Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Ashes row: Family takes legal action against Auckland Council

Auckland man Terry Fergusson, at his exhibition featuring a portrait of his great grandfather Hudson Pomare Fergusson, whose ashes were shifted from a crematorium wall into a vault. Photo / Supplied
Auckland man Terry Fergusson, at his exhibition featuring a portrait of his great grandfather Hudson Pomare Fergusson, whose ashes were shifted from a crematorium wall into a vault. Photo / Supplied

A family has launched a public campaign and begun legal action against Auckland Council after being denied access to the buried ashes of a relative shifted without its knowledge.

Terry Fergusson was angered after recently learning the ashes of his great-grandfather Hudson Pomare Fergusson had been moved twice before being placed in underground vaults along with hundreds of other urns at Waikumete Cemetery in Glen Eden.

Hudson Pomare Fergusson, whose ashes were shifted from a crematorium wall into a vault with hundreds of others four decades ago without his family's consent. Photo / Supplied
Hudson Pomare Fergusson, whose ashes were shifted from a crematorium wall into a vault with hundreds of others four decades ago without his family's consent. Photo / Supplied

His ancestor had been cremated and interred inside a crematorium wall but, after the building was demolished more than four decades ago, his remains were placed in three nameless buried vaults.

While the council had publicly notified at the time that it was moving a block of remains, just around 200 of the 2000 urns within it were collected.

"He would undoubtedly have been collected and be resting with his whanau today, if our family were made aware that his ashes were going to be shifted."

When Mr Fergusson requested to have his great-grandfather's urn exhumed and returned to an urupa in the Hokianga, an Auckland Council officer told him it wasn't possible because opening and searching through the vault would be "distressing" to the other relatives of those interred within.

The council was now looking at installing a memorial wall, naming those interred, but Mr Fergusson felt this wasn't good enough.

He's taking legal action and has organised a Facebook campaign, Honour the 1800, which has already brought four other affected families forward.

"The fact that other families are coming forward, about their own loved ones being flung into this mass nameless grave, shows me that this action by council is hurtful and upsetting, regardless of your religion or race," he said.

Lee Johnston, the niece of one of the people interred, was reluctant to tell her aunt what had happened to the remains of her brother, David Gordon Fraser, who died at age 23 in 1947, shortly after returning home from war.

"To my horror, I now not only discover that his ashes were classed 'unclaimed' and put into a concrete underground tomb with 1800 others, but that scant effort was made to contact my grandparents, who were still living at the same address in Onehunga as when he was killed," she said.

"How hard would it have been to pick up the phone?"

The council's cemeteries manager, Catherine Moore, said there were various newspaper articles and advertisements at the time that notified families they could collect the urns.

"As all records were paper based at Waikumete Cemetery until 2007, it would have taken huge resources to contact nearly 2000 families, many of whom would have moved or passed on themselves during that time."

Ms Moore said the council was continuing to look into the "most appropriate and sensitive way" to work through requests relating to these vaults, adding that some families had told the council they did not want their relatives' remains to be disturbed.

- NZ Herald

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