A family whose British military ancestors took "souvenirs" from a sacred Burmese temple after a fierce war more than 160 years ago is returning the rare artefacts to Myanmar next week on a personal cultural repatriation mission.

Growing up on his family's Whangarei farm, Gareth Bodle was fascinated by the silver and stone statues that sat high on the mantelpiece.

They were not for little boys to touch and he was aware they were precious and exotic, with fascinating origins.

Both of his great-great-grandfathers fought in the Second Anglo-Burmese War - the second of the three wars fought between the Burmese and British forces during the nineteenth century, in 1852.


During the fighting, British soldiers captured the Shwemawdaw Pagoda of Bago - at 114m the tallest pagoda in Burma. Built by the Mon people over a thousand years ago, it is also one of country's most sacred sites, enshrining several relics of the Buddha, and remained under British military control until 1929.

Before Major Donald George Angus Darroch and the freshly-commissioned Ensign George Bodle, who both served with distinction during the conflict, left the country, they took antiquities from Shwemawdaw Pagoda as mementos.

Bodle's son George went on to marry Darroch's daughter Eliza Jeanetta and they emigrated to New Zealand in 1885 - with George becoming the doctor of Alfriston, South Auckland - and bringing with them the Burmese relics.

Some of them, including the statues of Buddha, were displayed in the various family homes through the generations.

Other items were kept stored away out of sight.

But now, Hobsonville lawyer Gareth Bodle says his family has decided to return the items "back to their rightful owners".

"We always treated the pieces preciously and that was how I inherited them," the 60-year-old Bodle told the Herald.

"But where did it come from and what was its relevance? The stuff is not really ours. Although it was an important part of my childhood, in that, it always sat in the living room out of reach of children, we started to think of priorities and meaning and wondered if they would like it all back."


Through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), Bodle approached authorities in what is now called Myanmar.

"We do not know the monetary value these items have. It is not our intention to place a value or seek any price or reward for them," Bodle wrote to the Director General of the Department of Archaeology and National Museum of Myanmar.

"We regard ourselves as having been the caretakers of these items and simply wish to return them to where they came. We would like to do so in person to acknowledge the generations that they have been in our family and the interest and care with which the family has always given them."

Myanmar officials responded with interest in getting the historic items back.

And so later this week (July 7), Bodle and his partner Jennifer George fly to Myanmar to repatriate the items, which are being shipped off ahead of them.

Bodle hopes that Myanmar officials could help them visit the "important places of the 1852 campaign" including battlefields during their nine-day visit, in order to "understand if we can what it meant at the time and what it means today as part of returning the items" to their country of origin.

"I'd like to think that we will come away with a connection with Myanmar that is more durable and personal than simple a statue of Buddha sitting in the lounge," Bodle said.