Volume 5

Tararu Cemetery - What stories and secrets does it hold?

Althea Barker


One historical site that is often overlooked is the Tararu Cemetery, which is situated on the eastern hill above the Thames Coast Road, just north of the Tararu Creek Bridge. As people continue their journey up the Coromandel Peninsula – it is easy to miss the drive that leads to the final resting place for many of Thames’ pioneers. A situation made worse by the lack of parking and ongoing accessibility problems, to this historic landmark. Maybe you have pondered where the track leads and the history it holds?

Tararu cemetery in 2012, looking south towards Tararu Point.
(David Wilton Collection)


When the Thames goldfield opened 1 August 1867, the settlement of Tararu soon became an important area offering an alternate wharf and a variety of recreational areas, including the famous Tararu Gardens. Robert Graham, Property Developer of Grahamstown, also planned and developed the Tararu Township. Prior to July 1873, the Tararu cemetery was established, providing an idyllic final resting place for the early settlers. (2)

The Beginnings:

In order to establish the cemetery at Tararu two things were necessary. Apart from the land, a reliable access was necessary over the Tararu Creek to allow for funeral corteges to cross. In these early days when many people’s only means of transport was walking, the funeral procession was an important part of the process of honouring the dead. The body being transported on a horse led cart, with the mourners following on foot or by carriage. Amongst the mourners were often members of the various lodges and voluntary militia groups – all dressed in the appropriate regalia.

Funeral buggy outside Church.
(Merv Cunningham Collection)

The Tararu Cemetery was already in use before land ownership was secured from the local Maori landowners. In 1875 council news published in the local paper 19/3, reported that Mr Puckey still required the signature of one native, in order that the land could be handed over to the Council. Then in the Evening Star 13/7/1875, Council news reported on a letter from the Wangarei [Whangarei] Magistrate. It was Miriam, whose signature was required for the cemetery deed, it was suggested that Mr Mair as a person to entrust with the deeds and the £5 (part of the purchase money). This was agreed to by Council. An update on 23 July 1875, stated the Council had received a telegram from Mr Mair, 'he had found Maria, whose signature was wanted to the Tararu cemetery deed, and requesting that the money for expenses, etc be forwarded to him. Council agreed, and the money was sent through Messrs Wilson and Puckey.

Land Deeds:

A summary of the land sale is recorded in the AJHR’s 1875 Session One. (Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives) Details of land purchase is noted as: Tanutanu or Tararu Cemetery (Block), 8 acres, E W Puckey (Negotiator), Payments £31, £25 Incidental, passed at Native Land Court. (12)

The land deed (4) provides an insight into the Maori land ownership for the block of land, which was purchased for the Tararu Cemetery. No 3127 Tanutanu Block was owned by: Mere Watana, Pare Watana, Te Arani Watana, Mereana Rewiti, Mata te Kura and Miria Rangioke. Each owner recorded their signature/mark. There are several different dates contained in the document during 1875-6, Macdonald Miller Grahamstown are recorded on the conveyance documents, well-known lawyers at that time at the Thames. The details were also written in Maori which was signed by Robt Mair, Licensed Interpreter, who verified the accuracy of the translation.

Part of Land Deed for Tanutanu Block (4).

The six owners of the Tanutanu Block, feature regularly in the land court reports of the time, in connection with native land transfers and sales; also shareholders in several other blocks on the Coromandel Peninsula. Three of the vendors were sisters; Mere, Pare and Te Arani Watana, the surname often recorded as Watene. Pare Watana was the eldest of the three daughters of Watana (father) and Haeriti (mother). The sisters first lived on Watana whanau land near Manaia Harbour, south of Coromandel. Later they lived on family land at Tararu, just north of Thames. (5) To date it is not known the reasons why the shareholders of the Tanutanu block chose to sell the land to the crown, but it was to be a decision that would have endeared many local residents, who felt it special to be buried in ‘their cemetery’ rather than those in the Shortland (Thames) township.

