Nixon memorial, Ōtāhuhu

The Auckland suburb of Ōtāhuhu, 13 km south-east of the central city, straddles the narrow strip of land between the head of Manukau Harbour and the estuary of the Tāmaki River. Ōtāhuhu was established in 1847 as one of a ring of garrison towns protecting Auckland from attack from the south by Māori.

This memorial stands on a triangular reserve at the junction of Mangere and Great South roads. It commemorates Ōtāhuhu settler and Franklin Member of the House of Representatives Colonel Marmaduke George Nixon, who commanded the Colonial Defence Force Cavalry during the Waikato War (1863–4). Nixon died on 27 May 1864 from a wound he had received at Rangiaowhia in February.

After war broke out in Taranaki, the government accepted the offer of Nixon, who had been an officer in the British Army in India, to raise a volunteer force. From 1860 his cavalry guarded communication and supply lines south of Auckland. In June 1863, Nixon became commander of the newly formed Colonial Defence Force Cavalry.

Nixon’s cavalry were among the imperial and colonial forces that reached Te Awamutu at dawn on 21 February 1864. More than 1200 troops had outflanked Māori positions along the great Pāterangi defensive line in a daring night march. Under the command of Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron, they immediately pushed on to Rangiaowhia, 4 km to the south-west.

The large unfortified Māori settlement of Rangiaowhia was a vital agricultural centre supplying food to Kingite warriors. With most of the Māori force still holding the Pāterangi line, the settlement was occupied by some 100 Ngāti Apakura and Ngāti Hinetū men, and many women and children. Although the British attack was unexpected, a small garrison of aged warriors put up a fierce defence.

Nixon’s men galloped ahead of the main attacking British force. When they reached Rangiaowhia, shooting broke out. The cavalrymen dismounted to concentrate their fire on a whare (house) in which defenders had gathered.

Nixon, leading an assault on the building, was shot at the entrance and received a severe chest wound. Ten or 12 Māori and several troops were killed in the one-sided fighting that followed. The Māori dead included women and children, and all the occupants of the whare, which was set on fire. Cameron subsequently ordered his forces to return to Te Awamutu.

When Nixon’s chest wound proved fatal three months later, there was widespread mourning. Though the government initially demurred, on 30 October 1865 the New Zealand legislature passed an act granting a pension of £150 per annum (equivalent to about $16,500 today) to his surviving sisters, Catherine Elizabeth Nixon and Anna Susanna Nixon.

By the time Nixon was buried in Auckland’s Grafton Cemetery, the erection of a memorial to him was already being suggested, although some felt that money raised by public subscription would be better applied to educational scholarships. Two sites in central Auckland proved unsuitable for the elaborate design chosen, a scale model of Scotland's Wallace Monument. In May 1865 the Nixon Memorial Committee accepted an offer of land at the Triangle, Ōtāhuhu, and decided on a simpler obelisk. In August, the lowest tender for its construction was accepted, a decision that backfired when Ōamaru stone had to be replaced by Hobart stone.

Though the monument was ‘almost completed’ by August 1866, debts resulting from the use of more expensive stone and the failure of some ‘gentlemen’ to fulfil their promises remained ‘a slur on the district’ in April 1868. The committee persuaded the new Governor, George Bowen, to inaugurate the monument on 13 May. The debts were paid with the proceeds of a concert and ball held that evening in the local hall under His Excellency’s patronage. On Anzac Day 1968, Nixon’s remains were transferred to the base of the memorial and a headstone was erected.

The Nixon memorial was the second of only three memorials to be erected in New Zealand during the New Zealand Wars (1845–72). The others were the Moutoa memorial in Whanganui, and the memorial to the 57th Regiment at Te Hēnui Cemetery in New Plymouth.

In the late 1920s, the reserve was expanded and beautified and a second war memorial was erected on it. Dedicated to Soldiers of The Great War, Ōtāhuhu’s First World War memorial was unveiled by Governor-General Sir Charles Fergusson on 25 April 1928. The new memorial features an impressive bronze figure of a New Zealand Mounted Rifleman which is sometimes mistaken for Nixon. There is scope for confusion, as the Great War memorial includes a plaque dedicated to the New Zealand Wars colonel.

The Nixon memorial also commemorates three Colonial Defence Force corporals who died at Rangiaowhia: Edward McHale, Horatio Alexander, and Joseph Thomas Little.

Alexander’s name is also recorded on the New Zealand Wars memorial in the cemetery of old St John’s Church, Te Awamutu. However, a similar memorial in Ngāruawāhia Public Cemetery records that ‘Corporal Thomas Hill’ died at Rangiaowhia.

According to 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’, no man with this surname died at Rangiaowhia. However, Corporal Thomas Little received a ‘severe’ – eventually fatal – gunshot wound to the thigh at ‘Rangiawhia’. It is likely that the surname ‘Hill’ on the Ngāruawāhia memorial resulted from a misreading of ‘Little’.

When the monument was repaired in 1992, the original marble plaques were replaced by black ones. The images below were taken some years earlier.

Additional images

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See also 1992 image of the east face plaque here

Inscription

Headstone, beneath north plaque

Sacred / to / the memory of /Colonel M. G. Nixon. / Who died of wounds / received in the service of his / Country / May 27 1864. / originally interred in Symonds street / Cemetery / remains transferred to this site / 25th April 1968 

North plaque

This monument is erected by public subscription / to the memory / of / Marmaduke George Nixon, M.H.R. / Colonel commanding the Colonial Defence Force / and / Royal Cavalry Volunteers, / who fell mortally wounded in action / at Rangiawhia 21. February 1864, / and died at Mangere on the 27 of May 1864.

West plaque

In memory of the men of the / Colonial Defence Force / who fell at Rangiawhia / on the 21 February 1864. / Namely / Corporal Edward McHale / Corporal Horatio Alexander / Corporal Joseph Thomas Little

East plaque

In memory of the brave men / who served their Queen & Country / in the Maori War. / Waikato Campaign 1864.

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