Moutoa Gardens NZ Wars memorial

New Zealand’s first war memorial stands in Moutoa Gardens in Whanganui, a large town on the west coast of the North Island. The weeping woman, a personification of Grief, commemorates 15 kūpapa (Māori fighting on the government side) and one European who were killed at Moutoa Island, 80 km upriver, on 14 May 1864.

At Moutoa, cousin fought cousin. In May 1864, Matene Te Rangitauira led 300 anti-European Pai Mārire supporters (Hauhau) from the upper Whanganui River in an attack on Whanganui town. Their path was blocked at Moutoa, a small island in the river near Rānana (London). There, on 14 May, they faced kūpapa led by two chiefs from Pūtiki, near the rivermouth, Hōri Kīngi Te Ānaua and Hoani Wiremu Hīpango.

Although it lasted only half an hour, the Moutoa engagement cost the lives of about 50 Hauhau and 15 kūpapa. A European, lay brother Euloge from a nearby Catholic mission, was fatally shot as he stood on the riverbank.

Whanganui’s grateful European citizens interpreted the Moutoa victory as a sign of the absolute loyalty of their Māori neighbours. Suggestions were soon made that the ‘loyal’ Māori who had stood firm against the Pai Mārire threat should be honoured with a statue and a flag.

The proposal to erect a memorial was swift. On 29 June 1864, little more than a month after the battle, John Johnston moved that the Wellington Provincial Council:

desires to convey to the friendly natives at Wanganui, who gave so signal a proof of their loyalty at … Moutoa, the deep sense it entertains of their praiseworthy conduct, and to thank them heartily for their valuable and effective assistance. That in recognition of their patriotic services a suitable monument be erected … sacred to the memory of those friendly natives who lost their lives in defence of their European fellow settlers.

Johnston’s proposal had its opponents. Charles Borlase ‘poured forth a torrent of invective’, claiming that ‘there was not a single native between this and Waikato who was restrained from helping to drive the pakeha into the sea, by any other motive than fear or reward’. Borlase saw the engagement at Moutoa as no more than the continuation of an old feud.

The Provincial Council passed Johnston’s resolution by a clear majority. The six councillors who voted against it were rebuked by the Wellington Independent for their ‘ingratitude’.

It would be 18 months before the Moutoa memorial was unveiled. Unlike many later war memorials it was not made to order, and it seems that its erection was ‘necessarily … delayed by the difficulty of obtaining one that would be at all commensurate to the occasion’. A ‘very handsome monument of white marble’ was purchased from Huxley & Parker of Melbourne by Wellington’s Superintendent, Isaac Featherston, during a visit to Australia in early 1865.

The Moutoa memorial was erected by the Province of Wellington at a cost of £700–£800 (equivalent to $80–90,000 in 2019). It was placed near the Whanganui River at Pākaitore, a sandy beach where the canoes of visiting Māori were traditionally moored. This site – then referred to as ‘the Market-place’, now Market Street – became known as Moutoa Gardens.

Featherston unveiled the memorial on 26 December 1865. Some 500 to 600 Māori – representing iwi from Whanganui to Wellington – and many Europeans attended the ceremony, which was preceded by a haka from the Pūtiki Māori. After addressing the crowd, Featherston ‘drew aside the covering which had hitherto concealed the sculpture of the monument, and the whole stood revealed to view’.

The wife of Colonel Logan, the commander of the imperial troops based in Whanganui, ‘gracefully unfurled’ the flag that had been made by local women at her instigation. This featured a Union Jack, a crown surrounded by laurel leaves and the word ‘Moutoa’, and a Māori and a European hand clasped in friendship. The formalities concluded with several rounds of cheering and were followed by a banquet for the local Māori.

For Featherston, the memorial honoured both those killed in action at Moutoa and those who had survived the battle. It would, ‘for ages, bear testimony to the friendly relations which have ever subsisted between the two races’ in Whanganui. He also envisaged more immediate benefits:

The statue will act on the natives as the Victoria Cross on the British Troops, will, in fact, be to them a Victoria Cross. It will, I am convinced, stimulate the natives who are about to accompany the gallant forces, Imperial and Colonial, under General Chute, on an expedition against the treacherous, plundering, murdering tribes on the [west] coast, to still greater deeds of valor…

The memorial inscription’s reference to upriver Māori as fanatics and barbarians was a source of ongoing controversy. The American writer Mark Twain, who visited Whanganui in 1895, pulled no punches in his book, Twain in Australia and New Zealand (1897).

Patriotism is Patriotism. Calling it fanaticism cannot degrade it … But the men were worthy. It was no shame to fight them. They fought for their homes, they fought for their country; they bravely fought and bravely fell.

Twain’s outrage was such that he mistakenly recalled two separate memorials – and thought that the fallen opponents of ‘fanaticism and barbarism’ were white men.

Additional images

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Inscription

Front face
Kua whakaarahia / tenei toma / e / te parawine o weretana / hei / whakamaharatanga / mo nga / toa taua / i hinga ki / Moutoa / i te 14 o nga ra o Mei 1864 / i te awhinatanga / i te ture i te noho-pai / e akina ana / e nga ritenga kino o namata / e te / whakapono-porangi

Reverse face
To / the memory of / those brave men / who fell / at / Moutoa / 14 May 1864 / in defence of / law and order / against / fanaticism and barbarism / this monument / is erected / by / the Province of Wellington

Side
Ko nga tangata enei i hinga / ki Moutoa / Hemi Nape / Kereti Te Hiwitahi / Wiari Te Patu / Riwai Tawhitorangi / Heremia Te Rangitakuku / Penetito Te Korewa / Rotohiko Waitoki / Manihera Maui /Wiremu Te Waruiti / Hakaraia Te Riaki /Warena Te Pohe / Pehira Te Kahuorauru /Matiu Te Potahi / Hohepa Te Whakaruku / Hare Te Kaho / Lay Brother Euloge

Side
4th September 1865 / Isaac Earl Featherston / Superintendent

Further information

  • The Wanganui Natives and the Provincial Council’, Wellington Independent, 2 July 1864
  • Monument to the Moutoa Natives’, Wellington Independent, 11 May 1865
  • The Moutoa Monument’, Wellington Independent, 2 January 1866
  • Inauguration of the Moutoa Monument’, Wellington Independent, 13 January 1866
  • James Belich, ‘A New Kind of War’, in The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian interpretation of racial conflict, Penguin, Auckland, 1998, pp. 203–34
  • James Cowan, ‘The Battle of Moutoa’, in The New Zealand Wars: a history of the Maori campaigns and the pioneering period: volume II: The Hauhau Wars, 1864–72, R.E. Owen, Wellington, 1956, pp. 30–6
  • Chris Maclean and Jock Phillips, The sorrow and the pride: New Zealand war memorials, GP Books, Wellington, 1990, pp. 22–4, 26, 39
  • Nigel Prickett, ‘Wanganui and South Taranaki, 1864–66’, in Landscapes of conflict: a field guide to the New Zealand Wars, Random House, Auckland, 2002, pp. 105–14
  • Chris Pugsley, ‘Walking the Taranaki Wars: The Battle of Moutoa, 14 May 1864’, New Zealand Defence Quarterly, no. 25 (Winter 1999), pp. 34–8
  • David Young, ‘Whanganui tribes: Wars’, Te Ara – the encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 22 December 2009

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