What to do with markers of our colonial past?

Page 2 – Our imperial past is all around us

Marmaduke Nixon and Rangiaowhia: 'one of the most painful and contentious incidents'

In June 1863, Marmaduke Nixon – a veteran of the British Army in India – became commander of the Colonial Defence Force Cavalry. He recruited 200 volunteers from among the young farmers of the Ōtāhuhu area. Known as 'Nixon's Horse', this cavalry force joined Lieutenant General Duncan Cameron's invasion of the Waikato in July 1863.

Marmaduke Nixon

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Marmaduke Nixon, circa 1863.

The events that unfolded at Rangiaowhia, a small settlement near Te Awamutu, are still hotly debated by historians and the descendants of Ngāti Apakura. In February 1864 Cameron bypassed the Māori defensive position at Pāterangi and ordered an attack on the Kīngitanga supply base at Rangiaowhia. The settlement was virtually undefended as most of its fighting men were still at Pāterangi. The inhabitants ran for cover. Some took refuge in the village’s two churches while many ran for their whare. The small garrison of aged and youthful warriors and women offered fierce resistance. Nixon's men dismounted and poured concentrated fire into a small building in which defenders had gathered. Nixon led an assault on this position and was shot at the entrance, suffering severe chest wounds to which he would eventually succumb on 27 May. Nixon's troops reacted to his shooting by killing Māori who attempted to surrender or escape from the building, which was either set on fire deliberately or ignited by sparks from musket fire. The British and colonial force lost five men, either killed outright or mortally wounded. Twelve Māori men, youths and women are known to have been killed, although some estimates are higher.

At the 150th commemoration of Rangiaowhia, in 2014, Tom Roa (Ngāti Apakura, Ngāti Hinetū) expressed the ongoing pain and grief for the local iwi, Ngāti Apakura: ‘I pāhuatia ō mātou tūpuna i Rangiaowhia – our ancestors were killed unguarded and defenceless at Rangiaowhia.’ Historian Vincent O’Malley has described this as ‘one of the most painful and contentious incidents of the Waikato War. To call the British raid on the settlement of Rangiaowhia a ‘’battle’’ would be misleading.’ Acknowledging that there are ‘multiple and often contradictory accounts’, all of which need to be carefully handled, O’Malley has highlighted how the ‘pain and anguish caused by the British attack remains all too evident a century and a half later.’

Marmaduke Nixon

Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Unveiling of plaque at Rangiaowhia, 2014.

In 2017 Shane Te Pou expressed surprise ‘that modern New Zealand commemorated this guy (Nixon)’, believing his actions at Rangiaowhia made him ‘unworthy’ of such a public memorial. Given that the memorial had been there since 1868, it could be debated whether ‘modern’ New Zealand had commemorated Nixon or remained oblivious as to who or what was represented by this stone obelisk. Te Pou challenged Auckland mayor Phil Goff and his council to begin a conversation about removing the Nixon memorial from its current site. While the memorial is part of our past, ‘it needs to be put in a museum, and we need to have a debate and discussion about it’.

The idea that the best way to facilitate a conversation about the place and relevance of such memorials is to place them in a museum is an interesting one. What evidence do we have about who typically visits or accesses such cultural institutions? Would relocating a memorial to a museum simply make it less accessible and therefore reduce the chances of its relevance and significance ever being critically debated? This idea is developed more in Part 2.

Tom Roa didn’t support removing the memorial, believing such an action would not improve New Zealanders’ understanding of our past. Professor Paul Moon likened such action to ‘burying our heads in the sand’, stressing the dangers of judging the past by today’s standards. While Nixon was directly involved, Moon argued there was no evidence he personally committed any ‘atrocities’. Such actions might be repugnant to people now, but this was ‘how things were done’ at that time. Moon concluded that the Nixon memorial should serve to spark curiosity as to why it was erected in the first place.