1878 portrait of Pare Watene by Lindauer (1) One of the landowners of the Tanutanu Block

The Tararu Cemetery is owned by the Crown (Department of Conservation) and informally managed by the Thames-Coromandel District Council. A 2012 view of the property, known as 100b Thames Coast Road can be seen via the Zoodle website,this includes maps and aerial views.(11)

Tararu Burials:

Burial records are available for the cemetery from August 1873 (3), this includes the book ‘Tararu Cemetery Death Certificates 1873-4-5.’ (6) Certificate 1 is for JAMES DARROW, his death was registered 18/9/1873 with Edward Henry Power, the Registrar for Births and Deaths Shortland District. James was 4 years old and buried on the 21/9/1873 at Tararu cemetery. In the Burial Records there are however four interments before this date: William Thomas STEEDMAN aged 14wk buried 19/8/1873, Hannah ROSS aged 84 buried 31/8/1873, Julia GOODALL aged 14 days buried 7/9/1873 and Lilias Mary JOHNS aged 6 wks buried 19/9/1873.

Certificate One in the Tararu cemetery Death Certificates Book (6)

An article in the Daily Southern Cross Newspaper 30/7/1873, there is concern expressed for the need for a bridge over the Tararu Creek and the need to sort out the native land title, so that the cemetery could be used again. So from this statement, it would seem likely that a few burials took place prior to the recorded interment of William Thomas Steedman on 19th August 1873.

Margaret Nankivell’s article, ‘Shortland and Tararu Cemeteries of Thames’ provides information and photos of several graves at Tararu Cemetery, along with background on many of the early settlers. (10)

Cemetery Design and Layout:

Several years after the cemetery had been in use, the Borough Council’s Tararu Cemetery Committee approved plans for walks and approaches at the Tararu cemetery. Plans are available of the cemetery, and overlays can be seen of burial plots approximate locations can be seen online. (7)

A council report was included in the Evening Star 29/10/1875, giving a complete description and report of Tararu Cemetery and an overview of the improvements made:

Land is 8 acres. Fully fenced, 'a well boarded fence, the planks of which are sufficiently close to prevent ingress of any animals, such as pigs or goats' damaging the plants. Not enough funds to develop all the land at present. Mr McLaren designed and supervised work. Walks 'are seven and a half to nine feet in width are circular, winding round the side of the hill on which the cemetery is situated.' Divided into sections to avoid confusion, each 'being four feet by eight and there is room for 650 single graves.' 'The sections are double, but between the walks and the end of each section there is left a space between walk and walk is fully twenty feet. Reserve in middle for mortuary chapel when funds permit. This at present is laid out in grass with flower beds, rocks, shrubs, &c;, in a very tasteful manner, as also is another piece of a similar size which is to the right of the entrance gate. In winter it is proposed to dig up the whole of the sections and lay them down in grass, which will be another and much needed improvement. There is also a walk leading from the improved portion of the cemetery to the bush behind, from which lovely views can be obtained. The whole of the improvements appear to be most successfully and taste fully carried out.'

The following evening, the paper had a major correction, noting that it was in fact Mr R J McFarland who had designed the Tararu Cemetery layout.

The people of Tararu were immensely proud of their cemetery at Tararu and letters to the Editor, often remind the people of Shortland what they have managed to achieve. Almost a challenge to Shortland to take better care of their cemetery. Mention is made of the ornamental lodge at the entrance gates, where the Minister could take shelter and see the funeral procession coming; also that it was the most ornamental cemetery in the Province of Auckland. Although the Borough Council contributed some money to upkeep and improvements it was the families of those buried there that helped financially develop the cemetery.

The comments included:
'Surely if Tararu people, who are so few in number, and with one or two exceptions are poor working men, have done this, the rich people of Shortland should be able to do a great deal more. At the present time there, are forty graves at Tararu, and an appeal to the friends of those buried there was in every single instance responded to. In Shortland there have been upwards of 1000 burials, If the friends of each one resting in those graves gave but one shilling each a sufficient sum would be raised to erect either a lodge or chapel in the cemetery, and cut a few paths so that the ministers would have shelter when waiting, and bearers could walk in seemly order to the grave. Go And Do Likewise. Tararu, August 29, 1875.' (Evening Star 30 Aug 1875)
Looking down on Tararu cemetery
An overlay of burials and plots, approximate location only, (7)

The full implementation of the plans for Tararu Cemetery, do not appear to have been implemented to fully utilise the 8 acres of land and the bush walks that were to be integral to the design. Over the years money for development and maintenance was always a recurrent theme to be dealt with by the Cemetery Trustees Committee meetings, of the Thames Borough Council.

