Te Papa chief's body returns for tangi

19:19, Jul 23 2009

The body of Te Papa chief executive Seddon Bennington, who died in the Tararua Ranges last week, returned to the museum this afternoon ahead of his final farewell tomorrow.

Dr Bennington, 61, and his tramping companion Marcella Jackson, 54, were found dead in the snow in the Tararua Ranges shortly before 11am on Wednesday, four days after they went missing.

Dr Bennington's body was today carried on to the museum's marae, accompanied by conch shells, waiata and the howling Wellington wind.

Hundreds of mourners took part in a haka powhiri from 4pm to begin Dr Bennington's tangi, which was expected to take about four hours.

People were able to pay their respects at the marae from between 8pm until 10pm.

Dr Bennington's body would remain on the marae until after a private funeral service tomorrow from 1pm, and Te Papa staff members would stay on the marae tonight with him, spokeswoman Jane Keig said.

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"It's very important for museum staff to have him come back to our marae to say their last farewells," she said.

Dr Bennington's body was in a unique eco coffin, which suited the "things he believed in", Ms Keig said. It was draped in the same kiwi feather cloak that draped former prime minister Richard Seddon's casket at his tangi.

"It holds special significance for Dr Bennington – number one, he was named after Prime Minister Seddon, and also last year he received the cloak from Prime Minister Seddon's family," Ms Keig said.

A Tuhoe cloak was also on his casket. Dr Bennington spent quite a bit of time in his youth with the Tuhoe people.

Representatives from Wellington City Council and the Ministry of Arts, Heritage and Culture were in attendance at today's service and Minister Chris Finlayson will attend Dr Bennington's funeral tomorrow.

Ms Keig said his funeral would be a "normal" service, with speakers and a hymn.

Dr Bennington's family earlier thanked the Levin police and the search and rescue teams involved in the recovery operations.

The pair had headed into the ranges for a weekend tramp to Kime Hut but failed to return as planned on Sunday.

After more than two days of searching, their bodies were found about 1km from the hut.

Although the pair were otherwise well-equipped, police said neither had carried a cellphone or locator beacon.

A preliminary post mortem examination showed Dr Bennington and Mrs Jackson died of hypothermia.

A private funeral for Mrs Jackson took place this morning at a Wellington church, followed by a private cremation.

- NZPA