Māori and Chinese gather to remember sinking of SS Ventnor

More than 100 years after the bones of hundreds of Chinese miners were lost at sea off the Hokianga Harbour, iwi leaders and the Chinese community have come together to dedicate a memorial to those men. 

Māori and Chinese were gathered side-by-side on Saturday to bless a memorial 120 years in the making, two cultures bound together by tragedy. 

In 1902 the SS Ventnor sank off the coast of the Hokianga Harbour. It was carrying the bones of 499 Chinese gold miners back to their homeland, but they never made it.  

Some of the bones washed ashore where local Māori cared for them as their own. 

Gordon Wu from the Tung Jung Association New Zealand says Māori took care in burying the bones. 

"[Māori took] such care and reverence in burying the bones that they found on the beaches and treating them as if they were their own families so that these men had a final resting place."

The story remained something of a local legend until 2007, the revelation weaving together two cultures.

Today's ceremony was held in the tradition of Ching Ming or grave-sweeping ceremony

"We all go to the cemeteries and sweep the cemeteries clean, look after them, have a kai with them, have a korero with them," says Meng Foon, NZCA Ventnor committee chair.

Many descendants' families were simply grateful to have any semblance of a grave to lay to rest generations of grief.