More whānau come forward to claim ashes

By Harata Brown
  • Auckland

The campaign organiser for Honour the 1800 Facebook page says 15 families are now amongst the 1800 unclaimed urns held in mass graves at Waikumete Cemetery in Auckland. Terry Fergusson, whose great grandfather is held amongst the urns, says the number of families coming forward should warrant the return of the urns to whānau.

As Fergusson paints a portrait of his ancestor Hudson Pomare Fergusson, he says more whānau have come forward in the hope to have their ancestors' ashes returned. 

"So, in a short time, in a couple of weeks, we have 15 of them (families). Is it enough? It's still the family that has had their loved ones disrespected. I think that's more than enough and I think that more will come forward."

Terry Fergusson discovered his Ngāpuhi ancestor's ashes had been removed more than once within the Waikumete Cemetery and later placed in a mass concrete vault, without whānau consent. Now more families have come forward seeking an apology from the Auckland Council for assuming whānau could not be contacted.

"You know, this is 40 years later. And if somebody like me or my whānau, or somebody else hadn't come forward, these people would have stayed in this nameless vault. And they (The Auckland Council) need to take responsibility for that. So, take responsibility, hand the ashes back, and put their hands up to say we got this wrong."

Auckland Council's Cemeteries Managers Catherine Moore says they are currently undertaking research to find out more about the decisions made and are continuing to look into the most appropriate and sensitive way to work through requests relating to these vaults. But Fergusson believes the damage has already been done.

"First and foremost we would like them to put their hands up and say, yes we did this and we probably got this wrong. Ultimately we would like them to open the vaults and let their families take them home."

The Auckland Council, however, has refused to open the vaults in case of damage to the urns within and distress to other relatives of those interred.