The year 1882 saw the erection of the oldest structure still associated with the Basin Reserve. Colonel William Wakefield, regarded as the first leader of the Wellington settlement, died in 1848 and almost immediately his friends began raising money to fund a memorial.
The memorial – a simple domed temple – was ordered after a meeting in 1850 and may have arrived that same year, or soon after, from England. After its arrival, it sat in Bethune and Hunter’s yard for many years. In 1876, William Barnard Rhodes, the noted early Wellington settler, attempted to revive interest in the memorial by donating €50 towards its erection, and proposed it be fitted with a drinking fountain.
With most of those initially involved in the fundraising for the Wakefield Memorial long dead, Wellington City Council felt a responsibility to do something about it. In March 1882, a meeting of the Public Works committee asked for a report on a site for the memorial from the City Surveyor. In the meantime, perhaps in an attempt to promote public interest, the memorial had been put on display in the corporation yard. Later that month, the Public Works committee resolved that ‘the Wakefield Monument now on view at the Corporation Yard be permanently erected in the Basin Reserve in whatever site may be found suitable‘.
So the memorial was built on a small rise on the eastern side of the ground (possibly constructed for the purpose), overlooking the reserve that Wakefield hoped would become an inland harbour. The New Zealand Times said `…those who have used the subject to make merry upon will be forced to admit that it adds considerably to the beauty of the ground.‘ A drinking fountain was installed in the memorial in 1886 and it was later fenced in on both sides and stairs built from the ground.
The memorial was a fixture inside the ground until 1917, when the building of the present fence and a subsequent reduction in available space, saw the memorial moved outside the ground. It ended up not far from its previous position, but now at ground level.
No recorded maintenance issues appeared until the 1940’s, and for many years the fountain did not operate. Also, the memorial suffered from decay and vandalism. By 1968 the memorial was described as “beyond repair”. The Wellington Regional Committee of the Historic Places Trust appealed for the monument to be restored in 1970 and by the 1980’s the fountain had been removed. In 1991, removal of the memorial to the Botanic Gardens was mooted by Richard Nanson, the Director of Parks and Reserves.
In 2003, Wellington City Council undertook to restore the memorial and after public consultation resolved to return it as near as possible to its original location inside the ground. Restoration work began on the memorial in May 2006. It was finally relocated back inside the ground in September 2006 and its restoration officially celebrated on the 7th of October 2006.
Source: ‘Wakefield Memorial: An Assessment of Significance‘ June 2003. Researched and written by Michael Kelly from a report commissioned by Jacqui Murray, Assets & Projects Manager, Parks and Gardens, Wellington City Council.