Tauranga 1st Waikato Militia NZ Wars memorial

Tauranga 1st Waikato Militia NZ Wars memorial

1st Waikato Militia Memorial, Mission (Old Military) Cemetery, Tauranga.

Mission Cemetery – also known as Military, or Old Military, Cemetery – is the oldest European burial ground in the Bay of Plenty city of Tauranga. Located on Marsh St (near the harbour bridge) at the northern end of the Te Papa peninsula, the cemetery is situated on a rocky promontory overlooking the harbour. It stands on the site once occupied by the Ngāi Te Rangi pā of Otamataha.

The cemetery is thought to contain the remains of approximately 100 imperial and colonial troops and 14 Maori fighters who died on active service in the Tauranga district during the New Zealand Wars. This memorial, known as the 1st Waikato Militia memorial, in fact commemorates 25 colonial and imperial soldiers and sailors from the 68th Regiment, 1st Waikato Militia and Naval Brigade who died in 1864 and 1867.

The erection of a 1st Waikato memorial in Tauranga was proposed as early as 1882. On 20 May, surviving members met ‘to discuss the propriety of erecting a monument to the officers and men of that regiment who fell in the late Maori war.’ For meeting convenor Captain Turner, it would be fitting:

This regiment came to Tauranga [during the New Zealand Wars] and held it. They founded the settlement, and did so in the face of great hardships.

Though much enthusiasm was expressed at the meeting it is unclear what, if any, action followed.

In the meantime, Mission Cemetery was becoming an imperial concern. Allegations about the neglected state of Tauranga’s military graves were aired in the British House of Commons in August 1880 and June 1886. On 18 September 1893, the cemetery was linked to criticism of the ‘ruinous and neglected state’ of British seamen’s and soldiers’ graves at Rangiriri. In response, the New Zealand government asked the Police Commissioner, Colonel Arthur Hume, to investigate the state of both sites.

On 8 December 1893, Hume reported that Tauranga’s military graves were in ‘fair’ condition. However, the seawall was damaged and some of the wooden headboards had perished or become illegible. Both here and at Rangiriri, Hume recommended, a four-sided memorial should be placed among the military graves, with a side for each of three regiments and the Naval Brigade. Once again it is unclear what, if any, action was taken.

By 1908, Mission Cemetery was in a serious state of disrepair. Trustee J.C. Adams described the situation in a letter to W.C. Kensington, the under-secretary for lands. After noting the need for a further retaining wall to prevent sea erosion, Adams went on:

But the principal matter calling for attention is the old wooden headboards, some forty-six in number, recording the names of those who fell in action and who died in camp; these after forty-four years of service have reached such a stage of decay that some are indecipherable. Now, what shall we do with them? If we let them rot down and the weeds grow over the nameless dead we shall deservedly be blamed by posterity for our indifference and ingratitude to those who gave their lives to win the security we now enjoy. Shall we not rather meet the matter in a rational business way and accept our responsibility to perpetuate the names and deeds of these heroes.

This memorial, unveiled in Mission Cemetery on 11 July 1909, appears to combine the 1st Waikato Regiment’s aspirations, Hume’s 1893 recommendation and Adams’ appeal. According to Lieutenant-Colonel G. Arnold Ward, the memorial was inscribed with ‘all [legible] names from the old wooden headboards’.

Crafted from marble by W. Parkinson & Co. of Auckland, the memorial was unveiled at Mission Cemetery on the afternoon of 11 July 1909. The ceremony was described by the Bay of Plenty Times as ‘one of the most impressive, patriotic and historic functions which has yet taken place in the annals of Tauranga’.

In attendance were members of the Tauranga Mounted Rifles, the Opotiki Mounted Rifles, New Zealand Wars and South African War veterans, active servicemen and school cadets. Among local iwi representatives was Rāwiri Puhirake, a nephew of the Ngāi Te Rangi chief of the same name who had been a military leader at Pukehinahina (Gate Pā) and Te Ranga.

After a short address, the memorial was unveiled by the Mayor of Tauranga, Staff Chaplain Captain the Reverend Canon Jordan, 4th Regiment Auckland Mounted Rifles. A collection taken up during the afternoon raised £12 14s 1½d for the cemetery restoration fund.

The memorial’s southern and main face commemorates 10 imperial soldiers who were killed in action or died of wounds received in 1864, at Gate Pā in April and Te Ranga on 21 June. The inscription contains an error: the battle at Gate Pā took place on 29 April, not 20 April as stated on the memorial.

Sergeant James Harmer of the 68th Regiment was killed in action at Gate Pā on 29 April. His grave, honoured with a headstone contributed by ‘his brother sergeants’, stands nearby. Private William Brissington of the 12th Regiment was also killed in action at Gate Pā, while Private Patrick McDonald of the 68th Regiment died of his wounds six days later.

