Not many people realise this but there is a mass grave in central Auckland, the final resting place of hundreds of our city’s pioneers. Folks using the new Grafton Cycleway might have caught a glimpse of this as they ride past:


Theses pioneers weren’t buried in a mass grave however, they were all respected and beloved family members who were laid to rest in their own graves. So why did they come to share a communal concrete sarcophagus tucked up the back of Auckland’s most neglected cemetery? Because motorways.

In the late 50s transport planners decided to build Spaghetti Junction right through Newton and Grafton, and the original resting place of these folks presented an convenient route for the motorway. You see the graveyard at K Rd and Symonds St used to stretch all the way back to St Benedicts St… in fact it was the graveyard of St Benedicts Church. So standing here on the cycleway, the cemetery behind you belongs to that church all the way over there:


Everything in between used to be a cemetery, or more like what they call a memorial park today. According to the Historic Places Register, some 4,100 graves were dug up from the path of the motorway and relocated en masse to two sites. One is the concrete box up the back of K’ Rd, the other I have no idea. Does anyone else know?

If you’re like me you probably assumed that the motorways ringing Auckland central were intentionally located into the steep, unused gullies that ring the city. At least this is what I used to think, until a little snooping revealed most of these gullies are man made, huge cuts carved out of level ground in the 60s for the motorways to run though. In the picture above the great trench never used to be there, as we can see below it used to be more or less flat and level. In this aerial the full graveyard can be seen at the bottom, K’ Rd runs across the middle, with St Benedicts Church just visible at the bottom left. While K’ Rd has always been on the ridgeline, the broad severing trench of the Central Motorway Junction is clearly a recent creation.

whites aerial

All a bit sad really, these old photos show what great fine-grained urban fabric we used to have in this part of town. Now the whole lot is sliced up and separated. In this picture we can see five or six streets running between Karangahape Rd and Eden Terrace, between Newton Rd and Symonds St. Today we have just one. I can’t help but think all our traffic and transport problems in this area are of our own device.

Anyway, to finish here is a shot of the rest of the cemetery, which is actually quite lovely in the right light. I wonder if we can’t tidy it up a bit and link it through to the cycleway and Symonds St better?


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  1. ‘I wonder if we can’t tidy it up a bit and link it through to the cycleway and Symonds St better?’

    Yes we should.

    An additional observation; taking students up here a few years back [making them walk the length of the motorway ring to better understand its severance effects] it occurred to me that this small area is the only place in central Auckland with anything approaching it’s original topography. Pre-city I mean. Gently rolling paddock like forms with natural water courses in the depressions. Everywhere else is highly modified, including natural-ish looking places like Myers Park. This is a tiny forgotten remnant, as are a few of the cliffs in Grafton Gully, and perhaps some other parts of the cemetery. And is all the more valuable for it. Whatever more we do here I hope we do it lightly.

    1. And you know what Patrick, near as I can make out, that patch of dense scrubby bush down by the kink in Canada St that runs on the triangle of land that is the steep hill between Canada St, South St and the motorway (where the NZTA cycleway will link to the old Nelson St Off-ramp I understand) is visible in the photo, and looks to have been like that for many decades prior to the motorway going through based on older Whites Aviation photos of this area I’ve looked at.

      So, we’re possibly about to trash some original Auckland “bush” too as NZTA attempt to further unf*ck the motorway mess their predecessors caused.

    2. They are, they are… hoooray!
      Slowly but surely decisions are being made, tidy ups are happening, (locals will have noticed new paths on the Presbyterian side behind the Jewish Cemetery). The Paths going down low and under the grafton bridge are fantastic and a ‘must wander’.
      Everyone is welcome to join in, get involved, help out. It is a fascinating project and there is much to be done. Pippa Coom has put a bit more information below , but if you are of FB ilk you are welcome to start here…

  2. Thankfully, my gt gt gt grandparents (died 1847 and 1873) were interred adjacent to Hobson and thus spared the ignominy of disinterment. Another set of gt gt gt grandparents (died 1865 and 1869), who were buried in the Bolton Street cemetery in Wellington, weren’t so fortunate. With reference to your proposal to ‘tidy it up a bit’ might I propose that NZTA be given the task of remediating the entire cemetery in expiation of the sins of its institutional predecessor in imposing the continuing obscenity that is the CMJ on Auckland. They could ‘do’ Bolton Street too.

