Memorials recall past events or people. The most common type in the western tradition is the gravestone marking a person’s burial place. However, in classical times, monuments were erected in public places such as squares, to victories in war or to political or military heroes. Europeans in the early 19th century copied this with large monuments like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris or Nelson’s column in London.
Until the 1890s there were few such memorials in New Zealand.
The only statues of local ‘great men’ in the European tradition, both in Christchurch, were:
Rather than a statue, William Cargill’s monument in Dunedin was a Gothic revival spire – and some wits unkindly suggested that the only evidence of Cargill was the gargoyles’ resemblance to family portraits. The monument was planned as a gas lamp, a drinking fountain and a viewing platform in a pleasure garden. But the garden did not eventuate and the drinking fountains were never connected with the basins, which were used as spittoons. William Wakefield’s memorial was ordered immediately after his death, but sat ignored in a contractor’s yard for a generation until it gained a life as a drinking fountain at the Basin Reserve.
Dunedin put up a memorial to Otago settlement founder William Cargill in 1864, but it was not a statue and instead had utilitarian purposes. The founder of Wellington, William Wakefield, fared no better, and it was not until 34 years after his death in 1848 that a metal domed temple was erected to his memory. Other memorials were to those killed in accidents – such as the surveyor George Dobson, murdered north of Greymouth in 1866, and Donald Campbell and his family, who drowned in the wreck of the Tararua in 1881.
In 1887 a memorial to Scottish poet Robert Burns was unveiled in Dunedin. It followed a worldwide movement to honour Burns and was seen locally as an expression of Dunedin’s Scots identity. Memorials were also erected to Burns in Timaru (1913), Auckland (1921) and Hokitika (1923). His nephew, Dunedin leader and clergyman Thomas Burns, was not memorialised until 1891, 20 years after his death – and the memorial was paid for by one benefactor, not by public subscription.
In the late 19th century there were more free-standing monuments to distinguished Māori than to Pākehā. Between 1872 and 1880 there were no memorials to Pākehā, but eight to Māori, and another five were erected in the early 1890s.
There were two main motivations – Māori had long recalled great ancestors through artworks in the form of pou (carved posts), so they were quick to appreciate the idea of putting up stone monuments to their forebears. In 1880 Te Rauparaha’s son, Tāmihana, was responsible for a memorial column and bust of his father at Ōtaki. Māori also erected monuments on the site of the first Ngāi Tahu pā at Kaiapohia (1899), and to the Treaty of Waitangi at Te Tii marae (1881).
Also, Pākehā had a desire to express gratitude to Māori who had supported the Crown. Memorials to Tāmati Wāka Nene (1873), Te Mātenga Taiaroa (1871), Winiata Pekanui Tohi Te Ururangi (1877), Pitihera Kōpū (1872) and Te Puni (1871) were all paid for by the New Zealand government. In the early 1890s the Crown’s reconciliation with Tainui was commemorated in stone with memorials to Rewi Maniapoto at Kihikihi, Pōtatau Te Wherowhero at Ngāruawāhia and Te Wheoro near Rangiriri.
As late as 1897 Premier Richard Seddon bemoaned the absence of memorials. He commented that other colonies had ‘statues erected there to their leading citizens, warriors and pioneers’1, but New Zealand did not.
This was about to change. Within the next year there were six new monuments: to a successful politician, John Ballance; to religious pioneers (Bishop Henry Harper in Christchurch and Dr Donald Stuart in Dunedin); and a statue of Queen Victoria in Auckland. Society was becoming more affluent, and the larger towns began to see monuments as evidence of civic success. As the founding generations died there was a desire to honour the pioneers, and the spate of memorial-building overseas encouraged imitation. By the start of the 20th century New Zealanders were ready to invest in monuments, and they did so.
