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Silver lining to family gift

KARINA ABADIA
Last updated 05:00 26/03/2014
Silver centrepiece
HISTORICAL LINK: Colonel Robert Henry Wynyard purchased The Wynyard Testimonial Epergne with money gifted to him by the people of Auckland in 1858.
Finn McCahon Jones
IMPORTANT ACQUISITION: Auckland museum associate curator Finn McCahon Jones is excited to have the epergne on permanent display.

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Have you ever wondered who Wynyard was in the scheme of things?

Landmarks named after Colonel Robert Henry Wynyard include Wynyard Rd in Mt Eden and Wynyard Quarter on the waterfront along with Wynyard Crossing, the bridge which lifts to allow large boats to pass.

Mr Wynyard was English-born and held military and administrative offices in New Zealand from 1845 to 1858, including colonel of her Majesty's 58th Regiment and the first superintendent of the Auckland Province.

He also became patron of Auckland War Memorial Museum when it opened in 1852.

Basically he was a bit of a troubleshooter for the British government, his great-great-granddaughter Lindsay Kirby says.

"They sent him to places where there was a bit of trouble going on. He was a good leader and he got on well with the Maori as well as the Europeans at the time."

In 1845 he led 200 troops to strengthen the forces deployed in the Bay of Islands against the Maori chiefs Hone Heke and Te Ruki Kawiti and he was among those who stormed Ruapekapeka on January 11, 1846.

At the end of his posting the popular colonel was presented with 300 gold sovereigns by the inhabitants of Auckland. Back home he used the money to buy a silver table centrepiece entitled The Wynyard Testimonial Epergne from renowned London makers Smith and Nicholson.

It's characteristic of the rococco-revival style popular in the mid-19th century and features a British soldier as well as a Maori man, woman and child standing around a ponga. After Wynyard died in 1864 his wife Anne returned to Auckland and the epergne was kept in the family for several generations. It was secured in a bank vault for many years rather than being on display.

"At the time silver was very valuable, more so than now," Mrs Kirby says. "The worry was that someone might have stolen it and melted it down."

The family twice had to pay hefty inheritance tax on it, once when their father died in 1973 and again when their mother died 15 months later.

In the end they decided to lend it to Auckland Council about 25 years ago. From there it was loaned to Auckland War Memorial Museum in 1988.

On March 13 the family permanently gifted it to the museum, a decision Mrs Kirby is happy with.

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"It was quite a lot of money we had to pay to retain the thing which I've always felt should be on public display rather than hidden away in a vault."

Associate curator in applied arts and design Finn McCahon-Jones is thrilled with the gift.

It talks about the New Zealand land wars and Maori-Pakeha relationships but it also helps tell the story of Auckland as a Victorian town, he says.

"It would have been lovely as a centrepiece. Knowing the Wynyards were entertainers this would have taken pride of place in the middle of the table and would have perhaps had nuts and dried fruits in the baskets. It's showing one's wealth but it's also adding fun to the table."

- East And Bays Courier

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