No regrets over buying leg irons: Cull

The shackles found in a Portobello Rd cave. Photo by Craig Baxter.
The shackles found in a Portobello Rd cave. Photo by Craig Baxter.
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 with something.''

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 that.''

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 concluded.

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.''

What is a municipality?

Now we know. It is ratepayers, no more, no less. Non-ratepaying constituents, cultural interests, faith communities, heritage and cosmopolitanism are irrelevant. Yes, Soar Bones, I respectfully object to your narrow view of a Mayor's civic function.

The Mayor's conflict

Good stuff Hype.O.Thermia.

This whole situation is very simple. The only relationship that matters and is paramount, is that the ratepayers and the Mayor are bound together by the act of him being voted into office. No other party has a part to play - nobody. If he cannot undertake his role fully he should resign.

If the Mayor has organisational links or belief systems, they are personal and not our business. I lump religion, interests and cultural ties/ beliefs together. They are attended to away from our attention in his spare time. 

Perhaps it's time for the Mayor to reach deep into his own pockets to pay for these extra ferrous baubles of office we have payed for on others' behalf, or go.[Abridged]

Spending local rates money

The part that puzzles me most about Mayor Cull's risible leg-iron spend-up is this:  "Taranaki iwi expressed concern they were for sale".  Taranaka iwi were concerned, OK, they didn't have full information about the goods on offer.  Cull represents Dunedin ratepayers.  Taranaki iwi don't seem to feel any duty to solve local ratepayers' worries.  This does not surprise me, nor do I see any reason why they should.  So why, ummm..........?


Gregglies, forgive me for having two strong legs to hobble together. Then we must assume that Mr McCormack does not follow the news and knew nothing of the debate and controversy prior to sale, all online.

Removed from auction

Who advised the mayor as to the likely cost of removing the shackles from auction? How was the value of that transaction arrived at? This information should now be placed in public domain via LGOIMA.

Buyer beware

AlbertSquare: The shackles were only ever being sold as found in the caves. It was never explicitly stated that they were used to shackle prisoners. 

The price paid by Mayor Cull on behalf of Council was at their own risk, believing it to be something it wasn't. However, that belief was their own. It may or may not have been shared by the vendor, but it was not expressed as part of the auction. 

The item was for sale on the open market. There's no way Mr McCormack could have known that council were going to buy it, and nor should that knowledge have changed anything about the sale. 


How could you claim that Dunedin has been saved money in this instance, with or without foresight?

Also how is it that Ngai Tahu don't have the change to buy their own artefacts?  

Charged by the vendor

It's Mr McCormack who has shamelessly accepted ratepayer money.

Dave Cull and leg irons

The DCC CEO needs to take Dave Cull's DCC credit card off him and dismiss his advisers.  
Mayor Cull would be better off to recover the $0.5 million he spent of ratepayers money to bail out the Otago Rugby Union.  The ORU has been reported to have made almost $0.5 million in the last financial year and I would imagine that not one cent will be paid back to the DCC. [Abridged] 


Liberal guilt syndrome charged to the over-burdened ratepayer.


Just another kneejerk reaction from another Dunedin mayor jerking more money out of the ratepayers pockets for erroneous reasons.  

What mandate?

I heard a radio interview tonight where Dave Cull stated he stepped in and  bought the leg irons after Taranaki iwi expressed concern they were for sale. So please Mr Cull - what mandate did ratepayers give you to be so kind and free-spirited with our money? Our city is almost broke - and he goes off risking our money on fake artefacts?  Perhaps we need to get rid next time we vote. Dunedin is not well served. [abridged]

Mayor and our money

The Mayor steps in and purchases leg irons on behalf of Taranaki iwi so they wouldn't be offended, and he's working off incomplete information to do so. Risky!

Why didn't the Taranki iwi purchase them? or better still, why didn't Cull use his own money to purhase them?

I suggest Cull should pay back the ratepayers for this purchase in the first instance. Then the council needs to investigate this matter and provide a full report to ratepayers. [Abridged]

Buyer beware

I'm with Steve McCormack on this one. As Mr. McCormack said, nobody told the Mayor to get involved. I wouldn't refund the money either. If the Mayor wants rid of them he can always put them up for auction again.

As it is, the city had paid for and gotten exactly what they saw - a pair of old restraints of some sort. If Mayor Cull doesn't want to find himself in this sort of position then all he had to do was nothing. But he didn't do nothing. He got involved and here are the consequences.

I support Dave Cull

I support Dave Cull in this matter. When the shackles were put up for auction, they were advertised as having come from the Portobello Road caves, and possibly had been used to shackle Maori prisoners. There was a very short window of time to make a decision. All those taking a cheap shot in hindsight are missing that fact. He made the right decision.

