Ngāruawāhia NZ Wars memorial

Ngāruawāhia is 20 km north-west of Hamilton at the point where the Waikato and Waipā rivers meet. The town is home to the Māori Kīngitanga or King Movement. The first Maori king, Pōtatau Te Wherowhero, was crowned there in 1858 and established the settlement as his capital. Pōtatau’s son, Tukaroto Matutaera Pōtatau Te Wherowhero Tāwhiao, succeeded his father as Māori King in 1860. The early part of Tāwhiao’s 34-year reign coincided with the Waikato War (1863–64).

British forces under Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron entered Ngāruawāhia on 8 December 1863. The town was renamed Newcastle but soon reverted to its original name. By January 1864 Cameron had 7000 men south of the settlement, half of them devoted to protecting the supply line along the Waipā River to the front. By April the Kingite heartland had been occupied by imperial and colonial troops.

This memorial obelisk stands in Ngāruawāhia Public Cemetery, about 1½ km south-east of the town centre on State Highway 1. It records the names of three imperial and colonial troops, and is dedicated to 10 others whose names are now unknown, who died during the New Zealand Wars and were buried nearby.

The 13 men were originally buried in the Octagon in the town centre. Their remains were exhumed and reinterred in the public cemetery in mid-1882 by a party of six Constabulary Force men led by Sergeant Joshua Foster. The relocation was part of a wider project to improve soldiers’ burial grounds in Waikato.

Foster and his men arrived at Ngāruawāhia on 19 July. Less than two decades after fighting ended in Waikato, the original grave site appears to have been somewhat neglected:

‘Some of the head-boards are to the good, but all traces of the occupants of many of the graves is completely lost. There is one head-stone erected to the memory of Lance-Sergeant Jameson, Army Hospital Corps. This has been carefully removed and placed at the head of a new grave in the public cemetery, alongside are the bones of the twelve others, who will have a stone erected by the Government, which will afford all the information available.’

This memorial was erected at the behest of Edith Statham, the Inspector of Old Soldiers’ Graves in the Department of Internal Affairs from 1913. The names of only three of the 13 men to whom it is dedicated could be retrieved from the original headboards at the Octagon site: Private William Hammell of the 65th Regiment, Corporal Thomas Hill of the Colonial Defence Force (CDF), and Lance-Corporal William Hewitt of the Commissariat Transport Corps (CTC).

The memorial records that Private Hammell died on 2 February 1864 at the age of 19. However, official casualty lists spell the surname as Hamel or Hamell and give his date of death as 29 February. According to these lists, Hamel was born in Lurgan, County Armagh, northern Ireland. He was a labourer before enlisting in the British Army on 21 February 1852, a date which rules out the age at death shown on the memorial.

Two explanations seem possible. The first is that two Williams with similar last names, both of the 65th Regiment, both died in the Waikato during February 1864. The second is that the original headboard was so difficult to read that Foster’s men made errors transcribing the inscription in 1882.

The second explanation is plausible, given the dilapidated state of the original headboards reported by the Waikato Times in 1882. It is possible, for example, that the number ‘9’ had disappeared from Hammell’s date of death inscription on the original headboard. Similarly, he may have been 29 years old when he died, with the ‘2’ being mistakenly read as a ‘1’. Further information is required to determine which, if either, of these scenarios is correct.

According to the memorial, Corporal Hill died on 28 April 1864 from wounds he had received at Rangiaowhia on 22 February. Though the best-known engagement at Rangiaowhia took place on 21 February, mounted units pursued Māori fleeing from nearby Hairini Ridge as far as the settlement the next day.

The name of ‘Corporal Thomas Hill’ does not appear on the ‘Nominal Return of Officers and Men of the Colonial Forces who have been Killed in Action or who have Died of Wounds prior to the 11th July, 1868’. However, the return does record a Corporal Thomas Little, who received a ‘severe’ gunshot wound to the thigh at ‘Rangiawhia’ on 21 (or 22?) February. It is entirely possible that the surname ‘Hill’ on the memorial resulted from a misreading of ‘Little’.

Little is currently known about Lance-Corporal Hewitt, who died on 9 April 1864, a week after the battle at Ōrākau. His name has not been found on official casualty lists and his death may have been entirely unrelated to this engagement.

Lance-Sergeant Freeman Jamieson (or Jameson) is another whose name has not been found on official casualty lists. According to his headstone Jamieson, of the Army Hospital Corps Purveyors Branch, died on 19 May 1864, aged 28.

Additional images

Memorial detail Memorial detail sign sign sign

Inscription

Monument

Front face:
In memory of / Wm. Hammell / 65th Regt / who departed this life / 2nd Feby 1864 / Aged 19 years

Left face:
In memory of / Corporal Thomas Hill / Col Defence Force / who died 28th April / from wounds received in action / Rangiaohia 22 Feby 1864

Right face:
Here also lie / the remains of soldiers / who fell in the Maori Wars, / and whose names cannot / be traced. / “They live in memory / by their deeds.”

Obverse facing:
In memory of / Lance Corpl Wm Hewitt / Corp. C.T.C. / who died 9th April 1864 / aged 22 years

Grave

In memory of / Lance Serjt. / Freeman Jamieson / Purveyors Branch / Army Hospital Corps / Died 19 May 1864 / Aged 28 years / This tablet is erected by / the Officers of the Purvey- / ors Department, Non-Commiss- / ioned Officers and Pri- / vates Army Hospital Corps

Sources

  • Further Papers Relative to the Issue of the New Zealand War Medal’, Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1871 Session I, G-01a
  • Extract from ‘Ngaruawahia’, Waikato Times, 8 August 1882
  • In Memoriam’, Evening Post, 2 January 1914
  • James Belich, ‘Paterangi and Orakau’, in The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian interpretation of racial conflict, Penguin, Auckland, 1998, pp. 158–76
  • James Cowan, ‘The Invasion of Rangiaowhia’, 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. 351–64 
  • Jeffrey E. Hopkins-Weise, ‘New Zealand's Colonial Defence Force (Cavalry) and its Australian context, 1863–66’, Sabretache, 1 September 2002, http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-2072614/New-Zealand-s-Colonial-Defence.html, originally published as 'A History of the Colonial Defence Force (Cavalry): and the Australian context', in The Volunteers, vol. 26, no. 1, July 2000, pp. 5–25
  • Chris Maclean and Jock Phillips, The sorrow and the pride: New Zealand war memorials, GP Books, Wellington, 1990, p. 33
  • Nigel Prickett, ‘The Waikato War, 1863–64’, in Landscapes of conflict: a field guide to the New Zealand Wars, Random House, Auckland, 2002, pp. 69–86
  • Nancy Swarbrick. ‘Waikato places – Te Awamutu’, Te Ara – the encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 26 May 2010

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