This memorial obelisk is located at 122 Old Taupiri Road, about 1 km north of the Waikato town of Ngāruawāhia. Little is currently known about the land that it stands on, except that it was once a burial ground. The memorial is dedicated to unknown men who died during the New Zealand Wars and are thought to be buried nearby.
Ngāruawāhia is situated at the point where the Waikato and Waipā rivers meet. The first Māori king, Pōtatau Te Wherowhero, was crowned there in 1858 and established the settlement as his capital. British troops occupied Ngāruawāhia on 8 December 1863, following the battle of Rangiriri in November. It is likely – although by no means certain – that at least some of the military burials at Old Taupiri Road took place during the six months between the beginning of the military occupation and the effective end of the Waikato War in the autumn of 1864.
The Old Taupiri Road burial ground was the subject of an official report in 1882, when Sergeant Joshua Foster of the Armed Constabulary described the decay of the wooden grave markers and the obliteration of their inscriptions. Foster thought that restoring the grave markers would be too costly and recommended the erection of a central memorial carrying the names of those buried nearby. By the time his recommendation was finally carried out more than 30 years later, the names had been lost.
It is not clear when the Department of Internal Affairs first became interested in the Old Taupiri Road burial ground. The process of erecting a memorial on the site was well under way by February 1914, thanks largely to the efforts of Edith Statham, the department’s Inspector of Old Soldiers’ Graves.
The department sought appropriate memorial designs in early 1914. Frank Harris & Co., W. Parkinson, John Bouskill, and McNab & Mason all submitted proposals costing around £25. By 4 August, Bouskill’s design for an eight-foot-high polished granite memorial had been approved and ordered.
Bouskill erected the monument by the beginning of 1915, at a cost of £26 9s. However a departmental report dated 14 April noted that the memorial had not yet been unveiled. A concrete path to it was planned, and the inscription required amendment. An extra £6 4s 8d was paid for the additional wording, ‘Erected by the / N. Z. Government 1914.’
The Old Taupiri Road burial ground was gazetted as a public cemetery in 1916. It appears to have been vested in the Crown; for many years maintenance was carried out by the Ngaruawahia Cemeteries Trust, which was paid an annual grant of £1 by the department. This payment ceased for no obvious reason in January 1945 and by the mid-1960s the cemetery was in a poor state.
In 1964 the memorial was reported to be unsafe. Although it was restored two years later, nothing was done to clear the rest of the cemetery. By the early 1970s, local residents were unaware that the memorial was even there. An upgrade by the Waikato County Council in 1973 gave the cemetery its current appearance.
Here lie the remains of men / who fell in the Maori Wars / and whose names cannot / be traced. / “They live in memory / by their deeds.” / Erected by the / N. Z. Government 1914.
- James Belich, ‘Paterangi and Orakau’, in The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian interpretation of racial conflict, Penguin, Auckland, 1998, pp. 158–76
- Chris Maclean and Jock Phillips, The sorrow and the pride: New Zealand war memorials, GP Books, Wellington, p. 25
- Nancy Swarbrick. ‘Waikato places – Ngaruawahia’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 26 May 2010