William Wakefield Memorial

Basin Reserve, Mt Cook, Wellington

  • William Wakefield Memorial, Basin Reserve, Wellington.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Anika Klee. Date: 14/05/2009.
  • William Wakefield Memorial, Basin Reserve, Wellington, [ca 1900], Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image..
    Copyright: Alexander Turnbull Library. Taken By: PAColl-5310.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Anika Klee. Date: 14/05/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Registered List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1
List Number 1441 Date Entered 22nd June 2007

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Extent of List Entry

Registration includes the memorial, the fountain, its surrounds, the steps and associated land with a curtilage of four metres from the centre of the memorial. The associated land is part of the land comprised in CT WN58A/615.

City/District Council

Wellington City

Region

Wellington Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 90475 (CT WN58A/615), Wellington Land District

Location description

The William Wakefield Memorial is located on the eastern end of the embankment within the perimeter fence of the Basin Reserve in Wellington. Included in the Basin Reserve Historic Area (Register no. 7441).

Summaryopen/close

The William Wakefield Memorial, located on the eastern end of the embankment within the perimeter fence of the Basin Reserve, commemorates William Wakefield, a key official of the New Zealand Company and a significant figure in the European colonisation of Wellington, and indeed, New Zealand.

Wakefield, who arrived in New Zealand in 1839, negotiated land purchases from Maori on behalf of the Company, and assisted in laying out the new settlement of Wellington. On his death in 1848 a group of Wellington residents, including a number of prominent men, decided to erect a monument to his memory.

The memorial, which was a Greek-like temple comprised of 8 pillars and a decorative freeze, appears to have been ordered in the early 1850s. For various reasons, including the lack of a suitable site, it was not immediately erected, and was instead stored for a number of years. In 1866 it was removed to a Wellington City Corporation yard. It was not until 1882 that a decision was made to erect it within the Basin Reserve, the city's premier sporting and municipal facility.

The structure functioned primarily as a memorial, however on the addition of a drinking fountain in 1886 it was also a useful public amenity. In time it became a distinctive and well-known feature of the Basin Reserve.

In 1917 it was moved outside the ground as part of wider renovations. From this time its condition deteriorated, though minor repairs were undertaken on a few occasions. The memorial was sandblasted and painted in 1974 but the fountain, which was not working by this point, was later removed. This work did not halt the memorial's physical decline. It was not until 2004 that the Wellington City Council allocated funding for a comprehensive restoration project, which included relocation within the boundaries of the Basin Reserve close to its original site. This work was undertaken in 2006. The memorial has now been fully restored and painted, structural issues have been addressed, and the drinking basin has been reinstated.

The William Wakefield Memorial is a rare example of a memorial erected prior to 1900 to commemorate the early settlers and settlement of New Zealand. Ordered in the 1850s, commemorating early settlers and settlement by way of erecting of monuments was uncommon even by the time of the memorial's erection in 1882. Most memorials to early settlers and settlement were erected after 1900 - often prompted by events such as centenaries. The memorial is also significant for its aesthetic, architectural, scientific and technological values; of an uncommon construction the style of the memorial is also unusual, with obelisks or statues more commonly used to commemorate individuals. The Memorial is also significant for what it tells of Wellington's and New Zealand's history. William Wakefield, although historically a controversial figure was, as a representative of the New Zealand Company, an important figure in the early European settlement of Wellington and New Zealand more generally. Finally the memorial has cultural significance as it is the oldest feature in the Basin Reserve, and has been witness to over one hundred years of local, national and international sporting events and activities.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

The William Wakefield Memorial commemorates Colonel William Wakefield, the Principal Agent of the New Zealand Company and an important figure in the development of European colonisation of Wellington, and New Zealand as a whole. The delay in the erection of the memorial adds to its historical significance, as it is telling of changing attitudes to Wakefield and the New Zealand Company between the 1850s and 1880s. In this way the structure memoralises not only an individual, but a set of events and ideas arising from this colonisation that are critical to the historical narrative of New Zealand from the early nineteenth century to the present.