Not smart enough

Andy: I understand why he did it, even approve of the reason .... the problem is that he didn't even have some vaguely smart person do the due diligence of looking at the shackles and going "hmmmm those look a bit big for humans".

It's the same thing that causes a lot the spending and waste by the council, the mayor and the councilors seem to be just too lazy to try and understand what the real implications are that result from their actions - it's why we have a council that keeps shoveling more and more money at the stadium in some vain hope that spending more will somehow result in it costing less - there seems to be a real disconnect between their goals and their actions that belies an ignorance of what they are really doing.

I think they are being snowed by some fast operators just like the mayor has been here, and just like I hope the mayor won't try and make this right by buying a camel to justify his shackles, I wish the council would stop shoveling money from the ratepayers' pockets into DVML's in some vague hope that that will somehow make the stadium profitable - that's just not how profits work.


The Camels were used as water carriers to supply the prisoners building the roads. Some had two humps ,some just one. The two humpers were used extensively for the Portobello Harrington point section .. As a child we inherited one as a pet. we have many memories of riding it to school from Portobello to Mac Andrew Bay.. It particularly loved ice cream from the store there, and a real reward was a Jaffa .. So the Early Settlers have some more work to do ..

Cheque please, Dave

The good citizens will forget this lapse of judgment Mayor Cull, if you make out a personal cheque to the value of $3900.00 to replenish the mayoral fund, to be paid by Friday, 4 July 2014. After which, interest will apply. An invoice can be provided.

Love your use of language

"Meanwhile, someone should quietly take Mr Cull's chequebook
before he tries to put things right by buying a camel."

Genuinely funny! Very well said.

Leg irons

I've had a gutsful of councils widening their brief. Councils are there to fix footpaths, remove rubbish and the consent process. Not build stadiums, convention centres, hotels or leg irons. Get back to basics.

Good job mayor

I think people are missing the point here - had Cull not bought the shackles and they did indeed prove to be associated with the Taranaki Prisoners - the City would not have been honouring our ties with Ngai Tahu and Taranaki iwi. It sounds like the mayor had to make a call because of the auction/time pressure and requested the report from experts at Toitu.

A good call, and he is right to question the moral judgement of a man claiming to sell something of cultural significance. Dunedin has probably been saved money in this instance. Perhaps the Ministry of Culture and Heritage should have requested a postponement of the auction, but it sounds like the council was stuck between a cave and a hard place.

Got the hump

I agree this whole thing is stupid. I didn't know they had camels helping to build the foreshore as a part of the slave labour along with the Maori prisoners of war. Well done to the Museum for such obviously rigorous research. Spending this much public money with the City in the financial shape it is in, especially on these gruesome things beggars belief. Pay us back the money Dave and handle your "buyers remorse" yourself. Think more carefully in future ie: do I really want it? [abridged]

Pulling our Leg

I guess now Our Dave really has the Hump!

Bankrupt of ideas

How can we possibly trust a man who invests in camel shackles yet wants to divest Dunedin in fossil fuels, whilst he drives a gas guzzler. We have a Mayor who is completely bankrupt of ideas and moral fortitude to lead us forward.

I bet

...that gave the mayor the hump.

Ok, a mistake, but no one held accountable

Ratepayers again being made to pay for someone else's mistake.

I am more annoyed by the lack of apology from the Mayor, "Sorry we bought this old item that has nothing significant to do with Dunedin's history" using taxpayers funds, just brushing it off and moving on, no consequences and little chance anything will change if somthing similar came along again.

One worthless object and another

It is time for Mayor Cull to spend his time reflecting not on camel hobbles, but the moral position of the CST who promised to build a debt free stadium and return an annual profit to the City's ratepayers.  He can't have it both ways.  If he is now adopting a position of the moral high ground and suggesting Mr McCormack should return the $3900 for some wartime memento that probably isn't worth a nob of camel excrement which Mayor Cull spent ratepayer cash on, then why shouldn't he be insisting on the return of $250m from the CST for an item that clearly didn't meet the promise of the CST?

Should bring the camel in...

to run the city.


The poem by English Poet Thomas Tusser born 1524 comes to mind when reading the above article.

A fool & his money,
be soon at debate:
which after with sorow,
repents him to late.


Should be ashamed

Mr McCormack follows a long tradition of putting one over on the Dunedin Council by selling them something they don't really need for too much money, really it's wrong to take advantage of someone like that, Mr McCormack should be ashamed.

Meanwhile, someone should quietly take Mr Cull's chequebook before he tries to put things right by buying a camel.

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