Wairau incident memorial

Wairau incident memorial

This memorial at Tuamarina cemetery was erected in 1869 to commemorate the 1843 Wairau incident. In the background is a South African War memorial unveiled in 1904.

History of the memorial

Tuamarina – or Tua Marina – is a small settlement in Marlborough, in the north-east of the South Island. The name is a corruption of the Māori word Tuamarino, meaning ‘the calm beyond’. The village is on State Highway 1 at the southern end of the Waitohi Valley, 18 km south of Picton and 10 km north of Blenheim.

This memorial stands in Tuamarina’s hilltop cemetery on Cotterill St. It records the names of 22 Europeans killed nearby on 17 June 1843, when an armed party of New Zealand Company settlers clashed with Ngāti Toa over the purchase of land in the Wairau Valley. (Up to nine Māori were also killed during the encounter.) Among the dead was Captain Arthur Wakefield, brother to Edward Gibbon Wakefield and Nelson Agent for the New Zealand Company.

The Wairau Incident – known initially as the ‘Wairau Massacre’ and later as the ‘Wairau Affray’ – was the most significant instance of violence between Māori and British settlers in the years immediately after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. It was also the only time such conflict occurred in the South Island: there were no engagements on the ‘mainland’ during the New Zealand Wars proper (1845–1872).

A memorial to the Europeans killed at Wairau was proposed soon after the incident. Among the first advocates was Robert Stoker, probably of Wellington. His emotive letter to the editor of the New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator was published less than four months later. In it, Stoker suggested a public subscription to erect a monument to the memory of the ‘unfortunate sufferers’ of ‘the inhuman massacre at Wairau’.

Five years later, in October 1848, friends of ‘the late Colonel Wakefield’ – William, Arthur’s younger brother – met at Wellington’s Aurora Tavern. Chaired by the Hon. Henry Petre, a New Zealand Company director, the meeting’s primary purpose was to organise the collection of subscriptions to erect two monuments. One would be in memory of the recently deceased William; the other, to be erected in Nelson, would commemorate ‘the sufferers in the Wairau Massacre’.

More than two decades after the Wairau Incident, no memorial had been erected. In late 1865, the Nelson Examiner reported that the government had allocated a windfall of £300 to Nelson Province for the purpose in November 1858. Five months later the next sitting of the Provincial Council convened a select committee. This recommended that ‘Massacre Hill’ be enclosed by an iron fence, with any bodies buried outside its perimeter exhumed and reinterred within. A cast-iron memorial should be erected to record the names of the 22 Europeans killed.

Though the council adopted the committee’s report, the separation of Marlborough from Nelson Province in late 1859 led to renewed suggestions for a memorial in Nelson. The 1865 Examiner article accused Nelson’s provincial government of using ‘shallow and miserable’ excuses for inaction. It had held the allocated £300 for seven years without taking ‘a single step to carry [the memorial] into effect’.

Nine months later, the Examiner reported happier news. Nelson and Marlborough residents were ‘greatly indebted’ to runholder Francis Jollie, who had encouraged the central government to place responsibility for the memorial in the hands of Felix Wakefield, a younger brother of Arthur who was ‘a willing instrument to fulfil its wishes’.

The Nelson Evening Mail also gave credit to Felix Wakefield’s ‘zeal and energy’ and ‘untiring industry’ for the ‘satisfactory completion’ of the memorial. At the central government’s request, and with assistance from the Marlborough Provincial Council, he had selected a site on the 5-acre (2-ha) block allocated for Tuamarina Cemetery. The land was cleared and fenced within a few weeks and the memorial, which took the form of a four-sided pyramid, was erected within three months.

The memorial’s brickwork, faced with cement, was executed by a Mr Dakey of Blenheim. Brown and Burnett of Nelson crafted the stonework cross. From the site there was ‘a commanding view’ over the Wairau Plain and across to the southern coast of the North Island.

In 1869 a larger slab replaced the original, which had been ‘incorrectly inscribed’. The replacement inscription is unusual in giving the occupation and family background of some of the dead. A comparison of the two inscriptions reveals numerous errors in the original.

James Coster was actually John, and Isaaq Smith’s first name was spelt incorrectly. Several surnames were also incorrect. Henry Bumforth was actually Bomforth, William Clenzey was actually Clanzey, and Thomas Ratcliffe was actually Radcliffe. Most erroneously, Christopher Malin was actually Thomas Awdos Maling.