The memorial is a good example of Victorian classical architecture, which employs pre-fabricated materials, principally concrete and cast iron. It has technical and scientific value through its use of pre-fabricated materials that, while not rare in New Zealand, are unusual when applied to the construction of monuments. The structure itself contains architectural and aesthetic interest for its well-balanced Greek temple-like formation, which is unusual in Wellington. The style of the memorial is also uncommon, with obelisks and statues being the more common choices to commemorate individuals.

The memorial is the result of public esteem for an individual who played a key role in the European colonisation of Wellington and New Zealand, and while his reputation has changed over time, this memoralising function has continued, affording the structure an on-going sense of social and cultural value. Its presence as the oldest physical feature of the Basin Reserve, a sporting and municipal facility of considerable local and some national value, enhances these values.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

The memorial provides a direct link to the origin of New Zealand's colonisation by European settlers through its commemoration of William Wakefield, the Principal Agent of the New Zealand Company.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

The memorial is directly associated with William Wakefield, as noted above. Similarly, it is associated with the broader theme of European colonisation in New Zealand.

Due to its location it has become associated with sporting and municipal events in Wellington, most recently cricket, which the Basin Reserve is now devoted to.

It is also associated with memorialisation, a practice that has been a historically significant part of New Zealand's cultural life.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place

The memorial developed out of a sense of public esteem for William Wakefield. While his reputation has changed over time, and indeed his status as the memorial's subject has been both forgotten and disputed, it retains a certain level of public interest. Its relocation and restoration is likely to enhance this.

Additionally, the memorial has long been associated with the Basin Reserve, a municipal and sporting facility held in high esteem locally and, to some degree, nationally.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

The memorial provides a tangible focal point for public discussion and debate about New Zealand's colonial past, due to its association with a key figure such as William Wakefield. This in turn affords opportunities to increase the public's knowledge of this past. The interpretive plaques placed alongside the restored memorial further increase this potential.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place

The techniques employed in the construction of the memorial have strong technical values through the use of pre-fabrication (which is unusual for memorials in New Zealand) and cast iron building materials. It is a good, well-formed and cleanly composed example of Victorian classical architecture.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

The fundamental and original purpose of this structure was to act as a memorial, which necessarily affords it strong symbolic and commemorative values. Its broader function as a reminder of important historical ideas and events, particularly European colonisation of New Zealand, also enable it to demonstrate these values.

(i) The importance of identifying historic places known to date from early periods of New Zealand settlement

This structure is the oldest known memorial to a European settler in Wellington, and is one of the oldest in the country. The subject it memoralises is himself closely associated with the origins of settlement of Wellington and other centres in New Zealand, of which relatively few physical reminders survive.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places

Historic memorials using prefabricated materials are rare in New Zealand.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape

The memorial forms an important part of the historic Basin Reserve, and indeed is the oldest surviving structure within this complex. It features in a number of photographs of this facility from the 1880s. Its removal to a site close to its original location cements its inclusions within this landscape.

SUMMARY OF SIGNIFICANCE

The William Wakefield Memorial is a rare example of a memorial erected prior to 1900 to commemorate the early settlers and settlement of New Zealand. Ordered in the 1850s, commemorating early settlers and settlement by way of erecting of monuments was uncommon even by the time of the memorial's erection in 1882. Most memorials to early settlers and settlement were erected after 1900 often prompted by events such as centenaries. The memorial is also significant for its aesthetic, architectural, scientific and technological values; of an uncommon construction the style of the memorial is also unusual, with obelisks or statues appearing the more common style with which to commemorate an individual. The Memorial is also significant for what it tells of Wellington's and New Zealand's history. William Wakefield, although historically a controversial figure - was, as a representative of the New Zealand Company, an important figure in the early European settlement of Wellington and New Zealand more generally. Finally the memorial has cultural significance as it is the oldest feature in the Basin Reserve, and has been witness to over one hundred years of local, national and international sporting events and activities.

