Leg irons removed from cave for auction

Hayward's Auction House owner Kevin Hayward holds forged leg irons outside the Dunedin cave from which  they were removed in the 1970s. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Hayward's Auction House owner Kevin Hayward holds forged leg irons outside the Dunedin cave from which they were removed in the 1970s. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.

Hand-forged leg irons that might have been used to restrain Maori political prisoners in Dunedin will go under the hammer in Dunedin tomorrow.

Steve McCormack (60), of Dunedin, said he put the irons up for sale at Hayward's Auction House in Dunedin.

He and his late brother had used a hacksaw to remove the hand-forged leg irons from a cave in Portobello Rd in the early 1970s.

''It took three hacksaw blades to cut it,'' Mr McCormack said.

The cave had at that time housed many wrist and foot shackles but the rest had ''rotted away'', he said.

Mr McCormack said he had worked at the Hillside Engineering Workshops and used its furnace to preserve the leg irons, which appeared to date from the early 1800s.

He was unsure who the leg irons had restrained but he was sure they had been used in the Portobello Rd cave.

''No question about it because every one of those caves had the steel rings pressed in to the floor to chain prisoners to.''

He was expecting big bids at the auction tomorrow.

Otakau runanga elder Edward Ellison said Maori prisoners were taken from Taranaki and forced to labour in Dunedin between 1869 and 1871 and helped build the Andersons Bay causeway and road.

It was unknown if Maori political prisoners were restrained with leg irons in Dunedin caves.

''There is evidence they were in the caves. How they were restrained is more likely by a locked door than leg irons.''

Although the caves were not a recognised historic site in the early 1970s, the leg irons should not have been removed, he said.

''There is people with a level of attachment to the issues surrounding their ancestors that were held, without trial, in places like that so it is a bit insensitive to be selling them without giving the opportunity to be purchased and housed in the country.''

Hayward's Auction House owner Kevin Hayward said if the leg irons sold tomorrow, any new owner, if they wanted to take them out of the country, would need an export certificate.

Mr Hayward said there was no issue with the sale under the Protected Objects Act, which regulated the export of protected New Zealand objects, the illegal export and import of protected New Zealand and foreign objects and the sale, trade and ownership of Maori artefacts.


Carrying a torch in old ammo store

Have a look. May the torch be battery operated, not open flamed. Phantom of munitions ordnance, 22 Reg/Foot, Brit.

Have a look first

Today the irons were with drawn from sale, so now everyone's getting excited about the context & authenticity of these irons, it would be very simple to open the doors to these tunnels cut in the soft stone. Yes they are not caves. As a teenager in the late sixty's I passed by on foot & bicycle many times the then strongly locked tunnel doors. All inquiries at the time about access to the locked doors only yielded the information the Otago Harbour Board had ownership & during WW2 used for storage of munitions. It's possible by tomorrow night to put this tale to rest. Open them up (cut off lock), turn on a torch & walk inside to verify the removal story. Just do it, making sure that everything is recorded & the area is not disturbed as it is a historical place, just as important as the now partly covered harbour wall built by not only some N.I Maori, but prisoners & cheap labour over many years. If the irons did truly come from here, then they should be returned, secured with the doors locked again to preserve this time capsule.

Penal colony

Historically significant items from our 'Tasmanian' era. Technically Govt issue, property of The Crown Colony.

Somethings odd

Lovely story, but theres no evidence that they were cut from anything inside the cave at all, the size in relation to Kevin's hands (allowing for the camera angle) is wrong. Any person without huge legs & feet would be out & gone smartly.
Interesting to to read that he & his brother had used a "furnace to preserve the leg irons" &  that the "rest had rotted away". A strange situation as a metals conservationist or someone trained in metallurgy would scatch their heads that a group of wrought iron objects from the same place, would dissolve selectively & leave only one set in such good condition.
The links are not forge welded but formed & clipped, indicating a later stage of manufacture than the supposed early 1800's. Also a furnace cannot in any way help preserve ferrous items.
Hillside did make good strong clothes lines for many years - perhaps this is an unknown product that didn't sell well over the back fence.

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