This memorial cairn stands in Ōhawe Military Cemetery, which is located above Kepa St in the small town of Ōhawe, 6 km west of Hāwera. The cairn commemorates 45 imperial and colonial servicemen who died in south Taranaki during the second half of the 1860s.
The cemetery’s preservation was primarily the work of local settler James Livingston (1840–1915). In partnership with a cousin, Livingston bought 250 acres of land in the northern Pātea district in 1867. When the partnership was dissolved a decade later, ownership of the half bounded by the Waingongoro River – including the cemetery – fell to Livingston.
In a letter to the Department of Internal Affairs on 22 December 1913, Livingston claimed to have attended to the cemetery ‘for the last 45 years’. In 1915, just before his death, the Department granted Livingston £5 a year for maintenance.
Livingston initially erected a ditch and bank fence planted with gorse around the cemetery’s perimeter. Inside he planted shrubs and trees compatible with the coastal environment. After these plantings were swept away by a storm around 1900, Livingston surrounded the cemetery with a boxthorn hedge inside a barbed wire fence.
The cairn was erected in about 1907, when the wooden slabs that originally marked the graves showed signs of decay. The builder, Hugh Whittington, was a Hāwera borough councillor. The sculptors were Russell & Son. The inscription on the original marble plaque is thought to be based on Livingston’s own knowledge. The plaque, positioned to face the setting sun, lists the names of 19 men buried in the cemetery and acknowledges seven others ‘now lost to memory’.
Many of these men were killed in the battle of Otapawa, the most notable engagement of Major-General Trevor Chute’s West Coast campaign. A combined force of imperial, colonial and kūpapa (pro-government Māori) attack the strongly fortified Otapawa pā, which stood on the Tangahoe River about 8 km east of present-day Hāwera, on 13 January 1866.
Livingston was himself a veteran of the New Zealand Wars. As a sergeant in the Patea Field Force he had distinguished himself at the third and ill-fated attack on Te Ngutu o te Manu on 7 September 1868. This may, in part, explain his dedication to Ōhawe Military Cemetery.
Further changes took place after Livingston’s death. A second plaque with three additional names was added to the cairn in 1925; a fourth name was added at a later, unknown, date. A new wall was erected around the cemetery in 1926.
Over the years, the remains of servicemen buried nearby were reinterred in Ōhawe Military Cemetery. The last group was transferred from Manawapou on 27 April 1945. The cliff-top military cemetery, precariously situated on a tongue of land surrounded on three sides by the tidal portion of the Manawapou River, was found to be eroding into the sea. This reinterment is commemorated on the third and final cairn plaque.
On 14 January 1926, Wellington’s Dominion newspaper reported that the new (second) plaque and the cairn had been unveiled by the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Hon. R.F. Bollard. The ceremony on the 60th anniversary of the battle of Otapawa was attended by about 20 veterans. According to the report, the cairn had not been unveiled earlier because Livingston shunned publicity.
Somebodys sons / lest they also are forgotten
Sergt. Fred Day aged 26
[Sergeant] John Sullivan [aged] 30
Corpl. W. Noble [aged] 38
Privt. Joseph Mater [aged] 36
[Private] Robt. Doake [aged] 24
Privt. George Ring aged 29
[Private] Hugh McGregor [aged] 29
[Private] John Laverly [aged] 30
[Private] John Manning [aged 29]
[Private] John Moran [aged] 28
2nd Battn. 14th Regt
Sergt. John Fox aged 29
Privt. John Whelan aged 37
Privt. John Harvey aged 26
Sergt. M. Duff aged 28
Trumpt. John Foyston [aged] 14
Privt. T.U. Wright aged 25
[Private] Aricales Economedes 30
3rd Waikato Regt
Privt. John Harvey aged 47
Vol. U. Wright aged 24.
Also seven others, names now lost to memory. / Most of the above were killed or mortally wound / -ed at the capture of Otapawa Pa, January 13th 1866.
In memoria / by / Jas. Livingston / 1907
Whittington. Builder / Russell & Sons. Sculptors
Pte. Green. Killed at Pungar[e]hu 2.10.1866
Tpr. Patrick Hanly. Killed at Pohi Pohi 15.10.1866
Tpr. Higinson Died of fever, Waihi Camp Dec. 1866
Pte T. Shehan Drowned Waingongor[o] River July 1868
The following were reinterred from Manawapou 27 Apr. 1945:
John Crowson 57th Regt
William Graul [&] Francis McGuire [,] Provincial Govt Surfboatmen
Alban Taylor 50th Regt
All drowned 2 Apr. 1865
Francis Bell [,] David Carrol [&] George Phillpots [,] Commissariat Corps
Killed in Action 1865
Michael Haggerty Wanganui Yeomanry Cavalry, Killed in Action 2 Sept 1866
Trooper Smith [Killed in Action] 4 Oct. 1865
Robert Smith No 5 Division A.C. [Armed Constabulary] [Killed in Action] 30 Sept 1868
Dennis Spain No 8 Company. T.M.S. [Taranaki Military Settlers] accidentally shot 1 Aug. 1866
William Noble 57th Regt drowned 3 Apr. 1865
Charles Rafferty 50th Regt 20 May 1865
Cornelius Dowling 18th Regt 19 Oct. 1866
Plaque [A] inscription: Sacred / to the memory of / Pte Joseph Mateer / 57th Regt / who departed this / life on the 17th June / 1865 / age 36 years
Plaque [B] inscription: Sacred / to the memory of / Pte Robert Doake / who was killed / in action at / Otapawa Pa / on the 13th January 1866 / age 24 years
Plaque [C] inscription: Sacred / to the memory of / Sgt John Sullivan / 57th Regt / Privates George Ring / Hugh McGregor / John Laverly
Plaque [D] inscription: Sacred / to the memory of / Sgt Fred Day / aged 26 / Pte John Manning / aged 29 / Pte John Moran / aged 28 / Members of the 57th Regt / killed in action at / Otapawa Pa / on 13th January 1866
Plaque [E] inscription: Sacred / to the memory of / Pte. John Harvey / aged 47 / 3rd Waikato Regt. / killed in action / at Tangahoe on / 2nd December 1865
Plaque [F] inscription: Sacred to the memory / of / Trumpeter / John Foyston / died 26th July 1865 / aged 14 years