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Scarves on Statues – Captain Hamilton

[Previous instalments in the ‘Scarves on Statues’ series can be found here]

I have written quite a lot on this blog about my Italian heritage over the past couple of years, but never a word about the other side of my family. I am a first generation New Zealander on my father’s side, but on my mother’s side my New Zealand ancestry dates back near as dammit to the start of this country’s European settlement.

In the 1860s, what we now know as the city of Hamilton was for the most part little more than a patch of swampland with a series of Māori villages dotted along the mighty Waikato River that ran through it. This changed forever as a direct result of the New Zealand Wars, a conflict that happened when the country’s fledgling colonial government saw fit to confiscate land from the native population after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

My great-great-great-grandfather, Henry McCowen, an Irish Protestant, arrived in New Zealand from Kerry, Ireland, on 17 February 1864 having enlisted in the 4th Waikato Militia. Those who signed up were promised 80 acres of land and a town lot in return for three years’ service. What they hadn’t realised was that their ‘promised land’ had yet to be ‘acquired’ and was to be confiscated from the local Māori. That, and the small matter that the men, as a newspaper of the day remarked: “might as well have got their lands on the moon” for all the use it was for agriculture at that time. I guess some handled that grim reality better than others. Henry McCowen drank himself to death, leaving a widow and two daughters with nothing.

Hamilton was established as a settlement of the 4th Waikato Militia at the old Māori village of Kirikiriroa (long stretch of gravel), from which the city takes its Māori name. In English, it’s named for Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton, a Scottish commander who was killed during the New Zealand Wars in the battle of Gate Pā, Tauranga.


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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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