Story: Memorials and monuments

Page 5. Civilian memorials, 1900–1945

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Age of memorials

From the beginning of the 20th century memorials of many kinds went up. They were a way for Pākehā to endow the landscape with its own history and embellish cities with statuary.


The diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897, and her death in 1901, led to prominent statues of her erected in the four main centres between 1897 and 1905, and memorials at New Plymouth, Coromandel and Ōhinemutu, Rotorua. A memorial to HMS Britomart’s 1840 arrival at Akaroa, supposedly to claim British sovereignty over the South Island, also marked the jubilee. Many communities planted trees to celebrate royal coronations.

Political leaders

Statues erected to the Liberal Premier John Ballance in Parliament grounds and in Whanganui in 1898 encouraged interest in recognising political leaders. John McKenzie, minister of lands in the 1890s, was recognised with a memorial at Cheviot, the site of the famous estate broken up by his land policies, and also at his home town, Palmerston. A statue of Governor George Grey was erected in Auckland in 1904. Premier Richard Seddon, who had argued for commemorative statuary, was himself memorialised. The colonial observatory in Thorndon, Wellington, was shifted to allow the erection of a massive 18-metre column above Seddon’s grave (1908). There were half a dozen memorials to Seddon around the country, although only the two in Hokitika (1910) and Parliament grounds (1915) were statues.

Seddon’s example raised the stakes. The Reform Party organised a massive monument to Prime Minister William Massey at Point Halswell on Wellington Harbour (1930). £10,000 of the £15,000 cost was paid by the government.

The Labour Party honoured its former leader, Harry Holland, with a statue close to Seddon’s grave, and when Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage died in office the government contributed over £30,000 for a mausoleum at Bastion Point, Auckland (1943).

‘Monumental folly’

Funds for the James Cook memorial in Gisborne were raised by an initiative encouraging children to give a penny, and by the government giving £500; but the total raised was £150 short. So the Poverty Bay Patriotic Fund provided the balance in return for listing the locals who had served in South Africa. When unveiled, the monument showed Cook’s name on one side, and the troopers’ names on three sides. This was widely condemned as a ‘monumental folly’. Eventually the troopers themselves petitioned to have their names removed, and funds were raised to do so.


From the start of the 20th century the awakening interest in history encouraged efforts to remember the country’s European ‘founders’. British explorer James Cook was the most obvious. In 1906 an obelisk was unveiled at his initial landing place in Gisborne, followed seven years later by a concrete monument at Ship Cove in the Marlborough Sounds, and then a cairn on nearby Motuara Island in 1920. In 1932 a fine statue of Cook by William Trethewey was gifted to Christchurch.

The 1942 tercentenary of Abel Tasman’s voyage to New Zealand was commemorated with a large obelisk in Golden Bay.

Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s death led to a memorial oak in Ōamaru (1913), a memorial boulder in Queenstown, a tall cairn to his expedition at Port Chalmers (1914) and a statue in Christchurch carved by Scott’s widow, Kathleen (1917).


Other pioneers were also commemorated in stone. The site where missionary Samuel Marsden preached his first sermon at Rangihoua in 1814 was marked by a stone cross (1907). John Logan Campbell, the founder of Auckland, was honoured with a statue while he was still alive (1906). Christchurch erected statues to superintendents William Rolleston (1906) and James FitzGerald (1939), and in smaller communities statues went up to leading pioneers – John Grigg in Ashburton (1905), A. A. Fantham in Hāwera (1908), the Waipū settlers (1914), and George Vesey Stewart in Katikati (around 1926). Hokitika expressed the sentiment more generally by erecting a memorial to a pioneer (1914).

The Catholic and Presbyterian churches marked their respective centenaries with a memorial to Bishop Pompallier in Hokianga (1938), 100 years after his arrival, and an Iona cross on the Petone waterfront (1940).

Women and Māori

Most monuments were to heroic white men, but there were exceptions. In Waimate, Margaret Cruickshank, a local doctor who died saving lives during the 1918 flu epidemic, was memorialised. In Taranaki, a fine statue of politician Māui Pōmare was unveiled on Manukorihi marae, Waitara (1936), and a memorial canoe prow was erected in memory of doctor and anthropologist Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hīroa) on the slopes of a Ngāti Mutunga (1954).


Where there had been major loss of life, collective memorials were put up. These included a Timaru obelisk to those who died in the 1882 Benvenue and City of Perth shipwrecks; an obelisk at the site of the 1896 Brunner coal-mine tragedy (1900); and a sunbay in Napier to recall the help given by the crew of HMS Veronica following the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake.

How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Memorials and monuments - Civilian memorials, 1900–1945', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 July 2024)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 20 Jun 2012, updated 26 Mar 2015