Story: Memorials and monuments

Important events and people have often been honoured and remembered in monuments and memorials. New Zealand’s massive loss of life in the First World War led to more than 500 war memorials around the country, expressing New Zealanders’ sorrow and pride. Second World War memorials were more likely to be halls, swimming pools or libraries. Politicians, explorers and royalty have also been honoured with statues.

Full story by Jock Phillips
Main image: Cleaning Henry Holland's statue, 1987

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19th century

In the 19th century there were few memorials built in New Zealand. Māori often recalled great ancestors with pou (carved posts) – so they quickly adopted the European custom of stone monuments. In the later 19th century there were more memorials to important Māori than to Pākehā.

New Zealand wars

Only three monuments were erected during or straight after the New Zealand wars of the 1860s. However, memorials became more popular in the early 20th century. Monuments were built at a number of battle sites. Almost all remembered those who died fighting for the Crown, not Māori who defended their land. From the 1970s Māori activists questioned this.

South African War

About 50 memorials were built to remember the 1899–1902 South African War. The Ranfurly War Veterans’ Home in Auckland was a national memorial.

First World War

Over 500 memorials were erected to those who died in the First World War. These were motivated by pride at New Zealand’s achievement, and sorrow at the many deaths. A carillon (a tower housing a set of bells) was built in Wellington as a national memorial.

Civilian memorials

In the first half of the 20th century many other memorials were erected, including to:

  • Queen Victoria
  • political leaders such as John Ballance, George Grey and Richard Seddon
  • European explorers such as James Cook and Abel Tasman
  • prominent Māori such as Māui Pōmare and Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hīroa)
  • European pioneers in New Zealand
  • events that killed many people, including shipwrecks and the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake.

Centennial and Second World War

To mark New Zealand’s centennial (100 years since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840) the government funded useful memorials such as parks, community halls and swimming pools. After the Second World War the government subsidised the construction of memorial halls and sports grounds, and a hall of memories was built as part of the national war memorial.

Later memorials

The army museum in Waiōuru opened in 1978 as a memorial to the dead in all wars. In 2004 the tomb of an unknown warrior was added to the national war memorial.

Other memorials included those to the victims of the 1953 Tangiwai rail crash and the 1979 Mt Erebus air crash.

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How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips. 'Memorials and monuments', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 26-Apr-13
URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/memorials-and-monuments