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Artefacts Return

On Friday 30 November 2018, the Museum hosted a pōwhiri to welcome home three artefacts of great historical significance to New Zealand from the Battle of Jutland; a ring bolt from HMS Queen Mary, and the Honours Board and bronze carved bell hanger from the battlecruiser HMS New Zealand.

The artefacts were on loan to The National Museum of The Royal Navy in Portsmouth, England since mid 2016. They were displayed in Portsmouth as part of the exhibition to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Jutland, 36 Hours: Jutland 1916, The Battle that Won the War. Also on loan for the first three months of the exhibition, was the piupiu gifted by a Māori chief to the first captain of HMS New Zealand, Lionel Halsey to provide the ship with good fortune. The piupiu returned to the museum in September 2016.

Museum Collections Manager Claire Freeman, accompanied the artefacts on their journey to Portsmouth in 2016, ensuring their safe passage and installation. In November this year Claire completed the journey again, in reverse, returning to Portsmouth to collect the three remaining artefacts.

“My role was to oversee all aspects of the original loan in 2016, and then the return of the artefacts from Portsmouth to Auckland this year. This included liaising with art movers and customs agents in England, the US (whilst we were in transit) and back in New Zealand. I also worked with the Museum Team in Portsmouth and Ngati Ranana (culture group based in London) to organise a pōwhiri to bless the objects before they began their journey home,” Claire explained.

Given the age and historical significance of the objects, before they could be loaned to the Royal Navy, Claire had to obtain permission from The Ministry of Culture and Heritage to temporarily export them to England. Loans of artefacts and artworks between Museums and art galleries around the world is fairly commonplace, but is not a regular occurrence for the Navy Museum.

Claire also played an important role in condition checking and packing the artefacts in their travelling crate at Portsmouth, and, alongside art transport agents, ensuring their safety and security throughout the journey including in the aircraft hold.

“To ensure the safe transit of the objects we needed to make sure the crate wasn’t packed with any hazardous materials, liquids or live animals – which may seem a little strange and unlikely. However, in 2016 on the flight to Los Angeles on the way to England there had been a container of live crayfish in the cargo hold!”

So where are the artefacts now? The piupiu has been back on display in the Navy Museum’s The Empire and World War One Gallery since late 2016, the ring bolt which landed on HMS New Zealand’s quarter deck when HMS Queen Mary blew up during the Battle of Jutland, has been returned to its display case in the same area.

The Honours Board and Bell Hanger are currently in the Museum’s Collections Store on the naval base. In the New Year, Claire plans to reinstall the Honours Board in St Christopher’s Chapel and the Bell Hanger will be returned to the Wardroom where it will once again take pride of place.