The collection is the remnants of a shipment of artefacts sent back to England from New Zealand by Philip Hansen King (1813-80). A letter, discovered by descendants of the King family when the decision was taken to consign the items for auction, details the shipment in May 18, 1837.
Alongside brief descriptions of the objects, it sets out in vivid detail the hardships of life in Tepuna, including King’s impressions of a civil war in The Bay of Islands a full eight years before the First Maori War.
“I wish peace could be restored but such is not likely to be until they have a regular battle if their mode of fighting deserves the name,” writes King. “For though the two parties have exchanged thousands of shot yet they have taken good care to keep wide enough apart so that up to this time not more than six have received mortal wounds.”
New Zealand mission
King was the son of John King, one of three lay missionaries sent on the first mission to New Zealand in 1814 under the direction of Samuel Marsden, the senior Anglican minister in New South Wales.
Although the other two missionaries eventually returned to Australia, John King and his wife Hannah stayed in New Zealand to have 12 children. Philip himself became a missionary in Tauranga, later buying land in Te Puna Bay from Maori chiefs on November 6, 1834. The purchase price was recorded as ‘4 Blankets, 2 Iron Pots, 4 lbs. Tobacco, 4 Hoes and 2 doz. Pipes.’
Just three years later he sent his letter and accompanying shipment to James Blea, a cabinetmaker and upholsterer of Swerford, a village near Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire. It eventually ended up with King’s descendants.
From the original list in the letter, Nicholson’s will offer two early 19th century green nephrite hei tiki, one 4in (10cm) high with paua shell eyes, estimated at £4000-6000, the other 5in (12cm) high and estimated at £3000-5000.
The consignment also includes 17 separately lotted Maori fishhooks and lures, a 6in comb or heru mapara (estimate £1000-1500), three green nephrite ear pendants (estimate £2000-3000) and two balls of Maori flax fibre rope of the period, each over 10ft long, (£3000-5000).
In February this year Nicholson’s sold a Maori Putorino bugle flute, estimated at £50-100, for an unexpected £140,000.