A New Kind of Evidence

On this day in 1939, New Zealand Crown Prosecutor H J Macalister obtained the first conviction in that country based exclusively on the evidence of fingerprints found at the scene of a crime. Macalister successfully prosecuted Sandford Robert Young for breaking into an office and stealing a safe.

Fingerprinting as a method of identification had been investigated in the 1800s by several different people working independently of one another.[1]The possibility that it could be used to identify criminals was first asserted by Dr Henry Faulds in the October 1880 issue of Nature magazine, sparking a feud with another pioneer, William Herschel; twelve years later Francis Galton advanced the argument in his book Finger Prints. Despite their research, it took years for police forces to adopt the technique. 

By 1939, fingerprints had already been used as evidence in New Zealand, most notably in a murder case heard by the Auckland Supreme Court in 1920. In that case, however, other evidence was also presented, including the discovery of stolen articles near the home of the accused and forensic evidence tying bullets found in the victim to his gun. The accused had also been seen near the scene of the crime by a prison warden who knew him from a previous sentence.[2]

In the case prosecuted by Mr Macalister, the only evidence presented was the identification of fingerprints belonging to the accused on pieces of broken glass at the point of entry. The case was heard at the Supreme Court in Invercargill, where a jury found Mr Young guilty as charged.[3]

 Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]According to ‘History on Fingerprints‘, fingerprints as a means of identification were used much earlier in China and had briefly been considered in the West in the late 1600s. 
[2]Fingerprints help convict murderer‘, New Zealand History online 
[3]Conviction on finger print evidence‘, The Southland Times, February 23, 1939

New Zealand 40, Scotland 0

On this day in 2007, New Zealand beat Scotland 40-0 in the Rugby World Cup. The only Macalister involved was New Zealander Luke McAlister, who accumulated a total of 17 points over the course of the whole tournament.[1] The win against Scotland put the All Blacks through to the quarter finals, where they were defeated by France 20-18 – the first time in World Cup history that New Zealand failed to reach the semi-final.[2] Some commentators blamed the loss on the fact that McAlister was ‘sin-binned’ partway through the game, removing a serious threat to the French team. 

Ironically, only a few years later McAlister would prove quite an asset for a French team, when in his first season with Stade Toulousain he was the only team member to score in either the semi-final or the final of the Bouclier de Brennus (the French Rugby Union domestic league championship). A report of that match described McAlister as Toulouse’s “most dangerous player”, who was “unerring with his trusty right boot”. Thanks largely to his efforts, Toulouse won the game 18-12. It was the team’s 19th French championship win.[3]

You can read more about Luke McAlister’s career here.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1]BBC Sport match report: “Scotland 0-40 New Zealand” by Thomas McGuigan (http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/rugby_union/7002859.stm)
[2]BBC Sport match report: “New Zealand 18-20 France” by Julian Shea (http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/rugby_union/7030471.stm)
[3]“Toulouse defend Top 14 title”, 9 June 2012 (http://planetrugby.com/story/0,25883,9818_7803752,00.html)

Macalisters in Viet Nam

On this day in 1973 the Peace Paris Accords were signed, officially ending the United States’ part of the Vietnam War, although the last troops did not leave for months. There were certainly Macalisters among the Americans lost in the conflict (the name appears in various forms twelve times on the Vietnam Wall memorial in Washington, DC), and many others served but survived. 

But Americans were not the only Macalisters to serve in Viet Nam. Among the nearly 60,000 Australians who fought there were at least eighteen members of this clan.[1] New Zealand sent about 4,000 combatants altogether, including Squadron Leader D G McAllister and Sgt. R L McAllister.[2] Canada was officially a neutral country, but “while Canada as a nation was not involved, Canadians themselves formed the largest foreign contingent in the U.S. military during the Vietnam era”. Perhaps 12,000 Canadians saw combat in Viet Nam[3]; it is not unlikely that some of these were Macalisters. (For several reasons, details about individual Canadians who fought in Viet Nam can be difficult to find.)

All of the Australian and New Zealand Macalisters appear to have survived the war, but Vietnam veterans of these countries faced the same difficulties back at home as their American comrades. They returned to fellow citizens who were at best indifferent and at worst actively hostile to them. Veterans of their nations’ previous wars often refused to acknowledge their service and suffering. For years their governments denied that exposure to chemical agents like Agent Orange might have caused the lingering physical problems some of them faced, and so the medical help they needed was often not forthcoming. In Australia and New Zealand, as in the US, it was not until the late 1980s that the sacrifices of these veterans were recognised and they were formally welcomed home.

The experience of Vietnam vets who returned to Canada has been a bit different. The war in which they fought was not a Canadian war, and so they are not recognised as veterans in their own country. This means that many of the support structures available to other Canadian veterans are not open to them. They are not usually included in Remembrance Day events or admitted to official veterans organisations.[4] Many Canadians (and most Americans) are unaware that they even exist. It can certainly be argued that since their government didn’t send them to Viet Nam, it has no responsibility to acknowledge or reward their service there. However, the isolation of these vets and the lack of any official support have made the lot of Canada’s Vietnam veterans (and any Macalisters among them) perhaps the most difficult of all.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1]Australian Government Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs, Nominal Roll of Vietnam Veterans
[3]Fred Graffen of the Canadian War Museum, in an article that first appeared in Vietnam Magazine. It is now available on-line.
[4]Ibid. That said, there are several informative web sites operated by individual veterans of Canada’s own military which have attempted to make people aware of these veterans, and they are honoured along with veterans of other conflicts in the Canadian War Museum.