1922 trophy head back in the family

Ken Humphrey with the stag shot by his father 91 years ago. Photo by Lynda van Kempen.
Ken Humphrey with the stag shot by his father 91 years ago. Photo by Lynda van Kempen.
An Alexandra man is marvelling at the ''proper fluke'' which led to the recovery of an unusual, long-lost family heirloom - a 20-point stag trophy head.

Ken Humphrey (82) could hardly believe his eyes when he spotted the trophy while visiting Wanaka man Sam McLeod recently. Nine years ago, through a story in the Otago Daily Times, Mr Humphrey appealed for information on the whereabouts of the deer, which was shot by his father, George, near Makarora in 1922.

By then, he had been searching for the trophy for a decade.

The head was considered so impressive it was displayed at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium in 1924 and when it returned home, it featured in the South Seas Exhibition in Dunedin in 1925-26. It was loaned out to various places, and last seen in the Tarras Tearooms in 1988.

''A car called in and picked the deer head up, and that's the last we heard of it.''

After his ODT plea failed to elicit a response, Mr Humphrey thought the trophy was lost forever.

''Just recently, my son said a chap in Wanaka wants to see you, he's got a few deer heads there, so I went over to see him.

"I had a look at one head then another, then he said there's another one worth looking at. I had a close look at it and said: `I think that's my father's head.'

''One of its tines [points] had been repaired in the 1950s and sure enough, it was the head with the same tine repaired - I couldn't believe it. This chap had bought a tearooms in Cromwell and among the assets was the deer head; it was out in a back shed.''

''He said to me: 'That was your father's, it's yours now.' I can't believe we've got it back; it was really a proper fluke after all this time.''

His father, who died in 1969, would have been pleased the trophy was back in family hands, Mr Humphrey said.

The trophy has nine points on one antler and 11 on the other and used to grace a huge red deer which descended from Scottish Highland deer stock, Mr Humphrey said.

The animals were common in Central Otago at the turn of the century and members of the Royal Family and other aristocrats used to visit New Zealand regularly to hunt them.

Mr Humphrey said the trophy came about because his father, who owned a sawmill at Makarora,

heard a stag roaring across the [Makarora] river.

''[The river] was in flood so he had to wait for a week until the river went down before he could go and get it. It wouldn't have been light to carry out, either, even if it was just the skinned head and antlers.''

Mr Humphrey, a retired engineering architectural draughtsman, is also a keen hunter and says he misses deerstalking. His only dilemma now is finding suitable wall space in his compact home to display the massive trophy.

''That might take a bit of figuring out in my wee place.''

lynda.van.kempen@odt.co.nz