Hamilton Mayor Paula Southgate doesn't want Capt Hamilton statue back in Civic Square

Hamilton's Mayor says the controversial statue of the colonial figure who gave his name to the city shouldn't have been installed outside the city council buildings in the first place.

The statue of Capt John Hamilton was carefully removed from Civic Square on Friday after protesters threatened to knock it down.

"I got advice from staff about a credible threat to public property that might occur during the Black Lives Matter march on Saturday," Mayor Paula Southgate told The AM Show on Monday, rejecting claims the council bowed to pressure from activists, inspired by the recent wave of anti-racism protests and attacks on statues around the world. 

"We were aware there would be an attempt to take the statue out, and that could lead to some other public unrest, so we had concerns for public safety... I participated in a conversation at 5pm on the Thursday night, and as a result of that staff advice, it was decided we would remove the statue to prevent wilful damage to public property or harm to people who are participating freely in that march."

The council on Friday said if care wasn't taken to remove the statue, it could "severely undermine the integrity" of the underground carpark below.

"It would have been irresponsible of me to ignore solid advice from a team of people dealing with city safety to have left the statue there, knowing there could be damage to public property and that could effect or impact on the marches on Saturday," said Southgate. "At the end of the day it was a difficult decision to make, but it was the right one because it put people first."

Unlike some other statues around the country, the monument to Capt Hamilton isn't a relic - it was donated in 2013 by the Gallagher Group, and has been a point of contention for local iwi ever since. In 2018 it was defaced with red paint and attacked with a hammer, and the council considered removing it then because it was proving to be a financial "liability" for ratepayers. 

Southgate said she doesn't know where the statue has been taken, except that it has been "tucked safely away. She doesn't want it back in front of her workplace.

"It could come back. Personally, I don't think that Captain Hamilton should be in the Civic Square, right in front of the city council, but we're open to a conversation about where he should be."

Paula Southgate.
Paula Southgate. Photo credit: The AM Show

Ironically, Capt Hamilton never actually set foot in Hamilton, which before the arrival of the English was known as Kirikiriroa. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was upto locals to decide what to do with statues in their neighbourhoods, not central Government. 

"I'm not going to remove the rights of local people to make those decisions. That's for them. If they choose to remove statues, that is a matter for them... Kirikiriroa, Hamilton - they've already done that with the decision they made recently, and ultimately it is a matter for them."

Asked if there were any statues that offend her, Ardern said she couldn't answer that question because she hasn't "sat down and analysed every single statue we have in New Zealand".

Capt Hamilton died in the Battle of Gate Pa in Tauranga in 1864. 

"Captain Hamilton sprang upon the parapet, and shouting 'follow me, men!' dashed into the fight," the The Daily Southern Cross reported at the time.

"That moment was his last. He fell dead, pierced through the brain by a bullet."

The city we now know as Hamilton was founded later that year, the land having been confiscated by the colonists during the war and the Kirikiriroa pa abandoned.