This grave is situated in the grounds of Christ Church in Russell. It marks the resting place of six men from the 18-gun sloop HMS Hazard who died defending the Northland town, formerly known as Kororāreka, on 11 March 1845.
The original English oak headboard was erected soon after the conflict. About 50 years later it was moved inside the church because it was rotting away at its base. The inscription on the replacement headboard, copied faithfully from the original, ends with the final two verses of the poem ‘England’s Dead’ by the English poet Felicia Hemans (1793–1835).
Christ Church is New Zealand’s oldest surviving church. It was built in 1835, a decade before the destruction of Kororāreka. Holes made by musket balls in the western side of the church still provide tangible evidence of the conflict.
The Hazard arrived in Auckland in July 1844. Dispatched to Kororāreka by Governor Robert FitzRoy in early 1845, it helped bring the town’s defences up to 140 soldiers, sailors and marines. Two hundred local residents and visiting seaman were also armed.
Just before dawn on the morning of 11 March, anti-government Māori attacked Kororāreka in a coordinated, three-pronged attack. One group led by Ngāti Hine chief Te Ruki Kawiti attacked the one-gun battery at ‘Matavia’ (Matauwhi) Pass, the southern entrance to the town.
Kawiti did not expect to encounter substantial opposition. By coincidence, however, Acting-Commander David Robertson and 45 men from the Hazard were on their way to improve nearby entrenchments when the attack on the battery began.
Much of the fighting took place around the enclosure of Christ Church. Although they put up a determined resistance against superior numbers, the men from the Hazard lost a third of their number. Six were killed and Robertson himself was among those wounded. After a long and desperate struggle, they were forced to retreat.
In the afternoon, after the town’s civilians had been evacuated to ships waiting in the bay, the Hazard bombarded Kororāreka. Much of the town was looted and then burned.
Image from 2006
Images from c. 1986
Sacred to the memory / of
Colour Sgt. J.M. McArthy R.M.L.I. [Royal Marine Light Infantry] age 33
Pte. Alex May [R.M.L.I.] age 26
W. Lovell Seaman age 24
W. Love [Seaman] age 26
Whitkr. Denby [Seaman] age 34
Fredrick Geo. Minikin [Seaman] age 23
Late of / H.M.S. Hazard / who fell in the defence of Kororareka / 11th March 1845
The warlike of the Isles,
The men of field and wave!
Are not the rocks their funeral piles,
The seas and shores their grave?
Go, stranger! track the deep,
Free free, the white sails spread!
Wave may not foam nor wild wind sweep,
Where rest not Englands dead.
- One of the first accounts of the engagement at Kororāreka appeared in the Auckland weekly newspaper, the Daily Southern Cross, on 15 March 1845. A week after it first broke the news, the Daily Southern Cross published more detailed accounts of the engagement at Kororāreka. The actions of Robertson and his party of men from the Hazard featured prominently in the report: ‘Bay of Islands’, Daily Southern Cross, 22 March 1845.
- James Belich, ‘A limited war’, in The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian interpretation of racial conflict, Penguin, Auckland, 1998, pp. 29–44
- James Cowan, ‘The fall of Kororareka’, in The New Zealand Wars: a history of the Maori campaigns and the pioneering period: volume I: 1845–1864, R.E. Owen, Wellington, 1955, pp. 25–33
- Chris Maclean and Jock Phillips, The sorrow and the pride: New Zealand war memorials, GP Books, Wellington, 1990, pp. 19, 21
- Nigel Prickett, ‘The Northern Wars, 1845–46’, in Landscapes of conflict: a field guide to the New Zealand Wars, Random House, Auckland, 2002, pp. 38–47
- Chris Pugsley, ‘Walking Heke’s War: The Sack of Kororareka, 11 March 1845’, New Zealand Defence Quarterly, no. 1 (Winter 1993), pp. 32–7