Whatawhata cemetery NZ Wars memorial

Whatawhata cemetery NZ Wars memorial

Whatawhata Cemetery is located on Cemetery Road in the Waikato township of Whatawhata, about 10 km west of Hamilton. Standing in the cemetery grounds, this memorial records the names of seven imperial and colonial troops who died during the New Zealand Wars.

British forces led by Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron began advancing up the valley of the Waipā River in late December 1863. Within a month they had established redoubts at Whatawhata, Tuhikaramea, Ngāhinapōuri and Te Rore. The Whatawhata redoubt, now destroyed, was on the east bank of the Waipā River near the existing township.

There was no fighting at Whatawhata, but it was an important military post. Troops stationed there helped keep open the supply route between Rangiriri and Pāterangi.

Very little is known about the men listed on this memorial. Only one of the seven, Joseph (Josh) Clarkson, has been found on the official casualty lists. Clarkson, a private in the 1st Battalion, 12th Regiment, died on 25 April 1865, a year after the end of the Waikato War. His cause of death is currently unknown.

It is possible that discrepancies exist between the memorial’s inscription and the official casualty lists. ‘J. Coughlin’, for example, may be Patrick Coughlin, a private in the 65th Regiment who died at Whatawhata on 14 January 1864. His cause of death is currently unknown.

Several British troops thought to be buried at Whatawhata are not recorded on this memorial. Official casualty lists show that Corporal Thomas Armstrong of the 2nd Battalion, 18th Regiment was killed in action at Whatawhata on 22 August 1864. The carpenter from Ballinamallard in Northern Ireland had enlisted in the army on 4 September 1858. As fighting in Waikato had ended by August 1864, it is likely that an erroneous cause of death was recorded.

Irish privates James Connillian (or Connaghan) and William Rogerson of the 65th Regiment both drowned at Whatawhata on 13 February 1864. Official casualty lists show that Connillian was a labourer from Rattoo, County Kerry, who had enlisted in the army on 8 April 1855. Rogerson, a groom from Mallow, County Cork, had enlisted on 19 November 1858.

Englishman George Beavis (or Beayis), another private in the 65th Regiment, also drowned at Whatawhata. The labourer from Dorset had enlisted in the army on 14 March 1854; he died just over 10 years later, on 28 April 1864. The circumstances of Beavis’ death were reported in the Daily Southern Cross:

He was ready to march with the detachment, but had been partaking pretty freely of liquor, so that on stepping into a canoe he upset it, and the weight of his ammunition and traps kept him under the water; life being extinct when the body was brought up in a minute or two afterwards by a Maori woman.

The wording of the memorial’s inscription is ambiguous. It is not clear whether these men died at Whatawhata or were brought here for burial. Nor is it clear whether the remains of these men now rest in the cemetery in which this memorial stands.

Today’s Whatawhata Cemetery was not the burial ground for New Zealand Wars troops. In a letter to the Waikato Times published on 24 August 1878, a ‘Correspondent’ described the original ‘so called’ cemetery at Whatawhata:

Within this [river bank] enclosure, a number of soldiers and others are buried. Originally, it was fenced, and head-boards put to the graves, but now, and for some time past, the fence is quite broken down, the head boards have rotted and disappeared, and, more shocking still, the river has undermined the bank so much, that pieces of timber with which, probably, the coffins were constructed, are commencing to protrude from the banks. This disgrace to Whatawhata, and to Waikato, has been made public more than once, but no notice has apparently been taken of it by those in authority.

The burial ground described here apparently contained ‘many officers and privates of Her Majesty’s Regiments, who fell in defence of the colony’. It was not in public use by 1878, when local residents were forced to travel 12 miles to Newcastle (Ngāruawāhia) to bury their dead. Thus Whatawhata had ‘many wants, but none that are more urgent than a public cemetery’.

On 21 September 1878, the Waikato Times reported that the Auckland Waste Land Board had agreed to allocate 10 acres (4 ha) at Whatawhata for a public cemetery. At the same meeting, Whatawhata cemetery committee chairman Mr James Braithwaite proposed that the bodies of the soldiers and sailors interred in the old burial ground should be exhumed and reinterred.

Further evidence is needed to confirm that these proposals were enacted. However it is likely that today’s Whatawhata Cemetery, more than 1 km from the nearest point on the Waipā River, stands on part or all of the 1878 allocation. It also appears likely that the British remains were exhumed and reinterred there.

Nearly 40 years later Edith Statham, Inspector of Old Soldiers’ Graves for the Department of Internal Affairs, suggested that a small monument be erected in Whatawhata Cemetery. When she inspected the site in August 1913, the inscriptions on the existing wooden headboards were ‘obliterated’.

This memorial was unveiled at Whatawhata Cemetery on 29 January 1914 by Richard F. Bollard, MP for Raglan. Bollard was assisted in his task by James Young, MP for Waikato. Made from white Italian marble, the memorial was built by John Bouskill at a cost of £13 10s. According to the Waikato Times, it was erected thanks largely to the efforts of the local branch of the Victoria League, an organisation of which Statham was the national secretary.


Lest we forget / in memoriam / J. [P] Coughlin, / C. P. S. Gunson, / J. Clarkson, / J. Collins, / Jas Cornish, / John Clark, / Joshua Reynolds / and others who died in the execution / of their duty during the / Maori War.

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