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Hoe (paddle) Gifted to Robert Douglas

Georgia Kerby, Exhibitions Curator


With the easy access to Whangārei Heads via sealed roads it is difficult to imagine needing paddling there by hand to visit friends and family. However, in the early days of Whangārei as a town, settlements along the harbour edges were best accessed by water. In the 1800s Whangārei Harbour would have been a hub of canoes, sail boats and steamers. Our very name is based on the quality of the harbour as a meeting point - Whangārei Te Terenga Parāoa- for sperm whales and for chiefs.


In Whangārei Museum’s collection we have a very special hoe (paddle) which was gifted as part of the Douglas family collection. Its body is carved from wood, rendered smooth and shiny with age, and the handle flares wide towards the end of the paddle. A beautiful and detailed face with moko (tattoos) is carved on a knob at the end of the handle, with spiral designs on the sides.


Originally from Wanganui, this hoe was gifted to Sir Robert Douglas by a (unnamed) Wanganui Chief as a thank you for Sir Douglas helping the Chief’s daughter to attend an English girl’s college. Sir Robert Douglas used the hoe travelling by canoe between Whangarei and the ‘Heads’ to visit the Aubrey and Urquhart families. He also paddled to Mr. and Mrs. P. S. Brown at Ngunguru and Kiripaka. At some point the hoe was left to Mr. Brown to look after until he gave it to the oldest Douglas grandson, R. M. Douglas, in 1920.


Captain Sir Robert Douglas came to New Zealand from a station in India in 1861 to be a commander of Britain’s 58th Regiment during the Taranaki Wars. Following many battles, he retired in 1867 and bought land in Whangārei which he named Glenbervie after his home in Scotland. Despite his involvement in the land wars, Sir Douglas was known as a kind and generous man “of high character”. He made family connections in Wanganui while stationed there in the Sixties, by meeting his to be wife Eleanor Lifferton, and he returned in 1884 but passed away there soon after. From these events we can date the hoe to at least the 1860s - 1880s when Sir Douglas was in Wanganui.


Looking at the hoe now we can appreciate its excellent condition having been dipped into the salty waters of Whangārei Harbour on many an occasion. This taonga was treasured by the family until they gifted it to the Museum in 1964.