Historians have long debated the appropriateness of judging past behaviour by contemporary moral standards. The writer of this article for History Extra asked six historians whether we should judge historical figures by the morals of today. Andrew Roberts of King’s College London argued that while it is ‘completely illogical, ahistorical and unfair to natural justice to judge the people of the past by today’s morals, it is also very hard not to.’ Charlotte Riley, from the University of Southampton, said that while ‘a historian’s primary aim is rarely to make a moral balance sheet of the past’, she was ‘wary of the idea that people from the past should escape our moral judgement. Historians can never approach the past as neutral observers.’

Auckland mayor Phil Goff convened a council team to consider how best to ensure the concerns of all parties were represented and addressed. One suggestion was to add a plaque or interpretative panel that presented the iwi view of the events at Rangiaowhia. This suggestion met with widespread approval, including from a descendant of Nixon. Tainui historian Rahui Papa ‘applauded’ this suggestion and recommended seeking advice from Māori on the wording, to ensure ‘that the other side of the story is actually told.’ Nixon’s descendant agreed that iwi should decide on their account of events for the memorial. A memorial plaque unveiled at Rangiaowhia in 2014 included the word ‘atrocities’.

Nixon was originally buried in Auckland’s Grafton Cemetery. His remains were transferred to the base of the memorial on Anzac Day 1968, and a headstone was erected. If the monument was removed, Nixon’s descendant was adamant that his ancestor's remains should stay where they were – a view that was shared by Te Pou. A small poll conducted by the Manukau Courier found little support for removing the statue, with only 11% of those who responded believing it should go. For 52%, ‘it was part of our history and should stay’. A further 37% thought that ‘both sides of the story should be told.’

Marmaduke Nixon headstone


Marmaduke Nixon's headstone, circa 1986.

In September 2020, the Nixon memorial remained in place and no additional plaque had been added.

William 'Bully' Hayes: 'most notorious of all the Pacific's slave traders'

In New Zealand, the long-established Bully Hayes Restaurant and Bar in Akaroa found itself embroiled in controversy when writer and academic Scott Hamilton highlighted that the popular eatery was named as a ‘tribute to the most notorious of all the Pacific's slave traders, William "Bully" Hayes’. While researching slavery in the Pacific Islands, Hamilton found that Hayes had kidnapped islanders and sold them, a practice knowing as ‘blackbirding’. Hayes also raped many of the women he abducted. In response, Wayne Jones, the owner of the establishment, announced his intention to change the name. He initially acknowledged that Hayes was ‘probably not the sort of person whose name we want associated with our restaurant’, but in an interview with the Otago Daily Times said that a name change would be ‘extremely disappointing for the majority of our followers.’ Jones believed ‘a lot of myth’ and hearsay surrounded Hayes, some of it ‘very misleading or not truly accurate.’ One Akaroa resident believed the community did not support the name change and that ‘it will always be Bully’s to the locals’. Jones later announced that he would trial four names suggested by friends for a few weeks at a time: Jonesy’s, Hilly Bays, Wayne’s World, and Bully Stays. In the end Jones decided to keep the name following strong public support for no change. ‘It’s “Bully Stays” now, and we’ll be trading under our original name in the long term’, he declared. Faced with the challenges of running a hospitality business during COVID-19, Jones believed the business faced bigger issues in staying afloat. ‘A name change really doesn’t suit us at the moment. I think a change would be too hard for our regulars who have got used to Bully's.’

Another Banks Peninsula establishment took a different course of action when considering the appropriateness of a name reflective of our colonial past. Shortly before Christmas 2020, the owners of the 150-year-old Governors Bay Hotel announced that it would now be known as the Ōtoromiro Hotel. The hotel was known as the Ocean View Hotel from 1870 to 1980, and then the Smugglers Arms until 2000, when it became the Governors Bay Hotel.

