A memorial to hundreds of Chinese gold miners whose bodies were lost at sea will be built at another location after construction work caused the grave of a Rawene identity to collapse.

In 1902 the SS Ventnor sank off Hokianga Heads with 13 sailors on board and the remains of 499 men who were supposed to be reburied in their home villages in China.

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

Artist's impression of the Ventnor monument, which was to have been built near the entrance to Rawene cemetery. IMAGE / SUPPLIED
Artist's impression of the Ventnor monument, which was to have been built near the entrance to Rawene cemetery. IMAGE / SUPPLIED

Last month the New Zealand Chinese Association started building a memorial at Rawene cemetery for the miners and the people of Te Rarawa and Te Roroa who had cared for their remains. It was to have been unveiled on April 7.


However, heavy rain caused a grave to collapse into a trench dug for the memorial's concrete footings.

The grave belonged to long-time Rawene resident Bill Tuckey who had died three months earlier at the age of 105.

Mr Tuckey's family, including son Bruce Tuckey and daughter-in-law Lola of Kaeo, were devastated.

The Far North District Council, which said it didn't know work had started and had no chance to discuss the memorial's exact location, ordered an immediate halt to the project.

Lola Tuckey said the family had since talked extensively with council staff and Mayor John Carter, and met members of the NZ Chinese Association — including its chairman, Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon — at the cemetery.

''They were very upset and disappointed at what had been done, and quite understood our position. I pointed out that we were extremely hurt by the whole business and they agreed to fill the hole back in, which was the result we wanted.''

The association had discussed pulling up the footings but decided to leave them in the ground to add stability to the hillside and avoid disturbing the graves again.

Mrs Tuckey said she and her husband were ''very happy'' with the outcome. The site had been restored and re-consecrated with an assurance it wouldn't be touched again.


They held no grudges against the association, which she said would have lost a lot of money as a result of the collapse.

Mr Foon said he was honoured to meet the Tuckeys at the cemetery, along with council kaumatua Ted Wihongi and Kaikohe-Hokianga Community Board member Louis Toorenburg, and pleased the situation had been resolved.

''We admitted the trench was too close [to the grave], and that the only thing to do was to fill it in and start again.''

A new site had been chosen next to the cemetery which had the Tuckeys' support. Work would start as soon as the council gave approval.

About 40 descendants of the gold miners had already arranged to travel to Rawene on April 7 so instead of an unveiling the association was planning a ''show and tell'' about the memorial plans and the new site.

The Tuckeys said they had been invited and hoped to attend.

The memorial has been designed by TT Architects, whose founders Richard Tam and Robert Tse are descended from early Chinese settlers, and will consist of a series of concrete steps and steel panels evoking a ship, a dragon's spine, whale bones or a Chinese fan.