Pōkeno Historic Cemetery is located on Helenslee Road opposite its junction with Munro Road, 1 km north-west of Pōkeno. This north Waikato settlement lies just off State Highway 1, 15 km south-east of Drury and 50 km from Auckland.
This distinctive memorial cairn stands near the front of the cemetery. Topped with a cluster of stacked rifles (Snider carbines, which were not used in the Waikato War), it records the names of 24 imperial and colonial troops who died during the Waikato War and are thought to be buried nearby.
The burial ground at Pōkeno was described by a Daily Southern Cross correspondent on 10 October 1863, three months into the Waikato War. It was ‘a plot of ground about a mile and a half from camp [Queen’s Redoubt], on the right, past an angle of the road towards Rhode’s Clearing.’
On 24 March 1862, Governor George Grey had asked Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron to establish a military post for some 500 men near the Mangatāwhiri River. Cameron soon chose a site near the Ngāti Tamaoho village of Pōkino (later ‘Pōkeno’). This site, also known as ‘Te Kui’ and ‘Te Rauto’, was ‘clear of the bush’ and half a mile (0.8 km) from the ‘nearest commanding height’. Queen’s Redoubt was completed in late 1862.
Queen’s Redoubt was at the apex of a network of military posts that reached down the Great South Road from Auckland, west to the lowlands between Manukau Harbour and the Waikato River, and east to the Firth of Thames. At 8360 m², it was only marginally smaller than Camp Waitara in Taranaki, the only other New Zealand redoubt with more than one entry point.
This network was supported by an elongated supply chain. Provisions were carried from Onehunga to the Waikato Heads by steamer. There they were transferred to smaller vessels and taken upriver to The Bluff, near Havelock. Here, 3 km from Queen’s Redoubt, a stockade controlled the landing place.
Queen’s Redoubt guarded the southern end of the Great South Road. On Grey’s orders, the road had been extended from Drury to the Mangatāwhiri River during the first half of 1862. About 2300 men from five British regiments based at four camps between Drury and Pōkeno completed the road by June.
Waikato Maori saw the Mangatāwhiri River, 1 km south of Queen’s Redoubt, as their northern boundary. The Maori king, Tāwhiao, had declared it an aukati – a boundary not to be crossed. A military incursion across the river would amount to a declaration of war. The construction of a redoubt so close to the Mangatāwhiri signalled Grey’s intention to resolve the ‘problem’ of an effectively independent Waikato by force.
British troops crossed the Mangatāwhiri River on 12 July 1863, marking the beginning of the Waikato War. From then until the battle of Rangiriri on 20 November, the redoubt was Cameron’s headquarters. In total, the general commanded some 18,000 troops during the Waikato War. Most of them were based at or at least passed through Queen’s Redoubt before, during or immediately after the conflict.
While Queen’s Redoubt itself was never attacked, there was fighting to its north along the Great South Road between July and September 1863. On 17 July, for example, a party of Ngāti Pāoa attacked a convoy and its escort near Martin’s Farm, about halfway between Queen’s Redoubt and Drury. Privates Alexander Jamieson, Felix McGrath, James Scott and James Limerick of the 18th Regiment were killed in the attack and their names are recorded on the memorial.
On 7 September, a party of some 100 Kingite – mostly Ngāti Maniapoto – warriors ransacked the Camerontown supply depot on the Waikato River. The raiders then surprised 50 troops led by Captain Swift that were sent to assist from the nearby Alexandra Redoubt at Tūākau. In the skirmish that followed, Swift and three other men were killed. The names of Sergeant Stephen Grace and Private Richard Bellinger (or Bellringer), both of the 65th Regiment, are recorded on the memorial.
As the fighting moved south, the number of troops stationed at Queen’s Redoubt decreased. Land in the district was confiscated from Māori and sold to European settlers for farming. On 9 July 1864, allotments around the redoubt itself were put up for sale.
Military forces had left Queen’s Redoubt by 1867. On 13 March, The New Zealand Herald advertised an auction of buildings at the site the following Saturday. This notice also advertised the sale of ‘all the houses, stores and buildings’ at the Te Rore, Whatawhata and Ngāruawāhia military camps.
Less than 20 years after the end of the Waikato War, the soldiers’ burial ground at Pōkeno was in a dilapidated state. On 22 December 1881, the chairman of the Ngaruawahia District Board complained about its condition, noting that cattle and pigs were levelling the graves.
In 1882, Sergeant Joshua Foster of the Armed Constabulary was sent to report on soldiers’ burial grounds in Waikato. In August, Foster found that the 2-acre (0.8 ha) burial ground at Pōkeno was covered in briars and fern. Because the graves were widely scattered, the site could not be reduced in size to make it more manageable.
In the meantime Ebenezer Hamlin, the Member of Parliament for Franklin South, had complained to the Under-Secretary of Defence about the ‘disgraceful state’ of the weed-covered Pōkeno burial ground. The Armed Constabulary should repair it as they had Rangiriri.
Though an upgrade at Pōkeno was soon approved, tenders for fencing the site were not sought until April 1884. The work was completed in June.
It appears that a memorial at Pōkeno was first proposed in 1898. On 10 October Frederic Lang, the MHR for Waikato, asked the House if a ‘memorial tablet’ could be erected at the burial ground. The Minister of Defence, Thomas Thompson, promised to investigate. When Chief Surveyor Gerhard Mueller renewed the proposal, the matter was ‘referred to Cabinet’.
