The great excitement felt by many New Zealanders during the recent Royal tour by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex was overwhelming, with thousands wanting to catch a glimpse of royalty.

The Royal couple's last stop on their New Zealand tour was at Rotorua where they were met by local leaders, gifted korowai cloaks and other taonga, and attended by crowds who gathered to watch the welcome by Te Arawa.

This occasion is reminiscent of a previous royal visit to Rotorua over a century ago which has links to a tokotoko (walking/orating stick) and kahu kiwi (kiwi feather cloak) now held in Whangārei Museum.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex in Rotorua during their tour of New Zealand in October this year. Photo / File
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex in Rotorua during their tour of New Zealand in October this year. Photo / File

The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York arrived in New Zealand on June 11, 1901. Their tour was primarily to personally thank the country for supporting Britain in the Boer War.

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This historic visit by Prince Harry's great great-grandfather, Prince George and his wife Princess Mary, also featured a large gathering at Rotorua where a contingent of around 5000 Māori from around the country assembled at Te Arawa racecourse for the ceremonious occasion.

It was headlined as "The Sight of a Lifetime" with tribes represented from the Far South to the Bay of Islands creating an impressive and memorable spectacle for those privileged enough to be in attendance.

The tokotoko presented to William Campbell Walker in 1901 in Whangārei Museum's collection. It was carved by Jacob Heberley. Photo / Supplied
The tokotoko presented to William Campbell Walker in 1901 in Whangārei Museum's collection. It was carved by Jacob Heberley. Photo / Supplied

A striking feature of the spectacular demonstration in 1901 was the ceremony of presenting gifts to the Royal visitors which the Duke recorded in his diary, consisting of greenstone and whalebone meres, paddles, patu, feather cloaks, mats, flax kits, carved sticks and a great number of poi and piu-piu.

The elaborately carved tokotoko in the Whangārei Museum's collection, was donated by Barbara Walker and was reputedly presented with the feather cloak to her grandfather, Hon. William Campbell Walker (Minister of Education and Immigration) by Sir James Carroll (Native Affairs Minister) during these royal celebrations.

The stylised composition on the tokotoko is finely balanced and understood to have been one of several sticks carved by Jacob Heberley (also known as Hakopa Heperi) of Wellington. Basically self-taught, of Te Ati Awa descent, he developed a distinctive personal carving style which was well known to politicians, collectors and luminaries while also being accepted by many prominent Māori.

The coloured frontispiece of the official record of the visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York to New Zealand in 1901. Photo / Supplied
The coloured frontispiece of the official record of the visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York to New Zealand in 1901. Photo / Supplied

He produced stylistically carved models of traditional artefacts such as kumete, waka huia and tokotoko which were created for symbolic or ceremonial purposes. Many such taonga were gifts commissioned by the government for visiting royalty, distinguished visitors and dignitaries.

Heberley was responsible for numerous official gifts presented to the Duke and Duchess during their visit to New Zealand in 1901 and also appears responsible for carving the walking stick presented to Hon. William Walker at this propitious occasion by Carroll when being awarded a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG).

William Campbell Walker, circa 1890s. Photo / Supplied
William Campbell Walker, circa 1890s. Photo / Supplied

It is recorded that on the royal's return, due to the generous gift-giving of Māori, many of the taonga were placed on permanent loan to institutions in the UK.

Thanks largely to the carving skill of Heberley and the prominence of his art in the political and cultural scenes, his legacy continues both locally and internationally within private collections and museums worldwide.

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■ Natalie Brookland is collection registrar, Whangārei Museum at Kiwi North.