Friday, 31 May 2019

The Mission Cemetery

Military Cemetery in Tauranga. Postcard, Tourist Series 254
Image collection and courtesy of Justine Neal
The Mission Cemetery is a peaceful oasis with its beautifully manicured grounds and its ring of pohutukawa trees shielding it from the noise and bustle of the city surrounding it.

Today it is looked after by the Tauranga City Council on behalf of the Otamataha Trust but it wasn’t always so. In the pioneering days of the settlement the cemetery was part of an estate belonging to the C.M.S and had only been required for losses amongst the Maori and a handful of Europeans. The arrival of troops in 1864 at Te Papa caused a problem for Rev. Brown as to who exactly could be buried there. He wrote to Bishop Williams for clarification and Williams off the record reply was “in the event of the death of a Romanist soldier you request the Commanding Officer to direct the priest to bury the corpse in the Romanist burial ground at Otumaetai.”

By 1873 the Bay of Plenty Times reported that the neglected condition of the graveyard is a disgrace to the district … the memorials to the officers remain but traces of the identity of the more humble graves have almost disappeared. At one stage erosion from the sea had caused landslides, exposing coffins which for some time projected over the beach.

In August 1876 it was reported that the gate was broken and horses and cows had been trampling over the unfenced graves and the fence surrounding the military graves was dilapidated.

In April 1878 the officers and men of the H.M.S Wolverene reconditioned the enclosure containing the graves of the Imperial Service men but no further work was done, as in 1882 the suggestion was made that, as the C.M.S claimed the ownership of the cemetery and drew large revenues from its various properties in the town, it might very well undertake the task of restoring the cemetery to a decent condition. Although funds were provided from the Defence Office in September 1882 for immediate work to take place, once again no provision was made for upkeep and by December 1883 there were complaints that the whole place was overgrown with grass and weeds, the railings and headstones of some of the graves and a portion of the fence enclosing the military section, had been broken down.

The cemetery was officially closed for burials in 1884. By October 1885 the state of the breakwater along the eastern side of the cemetery was causing concern but not until May 1888 did the Government promise £50 for repairs, provided an equal sum was obtained from other sources. The Trustees were unable to raise the money, and in September 1888 handed the cemetery back to the C.M.S.

After the 1886 Tarawera eruption a Mr. Brown rented the cemetery for a short time to graze a small flock of sheep there as ash had been deposited on his pasture. Worse was to come, sadly, by July 1889 the cemetery was overrun by cattle and pigs and headstones and memorials destroyed. A public subscription was opened to erect a substantial fence. This was successful and for three and a half years all was peaceful in the cemetery grounds.

By 1893 the protecting wall at the foot of the cemetery cliff was in urgent need of repair. Trustees had been re-appointed by the Government, but once again no funds for maintenance were forthcoming.

In January 1894 the Government granted £50 for the retaining wall to be repaired with boulders obtained from the foreshore at the Mount. However this amount fell far short of the actual amount required, so once again, nothing was done.

While visiting Tauranga on 30th March, Mr. Seddon, the Premier was asked for a grant of £300, which he thought was too much. Subsequently, in May, the Trustees received a letter from the Colonial Secretary asking the probable cost of removing the bodies of those of Her Majesty's Forces buried in the old cemetery, to the new cemetery. The Trustees refused to have anything to do with this proposal.

In July 1905 the Borough Council decided that it was prepared to take charge of the cemetery as a National reserve provided the Government would supply sufficient funds for its maintenance. A grant of £50 towards renewal of headboards and £15 toward upkeep was awarded. In 1909 the Government increased the annual grant to £25, possibly influenced by the publicity given to the spot as an historic heritage site, brought about by the unveiling of a monument to the memory of the soldiers and sailors who fell in the local engagement of the New Zealand Wars.

Finally in 1912 with the help of Mr. Kensington, Under Secretary for Lands the council was awarded £162 enabling it to take down and re- erect the faulty portions of the retaining walls and erect groins. At the same time a plan was put in place to landscape the grounds. It was probably as part of this re-organisation that the fencing round the graves of those who fell at Gate Pa and Te Ranga, creating a cemetery within a cemetery was abandoned.

Early in 1912 a movement started to erect a monument over the grave of Rawiri, who had fought so bravely against the Europeans both at Gate Pa and Te Ranga. As a result a handsome red granite monument was unveiled with imposing military ceremony on June 21, 1914.

By this time the fencing round the cemetery was again in bad condition and in August a contract was let for the necessary repairs. In September the council had a portion of the cemetery dug, graded and laid down in lawn grass. The paths were improved and covered with shell.

By 1917 the grounds were once again overgrown, as Mayor, J.C.Adams rectified this, as well as renewing all the headstones which could still be traced. At this time the Council delegated the detailed work of improvement and upkeep to a small committee. It is thanks to this small group, especially the Ward family, that the brave men who fell at Gate Pa and Te Ranga can rest in peace in the surroundings they deserve.

Papers Past: Bay of Plenty Times
A Centennial History of Tauranga, by Gifford and Williams.

1 comment:

  1. This is a spot I've visited a few times in the last 3 years, it looks pretty good now and well looked after.