The large memorial at Bastion Point is testament to how loved first Labour Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage was.
But in 2003 when the memorial tomb was opened 63 years after his death, the coffin was gone.
Startled beyond belief, the team of experts who had gone in to determine if there was any damage, had to report he wasn’t there.
Savage was born March 23, 1872, in Australia, the youngest of eight children and came to New Zealand in 1907.
A trade unionist, he was elected as Auckland Trades and Labour Council president and supported the formation of the Labour Party. He was elected leader unopposed in 1933.
He then led the party to its first electoral victory in 1935 and then again in 1938.
He won public support for economic and social welfare policies.
His government joined Britain in declaring war against Germany in 1939.
He was however in declining health, suffering from colon cancer. He died on March 27, 1940.
A state funeral was held with a requiem held at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Hill St, Wellington before his body was taken to Auckland by train, stopping frequently for people to pay their respects.
He was temporarily interred in a harbour gun emplacement then moved to a side chapel at St Patricks Church while a design was created of his tomb at Bastion Point. He was finally laid to rest there.
But when archaeologist Doug Sutton and a team went to check 63 years later, they were dumbfounded to find his coffin missing.
Savage had originally been there, the coffin visible through barred windows in the doors. But by the time the memorial was opened he was gone.
For two years the hunt for his body was on.
A radar scan failed to reveal it and there was even a fear that the body had been hidden to prevent it being taken by the Japanese during the war.
Then it was thought he might be beneath the floor after a note was found in correspondence between Internal Affairs and the Public Works Department
But it wasn’t until a large fissure opened in on the northern side of the memorial that the experts began to wonder.
Using geo-technical instruments they began searching and found it in a vertical shaft below the sarcophagus. And there he was 200m down, where it remains to this day.
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