Governors Bay is supposedly named in acknowledgement of Governor George Grey. It is believed that Grey’s boat moored here as he greeted the first four ships of colonists when they arrived in Lyttleton in December 1850.

Māori settled in the area from around 1350. A Ngāti Māmoe pā was stormed by Te Rakiwhakaputa of Ngāi Tahu in the eighteenth century. After its capture, Te Rakiwhakaputa’s son Manuhiri occupied the pā. Apparently, Manuhiri fathered many sons but only one daughter, so the pā was named Ōhinetahi (the place of one daughter). The village and pā appear to have been abandoned in the aftermath of Ngāti Toa raids under the leadership of Te Rauparaha in the early 1830s.

Hotel owners Jeremy and Clare Dyer wanted to severe its links to Grey. Jeremy believed Grey was ‘a hard-nosed colonialist’ who ‘wasn’t well liked.’ They weren’t trying to change the name of the bay but wanted a name that ‘recognises our heritage and culture.’ After consulting the Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke cultural heritage and identity committee and local historian Jane Robertson, the Dyers settled on Ōtoromiro, ‘the place of the miro’, the native tree that once covered large areas of Banks Peninsula.

  • The RNZ Black Sheep episode on Hayes is worth listening to here.

Captain John Hamilton: ‘relatively minor historical figure’

In 2018, Taitimu Maipi attacked the statue of Captain John Hamilton in Civic Square with a claw hammer and red paint. Maipi described Hamilton, after whom the city was named, as a ‘murderous asshole’. He called for the city to rid itself of the colonial title and be renamed Kirikiriroa, its original Māori name. He argued that streets named Bryce, Grey and Von Tempsky  should also go, as they honoured those who led battles against Waikato iwi, resulting in much pain and suffering. This sentiment was shared by iwi in Taranaki. Māori Party co-leader and CEO of Te Runanga o Ngāti Ruanui, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer (Ngāti Ruanui, Ngā Ruahine, Nga Rauru), argued that the removal of such statues and street names was not about ‘wiping out New Zealand's colonial history but correcting it. It's actually about agreeing that we can't be blind to racism’. Their removal didn’t mean they would be forgotten, but by giving them prominence on ‘the main street, you're glorifying them.’

John Hamilton

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Captain John Hamilton, killed at Gate Pā, April 1864.

Like Marmaduke Nixon, Hamilton died as a result of wounds received in battle, on this occasion at Gate Pā in April 1864. Described by historian Vincent O’Malley as a ‘relatively minor historical figure’, Hamilton never set foot in the town which was founded after his death. There is nothing unusual about this as many towns and cities (such as Wellington and Nelson) are named after imperial figures who never set foot in the country, let alone the settlement named in their honour. But what is particularly interesting (or perhaps perplexing) about the Hamilton statue is that it is not a relic from the nineteenth century. It was gifted to the city as recently as 2013 by a prominent Waikato businessman, Sir William Gallagher of the Gallagher Group, ‘to celebrate 75 years in business’.

In 2017 some questioned the sentiment behind the gifting of the statue following a speech Gallagher gave to business leaders in Hamilton, in which he declared that the ‘Treaty of Waitangi papers on display at the National Library were fraudulent documents’. He went as far as to describe the concept of the Treaty itself as ‘a rort’ and asserted that Māori ‘gave up sovereignty’, but ‘now we have these bloody reparations going on.’ Some walked out in protest, with one local businessman describing Gallagher’s comments as ‘disheartening’. Waikato-Tainui chair Parekawhia McLean viewed his remarks as ‘outdated, privileged and sad’. Facing a considerable backlash, Gallagher issued an apology ‘for any offence taken and in particular for any inference that my views somehow represented an anti-Māori sentiment.’ He acknowledged that he was a businessman, not a historian, and that he needed ‘to seek more research and understanding on this topic from various viewpoints.’

