Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Moko; or Maori Tattooing

A Collector of Heads

A Collector of Heads.

As an authority on this subject General Robley stood alone. No one else had attempted it, so therefore this work of his, based on his own careful investigations and the few brief references made by early voyages, is all that we have. For many years he possessed a collection of thirty-five heads, obtained by him at great trouble and expense from the British and other curio dealers, and in 1908 came to the conclusion that the time had arrived to take some steps to preserving the collection as a whole. With this end in page break view, he twice offered it to the New Zealand Government for the sum of £1100, but though the late Hon. Mr. Seddon was disposed to purchase, other influences in New Zealand prevailed. In 1909 the collection was on view in the Liverpool Museum, and when seen by a representative of a U.S.A. museum, who gathered it was in the market, he immediately cabled to his principals, who promptly and briefly replied “buy,” and so all of them, with the exception of five, found a home in the United States for the sum of £1250, or a matter of £41 for each specimen. The five that were excepted were some of the best, and these General Robley had reserved, trusting that this country would yet see its way to acquire them for the national collection, and so restore these wandering heads to the land of their origin. Notwithstanding he gave New Zealand every opportunity to possess them, no interest was shown, and in course of time they found ready and satisfactory purchasers abroad. There are perhaps not more than seven preserved Maori heads in the whole of New Zealand. Both the Auckland and Christchurch Museums have each possessed two specimens for many years past, but they are not of the best. Those at Auckland are of two chiefs named Moetarau and Koukou, who were killed in a fight at Opua about 1820. The Hocken collection at Dunedin has a rather inferior specimen obtained by Dr. Hocken from General Robley, while of late years the Dominion Museum procured one from Tasmania, while a second specimen on view is privately owned. These two heads are the property of the New Zealand Govt. & were obtained from Tasmania. Quite a number of European museums possess these heads: the Paris Museum of Natural History has six obtained by early French voyagers, the Berlin Museum has two, while in various museums in the United Kingdom there are at least sixty. At the bottom of the Red Sea are two, keeping company with Pharaoh's army. In 1919 the writer of this article was present at Steven and Co.'s auction rooms, near Covent Garden, and saw a fine specimen sold to a dealer for £30, who would perhaps obtain as much as £50 to £70 for it.

Following the publication of his work, “Moko,” a book which the author considered somewhat hastily written, General Robley assiduously applied himself for a period of ten years collecting additional matter with the view of a second and enlarged edition, but he found that increasing age had placed the task beyond him. At this time Dr. Hocken, of Dunedin, was on a visit to England, where he met the author, who made over to him the whole of his additional notes, besides his own copy of the work, containing marginal corrections and additions, and at the same time Dr. Hocken, with characteristic thoroughness, negotiatated with the publishers for the purchase of the complete set of original printing blooks to the illustrations, and with these in his possession he hoped to issue a second edition, an intention that was frustrated by the death of the Doctor in 1909 on the 17 May 1910. The material is now in the Hocken collection, waiting to be taken in hand by some one having the necessary enthusiasm and knowledge of the subject.

The three years General Robley was in New Zealand he used his pen, pencil, and brush to some purpose, placing on record many of the historic scenes he went through or was witness of, besides making water colour sketches of many of the leading Maori warrior chiefs, rebel and friendly. At one time he offered the Tauranga Borough Council a set of portraits of the most prominent chiefs in the Tauranga campaign, but this offer was also refused, as not being of sufficient interest.

However, in 1905, he was more fortunate, when the New Zealand Government purchased seventy of his water colour sketches. These are now in the Dominion Museum, and though poorly displayed, through lack of proper wall space or suitable cases, are deeply interesting. They represent his best work, and all depict scenes and incidents in the Tauranga campaign. It is of interest to note here that the artist was of opinion that the missionary, the Rev. C. S. Volkner, of Opotiki, was put to death by the Hau Hau fanatics on 2nd March, 1865, as utu for the capture of the rebel chief Tupaea, who they believed had been put to death. As an illustrator of Maori physiognomy, carvings, and art generally, Major-General Robley stands almost unrivalled. His drawings of natives are certainly more true to type than are those of that accomplished and ambidextrous artist, George French Angas, who most excels in representing scenes of Maori life, carvings, and habiliments.