Consistent with colonial New Zealand’s lack of interest in memorials, there were few memorials to the New Zealand wars in the 19th century. In contrast with what was to happen in other wars, only three monuments were put up during, or immediately after, the wars themselves. This was partly because the idea of honouring the ordinary soldier, as distinct from the heroic general, was new (having emerged in Britain only after the 1853–56 Crimean War); partly because the dead were buried and had gravestones in New Zealand, not overseas; and partly because Pākehā New Zealanders did not want to celebrate the wars – they preferred to forget.
The text on the Moutoa memorial describes those who fell in a battle against upriver Māori as dying ‘in defence of law and order against fanaticism and barbarism’. This appalled author Mark Twain when he visited Whanganui in 1895. Twain thought that the upriver Māori were also patriots: ‘Patriotism is Patriotism. Calling it Fanaticism cannot degrade it; nothing can degrade it ... But the men were worthy … they fought for their homes, they fought for their country; they bravely fought and bravely fell.’1
New Zealand’s first war memorial was erected in 1865 to the 15 lower-river Māori who had died at Moutoa Island the previous year, defending Whanganui town against advancing upriver Māori. The monument reflected residents’ huge relief that the battle had spared the town. Of the other two memorials erected in the mid-1860s, one was to a traditional military hero, Colonel Marmaduke Nixon, and one was put up by departing British soldiers to their comrades.
Monuments were also put up in the 1860s to honour those killed in the Wairau affray in Marlborough and at the battle of Ōhaeawai in Northland – both a quarter of a century earlier.
During the last three decades of the 19th century, the wars were only memorialised when rot or fire destroyed soldiers’ headboards, leading to complaints from visiting British veterans about the neglect of old soldiers’ graves. So collective memorials were built at Pōkeno, Whanganui and Ōkaihau.
When visiting St John’s church in Te Awamutu in 1913, Edith Statham noted a mound where ‘friendly Māori’ were believed to be buried. She ordered a memorial and asked the local minister to write an inscription. Later the minister told Statham that the dead were not ‘friendly’ but ‘enemy’ Māori. It was too late to stop the memorial – and when it arrived, Statham was taken aback to read the inscription: ‘In memory of the Maori heroes who fell in the battles of Hairini and Orakau – 1864’. ‘Heroes’ was going too far for Statham, but the words were already carved in stone. They remain in 2011.
In the first two decades of the 20th century over 20 memorials were built. The new interest in creating memorials and the example of the memorials erected to the South African War (1899–1902) were factors. Monuments were erected at Ōrākau (outside Kihikihi) and at Pētane and Ōmarunui in Hawke’s Bay for 50th anniversaries of battles. Some ageing veterans, such as James Livingstone and John Finlay in South Taranaki, wished to remember their colleagues.
Most significantly the build-up of military preparedness before and during the First World War encouraged a view that memorials to the New Zealand wars might remind a younger generation about soldierly service to the Empire. The prime exponent of this view was Edith Statham, secretary of the graves committee of the Victoria League and then the government’s official inspector of old soldiers’ graves. Her efforts resulted in a dozen new memorials at battle sites and cemeteries in the North Island. With the exception of a monument at Te Awamutu (where a mistake was made) and a memorial to Rāwiri Puhirake, the chivalrous hero of Gate Pā, those remembered were soldiers who had fallen fighting for the Crown. Māori who had lost their lives fighting against the Crown were not memorialised.
There were two further bursts of memorialising.
From the 1970s Māori activists began to question the imperial sentiments of some early 20th-century memorials. Both an Auckland memorial and the soldier memorial on Marsland Hill in New Plymouth were damaged. There were also some efforts to recognise the suffering on both sides. A bicultural monument was erected in St Mary’s church in New Plymouth, and in 2002 a joint project between Māori and the Crown led to a new monument to Māori who had died at Katikara in Taranaki.
Even before New Zealand sent troops to the South African War in 1899 a new fashion for building memorials had begun, so communities were quick to put up memorials to the war. All but one of the 50 or so memorials were erected within six years of the declaration of peace in 1902.
