Doubt cast on origin of Dunedin shackles

Leg irons bought by the Dunedin City Council as "historic artefacts" were used to hold camels, not Maori prisoners, as Mayor Dave Cull believed.

The council spent $3900 on the shackles in March when they were put up for auction by Dunedin man Steve McCormack, who said they had been used to restrain Maori prisoners in caves in the 1800s.

McCormack said he found them inside a Portobello Rd cave in the early 1970s, near where Maori prisoners from Taranaki were forced to labour between 1869 and 1881.

Initial research indicated the shackles were authentic, prompting the council to buy them to avoid them being sold on the open market.

However, assessment by staff at the Otago Settlers Museum has found the leg irons were most likely of Middle Eastern origin, forged in the 20th century to hobble camels.

The shackles could have been brought back to Dunedin by soldiers returning from World War 1, the report suggested.

Parihaka spokesman Ruakere Hond was pleased the issue had been resolved but said the potential for similar situations to arise remained and it was important a lesson was learned from this experience.

"There will always be people who look for opportunities to make a quick buck for whatever reason," Hond said.

He said the actions of the Dunedin City Council could also serve as an example about how situations could be managed in the future.

This was echoed by Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, of Ngati Ruanui, who said the example set by the council was "just amazing" and also illustrated the close working relationship iwi and local government had in their district.

"It's always good for a community for those relationships to be strong," she said.

Taranaki Daily News