Hamilton ditches Von Tempsky street name. Should South Taranaki follow?

By Aroha Awarau

A former South Taranaki District councillor says the region should follow a recent decision made by the Hamilton City Council to change a street named after a land wars general who led many military actions against Māori. 

Von Tempsky St in Hamilton, named after General Gustavus von Tempsky, will be changed to Pūtitkitiki St, a name that reflects the original name of the area.  

Streets and roads in towns in South Taranaki also bear Von Tempsky’s name and the former South Taranaki District councillor says the region should follow Hamilton’s lead.  

“I commend their actions and I think it’s quite visionary and courageous to do so.  It acknowledges the hurt that Māori have held for all of these centuries.” 

“Von Tempsky was a mercenary, he was a sword that was brought in to decimate our people. He had done things in other parts of the world as well, moving against other indigenous peoples. So, he was responsible for a lot of mamae, a lot of pain and a lot of hurt, and in our rohe in particular.” 

Killed in action

Von Tempsky, born to a Prussian noble family, moved to Aotearoa in 1862.

By 1863 he was given command of a unit of the Forest Rangers, a military unit created to fight Māori.

 He was involved in campaigns in Waikato, including Rangiaowhia, Pāterangi and Ōrakau.  He also took part in action in Bay of Plenty and Taranaki.

He was killed during a skirmish with Taranaki war leader Tītokowaru at Te Ngutu o te Manu in Taranaki in 1868. 

Bigham says local kaumatua have tried for many years to get the South Taranaki District Council to change the names of the streets that memorialised Von Tempsky and other land wars soldiers who caused harm to local iwi but without any success.  

Continuing trauma

“We’ve had many conversations as iwi of the tonga in our Taranaki whānau. It’s been a long conversation over many decades. I think of the kaumatua who have long argued for the changes of these names. 

“The vision of these names that have caused such significant and ongoing pain is still trauma that we live with every day, especially for people who still live on these streets.

It’s full of names of these soldiers who came and fought and abused our people.” 

She says the decision made by the Hamilton City Council has inspired her to reignite the crusade in the South Taranaki region.  

“I’m pretty sure with the right delegations and the right rationale that the councillors will see sense. Obviously, there needs to be a process that needs to be undertaken to make sure that that is done legally in the first instance. Especially now, given that we have this example.”