In 2019 Waikato-Tainui formally asked for the removal of the Hamilton statue, arguing that glorifying colonial-era figures in statue form was a reminder of the devastating effects of British injustice. In mid-2020 the statue remained in place. In the build-up to a planned Black Lives Matter protest in the city in early June, Taitimu Maipi made known his intention to remove it. Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate accepted that many people found it ‘personally and culturally offensive.’ Hamilton, she believed, could not ignore what was ‘happening all over the world and nor should we. At a time when we are trying to build tolerance and understanding between cultures and in the community, I don’t think the statue helps us to bridge those gaps.’ Concerned also at the prospect of wilful damage to public property, the council consulted with Waikato-Tainui, the Gallaghers and other councillors and then removed the statue on 12 June before the planned protest march. The approach of removing such memorials is discussed in Part 3. Local historian, Ewan Morris considers the notion of applying the ‘language of basic arithmetic’ to our problematic monuments. One simple response is to remove or subtract contentious monuments from public places.

Not everyone agreed with this decision. Mayor Southgate observed that she had witnessed the ‘worst arguments put on both sides of the debate’ and had received personal abuse on the matter. Deputy mayor Geoff Taylor suggested prosecuting those threatening to tear the statue down, an action Southgate compared to ‘throwing oil at the fire’. Taylor expressed concern that decisions on the statue were ‘some woke response to the outrage in the US’. While conceding that there was an awful lot ‘we shouldn't be proud of in our colonial past’, being of ‘European stock’ there were things he was proud of about his forebears who ‘came here with nothing.’ He was not prepared to wipe this heritage away ‘because of some crazy US cop.’ Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters chimed in. asking why ‘some woke New Zealanders’ felt the need to ‘mimic mindless actions imported from overseas?’ A self-confident country, he argued, ‘would never succumb to obliterating symbols of their history, whether it be good or bad or simply gone out of fashion.’

As with the Nixon memorial, discussed in Part 1 of this series, it was suggested that the Hamilton memorial be relocated to a museum. Mayor Southgate thought there was no point putting the statue back up on its original site, as it would undoubtedly be vandalised. In her eyes, Civic Square ‘had to be a place where all people feel welcomed and nobody feels offended.’ The museum was ‘not a bad solution’, as it was a place where the ‘proper story could be told, where there's a balanced history.’ Southgate acknowledged that the city needed to have an ‘urgent and brave’ discussion about its colonial past. Shane Te Pou weighed in on the Hamilton debate, maintaining as he had with the Nixon memorial that ‘statues belong in Te Papa, not in our public places’.

The National MP for Pakuranga, Simeon Brown, labelled the Hamilton City Council as ‘incredibly weak’ for giving in to the demands of ‘vandals’. Brown used Twitter to ask, ‘once we have finished tearing down statues should we start burning books?’ This action, he believed, set a ‘dangerous precedent’ for other councils.

New Zealand Wars memorial, Auckland

Wikimedia Commons

New Zealand Wars memorial, Auckland.

During the weekend following the removal of the Hamilton statue, a statue of Sir George Grey located in Auckland’s Albert Park was vandalised, as was a New Zealand Wars monument on nearby Wakefield Street. Grey’s second term as governor from 1861 is remembered by many for his policies in Taranaki, his invasion of Waikato, and the massive confiscation (raupatu) of Māori land which followed. The confiscations, in particular, caused decades of bitterness and deep division. A Waitangi Day protest in 1987 saw the statue's head broken off, but it was later replaced. In January 2021 Auckland Council revealed that close to $9000 had been spent repairing damage to the statue after its nose and thumb were cut off.

The council announced in August 2020 that it would be reviewing colonial-era monuments. Such a review might need to consider which monuments required ‘reinterpretation of the historical narrative; and/or ‘find new opportunities to share alternative narratives and histories’. Next steps include a presentation to the Mana Whenua Kaitiaki Forum of the 19 hapū and iwi authorities in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland). The council believes the voices of mana whenua are ‘paramount to this process’ and has indicated that it will ‘take their lead.’

