Historic Place Category 1
Pt Sec 491 Town of Wellington (PROC 1862, 1863, 2129; NZ Gazette 1989, p.5763), Wellington Land District
Extent of Registration
Extent includes the land described as Pt Sec 491 Town of Wellington (PROC 1862, 1863, 2129; NZ Gazette 1989, p.5763), Wellington Land District, and the structure known as Cenotaph thereon
The Wellington Cenotaph is an imposing presence in the Government Centre historic area. Located at the junction of Lambton Quay and Bowen Street, this impressive memorial commemorates those lost in the ‘Great Wars’, the First World War of 1914-1918 and the Second World War of 1939-1945.
The construction of the Cenotaph was initiated after a special committee was set up to coordinate fundraising and building of a monument to commemorate the New Zealanders lost in the First World War. The committee went about building in a typically New Zealand way, holding a competition to decide upon the final design. The competition was won by the firm of Grierson, Aimer and Draffin and the sculptor Richard Gross and would cost £25,000. The memorial and sculpture were originally to be situated on the west side of Pigeon Park (now Te Aro Park) in Manners Street, but in 1924, the Government gave permission for the current site to be used.
Construction of the Cenotaph began on ANZAC Day, 25 April 1929 with the foundation stone being laid by the Governor General of the time, Sir Charles Fergusson. The foundation stone was not laid alone but with newspapers of the day, Bishop Scott’s dedicatory prayer, a Returned Servicemen’s Association (RSA) badge, some coins and the embarkation roll of the First New Zealand Expeditionary force in 1914.
The memorial consists of a Coromandel Granite Base, supporting a Carrara Marble viewing room and obelisk capped by the bronze statuary of (a) ‘victorious youth mounted on the winged horse Pegasus and looking to heaven for strength and wisdom to make worthwhile the sacrifices represented by the shrine below’. The sculpture, entitled ‘The Will to Peace’ emphasises the cost of war, with ‘Pegasus spurning underfoot the victor’s spoils of war and rising to the heavens, enables his rider to emerge from the deluge of blood and tears, and to receive the great spiritual assurance of peace’.
The detailing of the stone reliefs on the base of the memorial call attention to the disillusionment many New Zealanders felt at the commencement of the ‘Great War’. On the back of the base is a pelican feeding its life-blood to its young, a symbol of the women of New Zealand sacrificing sons, brothers, husbands and fathers to the war. On the front, a solemn stone relief shows a soldier leaving his family and being called to war. Upon its completion, the Cenotaph was dedicated as a Citizens’ War Memorial on 17 April 1932 with plaques being placed around the base.
In 1952, the memorial was rededicated to include those who had been lost to the Second World War of 1939-1945. Two bronze lion statues were added to the forecourt of the memorial and a series of bronze friezes were placed around the outer walls of the viewing room, including the insignia of the armed forces and startlingly, a number of bronze bombs.
In the years since, the Cenotaph has been the focus of several restorations, one in 1997 and another in 2010. The effects of the city environment, as well as natural weathering and the age of the memorial were all considerations taken into account in the decision to restore the monument. Importantly in the 2010 restoration the focus of the work was not to attempt to make the Cenotaph new, but to make it last.
The Cenotaph is a highly significant historical site and is one that has been largely unaltered as time has passed. The statute and memorial mark a composition that is restrained but expressive considerably enhancing the Government Centre Historic Area. The Cenotaph remains a feature of Wellington's ANZAC day services. Standing guardian to the city of Wellington, the Cenotaph is a nationally significant monument that presents a timeless message of the losses and realities associated with war.
- Original Construction: 1929 (circa) - 1932 (circa)
- Other: 1997 (circa)
- Other: 2010 (circa)
- Chris MacLean and Jock Phillips, The Sorrow and the Pride: New Zealand War Memorials, Wellington, 1990
- Dominion Post, Wellington,28 January 1997, 4 December 2010
- Evening Post,16 December 1996, 28 January 1997
- New Zealand Institute of Architects Journal (NZIA),July 1924
A fully referenced report is available from the Central Region Office of NZHPT.
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