Ōpōtiki NZ Wars memorials

Ōpōtiki NZ Wars memorials

Kelly Street Cemetery is located between Kelly and Grey streets in the eastern Bay of Plenty town of Ōpōtiki. This memorial obelisk commemorates unnamed men who were killed in action or died of wounds received in and around Ōpōtiki during the New Zealand Wars. Six men known to be buried at Kelly Street are commemorated on a memorial tablet.

Kelly Street was Ōpōtiki’s first European cemetery. It is believed that about 60 military personnel, townspeople and kūpapa (Māori fighting alongside government troops) were interred here between 1865 and 1875. By 1876, bodies were being interred in the main cemetery just south of the town.

Over the years, most of Kelly Street’s original grave markers – many of which were wooden – disintegrated. Several stone monuments were broken and subsequently removed. In July 1923 the secretary of the local branch of the Returned Soldiers’ Association reported that only seven graves still had markers.

Kelly Street Cemetery was gazetted as a recreation reserve in 1975. Today only six graves remain marked.

According to the Poverty Bay Herald, this memorial obelisk was erected primarily through the efforts of the Victoria League. Correspondence between the league and the Opotiki Town Board (later the Opotiki Borough Council) began around 1910. The memorial was eventually built in 1913.

According to the Herald, the Victoria League and the Opotiki Borough Council each paid half of the construction costs, with the council providing additional funding to upgrade the cemetery grounds. However other sources suggest that the Department of Internal Affairs also made a contribution. Confusion may have arisen as the Victoria League’s national secretary, Edith Statham, was also Inspector of Old Soldiers’ Graves for the Department of Internal Affairs.

The MP for Bay of Plenty, William D.S. Macdonald, unveiled the memorial in early March 1914. Ōpōtiki’s mayor F. Short and County Chairman J.B. Gow made brief speeches to the assembled crowd, which included other local dignitaries, veterans of the New Zealand Wars, senior cadets, and a large number of citizens.

The government sent colonial troops to Ōpōtiki in 1865 following several Pai Mārire (Hauhau) ‘disturbances’ in the Bay of Plenty. These included the killing of Reverend Carl Volkner at Ōpōtiki in March 1865 and of the government interpreter and native agent James Fulloon at Whakatāne in July.

A 500-strong force landed at Ōpōtiki on 8 September 1865. It comprised Taranaki Military Settlers, Wanganui and Patea Rangers, Wanganui Yeomanry Cavalry, the Wanganui Native Contingent, and men from Waikato. After capturing the town and fortifying Volkner’s Hiona (now St Stephen’s) church, they began punitive forays into the hinterland, destroying kāinga (villages) and crops. Intermittent skirmishing continued throughout the Ōpōtiki district into the late 1860s.

The names of six colonial troops buried at Kelly Street Cemetery are known. Three men – Private Thomas Brown of the Patea Rangers, and Privates Charles Ratsey and Patrick Parsons of the Taranaki Military Settlers – were killed in an attack on the palisaded Ngāti Ira pa at Te Tarata on the Kiorekino plain (Waioeka flats) on 5 October 1865. This action included one of the few cavalry charges in the New Zealand Wars.

Troopers William Fuller and Francis Ross of the Wanganui Yeomanry Cavalry accidentally drowned while driving horses across the Waioeka River near Ōpōtiki on 14 January 1866. Later that month Private J. Keiley, a Taranaki Military Settler, was swept away while bathing in either the Waioeka or the Ōtara River, both of which were swollen after several days’ rain. His body was recovered on 1 February and buried next to those of Fuller and Ross.

Only Keiley’s grave remains marked. In 1973 the original wooden headboard was replaced with a plaque, the text for which was taken from a black and white photograph of the headboard. Due to transcription difficulties, Keiley’s surname was misspelled and his company number mistaken. Both the original headboard and the 1973 replacement plaque referred to the ‘Opotiki River’, which does not exist.

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage replaced the 1973 Keiley plaque in March 2010. The inscription on the new plaque corrects the previous mistakes.

Both Keiley plaques, unlike the original headboard, give his date of death as 25 January 1866. However, according to contemporary reports in the Daily Southern Cross, Keiley went missing two days after the deaths of Fuller and Ross.

Until recently, it was supposed that the original Keiley headboard was given to Ōpōtiki Museum in 1973. However in early 2010 it was discovered that the headboard was not transferred because of unspecified ‘objections’. According to local sources, the headboard is likely to have been stored in one of the old wharf sheds on the Ōtara River. The sheds and their contents, which included local authority archives and records, were destroyed by fire on 20 February 1987.

In March 2010 – at the same time as the Keiley plaque was replaced – Hansen, Brown, Parsons, Ratsey, Fuller and Ross were commemorated with this memorial tablet. The date of death recorded for Fuller and Ross may be incorrect: according to contemporary reports in the Daily Southern Cross, they died on 14 January, not 4 January as stated on the tablet. The exact locations of the six graves remain unknown.

Kelly Street Cemetery also contains the marked grave of Robert Pitcairn. The Whakatāne surveyor was killed by a raiding party led by Te Kooti on Uretara Island in Ōhiwa Harbour, eastern Bay of Plenty, on 2 March 1869.

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Main Monument
Erected to the memory / of / those brave men / who gave their lives for / New Zealand / in the Maori Wars / in and around / Opotiki.

Keiley grave original headstone
Erected in memory of Pte J. Keiley No 8 Gov TMS accidentally drowned in the Opotiki River

Keiley grave 1973 replacement plaque
Erected in memory of / Pte J. Keilev No. 3 Govt M.S / accidentally drowned in Opotiki River / 25 January 1866

Keiley grave 2010 replacement plaque
New Zealand Wars / Pte / James Keiley / 8 Coy, Taranaki Military Settlers / accidentally drowned / in the Otara River on / 25.1.1866

Memorial tablet
New Zealand Wars / known to be buried in this cemetery / Pte Hansen, Wanganui Bush Rangers / Pte Thomas M. Brown, Patea Rangers / Pte Patrick Parsons / Pte Charles Ratsey / both of 8 Coy, Taranaki Military Settlers / killed in action at Te Tarata Pa on / 5.10.1865 / Also / Tpr William C. Fuller, aged 23 / Tpr F. Ross, aged 32 / both of Wanganui Yeomanry Cavalry / accidentally drowned while crossing / the Waioeka River on / 4.1.1866

Pitcairn grave
In / memory of / Robert H Pitcairn. / Surveyor. / Murdered by the Hauhau / at Ohiwa / March 2 1869

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