  3. If you want a higher resolution/zoomable version it is located here:

    (Full record for this photo:

    Use the toolbar on the top right of the picture on your bwowser to maximise the image/select your zoom factor.
    Theres a lot of detail in these photos and they’re worth zooming in on for a look around.

    Big bloody mess they made here all right.

    And while the motorway itself didn’t go through the cemetery until the late 1960s by the late 1950’s (visible from 1957 on) the rot on this area had already set in, as they marked all the houses that had to go and they were let to go to rack and ruin and ended up as car parks and dumping grounds for motorway construction personnel.

    This particular photo is from the early 1946 (March) so all that hadn’t happened yet – Auckland had just got over WWII, but the train wreck that became Auckland’s traffic engineering in the second half of the 20th Century was about to start.

    If you zoom in you’ll note a lot of Trams on the roads – these were all on the verge of history too as they were being replaced by buses to make way for a glorious future of personal travel by motor car.
    Something we’re keen to fix now by bringing back 21st century LRT to these routes.

    And as Nick points out all those graves you see in that photo – they all had to be dug up and moved, first.

    Not only did the living have to make way for the almighty motorway plans, the dead did too.

    1. Wow never realised the huge effect it had on the layout of Freemans Bay. Beresford was a semi arterial back then. The whole are chnged so much!

      An aside anyone know what those big silo things are at the bottom of College Hill where Vic Park New World is now?

      1. Those things with big black uprights around them?
        Thats the old Auckland Gas Company “Town Gas holders” aka “Gasometers”.
        One is also closer to the K’Rd (the big white round thing). Same device as the black ones (just newer I think).

        It stored gas made from burning coal, before Maui gas existed thats how people got their gas supplies. The gas works is that big set of buildings in the very top right of the photo.
        That area stunk like crazy, and the soil was trucked away by the hundreds as it was so deeply contaminated. They had to do that before they could build anything there.

        And that chimney belching white smoke nearby? Thats the old “Rubbish destructor” in what is now Victoria Park Markets. Basically a big open air incinerator, thats how people dealt with rubbish then – burned it.

        1. Not all of the waste was trucked away, a fair amount of the fill used to reclaim Auckland’s waterfront is gasworks spoil.

    1. They also did the same in Christchurch in the 60s/70’s (Barbadoes St cemetery) – moved to make way for a One Way system.

      1. I think everyone, regardless of what mode they use to travel around, know where they are heading. Don’t need it all over the motorway…might be too much of a distraction

        1. Hmmm. Not sure if cock and balls or a transit cloud 😛 …then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder…

    1. If the previous owner was the Church, it seems like it’d be way easier to offer it back than if you needed to offer it back to the distant descendants of some random private individual.

  4. Oh my god. I want to cry now I see what the city was without the big motorway trenches. The wonderful little streets and urban fabric that were bulldozed for the sake of convenience. Thank you for this enlightening post.

  5. “these old photos show what great fine-grained urban fabric” Do you really think so? I am struck by how wide the streets were. Look at the width of Beresford St (where my grandfather went to school).

    1. Well, the main roads were wider than the side streets……………………..all the better to fit those tram tracks in.

      1. I guess my comment on width is because I spend half my time arguing against people trying to make everything wider. As in we need more traffic lanes, wider lanes as it is a bus route, wider footpaths because the ones we have had for years are somehow too narrow, wider roads to accommodate cycle lanes and extra width where a cycle lane is beside parking, the tree dude wants more, the stormwater people want more and the bloke who represents the service utilities wants more and of course none of them will share. There is no way we can fit everyone’s demands into 20m anymore (by everyone I mean the competing interests within AT.) And yet the best bits odf Dominion Rd are 20m. I look at these streets and can see they went for wide roads simply because they wanted them wide.

    2. That comment is more about the block size and connectivity, but the street widths are certainly no bigger than they are today, you just had more main roads (Beresford st, Union St). Also quite a few were widened since (Upper Queen St), or built extra wide (Ian McKinnon Dr).