William Eyes, Superintendent of Marlborough, unveiled the Wairau memorial on 9 March 1866. The ceremony was also addressed by Felix Wakefield, several members of the clergy and local notables. All agreed that the inculcation of a ‘loving Christian spirit’ and the instruction of Māori children alongside European would be the best way to commemorate ‘the disastrous scenes enacted on that ground’. Subscriptions were sought to build a church and a school on an adjacent educational reserve to further commemorate what to many Pākehā was still ‘the darkest scene in New Zealand history’.

Additional images

names on the memorial

See also: historic image of the Wairau memorial cairn (Wikipedia) and an 1851 painting of the original fenced grave (Alexander Turnbull Library)


Original 1866 inscription (as reported in the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 13 March 1866; six names are spelled differently in the Nelson Evening Mail, 12 March 1866)

Sacred to the Memory of / twenty-two Englishmen, / Who were murdered by the Natives of New Zealand on the / 7th [sic] June, 1843: / Henry Augustus Thompson, / Captain Arthur Wakefield, Captain Richard England, / George Rycroft Richardson, W.B. Patchett, James Howard, / John Sylvanus Cotterell, Christopher Malin, / James Coster, William Gardiner, Edward Stokes, Eli Cropper, / William Northam, Henry Bumforth, / Thomas Tyrrell, Isaac Smith, Thomas Pay, / William Clenzey, James McGregor, John Brooks, / John Burton, Thomas Ratcliffe.

Replacement 1869 inscription

Sacred / to the memory of / Arthur Wakefield Commander R.N. [Royal Navy] / (3[rd] son of Edward Wakefield Esq / of Burnham Essex) Agent of the / N.Z. Company Nelson. / Henry Augustus Thompson / Barrister at Law Police Magistrate / Government Representative Nelson / George Rycroft Richardson / (Eldest son of Major Richardson of / Blackheath Kent.) / Crown Prosecutor Nelson. / Richard England Cap[tain] 12[th] Reg[iment] / Infantry / (2[nd] son of George England Esq. / of Hitchan Abbey Norfolk.) / John Brooks Interpreter. / John Coster. / Robert Gardner. / Edward Stokes. / James McGregor. / Eli Cropper. / William Northam. / William Bennett Patchett / (Son of Jonas Tillotson Patchett / Esq of Halifax Yorkshire. / Land Agent / James Howard of Deal Kent. / Gunner R.N. [Royal Navy] / N.Z. Company’s Storekeeper Nelson. / Sylvanus John Cotterell. / (Son of Henry Fowler Cotterell Esq. / of Bath Somerset.) / Surveyor. / Thomas Awdos Maling. / (Son of William Maling of Kidside / Westmoreland) / Chief Constable. / Henry Bomforth / Thomas Tyrrell / Isaaq Smith. / Thomas Pay. / William Clanzey. / John Burton. / Thomas Radcliffe. / Who were killed near this spot / by natives of / New Zealand / on the 17th June 1843 / F. Wakefield. Del [?] March 1869 / W. Norgrove Blenheim Sculp[tor]

Further information

Community contributions

4 comments have been posted about Wairau incident memorial

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Posted: 22 Apr 2019

The 1869 replacement reads ... Robert Gardner, not William Gardiner.


Posted: 20 Mar 2009

Interestingly, a contemporary (1 July 1843) newspaper account spells his name 'Ely Cropper' - see this here (scroll to end of article) This suggests that the name was spelled wrongly - assuming Eli Crapper is correct - at the time. Jamie

Kevin Andrews

Posted: 14 Mar 2009

The slab with the names on was made in Nelson by Brown and Burnett. Unfortunately there numerous mistakes on it and after much correspondence between Mr William Eyes (Marlborough Superintendent) and the Colonial Secretary in November 1868 the slab was removed and reversed, complete with the incorrect wording. The correct text was then engraved by William Norgrove of Blenheim and replaced in 1869. I wonder if the correct spelling of Eli Crappe's name is on the other side? Not too sure where we would find a copy of the original text though.


Posted: 13 Mar 2009

The name Eli CROPPER on this memorial is in fact Eli CRAPPER from Halifax, Yorkshire, England. His widow was Ellen SMITH.