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Additional informationopen/close

Notable Features

Drinking fountain (not currently operational)

Construction Details

The dome is concrete with a cement plaster finish. It is fixed over a cast iron structure, which supports a circular cast-iron entablature with decorative elements. The columns are also cast iron, as is the fountain bowl. The base is concrete on which steel base plates are mounted.

Historical Narrative

The William Wakefield Memorial is situated on the eastern end of the embankment within the Basin Reserve in Wellington. It consists of a pre-cast concrete dome finished with plaster, supported on a cast iron entablature. The entablature is decorated with circular ornaments and held up by eight cast iron Doric columns, which sit on a concrete base. The eight checkered plates that originally surrounded the base remain but the checkering has worn off in parts, mainly due to foot traffic over the years. The main cast iron parts were prefabricated in England using the Victorian England cold blast process. It was then later erected in Wellington, with the pre-cast iron segments pinned together. Architecturally, it is in the form of a Greek Classical temple, and is said to be a replica of the Corinthian temple at Pomona.

The memorial is named after William Hayward Wakefield, an important, controversial and somewhat notorious figure in the New Zealand Company's settlement of the Wellington area. Born in 1801, the fifth of ten children of Edward and Susannah Wakefield (nee Crush), and younger brother of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, he was educated in Tottenham, then spent time working at the British Embassy in Turin. His first brush with public infamy came after he was sentenced to three years jail for assisting his older brother Edward Gibbon in the abduction of Ellen Turner in 1826. Following his release he travelled throughout Europe, then served in the British Legion in the Spanish War, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. After his service he became the Principal Agent for the New Zealand Company (NZC) and arrived in New Zealand on the Tory in 1839. He negotiated land purchases for NZC settlements and also assisted in laying out the township of Wellington. With his role as Principal Agent he was one of the most powerful men in the young colony and spent much of his time embroiled in disputes over land, including a famous duel with Dr Isaac Featherston over comments made about him in the Wellington Independent in 1847. He died an early death, from apoplexy in 1848.

His death apparently aroused a great deal of feeling amongst the local Wellington community, and local shops were closed for a day in his memory. Shortly afterwards, at a meeting held in the Aurora Tavern on 30 September 1848, mourners decided to "erect a Monument to his memory", and a committee, composed of some of Wellington's most prominent men, was set up to raise funds. In December 1849 the committee decided that the memorial should "be some permanent object of public utility", and suggested that a clock tower would be most apt. This idea seems to have been discarded, and from here the story of the memorial gets murky. An article in the Wellington Independent suggests that by 1863 the memorial had been sitting in George Hunter's yard in Wellington, unconstructed, for "twelve or fourteen years". This suggests that the memorial was ordered in the early 1850s, shortly after the committee was formed. The same article also cites lack of public will, lack of finances and no suitable site as reasons for the memorial's neglect.

The English designer and constructor of the memorial are unknown. The memorial was moved again in 1866 to the Wellington City Corporation's yards. In March 1882 Councillor Thomas McKenzie suggested the memorial be shifted again, this time to a more permanent public space. The Wellington City Corporation's Public Works Committee requested a report from the City Surveyor on the possibilities of a suitable site, and the memorial was erected and displayed publicly, in the Wellington City Corporation's yard, for the first time as an interim measure. The Public Works Committee subsequently decided that "the Wakefield Monument...[should] be permanently erected in the Basin Reserve", and later in 1882 it was placed on a small mound on the Eastern side of the sporting ground.

Initial impressions were favourable, and in August 1882, the New Zealand Times remarked that "those that have made it a subject to make merry about, will be forced to admit that it adds considerably to the beauty of the ground". In 1886 the memorial's patron, Councillor McKenzie, sought public donations for a drinking fountain. The requisite sum was raised, and later that year a local ironmonger, Mr Dawson, built the new fountain, which was fixed inside the monument. Later changes came when stairs from the ground up to the memorial were constructed, and a fence was built around the memorial. Again, the exact dating of these modifications is unknown, though photographic evidence suggests these occurred between the late 1880s and early 1900s (see Appendix 5 of the registration report). From its vantage point, the memorial overlooked the different activities the ground was used for, and according to Joseph Romanos and Don Neely, by 1900 it "was common at this time for Wellingtonians to refer to the 'fountain' side of ground".