Money was raised for the Ranfurly Veterans’ Home through elaborate public occasions. In February 1903, 3,000 people went to the grounds of Wellington College to enjoy such varied entertainments as fortune-telling, electric shocks, motor-car rides, a competition for businessmen to trim women’s hats, and a cricket match in which 15 women from Pollard’s Opera Company defeated nine local cricketers wearing dresses and playing left-handed.
The Governor, Lord Ranfurly, was also quick to suggest a national memorial, a home for returned veterans, modelled on London’s Chelsea Home for Pensioners. The Ranfurly War Veterans’ Home duly opened in Onehunga, Auckland, in December 1903.
Ranfurly’s suggestion that the home be an alternative to local memorials was not followed outside the main centres. Auckland and Wellington had no South African War memorial, and Christchurch merely added a list of the fallen to the back of its Queen Victoria jubilee statue. But most provincial centres and small towns were keen to put up memorials.
In the South African War 228 New Zealand men died, so those who had lost loved ones were not numerous. Memorials were less about honouring the dead and consoling grieving relatives than expressions of pride in the community’s contribution to the empire. They were designed to keep alive ‘the memory of New Zealand’s brilliant record’1, and were also seen as moral examples to a younger generation. These purposes were reflected in the character of the memorials.
Most memorials were imported from Carrara, Italy, but a local Italian sculptor, Carlo Bergamini, was responsible for the design and erection of impressive memorials at Waimate, Ōamaru, Riverton and Dunedin, with sculpture done by his family in Italy.
Huge social energy and money was invested in memorialising the First World War. Over 500 memorials were built, and many honours boards and stained-glass memorial windows were placed in churches, schools and halls throughout the country. This was partly driven by a sense of pride in New Zealand’s achievement. It was widely believed that the country ‘came of age’ in the war, and this was cause for celebration.
Yet sorrow was a more powerful motivation. Over 18,000 New Zealand soldiers died in the war, and most were buried in foreign lands. Most New Zealanders knew at least one fallen soldier as a brother, son or friend. In the absence of a tomb close by, there was a need to remember the dead in a local memorial. The names of those who died were always listed, usually in alphabetical order, occasionally chronologically. In contrast with Australia, only about a fifth of memorials included the names of all those who served.
The memorials were funded by local communities without government assistance. Those who had raised patriotic funds during the war, especially women, often did the hard work.
Memorials needed to be in a central and prominent position – usually a square or crossroads – so relatives of the dead could visit and they could be used for public ceremonies, especially Anzac Day. However, location was usually a topic of fierce debate.
George Gould, prime mover behind the Christchurch war memorial, noted: ‘With an experience now fairly wide, I am satisfied that no subject on earth is more fruitful of controversy than war memorials. There is nothing in connexion with them, whether it be site, height, form or inscription that will not lead to argument and heat between the best of friends.’1
There were few functional memorials. Auckland built a war-memorial museum, Hastings a hospital. There were 23 halls, seven libraries, four clocks (of which the Taradale and Blenheim examples were especially striking) and a number of bridges, notably the Bridge of Remembrance in Christchurch. But most people believed a useful memorial was an affront to the idealism and sacrifice of those who had died.
Most memorials were ornamental. The most popular (about a third) were obelisks, familiar from cemeteries and well-suited to inscriptions and names. Over 50 communities chose human figures, most often a soldier but also some female figures representing victory or motherhood. Most were ordered from Italian sculptors, and only a few allowed local sculptors to express a New Zealand identity. These included Frank Lynch’s ‘untidy soldier’ with undone shoelaces at Devonport and Masterton, Richard Gross’s bare-chested figure at Cambridge, and William Trethewey’s magnificent digger at Kaiapoi and fine symbolic figures in Christchurch.
Other forms were the cenotaph, modelled on London’s Whitehall monument; arches and gates, which made up about a fifth of the memorials and were common at the entrance of schools or sports grounds; and domed cupolas in five towns. Only about 5% were crosses – far less common than in the United Kingdom.
