Sir George Grey Statue

Albert Park, 33-43 Princes Street, Auckland

  • Sir George Grey Statue, Albert Park, Auckland. CC BY-SA 2.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: russellstreet. Taken By: russellstreet. Date: 14/06/2008.
  • Sir George Grey Statue, Albert Park, Auckland. CC BY-SA 2.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: russellstreet. Taken By: russellstreet. Date: 14/06/2008.
  • Sir George Grey Statue, Albert Park, Auckland. Ref: WA-09945-G.
    Copyright: Alexander Turnbull Library. Taken By: Leo White. Date: 26/10/1926.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 119 Date Entered 15th February 1990 Date of Effect 15th February 1990


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Sec 1 SO 374931 (Public Reserve, s4(7) Auckland Improvement Trust Act 1971; Historic Reserve, s16 (2A) Reserves Act 1977), North Auckland Land District, and the structure known as Sir George Grey Statue thereon. (Refer to the extent map tabled at the Heritage List/ Rārangi Kōrero Committee meeting on 11 February 2016).

City/District Council

Auckland Council


Auckland Council

Legal description

Sec 1 SO 374931 (Public Reserve, s4(7) Auckland Improvement Trust Act 1971; Historic Reserve, s16 (2A) Reserves Act 1977), North Auckland Land District


This statue of Sir George Grey (1812-1898) reflects early twentieth-century civic attitudes to British colonial rule and Maori, as well as to New Zealand's 'founding fathers'. Originally erected in 1904, it depicts Grey standing in morning dress, with a scroll in his hand and a replicated Maori carving to the rear. Grey was an important British colonial diplomat and politician, having been twice governor of New Zealand (1845-1853 & 1861-1868), the last superintendent of Auckland (1875-1876), and the premier of New Zealand (1877-1879). He had also served as governor of South Australia (1841-1845) and that of Cape Colony, South Africa (1854-1861). Grey supported colonial expansion as a way of alleviating poverty in Britain and Ireland, and was an advocate of cultural assimilation between different peoples. In New Zealand, he actively encouraged the Europeanization of Maori and a greater understanding of Maori culture by Pakeha settlers. The monument was commissioned soon after his death, being funded through a combination of public subscription and a government grant. Parliamentary subsidies were unusual at this time, but in this instance official involvement extended to the premier Richard Seddon (1845-1906), who approved the final model. Seddon had entered parliament in 1879, reputedly at Grey's suggestion, and often sought to strengthen his position as leader of the Liberal Party by claiming an affinity with Grey.

The marble statue was executed in England by Francis Williamson, who was a sculptor to Queen Victoria. Its plinth was crafted from Coromandel granite and Tamaki scoria by a firm of local masons, Trayes Bros. The monument contained a number of inscriptions, including a list of Grey's administrative posts and a verse in Maori praising his role as 'shelter of the Maori race' - 'te whakaruru hau o te iwi maori i nga ra i mua'. Originally erected at the busy junction between Queen Street and Grey's Avenue, it was unveiled at a public ceremony attended by a number of national figures. Its location became more prominent after the adjacent town hall was completed in 1911, when many Aucklanders used its base as a meeting point. The monument was transferred to its current position in Albert Park in 1922, partly because it was an impediment to traffic. The park contained other public sculpture, such as a statue of Queen Victoria, as well as several trees that had been donated by Grey when the grounds were laid out in 1882. Retaining its symbolic power, the statue's head was removed by Maori rights protestors in 1986 and replaced with a likeness the following year.

The monument is historically significant for its commemoration of Sir George Grey, who was a major figure in the colonial history of New Zealand and the British Empire. Its creation reflects a number of attitudes in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century New Zealand, including a respect for founding fathers and representatives of British authority. It is of value for demonstrating the strength of British imperial sentiment within the Seddon government, as well as the general population. The statue is particularly important for reflecting late colonial attitudes towards Maori, including both paternalism and an acknowledgement of separate cultural identity through the employment of Maori-based motifs and te reo Maori/the Maori language. It demonstrates the strength of political feeling during the 1980s, when the nearby university was a focus of land rights protest. Artistically, the monument has been considered less distinguished than other works of the period, but exemplifies a move towards greater realism in public sculpture. Its current location reflects the 1920s 'modernisation' of urban streets in Auckland and the employment of parks as places of public education. The monument has aesthetic value for its parkland setting, and is associated with a number of other historic statues and structures within the park and the surrounding area.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This statue commemorates one of the great figures of 19th century New Zealand history.


The work has been criticised as being stiff and lifeless, however, the conditions under which Williamson worked - relying on a single photograph, taken in 1868, and the help of the Agent-General in London - perhaps made this inevitable.

