The SS Ventnor sinks Event


NameThe SS Ventnor sinks


During the goldmining rush in Aotearoa, many Chinese goldminers working in Otago, Southland and the West Coast paid a fee to the Cheong Shing Tong — an association whose purpose was to send the remains of Poon Yu villagers back to their families in Guangdong for reburial. “Chinese tradition holds the dead can’t rest until they are returned to the village they were born in and buried with their family,” wrote one account. “There, descendants can remember them, and give offerings during the Ching Ming Festival, or Tomb Sweeping Day.”

In order for this practice to be economically viable, however, these trips took place only once every few decades. The first repatriation took place in 1883, with the steamer Hoihow taking home 286 bodies.

In 1902, the second ship, The SS Ventnor, departed from Pōneke Wellington, carrying 499 bodies. Preparations for this trip had begun three years earlier, with bodies exhumed from 40 different cemeteries across Aotearoa, before being “washed, separated, placed in calico bags and sealed in coffins.”

Tragically, the ship grounded soon after it departed on a Taranaki reef. Two days later, the ship sunk off the coast of the Hokianga Harbour. The sinking took the lives of 13 crew and passengers, as well as the remains of the 499 men onboard.

Not long after this event, some of the remains started washing ashore, where they were cared for and buried by local iwi Te Roroa and Te Rarawa. In 2009, a group of people representing the families of those originally involved travelled to meet both iwi, to thank them for caring for their ancestors.

In 2014, property manager John Albert (Ngāpuhi, Tūhoe, Ngāti Maniopoto, Te Arawa) set up the Project Ventnor Group, “convinced he had been chosen to end the spirits’ unsettled wandering and help the miners complete their journey home.” His team sent a remote-operated vehicle to explore the wreck, retrieving a number of objects to confirm it was the Ventnor. Responses to this were mixed, however. Kirsten Wong, speaking on behalf of the New Zealand Chinese Association, expressed disappointment in the “lack of consultation with the Chinese community”, while also reiterating that “the spirits are no longer wandering: They have been cared for and their descendants now have places to remember and honour them.”

These events have inspired works like The Bone Feeder, a play-turned-opera by poet Renee Liang.

In 2021, a memorial for those on the ship was unveiled outside the Manea Footprints of Kupe in Ōpononi.

As of 2023, the remains of the ship are still in the harbour. It is a protected archaeological site.


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Last updated: 1 March 2024 Suggest an Edit


Two men in formal wear. One sits on a chair while the younger one stands behind.

Choie Sew Hoy (left) with his son Kum Poy Sew Hoy, led efforts to return the remains of Chinese miners to their homeland. After his death in 1901, Choie Sew Hoy's remains were on the SS Ventnor when it sank