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