Meanwhile, Ranger Bayly of the Crown Lands Department reported on 25 October 1898 that the burial ground was overrun with gorse, briar and fern; local settlers cleared the site once a year. According to Bayly, most of the troops buried at Pōkeno had died in hospital at Queen’s Redoubt during the war. Their identities were difficult to confirm as many of the headboards had rotted and were now illegible.
On 8 November, Mueller recommended that Pōkeno be cleared. With the approval of the Minister of Lands, John McKenzie, the work had been completed by 31 May 1899. According to Ranger Lusk about 70 graves had been found. Only those marked with headstones – rather than wooden headboards – could be identified.
Though Lusk added his voice to those recommending a substantial stone memorial, the Defence Department remained undecided. In September 1901, however, it was reported that ‘a monument in Oamaru stone’ was to be erected at Pōkeno.
Edith Statham, inspector of old soldiers’ graves in the Department of Internal Affairs, reported on 19 September 1913 that the government had erected a memorial cairn at the burial ground in late 1902. It had been designed and built by the stonemason John Bouskill of New Zealand Granite Quarries Ltd, Auckland, at the substantial cost of £100.
It was clear to Statham that the monument required restoration. After only a decade the stand of rifles, ‘once white’, was now ‘green and dirty’ and leaning over slightly. The cement holding the stones together had cracked, allowing water in, and the names on the marble slabs on either side of the memorial had been obliterated. A band of concrete was also needed to keep weeds, notably gorse, from encroaching on the base. On 1 February 1915, Statham told James Hislop, the Under-Secretary for Internal Affairs, that Bouskill had completed the repairs at a cost of £9 10s.
Despite these repairs, the memorial required further restoration only 10 years later. On 18 June 1925 Statham reported that water had seeped behind the marble panels. The inside of the monument had rotted away, and cement had come out in so many places that the stones were loose. Next month the contractor A.F. Herbert discovered that rabbits had burrowed under the foundations. He recommended that the memorial be pulled down and rebuilt.
‘McNab’, probably the Auckland monumental masons McNab and Mason, was contracted to undertake the rebuilding work. Completed by 12 February 1926, this provided the opportunity to relocate the memorial to a more prominent part of the cemetery near the gate and add several names to the inscription.
The entire cemetery was renovated by the Franklin District Council in 1962. In 1999, the Department of Internal Affairs placed new granite panels on top of the marble ones. Three names were added to the inscription: C. Livingstone, J. Ewins and F. Wicks.
Pōkeno Historic Cemetery also contains the double grave of two Royal Engineers who died in late 1863. Sapper Robert Loader appears to have been part of a 600-strong field force that left Queen’s Redoubt on 30 October. From The Bluff stockade on the Waikato River, the force was transported upriver past the Kingite defences at Meremere to Takapau. There, on the evening of 31 October or the next morning, Loader was accidentally and fatally shot.
Corporal or Sapper Richard Horton died at Queen’s Redoubt on 2 November from a gunshot wound he had received two days earlier at the naval camp beside the Mangatāwhiri River. The ‘accident of a serious character’ was reported in the Daily Southern Cross on 3 November:
A marine, on sentry, about ten o’clock, challenged what he believed to be a Maori four times, and fired. The ball took effect on Private Richard Horton, of the Royal Engineers. The wounded man was brought up to the Queen’s Redoubt on a stretcher by a party of sailors. He received the necessary surgical attendance, but still lies in a precarious state. The ball struck him in the side, passing round his ribs, and escaping in front. Horton was in his own whare when he was wounded. There does not appear to be any blame resting on the sentry: the unfortunate affair was purely accidental.
The names of both Loader and Horton are recorded on the memorial.
In / memory of the brave who fell / in the Maori War 1863–64 & / were here laid to rest / Royal Artillery Gunner Chas. Culverwell / Royal Engineers Spr [Sapper] Rich. Horton / [Royal Engineers] Spr Robert Loader / 14th Regt Pt [Private] Chas. Livingstone / [14th Regt] Pte William Smith / [14th Regt] Pt William Murphy / 18th Royal Irish Pte John Ewins / [18th Royal Irish] Pte John Scott / [18th Royal Irish] Pte Felix McGrath / [18th Royal Irish] Pte James Limerick / [18th Royal Irish] Pte Alexander Jamieson / [18th Royal Irish] Pte James Cassidy / 70th Regt Pte Frederick Wicks
In / memory of the brave who fell / in the Maori War 1863–64 & / were here laid to rest / 40th Regt Pte Charles Roberts / [40th Regt] Pte C. Johnston / [40th Regt] Pte Bryan Flannery / [40th Regt] Pte Patrick Gibboney / 65th Regt Sergt Stephen Grace / [65th Regt] Corpl Henry Chiverton / [65th Regt] Corpl John Frost / [65th Regt] Pte Robert Bellringer / Forest Rangers Pte John Ballenden / Hospital Corps Pte John Howard / Transport Corps Pte J. Brown
In memory / of / Corp R. Horton R.E. [Royal Engineers] / who died on the 2nd Nov. 1863 / from the effect of a gunshot / wound accidentally received at / Maungatawhiri Creek 31st Oct / 1863 / aged 29 years / Also / Sapper R. Loader R.E. / who was accidentally shot at / Takapau Waikato on the 1st Nov / 1863 / aged 21 years / Erected by the N.C. [non-commissioned] officers / and sappers / of the 6th Compy / Royal Engineers