The legend of the Three Witches
There are stories that have been wafting around in time, of three witches that were hanged in the 1800’s from trees in swamp land which has now become the beautiful and iconic Auckland Domain.
There are tales (urban legends perhaps) of people walking through the park being ambushed by a lone cackling or growling hag. Some have heard of a tall very thin figure that is seen roaming amongst the trees at night disappearing into the shadows. Claims of horrifying human like howls and growling have come from the darkness frightening joggers. One witness claimed to have seen a dark thin shadow making a hissing sound as it leaped from branch to branch through the trees about the three statues one pitch black night. I have heard from a few people of their experience whilst walking through the park late at night and being startled by something up in the trees rustling and shaking the branches, like there was something climbing or swinging up high, but out of vision.
Even the four high viz vested security guards that came over with high beam torches to check out my reasons for being there in the dark late at night taking photos, had heard of it. Before I’d even mentioned why I was there, they asked me if I knew about the hanging witches story. One of them would’ve been in his mid to late thirties and mentioned how his mum had told them as kids about the witches in the domain. It certainly is a story that has gained much traction through the years, without any actual physical evidence captured.
We decided to try to dig up some information on this fascinating years old story to see if any light could be shed on it.
We posted on our Facebook page a request for information….
Hi all, we are in the process of putting together a research / history project based around the old urban legend of the ‘3 Witches’, allegedly lurking around the Auckland Domain. The story goes that 3 witches were hung from the trees in a section of swamp land that is now the Domain land surrounding the Auckland Museum. Perhaps it’s more than just urban legend? The witches are said to still haunt the grounds and have terrified many folks walking through there at night.
Would like to hear from any of our readers that might have any information on this. Keen to hear your stories. Thanks
Some replied that they had never heard of the Three Witches and that they were more than likely some of the vagrant homeless people living rough in that area that were the ones scaring the kids.
According to some, no one had ever been hanged for Witchcraft in New Zealand’s history.
One reader wrote,
“I remember a guy telling me a story about 3 witches that had been hung there in the 1800’s and they haunted that area of the domain. When you drove down that lane and turned the lights off, you could see them through the trees.”
One reader described how they would attempt to stir up the witch’s wrath…
“When you get there, pull over onto the left and turn off your lights.The Three Witches are right in front of you between two trees, they move, shake and sometimes scream. If you wanted to impress the girls you had to get out and see who could get the closest, if the guy had been a try- hard all night you’d drive off and watch them yell and sprint after the car! Good times!”
The scenario of the witches being experienced when the car head lights were turned off seemed to be a recurring theme in the stories we received.
Others expressed their childhood familiarity of the location and its stories….
‘I don’t have any info on it, but I most certainly remember them! They were very popular in my time as a teen! Probably around 1999 / 2000. They always intrigued me…’
‘That pond was a favourite spot. So devastated when the statues were stolen years ago. It’s nice to see them fixing the area up again.’
‘OMG We used to go on the witch cruise ALL the time when I was younger!! I think I might have seen it once but I knew straight away what it was.’
‘I went up to the Domain one late hot Saturday night to enjoy the view with a friend. A policeman followed us up the hill and suggested we leave because druggies are usually about at that time.’
Others didn’t feel that the stories held much witch-related truth….
‘Don’t get me wrong, in my line of work as a Healer I am a believer in many things, but witches have much better things to do with their time than ” shake and scream” at passers by.’
A few had learnt about the witches as a child by parents or relatives…
‘My mother told me about the three witches hanging from a tree near by the Three Muses. She discovered around the age of 14 too. She took me there when I was 14 and that was one freaky night. We saw a very faint apparition of 3 women hanging from their necks. I remember their feet not touching the ground.’
Some claimed to have actually seen them….
‘The strange thing I noticed is the ragged nature of the clothing the woman were wearing hanging from the tree… it’s an uneasy feeling being down there in the evening. I have gone down in the day time to investigate the tree I saw the three women hanging from.’
Perhaps even felt them….
“I recently read your article about the three witches in Auckland Domain and realised that I have had some sort of similar expirerence to other people. I used to longboard through the domain last year, there is a path that is now closed off from cars that we skated down once. Me and my friend were skating down and he fell off his board, he told me he felt as if someone grab him and push him off his board. The path was also very cold ( even though it was in the middle of summer) after that I felt as if someone was watching us so we left instantly. Me and my friend continued skating other hills of the domain and never thought about that path ever again. Now I feel as if it were one of the witches that was there with us and pushed my friend off his board!”
In a quiet and secluded part of the domain, not too far from the main duck ponds, is a circular arrangement, featuring beautifully landscaped grounds and floral gardens, a pond and a large sculpture at one end beneath the trees. The sculpture features three figures standing in various poses and is titled ‘Tableau of the three Muses’, or more commonly, ‘The Three Muses’.
The Three Muses are sculptures that were created to commemorate Auckland’s centenary; the middle Muse symbolises the city finding its strength, while that on the left is holding out a bay leaf signifying wisdom and the one on the right holds a cornucopia representing the bounty of the Earth.
