Some family heirlooms are passed down, but Torty is passed around.

It's a story that starts in Greece more than 100 years ago with Gallipoli survivor, Stewart Little.

A stretcher bearer, he was fascinated watching the first tortoise he had ever seen.

"A French carriage ran over her," grandson Stephen Little said.

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"He thought, there's a squashed tortoise, and next thing she stands up and starts walking."

Fascinated even more, Stewart Little picked up the tortoise.

"She had a dent in her shell, lost a couple of toes on one of her behind feet and cracked a bit of the shell on the other side. So those are her war wounds."

Stewart nursed Torty the tortoise back to health and when he was being shipped home to New Zealand, Torty went into hibernation so it was an easy thing to bring her home to Dunedin.

In the 1930s, Torty was stolen and sold to a circus and because of the concave groove on her shell from the French gun carriage, an off-duty policeman recognised Torty and she was returned to the family.

When Stewart Little died in 1977, Torty went to his son Neil, who died in 1979. Neil's wife Elspeth looked after Torty in Hawke's Bay until she died in 2015.

Her four sons have agreed to share Torty's care, taking turns each year in their Auckland, Morrinsville, Palmerston North and Havelock North homes.

Grandson Gordon Little said Torty must have been a mature turtle to withstand the gun carriage, but her exact age is a mystery.

A garden of lettuces were planted for her but now she prefers silverbeet, fed to her by hand so she can tear off a bite at a time, very slowly.

Tortoises have been known to live for more than 200 years, by which time there may be almost as many of the Stewart Little's descendants to look after her.

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