John Bryce was a 'fundamentally awful person' but Kiwis name streets after him

A portrait of John Bryce, by William James Harding, circa 1890s. Streets in Hamilton and Kihikihi are named after the former politician.
Alexandra Turnbull Library
A portrait of John Bryce, by William James Harding, circa 1890s. Streets in Hamilton and Kihikihi are named after the former politician.

More pressure is mounting on the Waipā District Council to erase names from New Zealand’s colonial past which appear on the street signs of its rural towns.

But the council said it doesn’t have the budget to conduct a wholesale review of all its street and park names.

Instead, it wants to take a case-by-case approach to requests as public awareness of the historic figures behind street names continues to grow.

Interest in the topic was piqued when the council went out for public feedback on its naming policy for streets and public reserves in April.

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There were 17 submissions, three asked to present to the council’s strategic planning and policy committee on August 3.

It included Dan Armstrong who told the council it needed to immediately remove names like Bryce St and Grey St from Kihikihi.

In his written submission, Armstrong said Governor Grey was one of the key figures in the invasion of the Waikato and there was “no excuse in 2021 to memorialise” someone who shaped New Zealand for the worse.

In his presentation to the committee, Armstrong also took aim at John Bryce, a politician from 1871 to 1891 and minister of native affairs from 1879 to 1884.

Dan Armstrong, a 2019 Waikato Regional Council election candidate, is lobbying to have some street names changed in Waipā.
Christel Yardley/Stuff
Dan Armstrong, a 2019 Waikato Regional Council election candidate, is lobbying to have some street names changed in Waipā.

Bryce headed strict actions against Māori opposed to alienation and directed the invasion of Parihaka, of which in his late years he stated he had no regret.

As native minister, he was involved in Ngāti Maniapoto land being opened up for purchase around the main trunk railway through the King Country.

“There are so many components of him where he is a fundamentally awful person,” Armstrong told councillors.

“We and other communities around the country name streets after him, to honour him.”

Waipā mayor Jim Mylchreest said the challenge will be dealing with road names which cause offence.
Tom Lee/Stuff
Waipā mayor Jim Mylchreest said the challenge will be dealing with road names which cause offence.

Armstrong, who had worked in museums and studied history, noted the policy required “exceptional circumstances” to rename a street and he believed the two examples he gave met the threshold.

“Other councils have done this and the world has not fallen over, in fact it has been good for correcting current and past errors.”

Details of Armstrong’s presentation were backed by the “Historical Report on Hamilton Street and City Names” by historian Vincent O’Malley, written for the Hamilton City Council in June 2020.

John Bryce also has a street named after him in Hamilton.

Renaming streets was a lengthy process requiring consultation with Government agencies, utility providers, emergency services and residents.

The committee noted it had been asked to review and approve the naming policy, not make any decisions about changing street names at the meeting.

The policy aimed to ensure the council’s assets “tell the story of Waipā” and reflect its natural, cultural and historic heritage.

It encouraged greater use of te reo Māori but names would be deemed unacceptable if regarded as derogatory, discriminatory, frivolous, offensive, in poor taste or names of pets.

Waipā mayor Jim Mylchreest, after the meeting, said he was not expecting a flood of requests .

“… it would require a sound justification as it can cause quite a lot of disruption, particularly when businesses, for example, are using the physical address as part of their business.”

He said some guidance to developers would be welcomed as road naming could sometimes cause uncertainty and often family names which had no relevance to the district were used.

“The challenge will be in dealing with road names that cause offence, with the benefit of hindsight, such as the one mentioned at the hearing regarding Bryce St in Kihikihi.

“This may then apply in other areas such as Hamilton who also have a Bryce St. The new policy provides the opportunity to resolve these matters.”