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Discoverer’s Granddaughter to View Returned Polynesian Textiles

Media Release
5 September 2018

Earlier this year several Polynesian textile items were returned to Otago, where they were found 124 years ago. In July 1894, Robt Arthur Mathewson found a kete, three maro (waistcloths), two lengths of fine cordage, and a piece of bark cloth in a rock shelter near Hyde. 

At 10.30am on Friday 7 September, Arthur Mathewson’s granddaughter Mary Gray will visit the Museum to see them for the first time, after initiating the move to have this intriguing material returned to Otago. She says, “Mathewson descendants have been interested in their fate since the 1990s, and in 2016, I began a determined search to locate them and have them returned to Otago. We were very pleased with this successful outcome”.

Otago Museum Curator, Humanities Moira White says, “We were delighted to accept these items into the Museum’s collection so we can examine them, share in the speculation on their origin, and assess their condition with a view to possibly displaying them in the future. It’s wonderful that Mary has the opportunity to come and view them”.

Two years after the discovery of the group of items, Augustus Hamilton, ethnologist and then registrar of the University of Otago, described the find scientifically in his paper “Notes from Murihiku”, published in the Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand, and read before the Otago Institute.

Hamilton speculated that the items were of Samoan origin, and that the whole group might have been acquired from one of the early whaling ships by an individual who, for some unknown reason, had been unable to return to the place where they had been left.

Full details of their history since then are limited, though it seems they were brought to Otago Museum, moved to Wellington, and then later transferred to the Auckland Museum. They were returned to Otago Museum in March of this year from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and have since been housed in the Museum’s collections storage.


More information

Moira White
Otago Museum Curator, Humanities
Phone 03 4793265