Gisborne South African War Memorial

On 8 October 1906 Gisborne residents assembled near the city’s foreshore for the unveiling of the Cook Monument. This impressive stone obelisk was erected on the city’s foreshore in honour of the renowned navigator, Lieutenant James Cook, who had landed nearby on 8 October 1769. At the time of unveiling the memorial served a dual function: as an economising measure, it would also serve to honour the men from Poverty Bay who had volunteered during the South African War. Their names are inscribed along three sides of the obelisk’s base.

The incongruity of its dual function led to some unfavourable comments. In 1910 a body of concerned citizens known as the Cook Memorial Rectification Committee persuaded Gisborne City Council that the Trafalgar band rotunda would make a better site for the South African War memorial.

In May 1912, therefore, monumental masons Messrs Frank Harris and Co. began the task of attaching three 7-foot long marble slabs to the base of the rotunda. These were then inscribed with the names of the South African servicemen (and of one nurse, Nellie Dean Redstone). The related inscriptions were removed from the Cook monument.

The tablets were still on the band rotunda in March 1957, when a national gathering of South African war veterans was held in Gisborne. Sometime after that they were evidently transferred to the Waikanae Beach pavilion (opened in 1954) and, after that was demolished in 1987,  to the RSA annexe of the Gisborne and District War Memorial (now the Gisborne War Memorial Theatre).

Former location: the rotunda is still visible on Riverside Walk on the eastern bank of Taruheru River where it meets the Waimata. Current location: near Gisborne War Memorial Theatre, slightly further along Bright Street.

Sources: ‘Dual Purpose Memorial’, Poverty Bay Herald, 7/9/1906, p. 2; ‘Cook Memorial’, Poverty Bay Herald, 15/9/1906, p. 2;  ‘Those Troopers’ Names’, Poverty Bay Herald, 1/12/1910, p. 3; ‘Troopers’ Memorial’, Poverty Bay Herald, 24/5/1912, p. 2; ‘Veldt Veterans Gather in Gisborne’, Gisborne Photo News, no. 32, 7 March 1957, pp. 58-61.

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