Key Points:

One of New Zealand's most renowned and celebrated judges secretly fathered two children with a young Maori Princess - claims that have come as a shock to his legitimate family.

The claims came to light only when Sir Trevor Henry passed away last week, aged 105, and a group of the secret descendants, the Bay of Plenty-based Hall family, placed a mysterious death notice in the NZ Herald, alongside those of Sir Trevor's Auckland family.

Sir Trevor died on Wednesday, June 20, just four weeks after his 105th birthday. He celebrated that milestone with Rowan Spackman and John Henry, QC, the daughter and son he raised with wife Audrey while enjoying a stellar career as one of the country's top judges.

But a member of the Hall family claimed that before his marriage, Sir Trevor - then a newly admitted barrister - met Hineiri Hall in the early 1920s when he was in Rotorua for work. Hineiri was a beautiful Te Arawa Princess, the youngest of 11 children, said the family member.

She was working at the Lakeside Hotel at the time, which had a reputation as a gathering spot for public servants and lawyers. "They must have met there," the family member said. "They were just lovers, she was his port in a storm in Rotorua I guess."

The family member claimed the couple had a daughter, Manu, in 1927 and a son, William, in 1928.

Both Manu and William had died before their father but they left a group of about 30 descendants who all thought of Sir Trevor as their patriarch, the family member said.

Their death notice said: "We have always respected you even though you did not know us, now we honour you. R.I.P."

The family member believed Sir Trevor would have been about 25 when he met Hineiri. But when their apparently on-off relationship ended just a few years later, he moved to Auckland.

The family member claimed Sir Trevor never made any contact with Hineiri's two children, but sent 10 shillings each year for a time "to help feed them".

He said Sir Trevor's son William, who passed away with a full head of hair and perfect teeth, looked very like the famous judge. He had watched his father avidly every time he was on television for a big case, and often shed a tear for the man he had never met, the family member said.

He said the Hall family held no antagonism towards Sir Trevor or his family and did not want anything from them. The family member said he thought long and hard about attending Sir Trevor's funeral on Wednesday, and even got up early enough to make the drive to Auckland for the 11am start.

But in the end he visited William's grave instead, and placed the death notice on behalf of the secret side of the family. "We couldn't let a man who lived to be 105 go past without any recognition that we are part of him - and we are, I am. That's the way I saw it."

In the week since, they had been jumping up every time the phone rang, hoping to hear from the family in Auckland.

"If they want to contact us they can, if they don't well, it's fine, we've survived all our lives without him - but it's always good to know your roots, eh?"

The family of Sir Trevor are reluctant to comment, but it is understood the first they knew of the claims was when they read the death notice. On Friday Sir Trevor's daughter Glenda Spackman told the Herald on Sunday she knew of the claims, but there was not yet any formal proof that the Hall family were indeed descended from her father.

Hineiri later married a Maori man from Opotiki and had five more children, the Hall family member said.

Manu married a man named Gordon Fraser; William moved to Whakatane when he was four and stayed there all his life, as a mill worker.

Man with a 'wiseness, sense of duty and an experience of men and affairs'

Sir Trevor Henry's career was meteoric.

The ceremony celebrating his appointment to Supreme Court judge on February 24, 1955, was one of the biggest turnouts Auckland's legal society had ever seen.

It was reported the next day that fellow judge Sir Justice Findlay told the gathering Sir Trevor had a "Wiseness, a sense of duty and an experience of men and affairs which should light his path to the end that justice should truly be done".

He was on the 1936 Olympic Games selection committee, served three terms on the Parole Board and chaired the War Pensions Appeal Board when it was first established in 1980.

In 1984 Sir Trevor and his son John made legal history by becoming the first father and son to sit together as judges on a High Court Bench in New Zealand.

At the time Sir Trevor held the offices of Judge of Appeal for Fiji, and Acting Chief Justice for Tonga.

His law degree was from Auckland University. He was admitted to the bar in 1923 and became a barrister two years later.