The shackles found in a Portobello Rd cave. Photo by Craig
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull says he has ''no regrets'' about
stepping in to buy leg irons destined for auction, despite new
evidence they were used to hold camels, not Maori prisoners as
had been believed.
However, the conclusion by Toitu Otago Settlers Museum staff
has prompted Mr Cull to call on the seller - Dunedin man
Steve McCormack - to ''examine his moral position''.
The council spent $3900 on the shackles in March, preventing
them being sold on the open market, and Mr McCormack should
now consider refunding ratepayers' money, Mr Cull said.
''He should reflect on that,'' Mr Cull said.
But Mr McCormack rejected the idea, insisting he was ''no
expert'' but the items were genuine historic artefacts.
It was a case of buyer beware for the council, he believed.
''You buy something - you don't get a refund.
''If you go to auctions . . . it's a bit like going to the
casino, I suppose, but at least you can come out of there
However, Mr McCormack insisted he had never explicitly linked
them to the area's Maori prisoners, despite saying in March
there was ''no question'' they had been used to restrain
prisoners inside the caves.
''I said they came from the caves over there - and then
everything went haywire,'' he said.
''I put them up for sale as a pair of leg irons. He [Mr Cull]
stopped the auction - he took responsibility for it by doing
The comments came after plans to sell the leg irons at
Hayward's Auction House were revealed in March, prompting
concerns an important piece of history could be lost.
Mr McCormack claimed to have 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.
Some historians believed prisoners could have been held for
short periods inside a Shore St cave, on the opposite side of
the Andersons Bay inlet.
Initial research commissioned by the council also suggested
Mr McCormack's leg irons could be authentic, prompting Mr
Cull to step in.
However, Toitu's follow-up report concluded the Portobello Rd
cave was used throughout the 19th century as a powder
magazine, storing explosives, and would not ''under any
circumstances'' have housed people.
The cave was later used as storage space leased to boat clubs
throughout the 20th century, the report said.
''Simply put, his account is not credible,'' the report
Instead, the leg irons were believed to be of Middle Eastern
origin, most likely forged in the early 20th century, and
were suspected to be camel hobbles.
They could have been brought back to Dunedin by soldiers
returning from World War 1, the report suggested.
''They would fit very well for a camel, or likewise to a
Clydesdale-sized horse's leg,'' it said.
Mr Cull said he did not regret buying them ''given the
uncertainty'', but ruled out any legal action, saying the
cost would be more than the shackles were worth.
Mr McCormack insisted he had not tried to deceive anyone.
''I'm genuine, the items are genuine, they're genuinely from
there, they're genuinely well over 100 years old, and they're
worth every cent.''