The design of the base and pedestal is similar to that of the statue of Goldsmith (1861) by J.H. Foley, which stands in front of Trinity College, Dublin. Williamson was apprenticed to Foley for seven years, and assisted him for a further twenty years.


The Sir George Grey statue is one of a complex of statues in Albert Park commemorating New Zealand's past. The cluster of statues surrounding the fountain acts as a visual focus within the park.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Williamson, Francis John

Williamson (1833-1920) was educated at Hampstead, London. He became a pupil of the sculptor John Henry Foley (1818-74) and subsequently assisted Foley for some twenty years. He then returned to Surrey where he worked until his death in 1920.

Williamson exhibited his sculpture in London's leading galleries, particularly the Royal Academy, from 1853 to 1897. He was renowned for his portrait studies and became the Queen's sculptor, and by command he sculpted ten statues of members of the Royal Family between 1878 and 1897. He generally worked in marble and was responsible for the design of the Sir George Grey statue at Albert Park, Auckland (1904).

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The Grey Statue is one of a number of sculptures commissioned from English sculptors during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, usually financed by public subscriptions to commemorate notable individuals.

Sir George Grey (1812-1898) was the Governor of New Zealand 1845-1853 and 1861-1868. He also served as Superintendent of Auckland province, 1875-1876, a Member of the House of Representatives, and Prime Minister, 1877-1879. When he died in 1898, Auckland's Mayor Peter Wignam formed a committee to erect a memorial. Subscriptions were called for and a $1000 subsidy obtained from Parliament, a rare event for sculpture. In April 1902 the commission was given to F.J. Williamson, at a fee of 1200 guineas, and he was instructed to depict the statesman as he appeared in 1868,

Messrs Trayes Bros were contracted to dress and erect the pedestal and place the statue, an a site at the apex of the Town Hall, at the intersection of Grey's Avenue and Queen Street. The total expenditure was about £1825.

In 1922 the statue was moved to its present site in Albert Park.

On Waitangi Day 1987 the head of the statue was removed as part of a protest against the Treaty of Waitangi. Its replacement was designed and sculpted by Roderick Burgess at a cost of about $9000, and was described by the sculptor as a compromise owing to the wide shoulder span, proportionally, and the difficulty of finding adequate photographic details.

Albert Park was originally the site of a Maori settlement, then part of Albert Barracks, but in 1870 was set aside as a public reserve and by the early 1880s the present layout was begun.

Physical Description


Francis John WILLIAMSON (1833-1920)

John Henry FOLEY (1818-1874) (Design of pedestal)

Roderick BURGESS (b.1952) (Replacement head)


The monument has a rusticated, moulded base with a Classical pedestal based on the Corinthian order. The statue which stands on a plinth is full length, in contemporary morning dress. The work exemplifies the use of realistic depiction in late nineteenth century English sculpture.


1922 Re-erected in Albert Park from the Town Hall apex, Queen Street

February 1987 Head removed by protestors

April 1988 New head fitted

Notable Features

Registration covers the statue, its plinth and foundations. It also includes recent alterations. The structure lies on or near the site of the nineteenth-century military magazine inside Albert Barracks.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1904 -
Erection of statue in Queen Street, Auckland

1922 -
Moved to Albert Park

1987 -
Head removed by protestors

1988 -
New head fitted

Construction Details

The statue is marble; its base and pedestal are of local stone, the steps are made of Tamaki scoria and the pedestal from Coromandel tonolite. The new head is reinforced with a brass rod and filled with cement.

Completion Date

12th November 2001

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Auckland Star

Auckland Star

15/02/87, p8

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Keith Sinclair, 'George Grey', Vol.1: 1769-1869, Wellington, 1990; David Hamer, 'Richard Seddon', Vol.2 1870-1900, Wellington, 1993

Woodward, 1972

Robin Woodward, 'Public Sculptures in Auckland, 1895 - 1971', MA Thesis, University of Auckland, 1972

McLintock, 1966

An Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Government Printer, Wellington, 1966

New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.

29/09/22, p6

07/02/87, p3

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

'Sir George Grey Statue, Albert Park, Auckland', Buildings Classification Committee Report, Wellington, 1989 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)

Scholefield, 1940

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

Weekly News

Weekly News

29/12/04, p20

Graves, 1970 (reprint)

A Graves, The Royal Academy of Fine Arts Exhibitions 1769-1904, London, 1970 (reprint)

Gummer, 1954

R Gummer. Dictionary of British Sculpture, 1660-1851, London 1954

Waters, 1975

G M Waters. Dictionary of British Artists: Working 1900-1950, Eastbourne 1975

Auckland City Council

Auckland City Council

Albert Park Environmental Trail, Auckland City Council 1983

File 70/10: 'Statues and Monuments'

Minutes of Auckland City Council Meetings: 1903-4; 1921-2

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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.