12 Jun 2020

Controversial statue of Captain John Hamilton has been removed

11:35 am on 12 June 2020

A controversial statue of Captain John Hamilton has been removed from Civic Square in Hamilton where it has stood since 2013.

The statue of Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton being removed.

The statue of Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton being removed. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Earlier today the Hamilton City Council announced it would remove the statue, following a formal request from local iwi Waikato-Tainui.

It comes after local kaumātua Taitimu Maipi declared this week he would tear it down at a protest in the city tomorrow.

Mayor Paula Southgate said many locals shared Maipi's view that the statue was culturally offensive.

"I know many people, in fact a growing number of people, find the statue personally and culturally offensive. We can't ignore what is happening all over the world and nor should we.

"At a time when we are trying to build tolerance and understanding between cultures and in the community, I don't think the statue helps us to bridge those gaps.

"While I appreciate the statue was gifted to the city before my time on council, we need to think about its role and potential location in the city."

Southgate said Civic Square were not the right place, and the Council could consider relocating it.

"I initially raised my concerns with John Gallagher in November of last year and have spoken to him again recently. He was very understanding and receptive to having this discussion."

The bronze statue of Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton was originally gifted to Hamilton City by the Gallagher Group in 2013.

John Fane Charles Hamilton was a British navy officer who led a regiment and was killed during the Battle of Gate Pā.

Chief executive Richard Briggs said it had become clear the statue was likely to be vandalised.

"We know this statue is contentious for a number of our community members. It is the right thing for the Council to take the opportunity to look at the long-term plan for this artwork and determine where and how it might fit in to the city's future.

"We also have public safety concerns. The statue is firmly embedded into Civic Square and sits on top of the Garden Place underground car park.

"If the statue were to be forcefully removed from its current position, as has been indicated, it could severely undermine the integrity of the building below it. We can't allow for that to happen so the removal of the statue will be coordinated in a professional and responsible manner."

Yesterday, Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer called for an inquiry to identify and remove colonial monuments, statues and place names that symbolise racism and oppression.

Ngarewa-Packer said some of the most racist figures from New Zealand's colonial history are still honoured in this way.

Historian and author of several books including The New Zealand Wars, Vincent O'Malley, told Morning Report that many monuments around the country reflect the era in which they were built and it's high time for a clean-up.

"They're problematic in many respects so I think it's healthy to have a dialogue and conversation around this difficult history and how we want to move forward."

O'Malley said there are a range of options for addressing the issue, but iwi and hapū must be at the forefront of the conversation.

"It's not a straightforward choice between leaving them and toppling them, there are other things that can be done as well - and of those is to contextualise those monuments by providing information panels from today's perspective."

He said there are opportunities to discuss new monuments that could go alongside or replace the more problematic ones.

"History is never fixed, it's a constant process of our understandings which evolve and change over time ... these monuments are a reflection of another time really."