‘Ghosts of the past are being laid to rest’

Nigel How with the Flag
Nigel How with the Flag

A Maori flag captured in an 1865 battle and held in a Hawick museum collection is being returned to New Zealand.

The repatriation of the flag was unanimously approved by Scottish Borders Council last year following an official approach from Mike Spedding, director of the Wairoa Museum in Hawke’s Bay on New Zealand’s North Island.

Mr Spedding’s request was made on behalf of descendants of noted Maori leaders involved in the Battle of Omaruhakeke.

It was accompanied by letters from descendants, including a fourth-generation descendant of Ihaka Whaanga, a Maori leader who fought alongside the crown forces and is said to have captured the flag.

Scottish Borders Council and Live Borders held a ceremony on Wednesday at Hawick Museum to hand the flag over to one of the Maoris’ descendants, Nigel William How, and he said: “We live in a time where the ghosts of the past are now being laid to rest through the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process.

“This is not only between crown and Maori in general, but also between Maoris ourselves in acknowledging and embracing the different decisions and actions our ancestors undertook.

“Genuine resolution of all these matters has been a long time coming.”

The flag was donated to Hawick Museum in 1921 by local artist Tom Scott, having been presented to him by the secretary at Government House in Hawke’s Bay.

The reasons for the flag’s presentation to Mr Scott, and for his gifting of it to Hawick Museum, are unknown.

Following the approach by Wairoa Museum, councillors agreed that there was no good reason, apart from Mr Scott’s connection to Hawick and the Scottish Borders, for the flag to be part of the local museum collection.

Selkirkshire councillor Vicky Davidson, the authority’s executive member for culture, sport, youth and communities, said: “The decision to repatriate the flag to New Zealand was taken following careful consideration by the council, whose elected members felt that the social, political and spiritual case was strong.

“The descendants of those involved in the 1865 battle, whose letters formed part of the repatriation request, believe it will be a powerful symbol in resolving long-standing grievances between the crown and Maori, and between Maoris themselves.”

“We have been assured that the flag will be carefully conserved, displayed and interpreted as the centrepiece of a newly refurbished gallery at Wairoa Museum and are pleased that it will be available for the whole community to enjoy there.”