Diary of the Cemetery:

The early events for the cemetery are recorded in some detail in council minutes and death notices published in the Evening Star/Thames Star newspaper of the day. (8) The land purchase and design elements have been dealt with in preceding paragraphs, a summary of the day to day events to 1920, will now be examined. (9)

1874: In May the Sexton E L Millett was relieved of duties at his request, owing to lack of burials. Mr Wilson authorised to cover in the interim. The Tararu cemetery road was completed by Mr Brett. Concern was expressed in July that children were being buried without the necessary certificate, but Councillor Brown (Cemetery Trustee) knew nothing of the matter.
1875: In March Mr Evans offered his services as sexton for the cemetery. In June, Mr John B Mason (Officer Local Board of Health) was concerned by the bad conditions of the fence at the cemetery, stating it was 'useless for keeping out animals of any kind, even bullocks.' It was reported that local residents were fixing the palings, with some council assistance. Then in July the Council had just had the ground ploughed ready to sow grass, when Mr Billings wrote stating that he wanted to use the cowshed on the cemetery grounds. The council thought this absurd to have cattle within the cemetery fence, when they were trying to keep them out!
1877: Storm damage to Tararu Creek crossing and slips on the Tararu Cemetery Road. October it was reported there had been a total of 90 burials at the cemetery.
1878: April 10 it was reported that Mr S Dickey, a carter, had an accident near the cemetery gates while taking a dray load of bricks to the cemetery, the road being on a steep rise of 60ft, the horses backed and the cart was smashed to pieces – the two horses unhurt. 'The part of the road where the accident took place is very dangerous indeed, the side next the cliff being quite unprotected. The authorities should do something to this at once.' In October the Cemetery Committee inspected the cemetery and it was found to be in excellent order. 'It was decided by the committee to erect a fence along the edge of precipitous bank near the road leading to the cemetery.'
1879: There were several reports of theft of flowers from the cemetery.
1882: Ongoing problems and complaints about the cemetery and Tararu Point road.
1884: In December the Council was to have nearby culverts repaired, it was also recommended that in future the hearse stop at the bottom of the hill.
1886: The Council approved D LeTissier’s application to drive a tunnel underneath the Tararu Cemetery Road (as long as it was well timbered and kept in good order).
1886: In August a ‘Letter to the Editor’ complained about the poor state of the Tararu Cemetery and wondered if Mr Connon was too old for the job. The next night Mr A Connon replied, rebuffing the claims. The Council then discussed the matter at their meeting and Councillor McAndrew 'believed Mr Connon was a diligent and painstaking workman – the matter then dropped.' Later that month, the sexton and gardener were given 3 months notice. A man was to be hired for urgent repair work for one week, including removal of trees. In November Mr Connon was appointed as sexton, (there had been 13 applicants), salary to be £100 per annum.
1887: Mr Keller was given permission to erect a fence around a grave.
1888: In July the Cemetery Trustees committee decided to plant some Willow trees along the seaward side of the cemetery.
1889: The annual inspection found the cemetery in very good order, especially the avenue planted by Mr Steedman. This promised to be a handsome approach to the cemetery.
1891: In August children were caught stealing flowers from the graves.
1892: The Thames Cemetery Trustees Annual meeting was attended by Mr J Renshaw (Mayor), Messrs Dunlop, Deeble, Radford, McGowan, Brown and Koefoed. Interments for year ended 31/12, 14 interments Tararu Cemetery (4 adults 10 children) and 8 private graves sold. Mr Brown was appointed to visit the cemetery from time to time.
1893: March the Annual Cemetery meeting reported the erection of a better fence to keep the cattle out, noting also that footpaths had been retarred.
1894: The March Council meeting reported that there had been 32 burials in the past year and that footpaths had been sanded and retarred.
1897: The Cemetery trustees appointed Councillor Poulgrain as the visitor for Tararu cemetery. It was agreed that fences were to be repaired and footpaths retarred.
1898: A visitor found a cow wandering amongst the graves in February, the fences were in poor repair. It was also reported that there had been a bush fire in Kate’s gully and that a spark had reached the cemetery, setting fire to some of the fencing. Mr Addison the caretaker was alerted and with a group of helpers they quickly had the fire under control. On the 22nd February, it was confirmed that Mr J Glasgow’s tender of £21 12s had been accepted to repair the cemetery fences.
1899: An adult had been caught stealing flowers from the cemetery. At the July Thames Cemetery Trustees annual meeting and it was found that there was a legal problem to the way the committee was set up under the Thames Borough and County Council. It was moved that the Thames Borough take sole responsibility for the cemeteries.
1900: The February committee meeting confirmed there had been 26 burials in the previous 12 months.
1902: October Cemetery Trustees meeting confirmed the total registered burials as at 30/9/1902 was 568.
1907: The annual accounts presented in May showed that the maintenance costs for the past 12 months were £24 12s 3d.
1909: The cemetery committee authorised that some trees needed to be trimmed, to prevent damage when high winds prevail.
1911: The Sexton was asked to keep a diary of work completed.
1913: Councillor Sawyer asked that the steps at the top end of the cemetery be repaired, this was agreed to by the Cemetery committee.
1914: A scrub fire took hold near the cemetery, thanks to the assistance of locals damage was averted. Henry Lowe, Mayor, placed a notice in the Thames Star 13 Feb 1914 expressing his thanks to all involved.
1919: More trees required trimming.
1920: The fence had again been repaired.

