Former Hawick flag back home in New Zealand after 11,000-mile journey

Wairoa Musuem curator Nigel How reveals the Pai Marire flag after its repatriation from Hawick. Photo: Wairoa Star.
Wairoa Musuem curator Nigel How reveals the Pai Marire flag after its repatriation from Hawick. Photo: Wairoa Star.

A historic Maori war flag given back to descendants of its former owners after being on display in Hawick for almost a century has completed its 11,000-mile journey back home.

The flag was taken by crown forces from the Maoris’ Pai Marire tribe during the Battle of Omaruhakeke in New Zealand back in 1865.

Wairoa Museum curator Nigel How with fellow curator Fiona Colton, left, and Selkirkshire councillor Vicky Davidson in Hawick.

Wairoa Museum curator Nigel How with fellow curator Fiona Colton, left, and Selkirkshire councillor Vicky Davidson in Hawick.

It has been kept in Hawick Museum since 1921, but late last month it was handed over to Wairoa Museum curator Nigel How to be repatriated.

It received a rapturous welcome on its return home to the country’s North Island and hailed as representing a “time of turmoil and reconciliation”.

The exact details of the flag’s journey to the south of Scotland remain a mystery.

It is known that it was presented to Hawick Museum by Selkirk artist Tom Scott in 1921 after being given to him at Government House in New Zealand’s Hawkes’s Bay, but why he handed it on to the Wilton Lodge Park museum is unclear.

After being approached by Wairoa Museum, Scottish Borders councillors agreed that there was no good reason, apart from Mr Scott’s local connections, for the flag to be kept in the region and voted in favour of returning it.

A ceremony at Hawick Museum late last month saw the flag handed over to Mr How, and he then set about accompanying the historic relic back down under.

He was among those seeking the return of the standard as a “powerful symbol” for the resolution of 160 years of social, economic, political and spiritual turmoil for the Maori people in that part of the country.

A ceremony was held in Wairoa to welcome back the flag, attended by several ministers as well as museum officials and descendants of families involved in its history.

Wairoa Museum Trust chairperson Benita Cairns said the flag represented a “time of turmoil and reconciliation”, adding: “While it looks frail and shows the scars of that period, it has not deteriorated any further since then.

“The Wairoa district was on the brink of war, and the flag represents that time.

“There are still a lot of questions that may never be answered around that time and the things that took place.

“I see the flag as a physical taonga, an object which is highly prized, that represents a time of turmoil but it can also be a reminder of the time to ensure lessons are learnt so people today never have to encounter anything like that again. It’s a symbol of reconciliation.”

The bid to repatriate the flag began two years ago with a request from museum director Mike Spedding on behalf of descendants of noted Maori leaders involved in the Battle of Omaruhakeke.