A ‘Murderous Arsehole’ From New Zealand‘s Colonial Wars Is the Latest Statue To Fall

A statue of Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton, after whom the city of Hamilton is named, was removed after a local Māori elder threatened to take it down by force.
June 12, 2020, 5:03pm
Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton statue removed
Photo: MICHAEL BRADLEY/AFP via Getty Images

They've come for a Confederate president in Virginia; a mass murdering Belgian king in Antwerp; a slave trader in Bristol.

Now, a statue of a British naval captain who led colonial soldiers in battle against New Zealand's indigenous Māori has become the latest to fall, amid a global reckoning with racism and colonial history triggered by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Officials in the New Zealand city of Hamilton removed the statue of Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton, after whom the city is named, on Friday, after a local Māori elder threatened to take it down by force.

READ: British protesters have toppled a slave trader statue and dumped it in the harbor

Taitimu Maipi told local media he had informed the council he planned to remove the statue himself during a protest march Saturday. He believed the statue of Hamilton, who he considered a "murderous arsehole," was an affront, given his role in colonial battles with his ancestors.

Maipi had previously vandalized the statue with paint and a hammer in 2018, telling reporters at the time: "He murders all of our people at the Battle of Gate Pā and he gets a statue celebrating his achievements… It don't make sense to me."

Hamilton's mayor, Paula Southgate, said it was clear the statue was divisive for some, and it was the right time to remove it, amid a growing conversation about race and colonialism spawned by the Black Lives Matter movement.

"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," she said.

Hamilton, a British naval captain, was among those who died in the Battle of Gate Pa in April 1864, the biggest defeat for British colonial forces in the New Zealand Wars. He never set foot in the city named after him.

READ: Another statue of a European slaver has been toppled

His statue — which was erected in 2013 — is only one of the monuments to colonial figures to have come under scrutiny amid a growing debate in New Zealand over how to publicly commemorate the country's history. On Thursday, Māori party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer called for a national inquiry to remove statues or change place names that represented historical oppression.

"We’re not saying first of all that they should all be pulled down. What we’re saying is that there are some that no longer fit who we should be as a nation.”

Others have rejected the idea, with Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, a conservative politician of Māori descent, labelling the movement a "wave of idiocy".

"A country learns from its mistakes and triumphs, and its people should have the knowledge and maturity to distinguish between the two," he said.

The global wave of anti-racist protest has also led to the toppling of statues — and threats to remove scores of others — in the UK. On Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson weighed in on the debate, condemning the threats to statues and saying it was “absurd and shameful” that a monument to Winston Churchill had had to be boarded up in case it was attacked by protesters.

“We cannot now try to edit or censor our past. We cannot pretend to have a different history,” he tweeted. “To tear them down would be to lie about our history.”