Private Thomas McGough of the 68th Regiment was ‘accidentally killed’ during the battle, in circumstances that are unclear. It is possible that he was one of several troops killed by their comrades on the night of 29 April, when Gate Pā’s defenders abandoned the fortifications and broke through the British lines under fire.

Privates James Taylor, Peter Shanahan and John Tims (also spelt Timms or Simms), all of the 68th Regiment, were killed in action at Te Ranga on 21 June. Private Laurance (Lawrence) Manion (also spelt Mannion, Manlon or Manton) died later of wounds he received during the battle.

The memorial states that Private John Platt of the 68th Regiment died at Te Ranga on 21 June. However, Platt’s memorial ground plaque, which stands nearby, states that he died of wounds received at Gate Pā on 20 April. As no skirmishing is thought to have occurred at Gate Pā before the battle, it appears that this date is incorrect. According to the official casualty lists, the 24 year old Platt died on 26 July from wounds he had received at Gate Pā nearly three months earlier.

Of the 10 men, only Private George Smith of the 68th Regiment does not have a memorial ground plaque at Mission Cemetery. All 10 names are recorded on official casualty lists.

The memorial’s western face commemorates five men of the 1st Waikato Militia who died in skirmishing in the Tauranga district in early 1867. All are named in official casualty lists.

Sergeant-Major Henry Emus was mortally wounded at Te Irihanga, south-west of Tauranga, on 18 January 1867. Emus’ memorial plaque, also located in Mission Cemetery, gives his date of death as 29 January. However a contemporary newspaper reported that Emus died on 23 January.

Privates Denis Ward and William Stevenson were killed in action on 22 or 23 January 1867 (newspaper reports are contradictory). Ward fell near Te Irihanga; Stevenson at Whakamārama. Both men, along with Emus, were buried at Mission Cemetery on 24 January. Of the three men, only Emus has a memorial plaque in the cemetery.

Private Henry (Harry) Jeffs and volunteer engineer Private Thomas (Tom) Jordan were shot dead during a skirmish at Whakamārama on 15 February. Only Jeffs has a memorial plaque in Mission Cemetery; it incorrectly gives his regiment as 8 Company, W.R.W. Rifles.

The memorial’s eastern face commemorates 10 seamen and marines who died at Gate Pā: Ordinary Seaman James Harris from HMS Curacoa; Royal Marine Light Infantry Sergeant J. (or Henry) Harding from HMS Eclipse; Quartermaster William Dalton, Ordinary Seaman Richard Fuller and Stoker William C. Leigh (or Eigh) from HMS Esk; Ordinary Seaman (or Boy) Henry Clark, Stoker Andrew Greenem (possibly Greenhorn or Greenham) and Able Seaman George Young, all from HMS Harrier; and Gunner George Watt and Royal Marine Light Infantry Private Levi Kent from HMS Miranda.

Of these 10 men, only George Watt has a memorial plaque in Mission Cemetery. All 10 are commemorated on the naval memorial that stands nearby. Nine of the names are found on official casualty lists; the exception is Levi Kent.

Additional images

1st Waikato Militia memorial in Tauranga 1st Waikato Militia memorial in Tauranga 1st Waikato Militia memorial in Tauranga


Southern face
In memory of / the following soldiers / who were killed in action, / or died of wounds received / during the Maori War 1864–7 / at Gate Pa April 20th 1864 /

Sergt Jas Harmer 68 DLI
Pvt Thos McGough [68 DLI ]
[Pvt] Patrick McDonald [68 DLI ]
[Pvt] W. Brissington 12th Regt

at Te Ranga June 21st 1864

Pvt Jas. Taylor 68 DLI
[Pvt] P. Shanahan [68 DLI ]
[Pvt] Geo. Smith [68 DLI ]
[Pvt] Laurance Manion [68 DLI ]
[Pvt] J. Tims [68 DLI ]
[Pvt] John Platt [68 DLI ]

Western face
Also / the following soldiers of / the Colonial Force belonging / to the 1st Waikato Militia / who were killed at Irihanga / & Whakamarama /

Serg Major Hy Emus Jan. 18th 1867
Pvt Wm Stevenson [Jan.] 23rd [1867]
Pvt D.W. Ward [Jan. 23rd 1867]
Pvt Thos E. Jordan Feb. 15th [1867]
Pvt Hy Jeffs [Feb. 15th 1867]

Eastern face
Also / the following sailors who / were killed at the attack / on the Gate Pa
Jas Harris O.S.  H.M.S. Curacoa
Levi Kent Pvt  R.M.L.I. [Royal Marine Light Infantry] [HMS] Miranda
Geo Watt Gunner [HMS Miranda]
Wm Dalton Qr Mr [HMS] Esk
Richd Fuller O.S. [HMS Esk]
Wm C. Leigh Stoker [HMS Esk]
Geo Young A.B. [HMS] Harrier
Hy Clark O.S. [HMS Harrier]
Andw Greenem Stoker [HMS Harrier]
Hy Harding R.M.L.I. [HMS] Eclipse

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