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Whiteley Memorial to find new home in town

The controversial Whiteley Memorial Monument at Pukearuhe, in North Taranaki, will be dismantled and not rebuilt, the New Plymouth Methodist Church has announced.

Instead, the church will display the plaque and cross in an accessible location at the New Plymouth Methodist Centre, behind the Whiteley Memorial Church in Liardet Street.

The monument was erected to the memory of the Rev John Whiteley in 1923 from funds collected by the Methodist Church throughout New Zealand. It was erected on a former Ngati Tama pah site close to the spot where Whiteley, a renowned Wesleyan misssionary, was killed in 1869 during the Taranaki Land Wars.

Church spokesperson John Chittenden says Whiteley was killed, together with a number of other people, by a raiding party from Waikato. Oral tradition suggests he was warned by people of Ngati Tama not to proceed past a certain point, but ignored their warning.

“While a missionary to the Maori people, it would appear that Whiteley was a typical Victorian Englishman, loyal to God and the Queen, and saw no fault in being a Government agent at the same time. With the hindsight of history, this does not rest easy with the people of the iwi.”

The current debate centres on the iwi's right to remove the monument and the feelings of local Pakeha people (including some church members) who see the monument as a part of settler/missionary history and oppose its removal.

"The Crown reserve on which the monument was erected has now been transferred back to Ngati Tama as part of a Waitangi Treaty settlement," John says.

"From Ngati Tama's perspective it is inappropriate for the monument to remain on their wahi tapu site. The Methodist Church is committed to addressing the causes of past grievances between Maori and Tauiwi and acknowledges Ngati Tama's right to receive the land free of any encumbrance, as agreed by the Office of Treaty Settlements."

The only Historic Place classification on the site is a wahi tapu classification, reflecting the cultural significance of the pah site to Ngati Tama, John says.

"The Church is conscious that a number of parties have expressed concern at the plan to remove the monument. It has been a landmark at Pukearuhe for 81 years and its removal has been the subject of a front page article and an editorial in The Daily News. It has also been the subject of numerous letters to the editor."

The Taranaki branch of the New Zealand Founders' Society had expressed a view that the cairn might be saved or relocated.

While being sympathetic to the views of those people, the decision to dismantle the cairn and relocate only the plaque and cross recognises that there are other memorials to the Rev Whiteley in the area, notably the church erected to his memory in New Plymouth. It is inappropriate to move the cairn to another site at Pukearuhe as it identifies the general location of Whiteley's death.

"Given Whiteley's commitment to mission to both Maori and settler alike it would be a tragedy for his memorial monument to be an ongoing source of discontent," John says." Perhaps the best memorial the church of today can erect to the Rev Whiteley is the removal of a significant past grievance to pave the way forward."