Report considers leg irons

Dave Cull.
Dave Cull.
A Toitu Otago Settlers Museum provenance report on the leg irons the Dunedin City Council bought for $3900 has been released.

The investigation instigated by Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull revealed the shackles were leg irons and could have been used on people or horses and came from a cave in Portobello Rd, near the sea scouts' boat shed.

Dunedin man Steve McCormack, who sold the shackles to the council, said he and his late brother removed them from the cave in the 1970s.

The report released to the Otago Daily Times yesterday said the irons appeared to be from the late 19th century, the same period when Maori prisoners were held in Dunedin between 1869 and 1881.

''We may never know exactly how these leg irons were used, but they are associated with that period of history in Dunedin when construction work was happening in the Anderson's Bay area using Maori prisoner labour,'' the report said.

Several horse hobbles and leg irons from the period were researched for the investigation and Mr McCormack and local historians were interviewed.

Horse hobbles were often mistaken for leg irons and while the shackles seemed ''too big'' for human legs, 19th-century leg irons varied greatly in size and design, the report said.

''The conclusion is that these items are leg irons, and could have been used on either people or horses.''

Museum curator Sean Brosnahan said he thought the cave had been cut into the rock and used for storage, or shelter, in the course of the development of the road.

Dr Matt Schmidt, of the Historic Places Trust, said the caves were used by dairy operators to store horses.

Historian Peter Entwisle believed the cave was used for storing explosives during the causeway's construction.

Bill Dacker, named in the report as the leading authority on the Maori prisoners' experiences in Dunedin, believed the caves had been large enough to house horses.

Mr Cull pulled the leg irons from an auction and bought them last month with money from the mayoral fund.

Mr Cull had been talking to runanga in Taranaki and the irons were ''hugely symbolic'' if they restrained prisoners or horses.

shawn.mcavinue@odt.co.nz

An excellent article...

I read with interest the latest newsletter ('The Hangfire') from The Antiques Arms Association Otago Branch. It contained an extensive history (8 pages) of the construction and subsequent use of the powder magazines at Vauxhall. It would perhaps make a worthy basis for a follow up article by the ODT into these interesting structures of local historical significance.

Would be a great read over a mid-morning cuppa, one lump or two?

Put them on public show

The council can proudly display these alongside their other historic saviour, the rotting manuka logs they rescued from ... what - oblivion? To show just how restrained they are at spending ratepayers' money. Another farce without answer.

Shackles for horses?

Looking at the size of the shackles they are obviously for horses - not humans. Bad luck Dave C.

Common sense required

Did at any stage anyone enter the tunnel with the person who removed/stole the item & check just where in the tunnel the shackles were held to the wall or floor?

Remember the two hacksaw blades used to cut the iron that held the shackles, if the item was cut & left there would still be there in position today. 

It is so simple, no where is it mentioned that an inspection, or a proper investigation being done. The Police have basic procedures that they follow to check out stories.

What a waste of people's time & public money if the investigation was not carried out in a non Politically Correct manner, with the resulting floppy outcome that's seems to suit the Mayor's back scratching, as seen before with the pre Toitu naming situation. 

The next thing to happen is that the tunnel area will become a shrine to all the evil deeds that could have, perhaps might have happened, becoming "hugely symbolic" "if they restrained prisoners or horses" 

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