Invercargill South African War memorial

Invercargill South African War memorial

Invercargill-memorial Invercargill-memorial

The South African War Memorial at Invercargill in c1986. Designed by Robert Newton Vanes, the monument has a drinking fountain, but the clock was added later.

The debate that preceded the erection of Invercargill’s impressive two-level South African War memorial was rich with issues of identity and appropriateness.

Early discussion in September 1902 centred around whether fallen troopers or all of Southland’s representatives in the conflict should be honoured, indicating the tension between acknowledgement of local sacrifice, and therefore district pride, and Southland’s place in the overall struggle indicating duty to country and Empire. The meeting decided both would be commemorated. That decision was overturned in January 1903 after fallen troopers’ families expressed concern and the focus tightened to Southland’s fallen. The change didn’t stick. When the memorial was unveiled in 1908 there were dedications to fallen troopers and those who served from Southland.

The Southland Times also pointed out in January 1903 that 'some of our neighbours had already unveiled their memorials.' Only three towns with populations over four thousand didn’t erect monuments.

The Newton Vane (a young Dunedin architect)-designed monument had a water fountain as a secondary feature beneath the statue of a soldier and this too aroused much debate. There were concerns that the utilitarian nature of the fountain would detract from the artistic and historic appropriateness of the memorial. A successful counter-argument pointed to the innocent nature of drinking water when contrasted with the products of the city’s other drinking establishments. The reverential act of bowing to drink and the time it gave to read the monument’s words was also seen as positive. Echoes of this debate were later heard when a clock was added to the tower.

Progress towards erection was slow and measured and some frustration ensued. A firm but polite suggestion was made to Mayor and council in October 1905 by surviving members of the contingents raised in Southland to fight in South Africa that the memorial be redesigned and paid for by the £800 already raised.

The monument would eventually cost over £2000. It was completed in the Aberdeen stoneworks of Garden and Co and shipped to Invercargill, where it was erected under the supervision of city architect, John Rust. The memorial’s wrought iron features were the work of George Bissett.

While being raised to its pedestal the statue was dropped and broke. The damage was repaired by Carlo Bergamini of Dunedin.

The 28 ft high memorial was unveiled on 3 June 1908 before a large crowd including the British football team, which was seen as 'an appropriate symbol of the manly comradeship of mother country and colony.'

Further information

Community contributions

2 comments have been posted about Invercargill South African War memorial

What do you know?

Jamie M

Posted: 01 Jul 2020

Thanks for this - also confirmed by his service record on Cenotaph.  I'll update both sites now


Posted: 07 May 2020

Kia ora, the name of the designer of the monument is Robert Newton Vanes, would you be able to correct this here and in Te Ara please?

Evening Star, Issue 11796, 28 January 1903, Page 4

Evening Star, Issue 12501, 11 May 1905, Page 4