  6. The remains disinterred on the Anglican side were reinterred in the area surrounding Governor Hobson’s grave with the names put on marble plaques on the surrounding wall. Among them were many of my early Auckland ancestors. At the time the cemetery had not been well maintained. The sad thing is the same thing continues with extensive vandalism happening to surviving tombstones. It would be great to see proper well lit paths being laid from Symonds Street to link with the cycleway. This might help deter the vandalism.

    1. At one stage the Catholic and Anglican sections had mortuary chapels. The Catholic St Francis de Sale Chapel was the original home of St Benedict’s and the Anglican Chapel was the original Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Both stood where the motorway now runs but were long gone before construction started..

    2. Yeah that was proposed as part of the Grafton Gully cycleway project but certain persons objected to the thought of “sweaty” persons moving past the still unkempt graves and disturbing the homeless as well.
      Rudman was one such person as I recall.

      Passive surveillance by passers by would be good in this area.

  7. This may not be an appropriate post to this thread, however I thought that the link between mass graves and traffic accidents was somehow appropriate when you look at the traffic in the 1946 picture. I wonder just what we could achieve with similar attitude to the Swedish traffic planners approach here:

    It would be nice if we could emulate their approach with a similar goal of Zero road deaths.

  8. Thanks for the great pic. I remember the run down houses in the 60’s. I also remember seeing a corrugated iron fence in front of one of the houses with the words LET MANDY IN painted in large letters in white paint. A protest against the governments refusal to let a key figure in the Profumo affair into the country. How smart this area would have been if it hadn’t become a victim of motorway mania.

    1. Typical, keep the call girl out because of the suspicion she **might** be sharing pillow talk secrets with the commies, meanwhile Burgess and his ilk were free to come and go to this country and talking to the folks with the highest levels of security in the country as if they were above suspicion – and they **were** leaking secrets to the commies.

      We sure did have our priorities and roles all wrong in the second half of the 20th century. What with letting the road engineers design and build the roading and transport policies and the politicians loose on our urban development ones.

      1. It wasn’t just a case of allowing the road engineers ‘to design and build the roading and transport policies’, the National party government of 1960-72 basically gave control over our entire urban and rural environments to roading engineers with scarcely a moment’s hesitation because there was a profit in that decision for the benefit of the few. We’ve trashed the place and are now condemned to living with the consequences of greed, stupidity, cupidity and ignorance.

  9. There was an interesting letter to the editor in todays Herald analysing the re-use of cemetery plots rather than expanding cemeteries.

    Might be an idea for an article as it looks to be an interesting topic worthy of exploration

    1. Yes, When exploring my mothers ancestral village in northern Germany, there were no headstones in the in the Church graveyard older than about 30 years so quite unlike Church graveyards in the north of England.

    2. In my rural villge in Italy you stay underground 20 years max, then you have to make room for others. If it was differently Italy would have become just a huge cemetery 1000 years ago.

  10. What did they do with all the spoil? Riding over it today i wondered how much soil it would take to fill it back in. Could have reclaimed a harbour or two with all that.

    And look at that network of streets to the left / south of K’Rd. My ride into the city would be so much nicer if i could take those back routes instead of Ian Mckinnon Drive. I would hazard a guess that it would take a billion dollars of bridges over the motorway to recreate that connectivity.

    1. And a whole lot less than that back then to have tunnelled the whole damn lot. Sure they didn’t have TBM’s back then, but they could have cut and covered the motorways if they’d chosen to do so.
      They didn’t because it was cheaper not to (then).

      In any case the CMJ as it is now is a completely different beast from that envisaged in the early designs, in part as we only had a 4 lanes of harbour bridge traffic to cater for at the CMJ.

      In the mid 60s as the issue with lack of capacity on the bridge raised its head then the plans got more grandiose – hence the huge CMJ trench under K’Rd which was all dug out as evidence by that huge retaining wall on the northern side of the CMJ.

      It is also worth noting that area was “severance ground zero” for the motorway for the living and the dead, as further south from Newmarket the railway had been in existence for decades so there was little connectivity lost when the motorway went through. Just a lot of houses and land.

