Whiteley memorial, Pukearuhe

A large memorial boulder stands beside Pukearuhe Rd, near Whitecliffs in northern Taranaki. A bronze plaque set into one face of the boulder reads:

IN MEMORY OF / JOHN WHITELEY 1806-69 METHODIST MISSIONARY / LT BAMBER GASCOIGNE 38 / HIS WIFE ANNIE 27 / THEIR CHILDREN LAURA 5, JOHN 3, LOUISA ANNIE 1 / JOHN MILNE 40 MILITARY SETTLER / EDWARD RICHARDS 35 MILITARY SETTLER / KILLED IN THE FINAL ACTION OF THE / TARANAKI LAND WARS 13TH FEB 1869.

This plaque commemorates the events of 13 February 1869, when a taua (war party) led by Hone Wetere Terenga, a Ngāti Maniapoto chief from Mōkau, attacked the military redoubt at Pukearuhe on their way to join the force of the Ngāti Ruanui leader Tītokowaru. The warriors killed Privates John Milne and Edward Richards outside the redoubt, then Lieutenant Bamber Gascoigne, his wife Annie, their three children, and their pets. The Reverend John Whiteley was shot dead when he approached the redoubt later in the day.

Whiteley and the other victims were buried in Te Henui cemetery at New Plymouth, and a memorial obelisk was erected there by public subscription in 1871 (Pukearuhe NZ Wars memorial). Whiteley was also commemorated by the Whiteley Memorial Methodist Church, opened in Liardet St, New Plymouth, on 15 December 1898.

In addition, a memorial cairn was unveiled near the site of his death in February 1923. This was built using locally gathered boulders and was inset with a cross and a granite slab inscribed in English and Māori:

In memory of / John Whiteley / pioneer Methodist missionary / who was killed on this spot / 13th February, 1869. / Erected by his admirers throughout the / Dominion.

Among those present at the unveiling were several Whiteley descendants (Mr and Mrs Harold Rawson and Miss Rawson), representatives of Methodist and Anglican Churches and the Salvation Army, the mayor of New Plymouth and the chairman of Taranaki County Council.

Unfortunately, the memorial had been erected on a former Ngāti Tama pā site and stood on confiscated land. Under the Ngati Tama Claims Settlement Act 2003 the Pukearuhe Historic Reserve was handed back to the iwi. In September 2006 the Methodist church removed the plaque; the following month a group associated with Ngāti Tama demolished the memorial with sledgehammers.

In May 2008 a newly formed heritage organisation, Save Our Sites, erected the memorial boulder pictured above on the opposite side of the road. The plaque from the original memorial may eventually be placed in the Whiteley memorial church, which is now part of the New Plymouth Methodist Centre.

Sources: ‘Maori War Martyr’, NZ Herald, 10 February 1923, p. 12; W.W.H. Greenslade, John Whiteley, 1806-1869, Auckland, 1968; Pukearuhe Historic Reserve, 1869–1969, Wellington, 1969 (pamphlet); Sorrel Hoskin, ‘Murder at Pukearuhe’, Taranaki Stories, Puke Ariki website; James Belich, I Shall Not Die: Titokowaru’s War, 1868-1869, Wellington, 1989, pp. 227-33; Graham Brazendale, John Whiteley: Land Sovereignty and the Land Wars, Orewa, 1996, esp. pp. 44-5; ‘Whiteley Memorial to Find New Home in Town’, Touchstone, April 2004; ‘New Whiteley Memorial Erected’, Taranaki Daily News, 15 May 2008, p. 3 (transcript on Kete New Plymouth); Paulette Wallace, ‘A Fraction Too Much Friction: Heritage Dissonance and the Whiteley Memorial’, Te Ara: Journal of Museums Aotearoa, vol. 33, nos 1&2, November 2009, pp. 18-22; Jock Phillips, To the Memory: New Zealand’s War Memorials, Nelson, 2016, pp. 24, 48, 57.

Historic photograph: L. Earp, ‘In remembrance of a New Zealand missionary martyr: the unveiling of the cairn erected to the memory of the Rev. John Whiteley’, Auckland Weekly News, 15 February 1923, supp. p. 47 (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS19230215-47-4); other images and text: Bruce Ringer, Auckland Libraries, 2015.

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