Over the years the spelling of this area has altered between Whakapuaka and Wakapuaka, as has the pronunciation, depending upon changing dialects. The name originates from the legendary explorer Kupe. When his two canoes arrived here, his crew were struck by the similarity of the bay to a fishing ground called Whakapuaka in Tahiti, so they named the area after it. The early settlers called the aria Hoke-poke or Hoki-poki.
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The headland on which the Cemetery sits is rich in history, trees and Nelson Haven views.
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The land, 14.04 hectares, was purchased by the Superintendent of Nelson in 1859, and opened as a cemetery two years later. Most of it was administered by Trustees, but it was handed over to Nelson City Council in the 1880s. A remaining small area, administered by Church of England Trustees, was transferred to the Council in 1999.
Since 1861 some 16,000 people have been buried at the Cemetery. The first recorded burial was that of Grace Annie Everett, child of 16 months, buried 8 December 1861. This, and other early graves, are found in the Anglican Section near the top of the hill amongst the oak trees. Amongst them are those of some notable Nelsonians:
- surveyor and artist John Gully
- educator Matthew Campbell
- goldminers Elizabeth and George Moonlight
- the Maungatapu Murder victims - five men who were robbed and killed on the inland Maungatapu Road in 1866. (The attackers were hanged and buried in unmarked graves just outside the consecrated ground of Hallowell Cemetery, Shelbourne Street)
- explorer and surveyor Thomas Brunner
Other major features and graves in the Cemetery include:
- Gargiulo Memorial Gates (main entrance)
The gates were erected in memory of Italian immigrant Mariano Gargiulo.
- Jewish Section
Hebrew script appears on some graves in this small section, located through the gate to the left of the chapel. The graves date back to the mid 1800's, when there was a reasonably significant Jewish community in Nelson.
- Chapel of St Michael (lower Roman Catholic section)
The Chapel was used until 1979. It is dedicated to Nelson's first Roman Catholic priest, Antoine Marie Garin. He established schools for the education of young Roman Catholics in Nelson. Garin College is
named in his memory.
- Grave of Thomas Cawthron (Presbyterian new)
This grave features a prominent headstone. Cawthron was a well known local benefactor. The Cawthron Institute was established with his generosity, which included a large reserve of land at the head of the Brook Valley for a water works reserve. This land is now the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary for native wildlife.
- Trask's Angel (Presbyterian new)
An angel watches over the grave of Francis Trask, mayor of Nelson 1890 - 1900. The Hardy Street gates of the Queens Gardens are dedicated to Francis and his wife Emily.
- First European Woman in Nelson (General old)
Near the top of the hill lies Ann Bird1 (nee Haycock), said to be the first European woman to set foot in Nelson. After the death of her husband she took over running their butchery business.
- A Royal Grave (General old section)
West Indian Laura Duffus married Polish Prince Alois Konstantin Lubecki. Laura and her two sons arrived in Nelson in 1894, following the death of Prince Alois.
- Returned Services Section (RSA on map)
Established in 1947, those buried here are predominantly New Zealand World War 1 and World War II Expeditionary Forces, returned servicemen and women. Some Australian, British, Canadian and Indian service people are also here. Spouses are now allowed to be buried alongside the people already here.
- Tobacco Man's Memorial (22a Roman Catholic section)
A hotel verandah post stands over the grave of Cecil Conrad Nash, pioneer tobacco grower of Nelson. He was reputedly offered a bribe of thirty five thousand pounds by overseas interests to stop growing tobacco, and the decision to refuse the offer was made while leaning against this post.
- Adams Memorial Gates (onto Atawhai Drive)
‘Touch Not the Cat Bot a Glove' - Upon the death of Percy Adams in 1930, his widow had the cemetery gates, complete with his family crest, erected as a memorial. The ‘bot' in the motto means ‘without' and serves as a warning to be careful. The crest was granted to the Adams family during the crusades in Palestine and was given also to the MacIntoshs and McPhersons, who were part of the original House of Chatten in Scotland. Percy Adams owned Melrose House, an historic home and grounds available for public use, sited on the corner of Brougham and Trafalgar Streets, Nelson.
Nelson Cemeteries in history
Haven Cemetery - Malcolm Place, The Cliffs: 1840s - 1868
Quakers Acre - Rutherford Street: 1854 - 1875
Hallowell Cemetery - Shelbourne Street: 1840s - 1885
Trafalgar Street Cemetery - Fairfield Park: 1851 - 1910
Wakapuaka Cemetery: 1861 - Present Day (limited burials)
Hira Cemetery (Family and local resident burials)
Seaview Cemetery, Stoke: 1960 - Present Day
Marsden Valley Cemetery: Established 1952 and opened 1956 - Present Day
2011 (updated 2021)
Sources used in this story
- First woman had busy life (1996, October 26) Nelson Mail
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Further sources - Wakapuaka Cemetery
Clark, Diana & Tony (2007). The Garin Memorial Chapel. Atawhai, Nelson, New Zealand: authors
Venner, Rosemary A. (2002) The Wakapuaka Cemetery :a place to walk and wonder Nelson [N.Z.] : R. A Venner
Newspaper articles from Papers Past:
- Provincial Council [road to cemetery] (1859, May 31) Colonist, p. 2
- Public meeting [cemetery location] (1859, July 19) Colonist, p.2
- Local intelligence (1859, September 10) Nelson Examiner, p.2 [controversy over location]
- Cemetery Committee (1859, September 13) Colonist, p. 2
- Monthly summary of events [opening of cemetery] (1861, December 12) Nelson Examiner p.1
- A walk on the wild side (1999, January 9) Nelson Mail, p.9
Nelson City Council: Map of the Cemetery
Wakapuaka Cemetery RSA memorial [image]. Retrieved from New Zealand History online:
- Cemeteries database [searchable records of all burials in Nelson Cemeteries), Retrieved from Nelson City Council:
- Garin Memorial chapel - NZ Historic Places Trust
- The Historic Cemeteries Conservation Trust of New Zealand
- Historic stories from Nelson's Wakapuaka Cemeteries team. [Facebook group researching and sharing stories of people buried in the Cemetery]:
- Nelson City Council. Notable women walk
- Wakapuaka Cemetery, Retrieved from Nelson City Council: