It was Domett who proposed the settlement be named Napier after Sir Charles Napier (1782-1853), who successfully led British forces against a large Indian armed force in the battle of Meanee near the city of Hyderabad in 1843 to secure control of the important province of Scinde. Although it has a slightly different spelling, the naming of the Meeanee area south of Napier, also commemorates this event.
As part of the planned settlement, Domett set aside 1.8ha for a cemetery on a hilltop flanking the Botanical Garden Reserve.
In line with 19th century English practice, the Old Napier Cemetery was laid out to provide separate denominational areas and kerbed plots.
Many figures significant to early Napier and Hawke’s Bay’s history are here:
- William Colenso – the noted missionary, printer and botanist, who landed at Waitangi, south of Napier, with his wife Elizabeth and young daughter Frances in 1844, is buried on the right near the gates.
- William Williams – First Bishop of Waiapu, and his son and grandson – also Bishops of Waiapu.
- Sir Donald McLean, KCMG – the first government land purchasing agent. In the 1850s, he purchased much of the land around Napier for European settlement.
Some of the memorial inscriptions reveal glimpses of tragedies that occurred over the years.
Some rare totara memorials of soldiers in the regiments stationed on nearby Barrack Hill in the 1865-70 period can be seen in the cemetery.
The shelter beside the main path was originally the lychgate at the entrance to St Andrew’s Church in Ahuriri. It was moved to the cemetery when the church was demolished in 1972.
This beautiful and rustic Old Napier Cemetery is no longer used for burials.