Tauranga mission cemetery

The Tauranga mission cemetery, about 1864.

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 Street at the northern end of 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 about 100 imperial and colonial troops and 14 Māori fighters who died in the Tauranga district during the New Zealand Wars. Fewer than half of the graves are marked with headstones or plaques.

Otamataha pā was visited by Church Missionary Society (CMS) missionaries in the 1820s. It was abandoned after most of its inhabitants were killed in 1828 by Ngāti Maru raiders from the Thames district. The site was still uninhabited when missionaries returned in 1835 looking for land on which to establish a mission station.

Reverend – later Archdeacon – Alfred Brown purchased land on the peninsula in 1838 and 1839. He established Te Papa Mission Station and the nearby pā site became a burial ground. Although 5 acres (2 ha) of land was allocated, little more than 2 acres (0.8 ha) was ever used for this purpose.

Military burials took place at Mission Cemetery from 1 May 1864 following the battles at Pukehinahina (Gate Pā) on 28–29 April and later at Te Ranga (21 June). An engraving of the site based on a sketch by Colonel Edward Williams appeared in the  Illustrated London News on 30 July 1864:

Two weeping willows, and a cabbage-tree with a clump of aloes, mark the spot where the British soldiers and sailors are interred in thirty-two graves, which are disposed in three parallel lines. Lieutenant-Colonel Booth, of the 43rd Regiment, is buried on the left hand, close to the aloes; his men are buried to the right of him. The six officers and sergeant-major of that regiment lie in the centre line of graves. The naval officers and seamen are buried in the line of graves farthest from the spectator, being arranged in their order of seniority, beginning from the left hand side of this view.

Further burials took place following later skirmishes in the district, including those at Te Irirangi and Whakamarama in January and February 1867. Diseases such as dysentery and typhoid also claimed a number of lives at Camp Te Papa between 1864 and 1876.

Some – but probably not all – of Mission Cemetery’s military graves were marked with wooden headboards around the time of burial. A memorial to 26 men of the 43rd Regiment who were killed in action or died of wounds received at Gate Pā and Te Ranga was erected by 1865.

By 1875 it appeared that the cemetery would eventually be abandoned. Erosion had caused some of the enclosure to fall away and several coffins could be seen from the beach below. These were reburied and a seawall was constructed by the Armed Constabulary.

The government contributed some funds and manpower to the cemetery’s upkeep. In November 1879, for example, the Colonial Defence Department spent £23 3s on repairs; in August 1882 it granted £15 for the construction of a fence to enclose the military graves. The graves themselves were reportedly ‘kept in good order’ by the Armed Constabulary until its soldiers were transferred from Tauranga.

Mission Cemetery officially closed in 1884. Two years later, the CMS handed the neglected burial ground to the trustees of the new town cemeteries. According to a newspaper report the Society gave a ‘paltry’ £30 towards its upkeep, and this only after a request for funds from its new trustees.

The military cemetery became an imperial concern after Admiral E. Field, the MP for South Sussex in England, visited Tauranga. A question he asked in the House of Commons on 21 June 1886 implied that the graves were neglected by the colonial government; a similar allegation had been made in August 1880. Field also lobbied the CMS in London and told the Tauranga trustees that ‘naval and military men’ in Britain were threatening to redirect their donations to the CMS to help with the cemetery’s upkeep.

Concerns were against raised in the House of Commons in 1893, this time by Sir John Gorst, who had been a magistrate in Waikato in the early 1860s and later a British cabinet minister. On 18 September Tauranga’s military cemetery was linked to allegations regarding the ‘ruinous and neglected state’ of the 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 wooden headboards were perished or illegible. Hume recommended that (as at Rangiriri) a four-sided memorial be placed among the military graves, with the sides commemorating men from three regiments and the Naval Brigade. It is not known whether any action was taken.

Fifteen years later, Mission Cemetery was in a serious state of disrepair. In 1908, cemetery trustee J.C. Adams wrote to W.C. Kensington, the Under-Secretary for Lands. After observing that a retaining wall should be built to prevent further erosion by the sea, 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.

A second memorial, unveiled in Mission Cemetery on 11 July 1909, echoed Hume’s 1893 recommendation. Known as the 1st Waikato Militia memorial, it commemorated 25 colonial and imperial soldiers and sailors from the 68th Regiment, 1st Waikato Militia and Naval Brigade who died between 1864 and 1867. According to Lieutenant-Colonel G. Arnold Ward, the memorial was inscribed with ‘all [legible] names from the old wooden headboards’.

In July 1918 the government granted £140 for the renovation of Mission Cemetery. This included £50 for the manufacture of 40 concrete slabs to replace the rotting wooden headboards and £35 to paint and inscribe them. On 28 August 1920, the District Engineer at Tauranga reported that 36 military graves were being replaced in concrete; another 42 were unnamed. Eight graves had headstones, and there were five monuments in all.

