Maori remains to be returned

Last updated at 15:32 24 June 2004

Three preserved Maori heads and a leg bone hidden away in a British museum for almost a century will be sent back to New Zealand, it was decided today.

Council chiefs in Glasgow agreed this morning to repatriate the tattooed, preserved heads - called toi moko - one of which belonged to a warrior chief with 40 wives.

The artefacts have never been on display but instead have been kept under lock and key at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in the city.

Councillors on the 37-member Cultural and Leisure Services Committee decided to send back the remains after a request from a museum in the New Zealand capital of Wellington.

The first head was purchased in 1906 from Liverpudlian James Conrad Cross, who ran a menagerie and later went on to become mayor.

A relative owned a curiosity shop and he may have obtained the head from that source, according to historians.

Bone collected

The leg bone of a Maori warrior chief killed in 1790 came into the trusteeship of the council in 1936. Major Robert Walter Mellish, of the 4th Scottish Rifles, of Alderney, donated a large number of Maori items to Glasgow Museums.

Major Mellish's uncle George Mellish lived in the South Island of New Zealand from 1858 to 1881 and fought in the Maori wars when it is thought he collected the bone.

The other two heads were donated to Glasgow in 1951 by Archibald Shanks, a professional chemist and amateur natural historian, who purchased them from the Blair Museum at Dalry, Ayrshire, in 1901.

An undated extract from the diary of Archibald Shanks states: "2 Maori heads received from Mr Rae Gordon at Blair, Dalry. 1. Tecaro Chief of Wycota, New Zealand, was killed in battle by Wa Tero Great Chief of Coweri. 2. Had 40 wives (new Zealand Chief)."

The Glasgow Museums group is a trustee of the artefacts. Legally, human remains cannot be owned.

The unusual artefacts are to be returned to New Zealand, where they will be handed over to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

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