Unveiling of the grave marker at Ruapekapeka
Wednesday 3 February 2021
Kei aku rangatira, tēnā koutou.
Nei tātou e whai whakaaro nei,
ki ō tātou mate kua rehu ki te rua.
Tēnā anō tātou.
I specifically acknowledge The Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister;
Her Excellency Laura Clarke, British High Commissioner to New Zealand;
Pita Tipene, interim chair of Te Ruapekapeka Trust and its trustees;
Ministers and Members of Parliament;
Air Marshal Kevin Short Chief of Defence, Chiefs and Members of the Defence Force
And esteemed guests and descendants here today.
Arriving at Ruapekapeka this morning, I was reminded of the whakatauki: Whatungarongaro te tangata, toitū te whenua:
as man disappears from sight, the land remains.
Ruapekapeka is one of our most precious and significant heritage sites. It bears the traces of a dark and difficult chapter in the history of Aotearoa.
The headstone in front of us serves as a reminder of everyone who perished here, in the final battle of New Zealand’s Northern War.
The battle began with British shell fire directed onto Ruapekapeka Pā on the morning of the 10th of January 1846.
By the evening of the 11th, approximately twenty Ngāpuhi and twelve British lay dead, and the pā itself was alight.
The headstone marks the site where those twelve British soldiers, sailors, and marines were buried by their comrades-in-arms, after the dust of battle had settled.
The text etched into the stone reads:
‘Although these fallen men lie not in the heart of their own land, they are in honoured company, for their remembrance will be as lasting as the land in which they gave their all, and where their remains are kept.’
Aotearoa bears the responsibility for looking after these men, who for so long lay unrecognised and forgotten. They are now part of this land, and their names are inscribed in granite for posterity.
Today, we remember also the immense loss borne by Ngāpuhi, and the deep wounds of that conflict that have yet to heal.
Te Ruapekapeka Trust, representing the people of Ngāti Manu, Ngāti Hau, Te Kapotai, Ngāti Hine, and Ngāpuhi nui-tonu have extended great generosity and care as guardians of this sacred place.
It must be a source of great sadness for the Trust that Allan Halliday, who devoted himself to this project and to the commemorations which took place throughout January, did not live to see this day.
Today is a significant milestone for the Trust, along with the team from the Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai, and Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, who were determined to locate this historic gravesite, and were finally rewarded in their search in December 2017.
The significance of that discovery is reflected in the contribution of the New Zealand Defence Force, Te Arawhiti, Manatū Taonga, and the British High Commission to this commemorative service.
As we reflect on what took place here, 175 years ago, and the goodwill and acknowledgement of history that has brought us all together here today, we commit to a future where we learn from the lessons of the past, and are guided by a spirit of reconciliation, communion, and peace.
Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa.