King find recalls Savage mystery

KELSEY FLETCHER
Last updated 10:56 10/02/2013
Michael Joseph Savage
RESPECTED: Michael Joseph Savage was the founder of the Labour Party.

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The discovery last week of the lost bones of England's infamous King Richard III has reignited memories of New Zealand's own great archaeology mystery - the missing body of Michael Joseph Savage.

Most people believe Savage, the founding leader of the Labour Party and its first prime minister, is interred in a graceful sarcophagus beneath his memorial on Bastion Point.

Savage died in 1940 from colon cancer.

But when experts opened the sarcophagus 63 years after his death, they found it empty.

Archaeologist Doug Sutton was among a team sent to the memorial in 2003 after it was thought water and subsidence might have damaged it.

But when the team found his body missing, it sparked a hunt for the whereabouts of his lead coffin.

It took two years, using the latest geo-technical instruments, for archaeologists to locate it.

"It is popularly believed he is in the sarcophagus in the memorial but he isn't," Sutton said.

"The coffin is deep down in a vertical shaft beneath the sarcophagus.

"He's there and intact and it's all fine," Sutton said.

"One of the best things we found about Michael Savage was the prisoners who built the facility in which he was buried - they sketched him on the walls of the tunnels they worked in," he said.

His team were the first to see the unexpected artwork since the shaft was dug.

Brigid Gallagher, who rose to fame as one of the archaeologists working on the UK TV programme Time Team, digging historical sites, said the allure of historic royalty and solving the whereabouts of lost bodies, sites and treasures, was powerful.

The discovery of Richard III would revive interest in archaeology of all types. When Richard's remains were unearthed in a Leicester carpark, and confirmed by DNA testing with a living family descendent, they solved a 500-year-old mystery of where the last English king to die in a battle had been buried.

His death ended the brutal War of the Roses and he was vilified as a usurper who killed his adolescent nephews to take the throne - a claim which has divided historians and made him a popular cause celebre.

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- Sunday Star Times

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