    2. Hi. I was told that the ‘fill’ dug out of the cemetary was used to fill in Grafton Gully, covering the Waiparuru Stream, which to this day still flows underneath the now Grafton Gully Motorway. Yes, so much loss in that part of our city.
      In 2003, when the Grafton and CMJ motorway were being developed, I was part of a team (with Ngarimu Blair and Pita Turei) commissioned to create artworks there . It was a treacherous thing to undertake. After sinking into those multiple layers of grief, what came forward was to respond with a gentle gesture of respect to the stream, the cemetary, the memory of the forest that used to reach up and nearly touch the underside of the old Grafton Bridge. We took earth from down Stanley street end, that was contaminated and going to be trucked away, and sculptued a 100m long earth serpentine (reinstating a little of the sense of the gully that it used to be). Then, marked the passage of time with vertical and horizontal basalt stone (much of it brought from the excavation through road widening further up the hill) and also steel markers, like labyrinths – All these elements moving down the gully below the old Grafton Bridge. – we call this piece: Maumahara mo Waiparuru – remembering ancient pathways.
      I have the fantasy that one day the motorways will dissolve again and these humble markers will be stumbled upon by city walkers and cyclists. Its good to see at last people can travel that gully once again, along the cycleway.

  11. I recall at the Grafton Gully Stage 1 sod-turning ceremony that one or two members of Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei expressed displeasure at the relocation of graves due to the motorway building, and made references to the iwi being in possession of some of the old gravestones.

    1. I have one for my gt gt uncle in my carport. They just smashed them and used them for fill. He was only a small child and it had a wonderful inscription so I saved it.

  12. So looking forward into the future of things, i am seriously cosidering alternative options regarding the internment of my own personal remains. As I do not wish to become a future
    Signpost or corner junction for supercitys transprotal links. It also brings to light a grave concern i have in regards to how auckland will address this issue considering the current crisis for residential living spaces let alone the resting places for the dearly departed. I concur this has huge implications for religous and non religous groups.

  13. As A Maori, I find this whole situation of viewing the sanctity of a final resting place, as an inconvenience, is absolutely reprehensible. The act of moving a whole community of them is quite barbaric and disrespectful to say the least. Such action has to come from a culture that has little regard for the dearly departed and is able to so casually nullify ‘sacred” ground.

  14. I believe one or more of my relatives were moved for the motorway in Auckland and one of my ancestors was moved in Bowen Street for the Wellington motorway.

  15. Thanks for putting the spot light on the Symonds St Cemetery. The Waitemata Local Board has been working to upgrade the cemetery, including creating a walkway around the cemetery, improved maintenance and tree trimming, renewal of pathways and new signage.
    There is also an active Friends Group chaired by Tricia Reade and the Council has recently published a Guide to repair and conservation of monuments in the cemetery

    Unfortunately our budget for connections to Grafton Gully and more extensive restoration work was cut by the Governing Body
    Supporters of the cemetery may wish to give feedback on the Long Term Plan – 10 year budget by 16 March

  16. it is a bloody shame;have been researching part of my family,only to find they have been dug up and put into a mass grave;and they were counted as founding fathers of Auckland;Thomas and Margaret Lonergan,who came as a soldier from Ireland for the NZ Wars,and Frank and Jane Amodeo,A pioneer of NZ Shipping;all from the Catholic Cemetary.

    1. Founding fathers I don’t think so. Auckland under its many original names, was founded hundreds of years before any of them arrived.

      1. I agree Max, but that is not the only site. If you look close enough wider Auckland hosts a few sites such as this Rainbows End, the gallows beneath Queen St…. It puts your mind to wonder what do we want to happen to ourselves when we go?

        1. I have to agree with you Gillian. They have shown utter disrespect I would be horrified if my ancestors were treated with such disregard. You have to ask, how can sanctified ground be made void? Someone needs to speak out.

        2. Sanctified ground doesn’t mean anything to those in a rush to build.To develop and make something bigger. The whole wide earth and its sustenance, doesnt mean much if that isnt your focus. I guess thats how we end up with the original document from Nick R.. Ignorance isnt bliss.

  17. Is there a list of the names of these people. My 3rd great grandmother (Margaret Frick) was buried here in 1891 and later her daughter (Rose Walker) in 1902, they would have been buried in the catholic section.

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