John James Stanaway’s Grave

The following was an introduction I was going to post a few months back, but have not done any thing with. Rather than leave it sitting in my computer I have decided to release it. If you have not had a chance to visit the final resting place of Captain John James Stanaway, you must put it on you bucket list. On the two occasions I have been there I did not venture up to the top of Tokatoka Peak, due to the weather conditions, that is on my list for the next time.

I tentatively pull into a gravel roadway. I’m unsure this is even the correct place. There is not much around, no signs, no gate, nothing to indicate I have arrived at my destination. The grass berm has almost devoured the gravel roadway, which seems to suggest that there aren’t many visitors to this place.

I have been told about this place by my father who many years ago along with his two Uncles visited. I have seen the photographs, but 25 years has passed since that date. The Uncles have long since passed and my father is now a retiree.

John James (Jimmy) Daniel about 1990 - Skinner Family Collection

John James (Jimmy) Daniel about 1990 – Skinner Family Collection

My Uncles were old men by then, but to me the only way I had ever known them – “old enough to have wonderful stories of the past, sharp enough to have you hanging on their every word, and quick enough to keep you in line”. It would have been their first visit to this place and for my father’s Uncles, their last.

Slowly, I work my way up, following the winding roadway. A large grass area opens up, which is trimmed by a rickety timber fence and gate with flaking paint. Beyond the fence set out over the rising hill in two directions are a few headstones, some with broken and decaying wrought iron fences, some just concrete slab. Most if not all are in a “worse for wear” condition.

Tokatoka Cemetery - Mark Adams photograph

Tokatoka Cemetery – Mark Adams photograph

There is one timber headstone all rotten at the base and missing a third of one side, in memory of a “Mr Charles Heath died 20 Nov 1869” leaning inside a timber picket plot. I think to myself it has done well to survive this long!

I make my way round the different plots. Half way up the large slope in amongst the long grass and weeds is “Sarah Ann Sanders died 1908”. It has a large marble oblex on a concrete base. Next to her with a rusting wrought iron fence and a headstone broken in half, is “Frederick Stanaway died 22 years and 9 months”.

The westerly which is blowing straight across the river swirls around the hillside, the trees whistle noisily. I note that the north side is too steep for any plots, so I make my way under some over grown trees sheltering another two impressive marble headstones, I then spot what I have come to see.

Grave site about 2012 - Skinner Family Collection

Grave site about 2012 – Skinner Family Collection

Tucked away under an overgrown pine tree on the south face is the final resting place of Captain John James Stanaway. It does not look anything like the scene 25 years earlier, the pine tree was not even a sapling then but now it dominates.

The original timber headstone I had seen in my father’s photographs is gone. The solid red Kauri post with his name engraved is there, the same as in the earlier photos but it is now rotting from the inside out. In parts, it looks as though the paint is holding it together. A recent addition which was not there before is a concrete plinth with a brass plaque mounting, along with a paver under, which protected in a plastic bag are names and numbers of descendants.

Looking around I can see why this spot may have been chosen. With a bit of trimming and upkeep this spot would give a spectacular view looking south straight down the river towards the Kaipara Heads, to the east Tokatoka peak. The Tokatoka Cemetery is located off Tokatoka Road close to the tavern, on a head land jutting out into the Wairoa River.

John's Grave - Colleen Stanaway Collection.

John’s Grave – Colleen Stanaway Collection.

The early settlement of Tokatoka has completely gone. The cemetery is the only surviving record pre 1900. The wharf, post office, store, hotel, houses and sheds have all disappeared, only a tavern built-in the 1920’s remains. The new State Highway 12 runs between the river and the headland, I would suggest that the old road ran between the headland and Tokatoka Peak in front of what was an abandoned Maori Pah in pre European settlement times.

Authors Note:

It would be great to think that a new headstone can be arranged in the near future, perhaps at the next family reunion money can be raised to enable a memorial fitting the resting place of the “Old Salt.”

A big thank you to Colleen Stanaway for the photograph supplied and to her father who had the foresight to place the Kauri marker before all trace of John’s grave was lost.

If anyone else has any pictures of the original headstone we would love to have a copy.

6 thoughts on “John James Stanaway’s Grave

  1. gregorypaulskinner Post author

    The rumour was that they lived with their niece, Erina, in and around Dargaville, until theirs deaths in 1905. There is the Oturei Maori Cemetery just outside Dargaville – towards the North Head, I did not see their names on the index for the cemetery, and however I know 3 of William Stanaway’s children are buried there but their names are also not listed.



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