There were no major modifications made until 1917, when the memorial was shifted outside the ground to Dufferin Street as part of wider renovations. Further renovations in 1981 meant that the memorial was no longer visible to spectators inside the ground.

After its shift outside the ground, the main references in Wellington City Council (WCC) archives and newspaper articles are to the memorial's gradual deterioration, along with debates over who the memorial was intended for. In the late 1930s it was reported that the fountain was not working, and was repaired. By 1948 the memorial had suffered further deterioration, with a report to the Director of Parks and Recreation stating it was "in a neglected condition" with a "drab appearance". The columns were rusting, while the dome was also in disrepair. By the mid-1960s the Dominion reported the base was "crumbling" and badly vandalised.

In 1969 the City Architect, C. M. Muir, reported to the Town Clerk the damage that had occurred to the memorial, and a proposed plan for its restoration, including the installation of a plaque donated by the Founders Society. At the behest of the Historic Places Trust and City Councillor R. G. Button, the restoration finally went ahead. Sandblasting and repainting was finished in 1974 at the cost of a little over $1000, and the Founders Society plaque was finally attached. The water fountain, which was no longer working, was not repaired and was later removed point. In 1975 the memorial was included in the Wellington district scheme as an object of historical interest, and classified 'C' by the Historic Places Trust.

In 1991 Richard Hanson, WCC Director of Parks and Reserves, suggested that the memorial be relocated to the duck pond at the Botanic Gardens. Although this gained Parks and Recreation Committee approval and Founders Society support, the plan was never carried out. Little happened until 2004, when the WCC included the memorial in their 2004/05 Annual plan and proposed to restore the memorial and move it onto the embankment, close to its original (pre-1917) position inside the ground.

A site visit was undertaken by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust on 25 November 2005. At this time the memorial was bereft of the Founders Society plaque and drinking fountain, and was in a poor condition showing its age and lack of renovation work. The concrete base had a number of cracks in it, and there was a significant chunk missing on the fence side. The checkered plates had worn away, and a small piece of spouting in the centre where the fountain once stood. The paint on the Doric columns was chipped and showed signs of rust. The entablature was also rusting and chipped, with some of the decorative ornaments missing. Both the exterior and interior of the dome were cracked and large chunks were missing in the dome interior and on the fence side.

The restoration of the memorial by WCC in 2006 has remedied these defects and structural issues. Some loss of heritage fabric resulted, such as original nuts and bolts which could not be saved, however the majority of the fabric has been retained. The memorial is now located on the eastern end of the embankment within the perimeter fence of the Basin Reserve.

Completion Date

23rd April 2007

Report Written By

James Taylor, HistoryWorks and Kerryn Pollock

Kelly, 2003 (2)

Michael Kelly, Wakefield Memorial: An Assessment of Significance, report commissioned by Wellington City Council, June 2003

Kelly, 2007

Michael Kelly, William Wakefield Memorial: a report on its removal, relocation and conservation, report commissioned by the Wellington City Council, January 2007 (draft)

McLean, 2000

G. McLean, Wellington; The First Years of European Settlement, 1840-1850, Auckland, 2000

McLean, 2002

Gavin McLean, 100 Historic Places in New Zealand, Auckland, 2002

Scholefield, 1940

G. H. Scholefield, A Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington, 1940

pp.449-451

Spencer Holmes Ltd, 2003

Spencer Holmes Ltd, Report on Wakefield Memorial, Basin Reserve, Wellington, June 2003

Temple, 2002

Philip Temple, A Sort of Conscience: The Wakefields, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2002.

A fully referenced version of the registration report is available from the NZHPT Central Region Office.