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Early trade artefacts returned after 50 years

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

An important relic of New Zealand’s early trading history has come home after disappearing five decades ago.

Fifteen pages of a ledger book from the Kerikeri Stone Store have been returned after being purchased at auction by the New Zealand Heritage Endowment Fund - a charitable trust set up to acquire artefacts of heritage importance to New Zealanders, with Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga as the sole beneficiary.

"The pages of the ledger date back to 1868, and are believed to have been stolen by an opportunistic thief in the 1960s when the ledger was on open display at the Stone Store," says Kerikeri Mission Station Property Lead, Liz Bigwood.

"Over the years, the odd page has been returned to us by people who have presumably felt a bit guilty about having important historical documents in their possession that don’t belong to them. Having so many pages returned to us in one go like this has never happened before, however, and is absolutely wonderful."

Dating from October 1868, the ledger pages include references to well known personalities at the Church Missionary Society mission in Kerikeri - including James Kemp Junior and Henry Tacy Kemp.

A range of transactions are recorded on the ledger pages, including a 112 pound pig which was sold for 18 shillings and sixpence.

"The ledger pages are an important record of the sort of commerce that was taking place on a daily basis at the mission station in the 1860s, and can potentially tell us a lot about what was going on at the time socially and economically," says Liz.

Heritage Endowment Fund Trustee, David Nicoll, spotted the pages listed in an auction house catalogue late last year - and knew he had to act.

"I felt strongly that the ledger pages had to come home," he says.

The Auckland-based lawyer subsequently found himself in a fierce bidding war by phone at auction with a private purchaser who also had their eyes on the ledger pages. Mr Nicoll prevailed, however, winning the auction and acquiring the pages on behalf of the Endowment Fund for just under $3000 - five times the estimated price.

Following the auction, Liz Bigwood rang the auction house to see who might have bought the pages, and was told that they had been acquired by "a very nice family who wanted to do something good with them".

"We could never have guessed that these precious pages would be returned to us," she says.

"We’re absolutely thrilled to have them back."

Mr Nicoll, who is also on the Board of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, recently made a special trip to Kerikeri with his wife Rosey to present the pages to staff at the Stone Store - closing a 50 year gap in which the pages have been missing.

"The ledger pages are back where they should be at last," he says.

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