Pitt Memorial Gates Nelson


Excerpts from the Colonist 3 May, 1914: The Pitt Memorial Gates.1

Pitt Gates Opening 309897

Pitt Gates Opening Ceremony Nelson Provincial Museum 309897

"The formal opening of the handsome gates erected on the Bridge Street side of the Queen's Gardens to the memory of the late Colonel Pitt, V.D., M.L.C, who died on 18 November 1906,2 took place yesterday afternoon [2 May 1914] in the presence of a large, attendance of the public, which included members of the City Council, the Board of College Governors, the Pitt memorial committee, and leading citizens. The territorial forces were also represented, and the College cadets under Lieutenant Saxon, provided a guard of honour. Speeches were made by the Mayor (Mr Lock), Colonel Grace (senior officer in the Nelson military district), and Mr C.J. Harley (president of the Nelson Law Society), after which a wreath was placed upon the gates by Dr L. G. Boor, an old friend of the late Colonel Pitt and they were formally declared open.

The Albert Pitt Memorial gates, which are a handsome adornment to the Gardens, comprise four massive pillars of Aberdeen granite with ornamental iron work, and were designed by Mr J. G. Littlejohn, City Surveyor. Messrs Silvester and Co., Christchurch, were the successful contractors for the erection of the gates, and the ironwork was carried out by Messrs Scott Bros., of Christchurch. The cost of the pillars, foundation, etc., was £334 and the gates, including the painting, £12O.

The inscriptions on the pillars are as follows: — "These gates were erected by the people in recognition of the public service and private work of Albert Pitt, 1842-1906"  "The Hon. Albert Pitt, V.D., M.L.C Attorney-General, Lieutenant Colonel of the New Zealand Militia, member of the House of Representatives for the City of Nelson, 1879-1881, Officer commanding Nelson Military district, 1877-1899.

A sum of £560, including a grant of £300 from the Ward Government, was raised by public subscription from all parts of the Dominion.  Before Mr Cawthron generously undertook to provide the church steps, the Pitt Memorial Committee paid £10 for the first plans for these steps.  Major Stiles, who acted as secretary of the committee did splendid work, and the success achieved was largely due to his energy.  Speaking at the function yesterday, the Mayor said that the late Colonel Pitt was an honoured and respected citizen of Nelson for 43 years, and interested himself in all matters connected with the welfare and advancement of the city.  The deceased was loved and respected by the people, and had earned a name for his courtesy, probity and conscientiousness. He took a leading interest in volunteering, and rendered good service to this District and the Dominion generally."


Mr Alfred Pitt Nelson Provincial Museum 35428

Pitt was born in Hobart, Tasmania.  His father, Captain Francis Pitt, was harbour master at Hobart.  He was educated in Tasmania, studied law and started his professional career.  In 1864 Pitt migrated to Nelson and set up his own law firm.   He returned briefly to marry Emma Bartlett in Launceston, Tasmania on 25 January 1866.3

"Mr Lock then proceeded to sketch the late Colonel Pitt's career. He was he said, in 1873, captain of the Artillery, and for eleven years commanded the Nelson district.  He commanded 1,200 troops at Parihaka in 1881, and was in command of the New Zealand troops at the Queen's Jubilee in 1887.  In recognition of his great ability and worth he received many distinctions.  Mr Lock then referred to the good services the late Colonel Pitt had rendered as a public man in his capacity as a member of the Provincial Council, the Board of College Governors, as member for Nelson in the House of Representatives from 1879 to 1881, and as a member of the Legislative Council from 1899 until the time of his death.  The late Colonel Pitt, he said, had also been Attorney-General, and had held the portfolio of Minister for Defence, and while Sir Joseph Ward was absent in England, acted as Minister for Railways and Minister in charge or the Government Insurance Department.  The extra work, said Mr Lock, brought on an illness to which the deceased succumbed.  To show the high esteem in which the late Colonel Pitt was held Mr Lock referred to the eulogiums of the Press from one end of the Dominion to the other, and quoted from the tributes paid to the deceased statesman by Sir Joseph Ward and Sir Robert Stout, the Chief Justice.

In conclusion Mr Lock stated that the idea of the memorial originated with Mr Colin Campbell, and much good work in connection with carrying the proposal into effect had been done by Major Stiles, the secretary to the committee.

