Marsland Hill NZ Wars memorial

Marsland Hill NZ Wars memorial

The Marsland Hill New Zealand Wars memorial in New Plymouth. A statue of a soldier on top of the memorial was destroyed in 1991.

This memorial stands on Marsland Hill in the Taranaki city of New Plymouth. It records the colonial and imperial forces and kūpapa (Māori fighting alongside the Crown) who served in the New Zealand Wars. The process of erecting this impressive memorial can be traced over a five-year period through a local newspaper, the Taranaki Herald.

The idea for such a memorial appears to have had its first formal airing at the annual meeting of the Veterans’ Association in New Plymouth on 5 August 1905. Captain F.J. Mace, who had won a New Zealand Cross for gallantry in the New Zealand Wars, expressed his disappointment that they were apparently being forgotten while memorials to the recent South African War were already being erected. (In December 1906 Mace said that he had been agitating for such a memorial for four years.) A committee was formed to investigate a proposal to erect a memorial on Marsland Hill.

A year later the Herald asked: ‘Are the public prepared to subscribe to a memorial to those of the Army, Navy, Volunteers, and Militia who fought during the Maori war in this province?’ The answer was a resounding ‘yes’. In December 1906, the Marsland Hill Memorial Committee began advertising for subscriptions in local news papers and committee members started canvassing the public. From January 1907, the Herald regularly published ever-growing lists of memorial subscriptions.

Public figures and ordinary New Zealanders alike made contributions. The Governor of New Zealand, Baron Plunket, was among the prominent contributors; his personal donation of £5 was a considerable sum at the time. Other contributors included Colonel Walter Gudgeon, a war veteran who was now New Zealand’s Resident Commissioner in the Cook Islands, and Frederic Truby King, the founder of the Plunket Society. Others contributed their time to collection; bibliophile Thomas Hocken undertook this role in Dunedin. The private subscriptions were supplemented by a £300 government contribution.

The committee also directed its efforts overseas. By December 1907, ‘1325 letters and circulars and 213 newspapers had been sent to persons in different parts of the world’. Many contributions from overseas came from New Zealand Wars veterans and  British regiments that had served here. The 57th Regiment, based in India, advertised the request in its journal, Die-Hard Doings. The 1st South Lancashire (formerly the 40th) and the 43rd regiments, also based in India, contributed £10 and £3 3s respectively.

In late 1907 the Marsland Hill Memorial Committee advertised for designs ‘to be contributed gratuitously, from persons who have sufficient patriotism’. Designs for a memorial that would cost no more than £600 were to be sent to the committee’s chairman, Arthur Standish, by 31 January 1908. The memorial would eventually cost about £800.

Local architect Frank Messenger submitted the winning design. Between 1879 and 1945 Messenger designed, or helped design, some 315 buildings and monuments in Taranaki.

Messenger used his surveyor brother George as a model for the soldier on top of the memorial. George donned a military uniform for photographs that were sent to the famous Carrara marble quarries in Italy for sculpting.

The statue arrived in New Plymouth nearly a year later. Unfortunately it showed the soldier in a ‘most unmilitary’ pose, with his hands clasped over the muzzle of his firearm.

Auckland mason Mr Parkinson was contracted to build the memorial’s base and erect the statue. He began work in February 1909, a month before the statue was expected to arrive.

The proposed inscription was not universally approved of. In April, the Herald voiced its objection to the listing of 23 Royal Navy ships, a number of which ‘took no actual part in operations’. The newspaper also opposed the naming of individual committee members, preferring a statement that the memorial had been erected ‘by their comrades and fellow-countrymen’. These concerns were dismissed.

Lord Plunket unveiled the memorial at a ceremony on Marsland Hill on 7 May 1909. The weather was ‘far from perfect’. However, by ‘good chance, the rain held off until the Governor had got half-way through his speech. Then a slight shower fell’.