On 24 May 1922 Edith Statham, the Inspector of Old Soldiers’ Graves for the Department of Internal Affairs, noted that Mission Cemetery had been the subject of endless complaints. Somewhat defensively, she claimed that the government had spent £153 7s 7d on the cemetery since 1916, including just over £60 for new concrete headstones.

The original wooden headboards may have been replaced by the concrete headstones during significant renovations that were undertaken in 1922. In 1976, many of these headstones were in turn replaced by plaques laid into the cemetery lawn. Today, Mission Cemetery contains 37 memorial plaques dedicated to British and colonial troops who died between 1864 and 1876 and whose remains are buried in the cemetery.

The ground plaques appear to contain some errors. For example: Private John Platt of the 68th Regiment is said to have died of wounds received at Gate Pā on 20 April 1864. This battle actually took place on 28–29 April, and 24-year-old Platt succumbed to his wounds three months later, on 26 July.

It is widely agreed that the New Zealand Wars ended in 1872. Two of the men commemorated with plaques died later: Sergeant Robert Farrell (regiment unknown) in 1873 and Thomas Bayly of the Armed Constabulary in 1876.

Of the 37 men commemorated with ground plaques, the names of 11 have not been found on official casualty lists. Along with Farrell and Bayly, they are Lieutenant-Colonel James Fraser, Thomas H. Dixon and John Twinen (or Twinnen) of the Armed Constabulary, Robert Collins of the Taranaki Militia, Benjamin Cordwell and Henry Matthews of the 1st Waikato Militia, William Jarvis of HMS Harrier, Lieutenant Peter Leonard of the 18th Regiment, and James Scanlon of the 12th Regiment.

Mission Cemetery also contains the graves of seven British officers who died between 1864 and 1870. Four of them died from wounds received in the heavy defeat at Pukehinahina (Gate Pā) on 28–29 April 1864: Captain John Hamilton of HMS Esk, Commander Edward Hay of HMS Harrier, Lieutenant Charles Hill of HMS Curacoa, and Sergeant James Harmer of the 68th Regiment.

The other three officers – like many of the 11 men named above – succumbed to disease. Lieutenant Patrick Leonard, 18th Regiment, died of dysentery on 4 August 1864, three days after the date on his headstone. Orderly Room Sergeant James Swallow, 68th Regiment, died of ‘brain fever’ on 30 March 1865. The most senior of the three, Armed Constabulary Lieutenant-Colonel James Fraser, died of typhoid fever on 10 March 1870.

Additional images

Tauranga historic cemetery Tauranga historic cemetery Tauranga historic cemetery

Other images: 43rd Regiment memorial at Tauranga [about 1865]. Note the unmarked grave mounds in the foreground, and Mauao (Mt Maunganui) in the background across Tauranga harbour. See also: Andrew Carbery’s painting from about 1865 showing most graves without headstones

Grave inscriptions

British officers’ graves

  • Hamilton grave
    In memory of / John Fane Charles Hamilton, / Captain of Her Majesty’s ship Esk / who fell in the assault on / the Pukehinahina Pa Tauranga / on the 29th of April 1864, / aged 43 years
  • Hay grave
    In memory of / Commander Edward Hay, H.M.S. Harrier, / who fell mortally wounded / leading the storming party / against Pukehinahina Pa / 29th April 1864 / and died the following day aged 29 years / Erected by his mother / The Lord is good, a stronghold in / the day of trouble and he knoweth them / that trust in him. Nahum, I, vii
  • Hill grave
    Lieutenant / Charles Hill R. N. / H.M.S. Curacoa / 29 April 1864
  • Harmer grave
    Sacred / to the memory of / Sergt James Harmer / of H. M. 68th D. L. I. / who was killed at Pukenahena [sic] / April 29th 1864 / aged 28 years / Erected by his brother sergeants
  • Fraser grave
    In Memory / of / Lieut Colonel James Fraser / of the / Armed Constabulary / who died at Tauranga / on the / 10th day of  March 1870 / aged 29 years / This monument is erected by his friends and comrades
  • Leonard grave
    Sacred / to the Memory of / Patrick Falcon Leonard Esq / Late Lieutenant 2nd Batt. / Royal Irish Regt / who died at Tauranga on the 1st August 1864 / Universally regretted by his brother officers
  • Swallow grave
    Sacred / to the memory of / Sergt James Swallow / Orderly Room Sergt 68th Light Infantry / who died on the 30th March 1865 / aged 35 years and 4 months / This tablet / was erected by Capt. Grace / Lieut & Adjt Covey 68th Light Infantry / and his brother sergeants / as a mark of their esteem / and regret for his loss

Upright plaque

  • Sacred to the memory / of / Trooper / Frederick Gill / Bay of Plenty Cavalry Volunteers / killed at Opepe / on 7th June 1869

