Bolton Street Memorial Park is in central Wellington. It contains part of the city’s original European burial ground, formerly known as Bolton Street Cemetery. This memorial commemorates six marines and sailors of HMS Calliope who died in 1846 and 1847.
HMS Calliope, with 26 guns and 220 men under Captain Edward Stanley, left Plymouth, England on 18 August 1845. After sailing via Madeira and the Cape of Good Hope, the vessel arrived at Hobart in early December. On 18 December, Calliope departed for New Zealand to relieve HMS North Star. According to reports, ‘it depended on further orders whether she remained there or proceeded to the East Indies’.
In the event, Calliope was stationed in New Zealand for 2½ years. After its marines saw action in the Northern War, the vessel operated mainly between Wellington, Whanganui and Nelson from late February 1846 until October 1847. During the Wellington War it transported troops between Wellington and Porirua. A ship’s boat commanded by Midshipman Henry McKillop patrolled the Pāuatahanui Arm of Porirua Harbour, exchanging fire with Māori forces. Calliope took Te Rauparaha of Ngāti Toa to Auckland as a prisoner after he was captured at Taupō pā (Plimmerton) in July 1846. After ten months in Auckland, Calliope sailed for England on 3 August 1848 carrying ‘invalids’ of the 58th Regiment.
One of the men commemorated here, Royal Marine William Minifie, was killed in the Northern War. He was among 12 British soldiers and sailors who died fighting the forces of Kawiti and Hōne Heke at Ruapekapeka – ‘the Bat’s Nest’ – on 11 January 1846.
The other five men died during Calliope’s operations between Nelson and Whanganui. Of them, it appears that only Leading Seaman William Roberts, Captain of the Mizzen Top, was killed or died of wounds received in action. On 6 August 1846, Roberts ‘fell gallantly’ on a steep razorback ridge near the summit of what is now known as Battle Hill in the Horokiri (or Horokiwi) Valley, nearly 40 km north-east of Wellington. (See also Battle Hill memorial)
Roberts is thought to have died during the main engagement at Battle Hill. About 400 imperial, colonial and kūpapa (Māori fighting alongside the government) forces failed to dislodge several hundred Ngāti Toa led by Te Rangihaeata from their defensive positions. Today the site is in Battle Hill Farm Forest Park on Paekākāriki Hill Road, north of Pāuatahanui.
Roberts was buried near the battlefield with another British casualty, Private Thomas Tuite of the 99th Regiment. Their grave, covered with a concrete tombstone, is in a paddock at the foot of Battle Hill. The government erected a headstone over the grave in 1927.
The four remaining men listed on the Calliope memorial appear to have died in accidental circumstances. Boy 2nd Class Thomas Jones ‘fell from aloft’ on 8 September 1846, while Able Seaman John Elson ‘died’ on 10 February 1847 in unknown circumstances.
Seaman John Clatworthy drowned while attempting to cross the Whanganui Bar on 30 March 1847. The Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle reported details of the ‘melancholy accident’ in which Clatworthy was one of two fatalities.
Lieutenant Holmes … returning [from Calliope to Whanganui] … was unable to make the bar. He accordingly decided on beaching the boat towards the Wangaihu [Whangaehu River], but, when about a mile from the shore, she shipped a sea and eventually capsized… The unfortunate deceased became frightened, and, loosing [sic] their presence of mind, began to sink. Lieutenant Holmes ... remained with them, assisting them on to the boat, which had turned uppermost. All his humane efforts were unavailing, for the poor fellows were washed off and drowned.
Purser’s Steward Henry May died on 3 May 1847, according to the memorial. From December 1846 Calliope helped to transport troops, supplies and equipment from Wellington to Whanganui. In April 1847 one of its midshipmen inadvertently sparked the Wanganui War by accidentally wounding a local chief with a pistol shot. This conflict had not yet broken out at the time of May’s death, possibly from disease.
This memorial was erected by ‘their Surviving Shipmates as a token of their respect’. It is thought to be purely commemorative – none of the men are believed to be buried at the Bolton Street site, although the last resting places of Minifie and Clatworthy are currently unknown.
While Roberts lies near the place where he fell, Jones, Elson and May are buried at St Paul’s Church in Molesworth Street, Wellington. According to the church’s burials register, Elson was 22 years old when he died, Jones just 15. The register records that May died on 13 April, three weeks before the date on the memorial.
By about 1918, the HMS Calliope memorial was ‘huddled out of site within the dusty interior of a mortuary chapel’. It stood within 3.7 acres (1.5 ha) of cemetery land requisitioned by the government for a section of Wellington’s new foothills motorway. The memorial was one of 3700 burials, gravestones and other monuments relocated for this reason between 1968 and 1971.
Sacred to the memory / of the / Undermentioned Men belonging / to H.M.S. Calliope who departed this Life / in the manner stated against their Names / and to their Memory’s this Stone is erected / by their Surviving Shipmates as a token / of their respect. / William Minifie Royal Marine who / Fell whilst gallantly engaged in the attack / on the Rebel Chief Kawitti [sic] at Ruapekapeka / Pah on the 11th day of January 1846. / Also William Roberts Capt.Miz.Top. who / Fell gallantly in the attack on Rangihaeata at / Horokiwi on the 6th day of August 1846. / Also Thomas Jones Boy who was Killed by / Falling from aloft on the 8th day of September 1846. / Also John Elson Seaman who Died on the / 10th day of February 1847. / Also John Clatworthy Seaman who was / Drowned in an attempt to cross the Bar at / Wanganui on the 30th day of March 1847. / Also Henry May Pursers Steward who Died / on the 3rd day of May 1847.