The local community and Wellington City Council have worked together to develop a memorial to the unknown early settler adjacent to the new Westchester Drive link road, which opened earlier this year. A ceremony to mark its completion will be held at 2pm on Thursday 10 October and the public are invited to attend and place flowers at the site.
The ceremony is being organised by the community and will involve local resident Sir Tamati Reedy and Reverend Ben Johnson-Frow of St John’s Anglican Church in Johnsonville.
The semi-circular gathering space is just off the footpath above the Stebbings Stream and includes a cairn-like monument with plaques, a wooden cross set into the paving and a low stone wall. A pohutukawa has been planted alongside it and the area behind it landscaped with native plants.
Glenside resident and local historian Claire Bibby says roads were so bad in the winter of 1841, when the woman died, that her family could not take her body to the town burial ground and she was instead buried locally without a proper service. Her grave was not consecrated until the following year, when Bishop George Selwyn, the country’s first Anglican Bishop, passed nearby on his journey north from Wellington.
Bishop Selwyn was on his first trip to Wellington and accompanied by a Māori escort party when he stopped at the home of a local family, Susannah and Anthony Wall, who told him about the plight of their neighbour who had died the previous winter. The Bishop went with Mrs Wall and the woman’s husband and read the burial service at her graveside on 10 October 1842.
For about 120 years, Ms Bibby says the burial site was protected with a fence and looked after by the families who lived on the land, but now its exact whereabouts and the woman’s name are no longer known.
“We know what happened from a letter Mrs Wall wrote to her family, and the Bishop’s journal, and that her grave was in the general vicinity of the new road,” she says. “When the roading project was being planned, we saw an opportunity to ensure this woman, and an interesting slice of local history, were not forgotten."
The Council’s City Networks Manager, Stavros Michael, says Council staff had been happy to work closely with the Glenside Progressive Association on the planning, design and construction of the memorial.
“The roading project was primarily about improving transport connections between Churton Park and the state highway,” he says. “But thanks to Glenside residents, who saw the importance of honouring local tūpuna (ancestors), an aspect of the area’s history has been highlighted too. The memorial tells a story and gives a sense of place. Children on their way to school and others using this route now have a very real reminder about how different life was in those early times.”
Work on the new road and footpath took about two years. It involved major earthworks, the construction of two new bridges, a roundabout, new retaining walls and barrier fences. New services, including water and sewage mains and ducting for power, gas and telecommunications, have also been installed.
Environmental considerations were an important part of the project. Nearly 4,000 native plants have been planted in the area to help restore the stream banks and adjoining roadside areas.
As part of the project, a section of Stebbings Road has been upgraded for recreational use and closed to general traffic.