Ground plaques

  • Sacred to the memory of / Corpl. T. A. Baker / M. Coy., 68th D. L. I / died 15th Nov. 1864 / aged 25 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / George Berins / E Coy., 1st Batt., 12th Reg. / died at Te Papa / 3rd Jan. 1867
  • Sacred to the memory of / Corpl. J. Bradley / K Coy., 1st Batt., 12th Reg. / died at Te Papa / 29 Jan 1864 / aged 86 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / W. Brissington / E. Coy., 1st Batt., 12th Reg. / killed in action at Gate Pa / 29th April 1864 / aged 27 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / John Cady / drowned at Tauranga / 30th Aug. 1869 / Thos. H. Dixon died 24th Feb. 1870 / aged 40 years / member of the A. C. Force
  • Sacred to the memory of / J. Clarke / 43rd Light Infantry / died 12th Aug. 1864 / aged 26 years
  • Sacred to the memory of Pvte. James Colfer / 43rd Light Infantry
  • In memory of / Captain Robert Collins / Quartermaster of the Taranaki Militia / born at Buttevant Co. Cork Ireland / died at Te Papa / on the 13th November 1869 / aged 43 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / Benjamin Cordwell / 3rd Coy., 1st W. R. / died at Tauranga / 14th March 1865 / aged 20 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / Pvte. Edwin Dee / died at Te Papa / 29th Aug. 1865 / aged 27 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / Richard Dodd / No. 3. Coy., 1st W. R. / died at Tauranga / 2nd May 1865 / aged 33 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / Sergt. Major Henry Emus / died of wounds received at Irihanga / 29th Jan. 1867 / aged 31 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / Sergt. Robert Farrell / died 11 Oct. 1873 / aged 46 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / Charles Halford / died at Te Papa / 17th Oct. 1865 / aged 26 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / Sgt. James Harmer / killed at Pukehina / 29th April 1864 / aged 28 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / J. Harrington / E Coy., 1st Batt., 12th Regt., / who died at Te Papa / aged 38 years
  • Sacred to the memory / of / William Jarvis / Of H. M. S. Harrier / died 23rd June 1864 / aged 17 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / Pvte. Henry Jeffs / No. 8 Coy., W.R.W. Rifles / killed in action at Whakamaramara / 15th Feb. 1867 / aged 23 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / L/Corpl Kilbride / B. Coy., 1st Batt., 12th Reg. / died at Te Papa / 26th April 1866 / aged 22 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / Pvte. James McAnary / Brevet-Major Trents Coy., 68th D.L.I. / drowned at Judea / 27th July 1865 / aged 30 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / Pvte. William McAuley / drowned at Tauranga / 4th Aug. 1865 / aged 28 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / H. McCuen / Major Trents Coy., 68th D.L.I. / died 13th Feb. 1866 / aged 29 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / Patrick McDonald / 68th D.L.I. / died of wounds received at Pukehina [sic] / 5th May 1864 / aged 25 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / Thomas McGough / accidentally killed at Pukehina  [sic] / 29th April 1869 / aged 30 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / Pvte Lawrence Mannion / B. Coy. 68th D.L.I / died of wounds received in action at Te Ranga / 21st June 1864 / aged 27 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / Henry Matthews / 1st W. R. / killed at Gate Pa / 6 Sept. / aged 27 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / G. Mitchelson / D. Coy., 1st Batt., 12 Reg. / died at Te Papa / 8th May 1866 / aged 38 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / Charles Mure / Capt., H.M. 43rd Reg. / killed in action at Gate Pa / 29th April 1864
  • Sacred to the memory of / Pvte. John Platt / 68th D.L.I. / died of wounds received at Gate Pa / 20th April 1864 / aged 24 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / James Scanlon / 1st Coy., 1st Batt., 12th Reg. / drowned at Te Papa / 11th Feb. 1867 aged 22 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / Pvte. P. Shanaghan / 68th D.L.I. / killed in action at Te Ranga / 21st June 1864 / aged 40 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / Pvte. James Taylor / Capt. Trents Coy., 68th D.L.I. / killed in action at Te Ranga / 21st June 1864 / aged 34 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / Pvte. J. Timms / 68th D.L.I. / killed in action at Te Ranga / 21st June 1864 / aged 26 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / John Twinen / died 16th March 1870 / aged 36 years / Thomas Bayly / died 17th June 1876 / aged 29 years / member of the A. C. Force
  • Sacred to the memory of / George Watt / Gunner of H.M.S. Miranda / killed in action at Pukehina [sic] / 29th April 1864 / aged 32 years
  • Sacred to the memory of / Pvte. James W. Wheeler / 43rd Light Infantry / killed in action at Te Ranga / 21st June 1864 / aged 24 years

Download extra information about the soldiers listed above (Word document)

Further information

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1 comment has been posted about Tauranga mission cemetery

What do you know?

Buddy Mikaere

Posted: 22 May 2013

The reference to Ngati Tapu in the opening description of Otamamtaha Pa is incorrect. Ngati Tapu were in fact one of the hapu said to be occupying the pa at the time it was destroyed by Te Rohe of Ngati Tamatera and Ngati Maru from Hauraki. Email me as above if you wish. Kind regards