anarchist bombings
rock a world fresh from war, and in New Zealand,
Parliament makes 6 o’clock closing permanent as it
A lead? Or a red herring?
The roaring 1920s came and went. Greymouth got
motorcars on the streets and people saw their first
aeroplanes. Wall Street had crashed and the ripples
were felt in far off New Zealand by way of the Great
1932 in Greymouth arrived with a new police
inspector with a special area of interest — liquor licences
— as announced in the Evening Post on the eve of his
His feet were barely under his desk at the Greymouth
station when the liquor raids began all over again, up to
five in one night.
At 1.30am on October 5, Inspector C W Lopdell, new
to town, is asleep in his Buccleugh Street home when
the family hears a thud on the roof. Before they have
time to say much, a bomb explodes.
“We have to accept these things when they come,” the
inspector told reporters the next day.
It tore a large hole in the kitchen floor, shattered glass
in the windows, broke crockery and other furniture,
and spent its force in blowing sheets of iron from the
roof. Yet it was not, the papers said, as severe as the first
bombing of 1919. A £200 reward was offered.
The bomber struck again on the evening of October
29. Emboldened and concealed by heavy rain, this one
was lobbed at the police station itself. The smell settled
over the area and the station windows were shaken, but
not broken. Presumably, the explosive had gone off in
the air before landing on the roof.
Police later found the device had been set off in an
open shed nearby. It was a warning.
The third blast came on November 1. This time it was
near the railway workshops at Elmer Lane and mid-
evening. No real damage was done but it was heard half
a mile away.
“It was originally suggested that the bombing began
through resentment at police raids upon hotels, but the
fact that last night’s explosion occurred upon railway
property has complicated the matter,” the New Zealand
What the Herald did not know was that it was on the
route a senior sergeant used to get home from work.
Two young women who were walking along Turumaha
Street about 9pm heard showers of cinders falling upon
the roofs of the Westland Breweries buildings and the
The explosive used was probably gelignite, in a tin.
The inspector declared it as the work of a madman or
a fool. By now the national press was referring to the
Greymouth ‘bombing epidemic’.
The police came so very close to solving the crime that
autumn. They disturbed a man acting suspiciously near
the Blaketown bridge before he ran off. He left behind a
bomb found in a sack, ready to be lit, it was reported.
Then it all went quiet again. Another police-imposed
In April 1934, the inspector was transferred to
Hamilton, taking with him the silver tea service he was
presented with on his departure.
Then in May, the bombings started over again.
Magistrate H Morgan was in bed at 1.40am in
Turumaha Street when a bomb is thrown from a right-
of-way at the back of his house, hitting the neighbour’s
house instead. Mrs McMillan heard a dull thud and
hissing. A skirting board was damaged. As no gelignite
or similar explosive was used, presumably the bomb was
intended to frighten rather than to cause damage. Her
two young children sleeping in a room directly above
“were considerably frightened”, according to the police
The bomb, they later found, had been in a cosmetics
A familiar reward of £200 is offered.
As for the Magistrate, he had just enforced for the first
time stricter penalties on offenders caught on licensed
premises after hours.
Then it was Cobden’s turn.
A big blast demolished the Harbour Board shed at the
end of the Cobden breakwater. Rather than a bomb, the
shed —which contained gelignite — was deliberately set
Once again, rain hid the offender, but a man’s hat was
found on the nearby rail track. It was wet only where it
had touched the ground.
Fragments of the story survive. The West Coast police
book The Longest Beat by Kit Carson and Yvonne
Davison looks at the Lopdell bombings and throws a
number of names into the mix, but makes no mention of
the earlier bombings.
Two men mentioned in that book — William Gourley
Ricalton and William Sylvester Roberts, who returned
the explosive device in the sack to police — pleaded
guilty in January 1933 to stealing beer from Westland
All these years later the police have released large
extracts of the files they retrieved from National
Archives after a request from the Greymouth Star. It
was checked over and sent to Nelson, where it was
copied and sent to Greymouth. This is believed to be the
first time anyone outside the police has read it. It names
names, and details the evidence.
Next week: The police files
In 1932, a dance was in full swing at Schaef ’s Hall in Greymouth. The liquor
was flowing and skirts twirling, the noise such that the revellers did not hear
the bomb explode up at Buccleugh Street, on the roof of the new police
inspector’s house. This was the second wave of bombings in Greymouth in
just over a decade, both coinciding with liquor crackdowns. For the first time,
police have released the 1930s file on the bombings, including outlines of the
evidence —and the names of the suspects. In the first of a two-part feature,
LAURA MILLS investigates.
The Cobden tiphead.
The site of the magistrate’s house, Turumaha Street.
Bomb no 5 went off between the brewery and railway line.
The old police station was where the army hall is now.
Site of the police house which was bombed in Buccleugh Street.
A police house in O’Grady Street was bombed.
The first house to be bombed was in Arney Street.
Clockwise from top: Inspector Lopdell’s house on
Buccleugh Street; the damaged dray by the police
station; the old police station, and the magistrate’s
house in Turumaha Street.
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