Controversy over NZ colonial statues long-standing

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The push to remove colonial monuments and statues is gathering momentum in New Zealand, but it did not start with the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Photo: RNZ

In the past week, the statues of Christopher Columbus in Virginia and a slave trader in the UK were toppled and dropped into waterways.

The latest to go in New Zealand is a controversial statue of Captain John Hamilton which the city council agreed to remove from Civic Square in Hamilton, following a formal request from local iwi Waikato-Tainui.

John Fane Charles Hamilton was a British navy officer who led a regiment and who was killed during the Battle of Gate Pā during the New Zealand Wars. His bronze statue was gifted to Hamilton City by the Gallagher Group in 2013.

Earlier this week, local kaumatua Taitimu Maipi declared he would tear the Hamilton statue down at a protest in the city on Saturday.

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Photo: RNZ

Mayor Paula Southgate said many locals shared Maipi’s view that the statue was culturally offensive.

“We can’t ignore what is happening all over the world and nor should we,” she said.

But controversy over colonial statues in New Zealand predates the Black Lives Matter movement.

In Gisborne, a controversial statue of Captain James Cook which was erected in 1969 was moved from Tītīrangi Hill to the local museum last year.

The statue’s site had overlooked the spot where Māori and Pākehā first encountered each other, and where Cook’s crew killed nine iwi members following a misunderstanding. It had been subject to ongoing vandalism and its removal was welcomed by local council and iwi.

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But a James Cook statue continues to stand in Gisborne at the reserve at the Customhouse Street end of Awapuni Road – it was vandalised last year.

Many colonial statues remain

There are numerous Queen Victoria statues around New Zealand, including in Christchurch, Wellington, Dunedin and Auckland. They come from a time when New Zealand sought to strengthen its ties with British culture.

The 115-year-old Dunedin statue was last year spraypainted with the words “Uphold Te Tiriti” and “Return stolen wealth Charles”.

However, a respected Māori elder Edward Ellison said he was shocked and disappointed by the act and that there were “proper ways to deal with these things”.

There is a memorial to Colonel Marmaduke Nixon in Ōtāhuhu, south of Auckland. In February 1864, Nixon led an attack on the unfortified Māori village of Rangiaōwhia where elderly men, women and children were living, leaving 12 people dead.

In 2017, Auckland man Shane Te Pou challenged the mayor to open up a conversation about removing the memorial saying there should not be a memorial to a man who was a thug.

Other colonial statues

  • In Wellington there are memorials to the Wakefield brothers, Edward and William, who led The New Zealand Company, which settled Wellington. They are considered to have cheated Māori out of large swathes of land.
  • A statue of Dutch explorer Abel Tasman at Tahunanui Beach in Nelson was vandalised during lockdown. NZ History states Tasman is recognised as the first European to have a confirmed encounter with Māori in 1642 and the initial meeting was tense but peaceful. The following day, though, the Dutch had a violent encounter with local Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri.
  • The “Zealandia” sculpture on Wakefield Street in Auckland is a memorial which pays tribute to the imperial and colonial soldiers who fought for Britain during the New Zealand wars between 1845 and 1872. It was attacked and defaced in 2018.
  • There is a Sir George Grey statue in Auckland’s Albert Park. He was appointed governor of New Zealand in 1845 and is known for his Waikato invasion, his attempt to force submission of the Kingitanga and the massive Crown confiscation of Māori land during his tenure.
  • There are John Ballance statues in Whanganui and Wellington. Ballance was the Premier of New Zealand from 1891 to 1893, issued in a number of land reforms, some of which came at great cost for rural Māori. The original Ballance statue in Whanganui was beheaded during the Moutoa Gardens land occupation in 1995, but the statue was replaced in 2009.
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