Auckland University of Technology history professor, Paul Moon, compares such vandalism with a child ‘lashing out when they don't agree with something’, concluding that someone would ‘have to be ‘really insecure’ to vandalise a statue. ‘If you really want to change anything, vandalising a marble statue won't do that,’ Moon concluded, suggesting that protesters find ‘a more mature way of addressing the issue’.

Attacks on public statues in New Zealand

A University of Otago, Wellington, study released in June 2020, stressed that controversy over public statues is nothing new. This research, believed to be the first in the world to systematically examine attacks on public statues across a nation, examined all 123 statues of named individuals identified on outdoor public land in New Zealand and found almost a quarter had been attacked at least once. Protesters have taken to some of our statues with a ‘range of weapons including an axe, a concrete cutter and a hammer over recent decades’. Six statues have been decapitated a total of 11 times. The Otago research confirmed that the statue subjects were overwhelmingly of Pākehā men (87 per cent). A mere six per cent of statues were of Māori, despite Māori comprising 15 per cent of the population. This research focussed on statues on public land so excluded a number of famous Māori leaders whose statues are located on marae, Only one per cent each commemorated those of Asian or Pacific ethnicity, despite them making up 12 per cent and seven per cent of the population respectively.

Hamilton City Council commissioned Vincent O’Malley to produce an historical report, in association with Waikato-Tainui, to help the mayor and council members consider proposals for the renaming of Hamilton to Kirikiriroa and for Von Tempsky, Bryce and Grey streets, named after divisive colonial figures, to also be renamed. The report summarised relevant historical information but made no recommendations on Hamilton street names or other issues. In late August 2020 the council and its stakeholders were discussing how to encourage wider dialogue in the city about such issues. Mayor Southgate’s position was that without an understanding of the facts of Hamilton’s history, ‘we cannot have the kind of conversations we need to have to move forward in a constructive way.’

Despite his previous admission that he was ‘not a historian’, Sir William Gallagher described O’Malley’s report as ‘biased’ and ‘fake history’. Gallagher maintained that Māori weren’t the original inhabitants of New Zealand, claiming that ‘several civilisations’ had lived here before them. This view has long been expressed by those who can be described as ‘Treaty deniers’. Such beliefs do not stack up in the face of a broad range of evidence that New Zealand's first permanent settlements were established between 1250 and 1300 by people from Polynesia. This evidence includes radiocarbon dating, analysis of pollen (which measures vegetation change) and volcanic ash, DNA evidence, genealogical dating and studies of animal extinction and decline.

Scott Hamilton, writing for the Spinoff in 2017, described Treaty of Waitangi denialism as ‘a long, dark and absurd history.’ Gallagher circulated articles to city councillors to provide what he described as a ‘more balanced’ view of the country’s past. These views were dismissed by a number of scholars as ‘wacky’ and ‘racist nonsense’. O’Malley described them as ‘an attempt to delegitimise Māori as tangata whenua of New Zealand’. Matthew Tukaki, executive director of the New Zealand Māori Council, called claims that Māori were not the country’s first inhabitants ‘racist nonsense’, and concluded that the ‘retelling of history in a distorted way confuses people … and emboldens the racists”.’

In an opinion piece entitled, ‘Stop immortalising a legacy of murder: Which NZ statues need to be toppled?’, the Spinoff asked five New Zealanders to nominate monuments, statues and place names that they’d like to see removed. Both Hamilton and Nixon made the list.

Skills section

Don’t forget to visit our skills section of the Classroom to find some ideas as to how we can interrogate the memorials and monuments from our past to support a social inquiry approach to learning and support teachers and students to engage with issues and ideas critically.
How to cite this page

'Our imperial past is all around us', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/te-akomanga/contexts-activities/our-imperial-past-all-around-us, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 27-Jul-2021

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