The New Zealand Chinese Association’s (NZCA) Ventnor memorial saw its first light of day on 9 December 2020 in a emotional dawn ceremony just opposite Opononi beach.
The memorial honours the 499 Chinese and 13 crew and passengers who were lost in the 1902 sinking of the SS Ventnor off the Hokianga coast. It also pays tribute to the people of the Hokianga, who gathered the remains that drifted ashore and buried them with care and respect.
Sited at the new Manea Footprints of Kupe centre in Opononi, the memorial stands across the road from the beach, very close to where lifeboats from the SS Ventnor came to shore.
“We are hugely proud to see our memorial complete,” says Richard Leung, NZCA National President. “We wanted to honour our ancestors and all those who sheltered and cared for our ancestors’ remains. We think the memorial achieves that.”
“We’re deeply grateful to Te Hua o te Kawariki Trust for making space for us on the Manea site. The partnership is ideal for us. The whole idea was to make sure the history was passed down to future generations of New Zealanders. So having the memorial sited at Manea, which is set to be such an educational hub for the area, is great. In many ways, this is just the start of a journey.”
Meng Foon, chair of the NZCA’s Ventnor committee agrees. “It’s all about those values of respect – respect for the ancestors, respect and honour to Te Roroa, Te Rarawa and all those who have cared for our ancestors’ remains, and respect for ourselves and others. Those things are all part of the history of Aotearoa New Zealand, and that’s why we need to hold on to it.”
The first Chinese memorial ceremony will be held in 2021.
Te Hua o te Kawariki Trustees and New Zealand Chinese Association representatives at the Ventnor memorial site, 25 May 2020 (photo: Kirsten Wong)
Ground has broken on a planned memorial marking historic links between Chinese and Māori formed in the aftermath of the 1902 SS Ventnor shipwreck.
At dawn on May 25, representatives from the New Zealand Chinese Association (NZCA), Te Hua o Te Kawariki Trust, the Far North District Council, and Far North Holdings gathered at Opononi in the Far North. Te Hua o Te Kawariki Trust runs the Manea Footprints of Kupe cultural centre, where the memorial is located.
There was a blessing – incense lit – and the ground was broken on a memorial for the remains of 499 Chinese who never made it to their family burial sites.
“The most important thing is the enduring connection that the Chinese New Zealand community and the people of Te Roroa, Te Rarawa, and all those represented by Te Hua o te Kawariki Trust, will have into the future,” NZCA national president Richard Leung said.
Blessing the new SS Ventnor memorial site in Opononi
A moving dawn ceremony has brought together Te Hua o Te Kawariki Trust, the New Zealand Chinese Association and the Far North District Council to bless the new site of the SS Ventnor memorial. The ceremony took place on on Monday 25 May 2020.
The new site is at the Manea Footprints of Kupe cultural centre, across the road from Opononi beach and looking out towards the Hokianga Heads and beyond, where the SS Ventnor sank in 1902. The cultural centre, which is run by Te Hua o Te Kawariki Trust, is currently under construction.
“To be welcomed so warmly by the Trust was an honour and a privilege,” said Richard Leung, New Zealand Chinese Association President. “Yesterday was a milestone for our ancestors who were lost on the SS Ventnor, but also for us as descendants, wanting to pass on our culture and heritage to future generations. We look forward to doing that and to celebrating the history we share with all the people of the Hokianga, and especially with Te Roroa, Te Rarawa and Te Mahurehure, and now with Te Hua o Te Kawariki Trust.”
The New Zealand Chinese Association (NZCA) is delighted to receive Government support from the Provincial Growth Fund for its SS Ventnor memorial. The memorial will be built in the grounds of the new Manea Footprints of Kupe cultural centre in Opononi, which is currently under construction. News of the funding was announced yesterday.
On 7-9 April 2018, around 50 New Zealand Chinese Association (NZCA) members and friends travelled to the Hokianga. The purpose was to pay respects at Rawene cemetery – the proposed site of the NZCA Ventnor memorial, and at the Ventnor-related sites in Mitimiti and the Waipoua forest.
William McKee of Toitū: Otago Settlers Museum & The Dunedin Chinese Garden, travelled with us and put together this beautiful short movie you see above. If you have time, do watch it. It’s such an evocative reflection of a really special journey. Other members of our group have also recorded their reflections of the trip. Check out James To’s personal story on how the quintessential New Zealand “walk on the beach” turned into a spiritual pilgrimage on the Asia New Zealand foundation website.
An important reason for our visit was to pay respects at Rawene cemetery. Earlier this year we had a very unfortunate incident at our proposed Ventnor memorial site in Rawene cemetery. As a result of Cyclone Gita and persistent flooding during construction, a part of the foundation caved in and impinged on nearby graves. NZCA took the decision to immediately fill in the site. The trip north was to apologise in person to the people of Rawene, pay our respects at the remediated site and view the proposed new site in a different part of the cemetery. We are now in a consultation process for the proposed new site. The mechanics of that process have yet to be confirmed, but we look forward to working with the Far North District Council, the Community Board and the rest of the community. If you’d like to be on our update list please email NZCA@nzchinese.org.nz
Memorial plaque at Te Roroa’s Waipoua Visitors’ Centre in the Waipoua Forest
In 1902 the SS Ventnor sank off New Zealand’s Hokianga coast. With it went the remains of around 500 Chinese, mostly goldminers who had come to New Zealand to seek their fortune but who died far from home. The remains were being returned to their families in China, but they never made it.
We, the early settler Chinese community, honour all those who were lost in the sinking, and extend deep gratitude to the people of the Hokianga, Māori and Pakeha, who respectfully collected the remains that washed ashore. We especially thank Te Roroa and Te Rarawa, whose ancestors laid the remains to rest in their own ancestral burial grounds, and whose people have remembered and cared for them ever since.
Our work today
We want to make sure this special part of New Zealand’s history is preserved and promoted. In 2017, we launched a new project to build a significant and enduring memorial so future generations can connect to their culture and history, and for all New Zealanders to pay their respects and celebrate our shared values and common history.
The proposed sculpture / memorial will be built at Rawene cemetery, and will complement the smaller scale plaques in the Waipoua forest and at Mitimiti which were gifted to Te Roroa and Te Rarawa in memory of the lost and in thanks for the care that they have shown our ancestors.
The sculpture will be a key feature of the Northland Regional Council’s “Wandering with Ancestors” tourism trail. The trail is part of “Northland Journeys – the Byways”, a cornerstone project within the Northland Economic Action Plan.