Historian Jock Phillips spoke recently to the Friends of the Kapiti Libraries. He has written a number of books on New Zealand history, initiated the Te Ara history website and was chief historian at the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. These days he tends towards a more Politically Correct view of our country’s history.

He started his talk by making the point that memorials remind people of their history and that statues of famous figures from the past may provide role models.

He addressed two key issues:

  • Are our memorial representative of gender and ethnicity?
  • What do we do about “offensive” memorials?

Do women get a fair go?

Statues of women are usually symbolic rather than being of particular women. Often they are angels on war memorials or represented as symbols of motherhood. There are four angelic women featured on the memorial beside Christchurch Cathedral and motherhood is a feature of the sculpture in the National War Memorial in Wellington. 

Queen Victoria statues feature in Wellington, Christchurch and Christchurch. As for actual New Zealand women, there are few memorials. Waimate has one of the best – a statue honouring the hard working and highly respected doctor Margaret Cruickshank, who died in the 1918-19 Spanish Flu pandemic. In Auckland the legendary flyer Jean Batten features in bronze appropriately at the airport.  

In Christchurch beside the Avon there is memorial to the New Zealand suffragists – Kate Sheppard and five other women. 

Jock feels that there should be more statues of women. Opunake has one of Peter Snell, so  why doesn’t Dunedin have one of Yvette Williams?

Statues of Maori

There are a number:

  • Te Rauparaha
  • Maui Pomare
  • Te Rangi Hiroa (Peter Buck)
  • Tamati Waka Nene

But there are no statues of Te Puea or Apirana Ngata. There are memorials to kupapa Maori who fought for the crown in the New Zealand Wars, including a controversial monument to  the Maori who saved Wanganui from the Hau Hau is a successful battle up-river.

Rangiaowhia – some fighting but no atrocities.

Jock made reference to a monument erected by local Maori near Rangiaowhia which remembers people killed in 1864. The word atrocities is used and Jock didn’t regard this as offensive. However the evidence provided by historians such as James Cowan, John Robinson and Bruce Moon indicates that there were none.

Overall Jock feels that a greater range of statues are needed which are representative of different groups in the community.

Statues which some see as offensive

The Black Lives Matter movement earlier in 2020 led to some statue destruction overseas. Slave traders and Confederate generals were targets and in New Zealand, George Grey in Auckland and John Ballance in Wanganui have been beheaded.

The Motua Gardens monument mentioned above, is offensive to some – because of the reference to fanaticism and barbarism – but for others it honours heroes.

There are a number of statues of James Cook in New Zealand. In recent years, especially at the time of the 250th anniversary of his arrival in the country, Maori radicals and some historians, including the speaker, cast the explorer is a bad light. Jock emphasised the number of natives killed, but failed to make the point that attacks on Cook’s boats as well as theft was a key reason for the deaths. He conceded that Cook had his good points, but feels that there are too many statues of the man.

What to do?

Jock made the point that statues reflect the views of the times when they were erected and emphasized that few developments in the past are black and white.

He thinks that it is not helpful to remove statues, but feels that plaques could be amended where views have changed. There should be more information made available at the sites of statues which could be picked up by cell phone. The data could include detail on the context of why the memorials/statues went up and provide different viewpoints on what they represent.

Basically his message was no destruction but more information and debate.