Topic: A Corner of a Foreign Field by Janet Pates

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At the southern end of Pokeno village lies the historic site of Queen’s Redoubt. Tucked into the corner of a back road at the other end is the less well known but equally historic spot locally referred to as ‘The Old Soldiers’ Cemetery.

In April, 1863 Bishop Selwyn reported to the Anglican synod, “At Pokeno I have received a gift of five acres of land from Mr. Hallamore and am preparing to build a chapel upon it, by contributions from the settlers, and from the fund derived from services to the troops.”

Whether a chapel was ever built on the five acres is unknown though there is mention in a newspaper report of October 1864 of an unfinished building adjacent to the cemetery intended for the parsonage.

From newspaper reports of the day we know the cemetery was in use from at least as early as 1864. Burials included many soldiers.  As well as those who died in the conflict there were others who died from illness or accident, including several drownings, the result no doubt, of upset canoes, heavy clothing and English lads who never learned to swim.  Among early civilian burials were a man killed by lightning and a five year old boy who had an abscess leading to blood poisoning - a reminder of the debt we owe to antibiotics.

In the early 1900s a movement was started with the aim of creating a lasting memorial to the soldiers in the area who had lost their lives during the Land Wars, and a government grant of £100 was obtained for a monument. Designed and built by John Bouskill it was constructed of Oamaru stone and completed in 1902.

Built in an unusual pyramidal shape, topped with a cluster of six leaning rifles, its design is a stylized version of a stone cairn such as might be erected over a burial place on a battle field.  Let into two sides of the pyramid are panels listing the names of the soldiers who were killed in the fighting in this region.

One would have thought these names would have been easily obtainable from military records, but it seems not. A newspaper advertisement of the day urges those who possess reliable knowledge of soldiers interred at Pokeno to get in touch with the authorities so their names may be included. 

Although the soldiers listed on the monument are described as ‘here laid to rest’ we know one of those listed is actually buried at Alexandra Redoubt in Tuakau, two others were almost certainly buried at Port Waikato and a third is not listed at all. So the monument should be regarded as a memorial rather than an actual burial marker.

Those soldiers who died of other causes are long forgotten, which seems unfortunate for they died far from home and lie in a foreign field  as surely as their comrades who were killed in battle. The only exceptions to this are Corporal R. Horton and Sapper R. Loader, who were accidentally shot in separate incidents in 1863.  They have a gravestone erected by the 6th Company, Royal Engineers, which has since been updated with a new plaque.

By 1917 interest in the memorial seems to have waned, for Miss Edith Statham, inspector of war graves describes the site as ‘Pokeno cemetery, one acre, overgrown. Four acres adjoining used by anyone and everyone to graze horses.’

In 1925 the church suggested the cemetery should be handed over to the Franklin County Council. Later that year the same war graves inspector reported that the site had been cleared, making it possible to get close to the monument for the first time in years. It was found that water had got in behind the marble panels and the whole structure was in danger of collapse, leading to a major rebuild.  It was also suggested that the monument be moved nearer to the gate and its present position. I imagine this was done.

Alas, by 1927 the redoubtable Miss Statham rather tetchily reports, “We went to considerable expense and trouble in renovating the monument and graves of old soldiers there, but the whole cemetery is now in a most deplorable condition.”

In 1931 the portion containing the graves (3 roods, 38 perches) was vested in the Franklin County Council with the War Graves Division of Internal Affairs taking over responsibility for the monument.  The remainder of the five acres was rented and eventually sold to Mrs Margaret Dean.

In 1962 the whole cemetery was renovated by the council and in 1999 new granite panels replaced the marble ones on the monument and three more names were added.

No early record of burials in the cemetery is known to exist. In 1988 Franklin District Council compiled a list of names and death dates from such headstones as were then legible, but we know from old newspaper notices that there are many other graves which are unmarked.  I am told there were a number of iron railings and broken headstones which were stored for a time but have been lost over the years.

The  thirty or so surviving headstones range from the years 1874 to 1931 and while time has  taken its toll on many, they and their inscriptions give a valuable insight into a different age.  Notable among them is a wooden headboard, no longer upright or readable, common to the same base as a grave dedicated to a Helen Gordon.  I would be interested if anyone could tell me more about it as it is surely worth preserving for its historical interest.

For almost a hundred and fifty years the peace and tranquillity of this place has known nothing more intrusive than bird song but things are about to change.  On the other side of the fence, heavy machinery is at work preparing for Pokeno’s new housing development. 

I am assured that the cemetery will remain untouched and I hope its new neighbours will take this little piece of history to their hearts, appreciate and care for it over the years to come. 


About the writer: Janet Pates writes both fiction and nonfiction for children and adults. She has an interest in local history, on which topics she has written various articles. You can read one of Janet’s children’s stories on the Christchurch City Libraries website. She is also listed at

‘A Corner of a Foreign Field’ was written for the Memoir & Local History Competition 2011, run annually by the New Zealand Society of Authors (Bay of Plenty Region) with support from Tauranga Writers.


One of the better-preserved headstones.


Headstone of Corporal Horton and Sapper Loader.


Monument erected in 1902.


Unmarked graves rest under the sward.


This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016:

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A Corner of a Foreign Field by Janet Pates


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