Unique bond honoured
February 29, 2024 | Stories
New Zealand Chinese Association President Meng Foon with the pou whenua at the hui held at Manea Footprints of Kupe in Opononi

This is a story from our monthly newsletter, Heritage this Month.

John O’Hare | Hokianga 

A group of Chinese New Zealanders took part in a ceremony honouring the unique bond between them and local iwi in the Hokianga as part of Waitangi Day commemorations this year.  

The hui included 46 Chinese New Zealanders under the age of 35 who travelled to Northland as part of Pāruru – a kaupapa dedicated to honouring those lost when the SS Ventnor sank west of the Hokianga Harbour in 1902.

A pou whenua gifted to the New Zealand Chinese Association by local Hokianga leaders at the unveiling of the SS Ventnor memorial at Manea Footprints of Kupe in 2014 was also formally returned at the 4th February ceremony.  

The SS Ventnor had set out for China in 1902 with the bones of 499 Chinese men who had died in New Zealand. The men were being returned home to the care of their families and ancestral villages. Most were old goldminers from the Otago and Greymouth area who had not been able to make enough money for their return passage home.  

SS Ventnor c.1901 (no known copyright)

Under the auspices of a charitable association – the Cheong Sing Tong – community members pooled their money so that the remains of their compatriots could be returned home.

Tragically the men never made it. The SS Ventnor hit a rock off the Taranaki coast on 27 October and the captain decided to make for Auckland. The ship was damaged, however, and sank off the Hokianga Heads at 9.42pm the next day. The crew took to the four lifeboats though only three reached the shore at Ōmapere. The other boat was lost. Officially 13 men died – including several elderly Chinese ‘attendants’ who had been given free passage home by the Cheong Sing Tong in exchange for looking after the coffins.

Most of the remains were in lead-lined boxes stored beneath decks, while others were in coffins made of wood and stored on deck. The remains that were stored on deck came ashore in their boxes and ended up in the area around the Hokianga Heads. They were rescued by local Māori and cared for according to the customs of the people until the Chinese community came to find them.

Speaking in the Northern Advocate, Te Roroa General Manager Snow Tane felt the honouring of the dead among Māori and Chinese had bonded the two cultures. His grandfather was one of the people to find around 23 kōiwi, which he then uplifted and buried.

“It’s just part and parcel of our culture, to manaaki (care for) the dead because they are special and we need to remember them, no matter who they are, we must treat them with respect.”

Tane said now was a suitable time for the next generation to learn the story of the SS Ventnor to ensure the memories lived on long into the future. 

O'Hare, John (author)
New Zealand Chinese Association
Waitangi Day

John O'Hare | Communications Advisor
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