Little book of treasures from the British Museum, £3.00
Length: 36.500 cm
Gift of Mr H.G. Beasley
AOA Ethno 1936,2-6.1
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Replica of a Maori hand club
London, England, AD 1772
This replica in metal of a Maori patu / mere or hand club is one of a number commissioned by the naturalist Sir Joseph Banks who had seen examples of short clubs used for close-range fighting made from stone, bone or wood. This club is in the style of the basalt patu onewa. It bears Banks' coat of arms and the date 1772.
Banks made careful preparations for the Second Voyage, choosing a number of specialists to accompany him. He purchased scientific equipment, and items to trade with the peoples he would meet on the voyage. His invoices for many of these purchases survive, listing among other things glass ear pendants, beads and medals. An invoice for these metal clubs survives, dated 27 March 1772, from the brass foundry business of Mrs Eleanor Gyles of 9 Shoe Lane, Fleet Street. It reads 'Patopatoes for New Zealand in imitation of their stone weapons'.
However, Banks' plans proved impractical and he decided not to go on the next voyage. It is possible that at least some of the metal clubs were used by Cook or his crew as gifts or trade goods as two examples were later discovered in North America: the fur trader George Dixon saw one on the Northwest coast in the 1780s, and a missionary account of 1801 recorded a sighting of one in New Zealand.
Early explorers rapidly learned that metal and metal objects (especially iron) were desirable items to the Polynesians for their sharp and durable cutting edges. Cook issued instructions to his crew that such useful items should only be exchanged for provisions. Iron tools soon became popular with Maori carvers.
T.A. Joyce, 'A cast bronze mere from New Zealand', British Museum Quarterly, 10:100 (), p. 174
H.G.Beasley, 'Metal mere', Journal of the Polynesian So-4 (1927), pp. 297-98, n. 427