The Herald reported the event in great detail. It described the procession, the message from the Prime Minister, Sir Joseph Ward, the memorial’s origins, Lord Plunket’s speech, and the dedicatory prayer. However the newspaper noted that the arrangements were ‘far from perfect. The public were allowed to get too near the monument, while the school cadets were placed behind the crowd, in such a position that they could neither see the ceremony nor hear the speeches’.

It appears that the new memorial was not sufficiently protected from local youths. Several days after the unveiling, the Memorial Committee authorised James Pearn to erect a barbed-wire fence around the memorial ‘to prevent youngsters playing about the concrete steps at its base’. When Councillor Bellringer protested, Councillor Dockrill stated that ‘persons were already climbing up the monument and defacing it, and the barbed wire fence was only intended as a temporary measure until a permanent fence was erected around it.’ The motion was carried and the fence erected. It was later replaced by the wrought-iron fence that encloses the memorial today.

Some 80 years later, the Marsland Hill memorial suffered more serious vandalism. On Waitangi Day 1991, the figure on top of the memorial was smashed by protesters. It was not replaced and the plinth remains empty.

Additional images

Detail from memorial Detail from memorial

Images from c. 1986

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North face:

The / following colonial / forces served in the / New Zealand / Wars
N.Z. Militia
[N.Z.] Volunteers Mounted
[N.Z. Volunteers] Foot

[N.Z. Volunteers] Naval
[N.Z. Volunteers] Engineers
[N.Z.] Military Settlers
[N.Z.] Defence Force
[N.Z.] Armed Constabulary
Loyal Maoris

To the / honoured memory of / the / officers and men of / H.M. Naval, Military and Colonial / Forces and Loyal Maoris / who fell in action or died during / the Maori Wars / 1845–47:1860–70 / Erected by their comrades and fellow / countrymen from all parts of the / British Empire, April 1909

South face:

For the Committee / S. Percy Smith Chairman / E. Dockrill Treasurer / W. F. Gordon Secretary / Capt F. J. Mace NZC / Prime Mover

West face:

The / following Imperial / Regiments served in the / New Zealand / Wars
H.M. 12th
[H.M.] 14th
[H.M.] 14th RI
[H.M.] 40th
[H.M.] 43rd 
[H.M.] 50th 
[H.M.] 57th 
[H.M.] 58th 
[H.M.] 63rd 
[H.M.] 68th 
[H.M.] 70th 
[H.M.] 96th 
[H.M.] 99th

Unveiled by / His Excellency the Governor / The Rgt Hon Baron Plunket / KCMG   KCVO / May 7 1909

East face:

The / following vessels of / H.M. Navy served in the / New Zealand Wars /

NigerNorth Star

H.&.C.S. Victoria
H.E.I.C. Elphinstone

The / following Imperial Corps / served in the / New Zealand Wars / Royal Artillery / Royal Engineers / Royal Marines / Commissariat / Military Train / Army Hospital Corps

Further information

Community contributions

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Posted: 13 Feb 2023

My husband and I visited the Marsland Hill Park and must say we were saddened by the condition of the park and the memorials to the soldiers back in the day. Also what was it seemed a beautiful fountain all blackened and overgrown. The Kibby Carillion fixture had no information and we never realized it still played so we will return to hear them play. I hear that New Plymouth is about to build a new adventure park down on the foreshore why not put some funding into this beautiful park where families can enjoy what is already there? The observatory looked very well cared for and we plan to visit on the evenings when opened.

steve e

Posted: 12 Jul 2010

I was living on Robe Street between 1980 and 1985 (aged 5-10). Me and my siblings played at Marsland Hill most fine days.  I remember there was a cannon, possibly even 2 cannons on the Western bank pointing out towards the port. 1 particular day me, my sister and brother were sitting on the cannon and photographers for the NP paper took our photo and we made front page news, apparently because the cannons were going to be removed. There used to be a soldier ontop of the memorial as well, but thats gone too