Colonel Grace, who was the next speaker, said it gave him great pleasure to pay his tribute to the memory of the late Colonel Pitt, whom he had known intimately.  The speaker said he had had the honour of commanding the battery which previously had been commanded by the late Colonel Pitt, and he could testify to the spirit that was imbued in the corps by him, and which still existed when he took command.  The late Colonel Pitt began his military career in Tasmania in 1861 when he joined the Hobart Town Artillery Company and held the rank of Sergeant, and in 1866 when he came to Nelson he took command of the Nelson volunteer Artillery cadets.4  Subsequently he commanded the Nelson Artillery company and in 1871 he relinquishes that, and took command of the "H" Battery, into which that artillery company was merged.  He was promoted to the rank of major, and given command of the Nelson district. 

Pitt Gates Wreath FN Jones

Pitt Gates and Wreath F.N Jones Ken Wright Post Card Collection

The Parihaka campaign was the greatest work in a military sense that the late Colonel Pitt performed.  It had been called a bloodless campaign, but all the more honour to the deceased because it was bloodless.  If the conduct of the campaign had been in the hands of a soldier who was not an expert, there would probably have been a resuscitation of the horrible struggle that took place between the Maoris and the pakehas in the sixties.  Although the campaign was a bloodless one, it was so won, that there had not been trouble since.  Colonel Pitt, who was chosen to conduct the campaign by the Hon Mr Bryce, took with him to Parihaka the Waimea Rifles, Stoke Rifles, City Rifles, Nelson Navals, and "H" Battery from this district, with volunteer companies from other parts of New Zealand.  Some Ianded at Opunake, and some at New Plymouth, and they junctioned at a place some miles from Parihaka.  Colonel Pitt had also under his command a large force of Armed Constabulary.  They advanced on Parihaka. and Colonel Pitt so conducted the operation that the Maoris were paralysed.  Tohu wanted to fight, but Te Whiti did not want to fight, although they were both ready to fight.  If Colonel Pitt had shown a weak point there would have been a fight, but he placed his troops in such a way that when the Maoris woke up one morning they found they could not move hand or foot, that the pah was surrounded.  The Armed Constabulary were behind the pah, the artillery in front, and the troops on the flanks. Colonel Pitt sent in a messenger to ask the Maoris what they were going to do, and an old Maori told him (the speaker) afterwards that they could not fight, as they did not know where to begin.  They could see the cannons in front of the pah, and they surrendered.  Colonel Pitt took their arms, and several prisoners, including Tohu and Te Whiti, who were brought to Nelson and held in custody at an inn a little way the other side of the cemetery.  That, said Colonel Grace, was the end of the Maori trouble.  No doubt some were present who had served under Colonel Pitt, and they would remember the esteem in which he was held.  Subsequently Colonel Pitt commanded the New Zealand contingent present at the celebration of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.  He was sure that if Colonel Pitt had lived he would have been pleased to see the defence forces of New Zealand on a sound footing.  In conclusion Colonel Grace asked them to remember that when they looked at the gates, that the deceased was just as true grit, as the pillars.

Mr C.J. Harley, president of the Nelson Law Society, testified to the worthiness of the late Albert Pitt, who he described as a good citizen, a good lawyer, a good soldier, and a good politician.  Perhaps to most of those present he was purely a name, but he had spent practically the whole of his life in Nelson (over forty years) and during that time he had made himself one of the most popular men who had ever lived.  There was no function that he did not attend, he was a man without false pride, and there was no one he was not, pleased to meet.  As a lawyer he came into prominence at the time of the Maungatapu murders in 1866, when he was engaged to defend one of the scoundrels.  His ability as a pleader on that occasion gained him notoriety.  Mr Harley then referred to the Parihaka campaign, and recalled the political struggles of the seventies and eighties, in which the deceased took a prominent part.  The gates, he said, would serve as a lasting monument of as fine a citizen as Nelson ever had."5

He was survived by his son and two daughters, his wife having died of a heart attack on 31 August 1899.6

2015 (Updated July 2020)

Sources used in this story

  1. Pitt Memorial Gates: opening ceremony [From "The Colonist", 3 May 1914] (1914, May 3) Colonist, p. 1
  2. Death of Hon A. Pitt (1906, November 19) Colonist p.2
  3. Albert Pitt, Retrieved from Wikipedia:
  4. Albert Pitt
  5. Pitt Memorial Gates
  6. Albert Pitt

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  • Albert Pitt was the brother of my great great great grandfather (Harry Pitt). I wish my ancestral uncle had never marched on Parihaka, and had instead spoken up against the unfair attack of that village - and against the State's preceding breaches of Te Tiriti. Uncle, if only you and your peers could have lived in peace with other people and with nature, following the example of Parihaka! There's now so much work to be done to turn this destructive society around.

    Posted by Jess Mio, 30/05/2018 12:07pm (6 years ago)

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