Several natural features were also used as memorials, including the large rock at Cave in Canterbury, and Lion Rock at Piha, west of Auckland.
While a number of memorials, such as the Wellington cenotaph, include sculpted horses, there is just one memorial to a horse. The horse, Bess, accompanied Colonel C. G. Powles when he left New Zealand with the Main Body in October 1914. She then served with her owner in Egypt, Sinai, Palestine, France, Germany and England. The memorial, which includes an Arabic inscription, stands in the fields of Flock House, Manawatū.
Despite the nationalism supposedly stirred by the war, few national symbols are found on memorials – there are no kiwis and just a few fern leaves. More common are wreaths, and British symbols such as lions and Union Jacks.
The inscriptions too contain little New Zealand content. There are classical phrases (about 10% have Latin), biblical quotations such as ‘their name liveth forever more’, and quotations from British poets such as Rudyard Kipling (most notably ‘lest we forget’). The word ‘New Zealand’ is found on three memorials, but ‘Empire’ is on over 30.
There was much debate about a national memorial. Eventually it was agreed that the government would provide £15,000 for a carillon tower to be grouped with an art gallery and museum in Mt Cook, Wellington. The carillon would be played on commemorative days and broadcast to the nation through the radio. The tower was unveiled on Anzac Day (25 April) 1932, and was one of the last memorials to the war.
In 2015 the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park was completed at this site. It commemorated the 300,000 New Zealanders who served during wars and the 30,000 who died.
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.
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).
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 bicentenary 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 Ernest 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).
Most monuments were to heroic white men, but there were exceptions. In Waimate, Margaret Cruickshank, the local doctor who died saving lives in the 1918 flu epidemic, was memorialised. In Taranaki a fine statue of politician Māui Pōmare was unveiled on the 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 pā (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 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 crew of the Veronica following the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake.
Many New Zealanders had long argued that a utilitarian amenity, like a public hospital or an educational scholarship, was a worthier commemoration than a decorative stone object. Usually their suggestions were defeated.
However, the first Labour government was unsympathetic to ornamental memorials, and for the nation’s centennial in 1940 they encouraged memorials which combined a tribute to the pioneers with some useful community purpose. The government provided a subsidy of £1 for every £3 raised locally, funding 257 memorials. The responsible minister, Bill Parry, was interested in physical education and the outdoor life, and the most popular memorials were parks and play areas. Others included Plunket and rest rooms, swimming pools and public halls. There were some significant lookouts built, including Signal Hill above Dunedin, Mt Victoria in Wellington and Mt Stewart in Manawatū. Many memorials included florid tributes to the pioneers. Some landing places of Māori voyaging waka (canoes) were also commemorated.
In adding reference to the Second World War dead to existing First World War memorials, communities often used the empty sides of obelisks. Other places added a new layer of stone to accommodate the additional names, or installed new brass plaques on arches or gates. In Cheviot and Mosgiel the solution was simply to add an ‘s’ to the inscription to read: ‘In memory of those who died in the Great Wars’.
The centennial provided a precedent for the government’s policy on memorials honouring the dead of the Second World War. Bill Parry was again the responsible minister. Since most communities already had a First World War memorial, it was usually possible to add the names from the later war and provide a surrogate tomb for grieving friends and relatives. No new concrete plinths were needed. Most accepted the policy that government subsidies, pound-for-pound, would be available only for useful ‘living memorials’. The memorial was to be a ‘community centre where the people can gather for social, educational, cultural and recreational purposes.’1 A hall for meetings, dances and indoor sports was the ideal.
Over 700 applications were received and the government paid out over £1.6 million (about $122 million in 2011 terms). From 1950 the subsidy was reduced for sums over £10,000. By far the most common memorial was a local hall, especially in rural areas, where, as hoped, they became the centre of community life, hosting everything from meetings of women’s groups to flower shows and dances. Other places developed sports and recreation grounds. There were some swimming pools and libraries constructed in larger centres such as New Plymouth, Hastings and Lower Hutt. The government recognised marae as community centres, but limited them to one for each tribal area, unless enlistments were heavy, as in Ruatōria, which gained three memorial houses.
