A memorial to a ship which sank off Northland's west coast with the remains of 499 Chinese miners on board will be built at Ōpononi instead of Rawene cemetery as originally planned.

The SS Ventnor was on its way to China in 1902 with the remains of miners who had died in the South Island goldfields when it sank with the loss of 13 crew.

The dead miners were to have been buried in their home villages in accordance with Chinese tradition.

Some of the remains washed up along the west coast where they were found by Māori and buried alongside their own dead.

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Rescuers, crew members and lifeboats from the Ventnor on the beach at Ōmāpere in 1902. Photo / file
Rescuers, crew members and lifeboats from the Ventnor on the beach at Ōmāpere in 1902. Photo / file

The wreck was found in 2013 in almost 150m of water.

The New Zealand Chinese Association raised money for a memorial to the miners, the crew and the people of Te Roroa and Te Rarawa who cared for the remains.

Earthworks for the monument started near the entrance to Rawene cemetery in 2018 but caused a grave to collapse in heavy rain. The grave belonged to Rawene identity Bill Tuckey, who had died three months earlier aged 105.

The resulting outcry forced a rethink of the monument's location, which will now be built at the Manea Footprints of Kupe Centre under construction in Ōpononi.

The project was this week granted $100,000 by the Provincial Growth Fund, with Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones saying it would be a key feature of the Wandering with Ancestors Trail.

The trail will connect places related to the Ventnor and is a cornerstone project in Northland's Economic Action Plan. It is expected to be a major drawcard for Chinese visitors.

The Ventnor sank off Hokianga Heads in 1902 with the loss of 13 crew and the remains of 499 Chinese gold miners. IMAGE / SUPPLIED
The Ventnor sank off Hokianga Heads in 1902 with the loss of 13 crew and the remains of 499 Chinese gold miners. IMAGE / SUPPLIED

Ventnor Committee chairman Meng Foon, a former Gisborne mayor who is now Race Relations Conciliator, said after the grave collapse another site was considered at the back of the cemetery but community concerns remained.

The committee approached the Far North District Council which offered alternative sites on a council reserve in Ōpononi township or at the new Manea Footprints of Kupe Centre.

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The committee had opted for the ''wonderful'' Manea site, Foon said.

The site's geology was more suitable than at the cemetery, which would reduce construction costs, and the two projects and their stories would complement each other.

Foon hoped work could begin once Covid-19 alert level 3 was lifted. He expected the memorial and Manea would open at the same time.

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''It has been an interesting journey for us. Our ancestors didn't have an easy journey and I think they are testing us, to see if we have the resolve.''

The memorial, which takes the shape of a ship, dragon's scales, whale bones or a Chinese fan, was designed by Richard Tam and Robert Tse, both of whom are descended from early Chinese-New Zealand settlers.

Information panels will commemorate the lost miners and crew and thank the people of Te Roroa and Te Rarawa in English, Māori and Chinese.