Heads Road Cemetery

Heads Road, Guyton Street and Ridgway Street, WHANGANUI

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Wanganui was the second European settlement planned by the New Zealand Company after Wellington. The land was first purchased in May 1840 and the first European settlers arrived in February 1841. Heads Road was set aside by the New Zealand Company for a cemetery in its plans for Wanganui (or Petre as the town was first named) and it is one of the four earliest European public cemeteries in New Zealand, having been used for burials since at least 1843. Unlike Bolton Street in Wellington and Symonds Street in Auckland, Heads Road remains intact within its original area and has not been destroyed in any way for roads or other development. Therefore, it retains a high degree of historical integrity; only the gravestones from the Jewish section have been removed and replaced with a single memorial. In active use until its closure in 1915, Heads Road is an excellent example of a Victorian/Edwardian cemetery that retains its original layout as well as many of its memorials demonstrating the development of monumental masonry from the 1850s to the 1920s. Therefore, Heads Road differs from Wakapuaka Cemetery established in the 1840s for Nelson, another New Zealand Company settlement; the latter was in active use until 1952 with many additional burial areas having been added to the original layout as well as having a greater quantity of 20th century headstones and memorials. Heads Road also has particular historical significance in terms of the graves of casualties of the New Zealand Wars 1840-1872. The morgue was used, together with the nearby drill hall, when the bodies of victims of the Tangiwai disaster in December 1953 were brought to Wanganui for identification. The role of Whangaehu Valley farmers in recovering the bodies of victims of Tangiwai is also linked to the cemetery morgue. Wanganui's early European history is evident throughout Heads Road. Memorials identify the early settlers, missionaries, merchants, politicians, government officials, surveyors and benefactors who were responsible for the establishment of the city and district. For more than 30 years from 1901, Wanganui was the fifth largest urban centre in New Zealand and the wealth of many of the city's residents is reflected in the memorials at Heads Road. Many of these memorials commemorate people of significance to Wanganui and New Zealand's history, including John Ballance (Premier), Richard Taylor (missionary), John Tiffin Stewart (engineer), Thomas McDonnell (awarded the NZ Cross), AD Willis (printer and lithographer), Henry Sarjeant (farmer and benefactor) and SH Drew (jeweller and Museum founder). Heads Road also provides the focus for the Cemetery Circuit motorcycle race held on Boxing Day since 1951. Amongst the four earliest public cemeteries in New Zealand, Heads Road Cemetery is of outstanding historical significance. Linked to both people and events of significance in Wanganui's and New Zealand's history; Heads Road Cemetery also retains historical integrity as an example of a Victorian/ Edwardian cemetery, the cemetery having undergone few changes over the years and containing examples of monumental masonry styles from the 1840s through to the 1920s. Heads Roads Cemetery remains part of the social fabric of Wanganui linking the community and visitors that come in search of their personal history to the past.

Heads Road Cemetery, Whanganui CC BY-SA 4.0 Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org | Schwede66 - Wikimedia Commons | 15/11/2018 | Schwede66
Heads Road Cemetery, Whanganui CC BY-SA 4.0 Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org | Schwede66 - Wikimedia Commons | 14/11/2018 | Schwede66
Heads Road Cemetery, Whanganui CC BY-SA 4.0 Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org | Schwede66 - Wikimedia Commons | 14/11/2018 | Schwede66
Heads Road Cemetery, Whanganui. The Morgue as seen from Ridgway Street. Note the chapel end has distinctive pointed windows | Wendy Pettigrew | 01/10/2005 | Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 1


Able to Visit

List Number


Date Entered

6th June 2007

Date of Effect

6th June 2007

City/District Council

Whanganui District


Horizons (Manawatū-Whanganui) Region

Extent of List Entry

The registration includes the land comprised in Pt Res C, Town of Wanganui; Pt Lot 30, DEED 133; Res F, Town of Wanganui; Sec 545, Town of Wanganui; (all in Block IX, Westmere Survey District) the cemetery, the morgue (including fittings and fixtures) and garden thereon. See Appendix 2b of the registration report.

Legal description

Main Cemetery (also known as General Cemetery): Pt Res C Town of Wanganui (NZ Gazette 1914, p. 4076), Pt Lot 30 DEED 133 (RT WN20C/838),Catholic Cemetery: Res F Town of Wanganui (NZ Gazette 1988, pp.2249-2250), Jewish Cemetery: Sec 545 Town of Wanganui (NZ Gazette 1968, p.578), Wellington Land District.

Location Description

Heads Road Cemetery consists of three parts: (1) the main cemetery area (also known as the General Cemetery) located between Guyton Street, Heads Road and Ridgway Street; (2) the Catholic cemetery on the opposite side of Heads Road, and (3) the Jewish cemetery on Heads Road next to the Catholic area. (See Appendices 2a & b of the registration report.)

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