Hamilton mayor suffers from abuse after Captain Hamilton statue removal

9:52 am on 25 June 2020

Hamilton Mayor Paula Southgate says she has received more abuse in recent days than in her 20 years of politics.

The statue of Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton being removed.

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

Vitriolic emails have even referred to lynching - all because of the statue of Captain Hamilton, which was removed from the city's Civic Square earlier this month.

It was removed the day before a Black Lives Matter march after a member of the public threatened to forcibly remove it as well as a formal request from local iwi Waikato-Tainui.

Southgate told Morning Report the reason for its removal was to ensure public safety and that the people marching could do so peacefully without any incidents.

Deputy Mayor Geoff Taylor had suggested prosecutions were needed over the threat to remove the statue, but Southgate said that would be "just throwing oil at the fire".

She said she had seen the "worst arguments put on both sides of the debate over last week", and aggressive views had led to abuse.

"People refer to your family, to where you live, they wait for you at the front door," she said, adding the one reference to lynching was "particularly distasteful".

"There are some very aggressive emails circulating and some unhelpful views, at the end of the day, we're going to get nowhere if we listen to the extreme views."

There was also no point in putting the statue back up now, she said, because it would undoubtedly be vandalised.

But whether it will be brought back and how, was still a matter of debate. Southgate said wherever it went, the key point was to tell the story right.

"There's a big difference between revering something, celebrating something and remembering something and we've got to get that balance right."

Although she acknowledged Captain Hamilton was part of the city's history and namesake, she said Civic Square was not the place for his statue.

"Civic Square has got to be a place where all people feel welcomed and nobody feels offended.

"If it goes to the museum, it's not a bad solution, or if it goes anywhere else where the proper story can be told, where there's a balanced history."

Hamilton mayoral candidate Paula Southgate

Hamilton mayoral candidate Paula Southgate Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

At a council meeting on the statue's future yesterday, Deputy Mayor Geoff Taylor said he did not want decisions on the statue to be dictated by events outside of New Zealand.

"There's an awful lot we shouldn't be proud of in our colonial past, there's stuff we should be ashamed of no doubt. But I'm from European stock and there are things I'm proud of pioneers, the forebears who came here with nothing and worked in the harshest of conditions, who made us look soft with their incredible work ethic," Taylor said.

"I'm not wiping all of that away because of some crazy US cop and because someone has joined the dots and deemed our country as a total failure as well.

"I'm not wiping all that away because of some woke response to the outrage in the US, which takes no heed of the situation here and doesn't even register where we're at with our cultural journey as a country."

Southgate agreed with the point that "we also need to consider what's right for us locally at this point in time".

But she said the city, and nation as whole, needed to have brave conversations about this topic because it could not be ignored.

"This issue is not going away. It pops up from time to time because something reminds iwi that the hurt still exists, so we must face this conversation, we can't ignore it. We have to deal with it. I think the only to go forward is to go forward together but that takes some time to lift the levels of acceptance and understanding."

A report from a Massey University historian had been commissioned under the previous mayor to look into the key points of cultural offence in the city. Southgate said that report was received just prior to the lockdown and would be made available to the public by the end of the week.

"That will inform people around some of the stories that have shaped some of the place names, and issues in Hamilton City. That does not jump to the conclusion that we're going to change the name of the city, nor any street names, but it will inform a conversation, a brave conversation."

She said the council would also talk to iwi about their ideas about how to best engage the public in discussions.

"I tell you that does not happen through social media and Facebook and Twitter, all that does is just entrench the really worst views."

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