There were a few ornamental memorials, notably in Northland, and some groups remembered their dead without a subsidy. Trampers erected crosses on top of the Tararua and Kaweka ranges.
Originally a hall of memories had been planned as a national memorial to the First World War alongside the carillon unveiled in Wellington in 1932. The hall was eventually completed in 1964 as a national memorial to all wars.
Although New Zealanders have continued to die in foreign wars since 1945, their names have been added to existing memorials, not remembered in new monuments. The army museum in Waiōuru was opened in 1978 as a memorial to the dead of all wars, and a monument to Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk was unveiled in 1990 on Wellington’s south coast in return for the naming of Anzac Cove at Gallipoli.
The most important new war memorial was the tomb of the unknown warrior, which sparked huge public interest when it opened in front of the national war memorial carillon in 2004. The national war memorial complex was enlarged by the creation of the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in 2015.
Generally, political leaders fared poorly. Smallish statues of prime ministers Peter Fraser and Keith Holyoake were erected in Wellington, and in 2008 a memorial sculpture honouring David Lange was built in Ōtāhuhu, Auckland.
Yachtsman and adventurer Peter Blake was remembered with a new building and exhibition at the Maritime Museum in Auckland’s Viaduct Basin. Mountaineer Edmund Hillary was honoured during his lifetime with statues in Nepal. In New Zealand there are Hillary statues in Ōrewa and at the Hermitage hotel at Aoraki/Mt Cook, where there is also a Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre.
Disasters continued to be remembered – large memorials were built to the victims of the 1953 Tangiwai rail disaster at Karori Cemetery, Wellington (1957), and at the accident site (1989), and a monument at Auckland’s Waikumete cemetery to those who died in the 1979 Mt Erebus air crash in Antarctica. In 2017 the Oi Manawa Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial was opened to the public, to acknowledge the impact and victims of the 2010 and 2011 Christchurch earthquakes.
In 1954 the New Zealand Historic Places Trust was set up and was tasked with the ‘marking of places and things of national or local historic interest’. A standard concrete marker (4 feet long, 3 feet wide and 3½ feet high) was designed, along with succinct bronze plaques. These appeared at historic places such as sites of exploration or early missionary activity, and some sites of the New Zealand wars and musket wars. By 1977 there were over 200 plaques placed by the trust. In 2014 the trust was renamed Heritage New Zealand.
Other organisations like the Rail Heritage Trust, the Engineering Heritage Board of IPENZ and many local councils had programmes for marking historic sites. In 2003 a survey found over 350 memorial clocks, fountains, seats, statues and plaques in the Christchurch area.
There were few memorials of any scale after 1960 and prior to the opening of the Canterbury earthquake memorial in 2017. The most significant was perhaps the Rainbow Warrior memorial, a sculpture by Chris Booth on the hills above Matauri Bay where the ship was finally scuttled. The Greenpeace protest vessel had been sunk by French saboteurs in Auckland Harbour in 1985.
Maclean, Chris, and Jock Phillips. The sorrow and the pride: New Zealand war memorials. Wellington: Historical Branch; GP Books, 1990.
Porter, Frances. A sense of history: a commemorative publication for John Cawte Beaglehole, O.M., about James Cook’s landing sites in New Zealand. Wellington: Government Printer, 1978.
The Historic Places Trust register includes some 200 monuments and memorials, with images and information on some of the memorials.
Dunedin City Council’s site has excellent information about local memorials.
Christchurch City Council provides a useful list of local memorials, with images.
NZHistory.net has essays on memorials of the New Zealand wars, South African War and First World War.
This interactive register on NZHistory.net provides images and locations of most New Zealand war memorials.