Queens Gardens, Dunedin

  • Cenotaph.
    Copyright: Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Ben Hill. Date: 14/08/2009.
  • .
    Copyright: Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Ben Hill. Date: 14/08/2009.
  • .
    Copyright: Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Ben Hill. Date: 14/08/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 2221 Date Entered 2nd July 1982


Extent of List Entry

The extent includes part of the land described as Pt Blk XLV Town of Dunedin (NZ Gazette 1987, p. 714), Otago Land District, and the structure known as the Cenotaph thereon.

City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Pt Blk XLV Town of Dunedin (NZ Gazette 1987, p. 714), Otago Land District


Dunedin’s cenotaph, designed by Auckland architect William Gummer in 1921 and unveiled in 1927, stands sentinel over Queens Gardens in the centre of the city. It has significance historically as a memorial to Dunedin citizens killed in both World Wars and architecturally as an example of the design of memorials in the wake of conflict.

In the aftermath of World War One, Dunedin, like other communities, debated the best way to acknowledge and commemorate the sacrifice made by those who had served their country, many giving their lives the Empire. After considerable to-and-froing, the Dunedin war memorial committee held a design competition for a suitable memorial. The adjudicator, Invercargill architect E.R. Wilson, selected William Gummer’s entry because it reflected the ‘great sacrifices’ and ‘mighty deeds’ of the soldiers. Gummer’s design was a soaring eight-sided column, ‘a proud assertion of manhood and triumph’, with a sacrificial urn and four crosses emerging out of the column expressing sacrifice. Richard Gross’s relief sculpture complements Gummer’s design.

The Mayor laid the foundation stone on Anzac Day, 1924. Budget constraints meant that the memorial was built of concrete with an outer casing of Carrara marble. Slabs of stone replaced the planned bronze plaques. Only a stone lion, classically inspired panels, and a further panel inscribed with a ‘the Glorious Dead 1914-1918’ were built. H.S. Bingham and Co. won the tender for construction, with a price of £8,420.

In 1927, Prince Albert, the Duke of York (later George VI) unveiled the ‘Citizens’ War Memorial’ at a ceremony with seats for 1,000 for the next of kin of the fallen soldiers, and some 800 returned servicemen. The Mayor told the crowd that the memorial expressed the citizens of Dunedin’s ‘unswerving loyalty to the throne, as well as their proud sense of the dauntless spirit in which the youth of Otago offered their lives in defence of the Empire and of the maintenance of freedom, honour and justice.’

The memorial became known as the cenotaph. The term ‘cenotaph’, came into common use in the 1920s, referring to monuments modelled on British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens’ 1919 cenotaph for London’s Whitehall. Cenotaph means ‘empty tomb’ and memorials were proportioned to represent that form. The term became so charged with meaning that it came to refer more widely to other types of memorial, whatever their shape – because in the end, all memorials, whatever their form, were ‘empty tombs.’ This seems to be so in Dunedin – the Dunedin ‘Citizens’ War Memorial’ became known as ‘The Cenotaph’, though its form is a column rather than a tomb.

Throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century, the cenotaph has been the centre of Dunedin’s Anzac Day services. After World War Two a plaque commemorating the conflict was added to the memorial. In 2012, over 10,000 people gathered to remember the fallen soldiers. The cenotaph is a place for reflection and remembrance and remains the focus of Dunedin’s Anzac Day commemorations.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Gross, Richard Oliver

Gross was born in England and immigrated to New Zealand in 1914 having been trained in sculpture at the London Camberwell School of Art under Albert Toft. Toft was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy of Arts from 1885.

Gross' works include the Auckland Domain gates' statues, Wellington Citizen's Peace Memorial, the Savage Memorial at Orakei, the carved lion head fountain on the Carillon at Wellington and the stone lion in the Auckland Domain Wintergardens. At one time Gross was the only New Zealand sculptor casting in bronze at his own foundry.

Gross was president of the Auckland Society of Arts for ten years, chairman of the McKelvie Trust Board and chairman of the Associated Art Societies of New Zealand.

Gummer & Prouse

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


The Queens Gardens are located between the two main one-way streets on the south side of Dunedin’s city centre. Mature trees edge the grassed reserve. Within Queens Gardens are several monuments – including a statue of Queen Victoria (Register No. 2206) and Reverend Stuart’s memorial (Register No. 4758). The historic cityscape is recognised by the Dunedin City Council’s ‘Queens Gardens Heritage Precinct’.

The Cenotaph

As built, the memorial is octagonal in plan, with a reinforced concrete shaft. The shaft is faced with Carrara marble. The monument is 89ft 9ins [27.35 metres high]. The main section of the shaft is tapered. Crosses project from four of the faces of the shaft. The hollow shaft is 9ft [2.74 metres] in diameter above the panels. A concrete bowl tops the shaft. The semispherical bowl has a cone-shaped stand with four moulded brackets or legs. On top of the bowl, copper bands form a ‘flame’ shape that is presumed to be part of a lightening conductor shown on the original drawings. The stone facing is vertically stepped.

The base is octagonal. On two of the opposing faces are inscriptions – both to ‘The Glorious Dead’ – one to those who lost their lives in World War One, the other to those who died in World War Two. A stretching imperial lion is sculpted on one face of the base. The foundations are reinforced concrete.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1924 - 1927
From laying of the foundation stone to unveiling

1921 -

Plaque commemorating World War Two added

Completion Date

8th April 2014

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Phillips & Maclean, 1990.

Phillips, Jock and Chris Maclean, The Sorrow and the Pride: New Zealand War Memorials, Department of Internal Affairs, Historical Branch, Wellington, 1990.

Inglis, 1998

Inglis, K.S., Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2001 [first published 1998]

Other Information

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Otago/Southland Area Office of Heritage New Zealand.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.