| 15.5°C Belfast

Great-grandson of Ulsterman James Colvin in plea over New Zealand statue as Maoris seek monuments probe

Close

The statue in honour of James Colvin in Wesport, New Zealand

The statue in honour of James Colvin in Wesport, New Zealand

The Donegal man, who emigrated Down Under and served as an MP and mayor

The Donegal man, who emigrated Down Under and served as an MP and mayor

The statue in honour of James Colvin in Wesport, New Zealand

The descendant of a prominent 19th century Ulsterman who emigrated to New Zealand has pleaded for his statue in the country to remain untouched in the wake of worldwide racism protests.

James Colvin, who was born in Donegal in 1844, moved to New Zealand in the 1860s during what became known as the Otago Gold Rush.

He was famously held up by a member of the Burgess-Sullivan gang, responsible for a series of notorious murders in New Zealand in 1866.

However, Colvin managed to escape with a large quantity of gold hidden in his saddle.

Later making his name as a businessman, official, mayor of Westport and Minister of Mines, he represented Buller on the west coast of South Island as an MP for 19 years before his death in 1919.

A bust was subsequently erected in Westport's Victoria Square to commemorate his life, and a street is also named after him in the town.

After the Black Lives Matter protests and a worldwide debate around monuments of colonial figures of the past, Mr Colvin's great-grandson now fears the statue could be targeted.

Speaking to New Zealand publication Stuff, Westport real estate agent Charlie Elley expressed concern about the characterisation of his great-grandfather that may come under scrutiny, particularly from the indigenous Maoris.

"I just thought I'd get it out there before anyone goes off half-cocked and tries to rip down the statue of our great-grandfather in the Square," he said.

"James Colvin was an Ulsterman and anything but a colonialist.

Close

The Donegal man, who emigrated Down Under and served as an MP and mayor

The Donegal man, who emigrated Down Under and served as an MP and mayor

The Donegal man, who emigrated Down Under and served as an MP and mayor

"He was a champion of native land rights, having been forced from his homeland of northern Ireland by the British."

Last week members of the Maori Party called for an inquiry into colonial monuments and statues across New Zealand, echoing similar calls around the world, including in the UK.

The demand follows the killing of George Floyd in the US by police and an examination of the colonial treatment of slaves and other minorities, with statues to figures like Edward Colston in Bristol torn down.

Maori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer suggested that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern should identify similar statues which are potentially inappropriate.

Mr Elley, however, has stressed that his great-grandfather was a friend of the indigenous Maori people.

He had previously been honoured by a tribe, with the traditional tribal korowai cloak draped over Colvin's coffin during his funeral procession in 1919.

About 130 descendants from all around the world held a reunion last year in Westport for the centenary of Colvin's death, and erected a plaque beside the statue with the permission of Buller District Council.

Colvin served in the New Zealand Parliament as a member of the Liberal Party and then as an independent from 1899 until his death at the age of 75 following a tram accident.

It was claimed he had tried to jump on the tram, but had consumed "a few too many Irish whiskies" and missed the step, with fatal consequences.

"With events as they are around the world there is a big chance someone would get it into their heads he was a colonialist and a racist, when he was exactly the opposite," added Mr Elley.

"He had respect for all races and was probably 100 years ahead of his time. We could do with minds like his now."

Belfast Telegraph