The Auckland Domain is Auckland’s oldest park, and at 75 hectares one of the largest in the city. Located in the central suburb of Grafton, the park contains all of the explosion crater and most of the surrounding tuff ring of the Pukekawa volcano.
The park is home to one of Auckland’s main tourist attractions, the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which sits prominently on the crater rim (tuff ring). Several sports fields occupy the floor of the crater, circling to the south of the cone, while the rim opposite the Museum hosts the cricket pavilion and Auckland City Hospital. The Wintergarden, with two beautiful glass houses, lie on the north side of the central scoria cone. The fernery has been constructed in an old quarry in part of the cone. The duck ponds lie in the northern sector of the explosion crater, which is breached to the north with a small overflow stream.
History – Maori habitation.
Pukekawa was identified by the Māori early on as one of the best sites in the isthmus area, with the northfacing side of the volcanic cone well-suited for growing kūmara, while the hill itself was used for storage and as a pā site. The crater swamp meanwhile provided eels and water.
Pukekawa means ‘hill of bitter memories’ in the Māori language, and likely refers to various hard-fought tribal battles between the Ngapuhi and the Ngati Whatua iwi. A sacred totara, commemorating the battles and their eventual settlement, was reputedly planted by princess Te Puea Herangi and still stands on the central volcanic cone.
After the Europeans bought the land from the Ngati Whatua, it was set aside as a public reserve in the 1840s, and remains one of the city’s greatest assets. During the 1860s the Domain springs were a source of water for the town of Auckland, while the original swamp was drained and turned into a cricket field. The Auckland Acclimatisation Society located their gardens here in the 1860s which were later developed into the Auckland Botanic Gardens. Parts of the layout still exist north of the band rotunda including some greenhouses from the 1870s.
In the 1850s the then Governor-General Gore-Browne eyed up the Domain as the setting for the new Government House. He was displeased with both the existing house’s location in Waterloo Quadrant and also its style (and especially that it was of wooden construction). He envisaged a castle-style masonry residence similar to the Sydney Government House, which is also set in a large landscaped domain like Auckland’s. Plans were drawn up, but the Premier of the time, Weld, refused to authorise funds for the project and so the Auckland Domain remained freely accessible to the public as it had been intended. The site of the Governor General’s residence was later established in a new location on Mount Eden in the early 1960s.
A great many exotic specimen trees were donated and planted throughout the Domain by the late Victorians which have now matured into a splendid landscape park. They are now augmented by many New Zealand species. The wooden Cricket Pavilion designed by Mr Gorrie was built in 1898 as a replacement for an earlier structure that burnt down.
1910 saw the first ever rugby league test match in New Zealand when Great Britain defeated the New Zealand at the Domain’s cricket ground as part of the 1910 Great Britain Lions tour of Australia and New Zealand.
In 1913 the Domain was the site of the Auckland Exhibition. The financial return from this event resulted in many improvements, the chief one being the splendid Wintergardens next to the duckponds. The teahouse was built as the “ideal home” exhibition set piece and retained after the rest of the exhibition was dismantled. An example of an Arts and Crafts cottage, it stands between the Wintergardens and the duckponds.
During the 1920s & 1930s local businessman William Elliot donated several of the marble statues in the Wintergarden complex as well as the splendid Art Deco Domain entrance gates [Park Road]. The gates are surmounted by a bronze statue of a nude male athlete by the NZ sculptor Richard Gross. The Auckland Domain is also the location of several other public artworks including Guy Nygan’s “Millennium Tree”.
Dominating the Auckland Domain is the Auckland War Memorial Museum and the Cenotaph in front of it (Architects Grierson, Aimer and Draffin). The large neo-Greek style museum building was opened in 1929 with the rear portion added in the 1960s, with a major renovation and extension in the middle 2000s adding an award-winning dome-shaped building in the inner courtyard.
In 1940, to commemorate the founding of Auckland in 1840, a new road was planned for the Domain. “Centennial Drive” was surveyed and trees planted its length but it was never formed as a road; it is now a walkway between the Duckponds and Stanley Street.
A 18,500 cubic meter water reservoir was constructed in 1953, buried in the field at the high point to the immediate south of the museum. The reservoir is still in use maintaining the water supply into Auckland’s CBD.
Truth or Legend?
So, where does the Three Witches twist come in? Is there any truth in the Three Witches story?
How has the story survived so long? If it’s a made-up story, who started it? And if it is a made up story, what are those that claim to have seen something unusual, seeing? Has anyone ever captured any evidence of the ‘witch’ or ‘witches’ being there?
Some feel that the Three Muses label might have been given as a cover-up of something more insidious or disturbing. Perhaps it was started as a simple in-joke between friends that somehow escalated through the years. One thing is for certain, these stories must have a beginning. ALL stories have a beginning. Someone must have started it all off.
Perhaps the story began with mis-identification? Perhaps a prank?
Haunted Auckland would like to uncover the answers to this long-lived Auckland mystery.
Please send your stories, experiences, historical information and any circulating details.
Stay ever vigilant.