Links to a tumultuous time in the Hokianga have been brought to light after the discovery of a mummified dog.

The dead canine was found under the former Wesleyan church in Rawene with its skin intact and its teeth bared.

It still had a collar around its neck with a corroded licence tag, proving its owners had paid their dog tax during a period where tensions ran high between Māori and the Crown over the issue, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga believes.

Contractors made the grisly find in February while undertaking foundation works as part of the restoration of the building.

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They also found two mummified hedgehogs, a number of birds and a fish-head.

Aranne Donald, a retired heritage planner who is project managing the site, was there when the dog was found under the floor.

"The skin was still intact, underneath it had rotted away but on the top it was all desiccated and dry like a mummy," she said.

"You could still see the ears, and it had a collar and some kind of tag but you couldn't read it."

A mummified dog was discovered under the floor of the former Wesleyan church in Rawene. Photo / Supplied
A mummified dog was discovered under the floor of the former Wesleyan church in Rawene. Photo / Supplied

The church was built in 1876 and its now owners - Linda Blincko and Lynn Lawton who also own No. 1 Parnell gallery in Rawene – are turning the vestry part of the building into an artist's retreat.

When the discovery was made, the owners then contacted the Northland branch of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

"It's a small dog, it looked like a French bulldog," Donald said.

"We don't know how old it is. We assume it was injured and went under there to die. Normally a dog will crawl somewhere to die when they're sick or injured. What it told us is how dry the building was underneath."

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Heritage NZ Northland manager Bill Edwards said the discovery showed two things.

"That it was very dry, which is good for wood preservation, and the link to the dog tax wars. A lot of people know about the Northern wars but I doubt many people know about the dog tax wars,'' Edwards said.

"Our mummified canine is a reminder of a time when the quiet town of Rawene was the scene of extreme tensions that almost boiled over into open warfare."

Heritage NZ Northland manager Bill Edwards says the mummified canine is a reminder of a time when Rawene was the scene of tensions that almost boiled over into open warfare. Photo / File
Heritage NZ Northland manager Bill Edwards says the mummified canine is a reminder of a time when Rawene was the scene of tensions that almost boiled over into open warfare. Photo / File

According to NZ History, the Government introduced a series of taxes in the 1890s, including a dog tax of two shillings and sixpence per dog.

But Māori in the Hokianga refused to comply with these measures as they often owned many dogs, especially for hunting, and were not generally part of the cash economy.

They ignored the fines and when summonsed for debt, refused to appear.

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The situation intensified after Henry Menzies was brought in by the Hokianga County Council and paid a commission for every dog registration sold.

After efforts by Hauturu community leader Hone Toia to gain leniency from the council failed, a group of 20 Māori led by Toia's relative Romana Te Paehangi marched into town with their guns.

The Government sent a force of more than 120 armed men, field guns and a gun boat.

"As the soldiers approached the settlement Hone Toia received a telegram from Hone Heke Ngapua, the member of the House of Representatives for Northern Māori, advising him to disband his followers, retire to his home and petition Parliament about his grievances," Edwards said.

Edwards said the mummified dog probably died a few years after the trouble in Rawene.

Donald said now Heritage NZ has assessed the find, it would be re-buried on site.

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