HMS Calliope NZ Wars memorial

HMS <em>Calliope</em> NZ Wars memorial

The HMS Calliope memorial commemorates six marines and sailors of the Royal Navy’s HMS Calliope who died in 1846 or 1847, some of whom were buried in Bolton Street Cemetery and others elsewhere in New Zealand. Bolton Street Cemetery is in central Wellington. The city’s original European burial ground, it contains many heritage tombstones for both Pākehā and Māori, and operated from 1840 to 1892.

HMS Calliope 

HMS Calliope, with 26 guns and 220 men under Captain Edward Stanley, left Plymouth, England on 18 August 1845. After sailing via Madeira and the Cape of Good Hope, the vessel arrived at Hobart in early December. On 18 December, Calliope departed for New Zealand to relieve HMS North Star. According to reports, ‘it depended on further orders whether she remained there or proceeded to the East Indies’.

In the event, Calliope was stationed in New Zealand for 2½ years. After its marines saw action in the last battle of the Northern War, the vessel operated mainly between Wellington, Whanganui and Nelson from late February 1846 until October 1847. During the Wellington War it transported troops between Wellington and Porirua. A ship’s boat commanded by Midshipman Henry McKillop patrolled the Pāuatahanui Arm of Porirua Harbour, exchanging fire with Māori forces. Calliope took Te Rauparaha of Ngāti Toa to Auckland as a prisoner after he was captured at Taupō pā (Plimmerton) in July 1846. After 10 months in Auckland, Calliope sailed for England on 3 August 1848, carrying ‘invalids’ of the 58th Regiment.

During Calliope’s time in New Zealand, six crew members died. One of the men commemorated here, Royal Marine William Minifie, was killed in the Northern War. He was among 12 British soldiers and sailors who died fighting the forces of Kawiti and Hōne Heke at Ruapekapeka – ‘the Bat’s Nest’ – on 11 January 1846. Minifie’s body, along with those of the other British soldiers who died that day, was found during an archaeological dig in 2017. They are named on a memorial unveiled at Ruapekapeka in 2021.

The other five men died during Calliope’s operations between Nelson and Whanganui. Of them, it appears that only Leading Seaman William Roberts, captain of the Calliopes mizzentop (an area on the deck of a sailing ship), was killed or died of wounds received in action. On 6 August 1846, Roberts ‘fell gallantly’ on a steep razorback ridge near the summit of what is now known as Battle Hill above the Horokiri (or Horokiwi) Valley, nearly 40 km north-east of Wellington.

Roberts is thought to have died during the main engagement at Battle Hill. About 400 imperial, colonial and kūpapa (Māori fighting alongside the government) soldiers failed to dislodge several hundred Ngāti Toa led by Te Rangihaeata from their defensive positions. Today the site is in Battle Hill Farm Forest Park on Paekākāriki Hill Road, north of Pāuatahanui.

Roberts was buried near the battlefield with another British casualty, Private Thomas Tuite of the 99th Regiment. Their grave, covered with a concrete tombstone, is in a paddock at the foot of Battle Hill. The government erected a headstone over the grave in 1927.

The four other men listed on the Calliope memorial appear to have died in accidents, two while on duty. Boy 2nd Class Thomas Jones ‘fell from aloft’ on 8 September 1846. Seaman John Clatworthy and another sailor (presumably not from the Calliope, as only Clatworthy is included in the memorial) drowned while attempting to cross the Whanganui Bar on 30 March 1847. Able Seaman John Elson and Pursers Steward Henry May probably died from illness as no cause is recorded.

Jones, Elson and May all had funerals in St Paul’s church in Wellington (the first St Paul’s, built in 1843 on the site of what is now Parliament) and were buried in the Church of England section of Bolton Street Cemetery. According to the church’s burials register, Elson was 22 years old when he died, Jones just 15. The register records that May died on 13 April 1847, three weeks before the date given on the memorial. None of these graves had permanent memorials and their plots are now unknown.

The HMS Calliope memorial stone

Although this stone looks like a tombstone or grave marker, it was not used to mark the site of a burial, but placed inside the original St Paul’s church to memorialise the crew members. It was erected by ‘their Surviving Shipmates as a token of their respect’.

It and other memorial stones were removed from the church, presumably during alterations, as a letter writer to the Wellington Independent in 1862 recounts coming across them: ‘In a common paddock surrounding the sacred edifice, we stumbled across three monumental tablets, which were lying in a totally neglected condition, just as they had been hastily laid down’. Although presumably they were reinstated, the opening of St Paul’s pro-cathedral on Mulgrave St (now known as Old St Paul’s) in June 1866 made the earlier church redundant, and it was demolished not long after.

The memorial stones were moved to a new mortuary chapel built in the Church of England portion of Bolton Street Cemetery, which was opened in December 1866. It seems likely this stone was kept in the mortuary chapel until this was demolished in 1969, when the memorial and a small group of headstones were moved to a shed in the Karori cemetery. By this time the stone had broken in half.

The Bolton Street Cemetery was within 3.7 acres (1.5 ha) of cemetery land requisitioned by the government for a section of Wellington’s new foothills motorway. Between 1968 and 1971, 3700 burials, gravestones and other monuments were relocated for the construction of the motorway.

When the motorway project was complete, the displaced tombstones were re-erected in new positions within the remaining Bolton Street Cemetery land. Although the Calliope stone was not a gravestone, it was placed in the ground with headstones from the Church of England cemetery, underneath the Bolton Street footbridge.

To find a memorial or gravestone in Bolton Street Cemetery, visit the Chapel Museum at the bottom of Bolton Street, where a full set of burial records is kept, together with a large grid map.

Additional images

HMS Calliope HMS Calliope


Sacred to the memory / of the / Undermentioned Men belonging / to H.M.S. Calliope who departed this Life / in the manner stated against their Names / and to their Memory’s this Stone is erected / by their Surviving Shipmates as a token / of their respect. / William Minifie Royal Marine who / Fell whilst gallantly engaged in the attack / on the Rebel Chief Kawitti [sic] at Ruapekapeka / Pah on the 11th day of January 1846. / Also William Roberts Capt.Miz.Top. who / Fell gallantly in the attack on Rangihaeata at / Horokiwi on the 6th day of August 1846. / Also Thomas Jones Boy who was Killed by / Falling from aloft on the 8th day of September 1846. / Also John Elson Seaman who Died on the / 10th day of February 1847. / Also John Clatworthy Seaman who was / Drowned in an attempt to cross the Bar at / Wanganui on the 30th day of March 1847. / Also Henry May Pursers Steward who Died / on the 3rd day of May 1847.

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