Up till 1920 the principal issues for the cemetery revolved around damage from cattle, fires and storms. Council minutes didn’t always distinguish amongst the cemeteries, but money always seemed to be tight, with little available for extra staff or maintenance. As the burial numbers dropped more interest was shown in the overcrowded Shortland Cemetery and from the 1900s the ongoing debate about where to establish a new cemetery. Once the Totara Point option became feasible all energies were addressed to make this a reality.

Left looking north up the cemetery hill.
(David Wilton Collection)

Looking south-west at Tararu Cemetery, with the cemetery on the edge of the hillside, and the Thames Coast Road and sea below.
(David Wilton Collection)

Photo 9: Left looking north up the cemetery hill, and Photo 10: looking south-west at Tararu Cemetery. The latter showing the cemetery on the edge of the hillside, the Thames Coast Road and sea below. (David Wilton Collection)

The People:

Space does not allow for an examination of individuals and families interred at the cemetery (as I originally envisaged). (9) Some interesting themes though deserve mentioning. The funerals pre 1920 typically took place in the afternoon between 2 and 3pm. Very few noted a church service, rather there was a minister officiating at the graveside interment. Mourners would be requested to meet at the residence of the deceased, in order to be part of the funeral procession to the cemetery. With the often poor state of the road to Tararu, this journey even in a cart must have taken some time.

Tararu remained a special place for the early settlers who had left the area, one can only assume that they made prior arrangements to be buried at the Tararu Cemetery, for this was not an uncommon occurrence. The papers would announce that the remains of the deceased would be arriving by boat from Auckland, or by train from areas to the south of Thames. The coffins were often stored at halls over night, with the funeral and burial taking place the next day.

funeral notice Smith
Thames Star 3/4/1916

funeral notice Lawless
Thames Star 26/4/1912

funeral notice Buckland
Thames Star 18/10/1897

The Final Days:

From the middle of the 1900s there are noticeably fewer interments each year. The TCDC Database (3) has 3 burial records for 2006-7. The Tararu Cemetery is now a ‘disused cemetery’ rather than 'closed'. There are however no new plots available at the Cemetery. Road access to the cemetery is now managed by the NZTA. (New Zealand Transport Authority). As a result of this status, there are no plans for any maintenance or funding allocated for this purpose. Looking at the history of this cemetery there were always problems with slips, trees and general maintenance. Over recent years it appears nothing has changed. A volunteer provides the invaluable maintenance of this historic place, allowing the descendants of these early residents to visit, to pay their respects and hopefully catch a glimpse of the Tararu where they once lived and the cemetery they helped keep and care for.

Special thanks to the ‘Rootschat Message Board’ helpers for obtaining copies of the archive documents


  1. Wikipedia
  2. Daily Southern Cross Newspaper 30 July 1873
  3. Thames Coromandel District Council Cemetery Database
  4. Tanutanu/Tararu Cemetery Land Deeds: Wellington Archives ABWN 8102 W5279 184/AUC842. (Copy at The Treasury, Thames)
  5. Thames Coromandel District Council Cemetery Database
  6. Auckland Art Gallery
  7. Tararu Death Certificates: Archives Auckland. ABWN 8102 W5279 184 / AUC 842 (Copy at The Treasury, Thames)
  8. Thames Coromandel District Council Online mapping
  9. Evening Star/Thames Star newspaper at Paperspast
  10. Tararu Cemetery research notes by A Barker (Copy at the Treasury)
  11. Shortland and Tararu Cemeteries of Thames by Margaret Nankivell. The Treasury Journal Volume 2 (2009).
  12. Zoodle Website
  13. Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives


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