Grey Māori Collection drawings heading to London

Sketch of waka by Tui and Titiri. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 799-GNZMMS-147-2.

Māori drawings from the Grey New Zealand Māori Manuscripts Collection will feature in the Royal Academy of London’s Oceania exhibition, marking 250 years since Captain Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific.

The collection was inscribed onto the UNESCO Memory of the World New Zealand documentary heritage register in 2011 in recognition of its significance to our country’s heritage. The Memory of the World New Zealand Trust is delighted that these valued taonga from the register are to be displayed in this prominent exhibition.

Housed at the Auckland Libraries, the collection is a substantial cultural and historical record of pre-European examples of Māori knowledge and information. It records mātauranga Māori (knowledge) in relation to song, incantation, custom, ritual, genealogy and the traditions of various Māori collective communities.

The pen and ink drawings were produced by a young Māori chief, Tuai, and his companion Titere while they were staying with Reverend George Bull in Shropshire, England in 1818.  They were recovering from illness at the time, and ended up spending 11 months in the UK as guests of the Church Missionary Society.

The drawings were originally used to educate Europeans about Māori culture. They were brought back to New Zealand in the 1840s by William Greenwood, a friend of George Bull. George Bull had given him the drawings to use as a form of introduction to local Māori, and his son gifted them to Auckland Library in 1897, to be included in the Grey Collection.

Auckland Libraries Preservation Manager David Ashman carried out six months of painstaking research on the best techniques to protect the drawings from further deterioration, and the work itself took several hours to complete.

The Oceania exhibition runs in London from 29 September to 10 December 2018. It will then transfer to the Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac in Paris.

Read more about the New Zealand Memory of the World collection.