Lost colonial medal an auction find

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 11th April, 2014

A silver medal presented in 1806 by the third Governor of New South Wales, Philip Gidley King, to Te Pahi, the first influential Maori leader to visit the fledgling colony, has recently been rediscovered after being lost for about 200 years.

It is one of Australia’s and new Zealand’s earliest and most significant colonial artefacts and will be a highlight of Sotheby’s Australia forthcoming Fine Asia, Australian & European Arts & Design auction from 6pm on Tuesday April 15 at the Intercontinental Sydney, 117 Macquarie Street, Sydney.

Of great historical and political importance, the medal is a vestige of a significant diplomatic relationship and a unique encounter between the British and the indigenous peoples of the Pacific.

In 1805, Te Pahi had travelled with his four sons to Port Jackson via Norfolk Island, attracted by Governor king’s reputation for hospitality and generosity towards the Maori.

Te Pahi wielded power and influence over a safe anchorage frequented by the colony’s whaling ships – and thus was of great value to Governor King.

The family stayed at Port Jackson’s Government House for seven weeks as honoured guests, with Governor King taking the opportunity to strengthen diplomatic ties.

Upon his return to New Zealand aboard the Lady Nelson, Te Pahi was presented with iron tools, seedlings, European clothing, a prefabricated house for use by European visitors to the Bay of Islands, and the presentation medal.

Te Pahi’s successful “state visit” was described in detail by Governor King in an official dispatch to the Colonial Secretary Lord Camden.

The medal is an extraordinary early example of colonial medal making and probably the work of either John Austin or Ferdinand Meurant, Irish forgers both employed by the Governor’s wife to make jewellery and trinkets.

The auction also includes carefully selected examples of Chinese ceramics and works of art, along with European furniture, glass, silver and a strong selection of Australian and European paintings, sculpture and works on paper.

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