Replica of a Maori hand club

Replica of a Maori hand club

Length: 36.500 cm

Gift of Mr H.G. Beasley

AOA Ethno 1936,2-6.1

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This brass replica of a Maori hand club dates from AD 1772. It was made in London, England.

The Maori hand club, or mere, was used both as a weapon and on ceremonial occasions. Made of stone, bone or wood, hand clubs were used for close-range fighting. This brass copy was one of 40 commissioned by the naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, as he prepared to accompany Captain James Cook for a second time on a voyage to find the fabled great Southern continent.

The mere is 36 centimetres long and 13 centimetres at its widest point. It is cast from a single piece of smooth brass and is paddle-shaped with a rounded blade. The blade is broad and flat, and tapers down to the handle. The handle flares out just before the tip to give the user a firmer grip. A neat hole is bored into the handle to allow a wrist thong to be attached. The golden colour of the brass has acquired a brown patina over time as the metal has come into contact with the air. This has left dark patches which are almost black in some areas, and in places the surface of the brass is scuffed and gouged.

Etched onto the centre of the blade and coloured white is the coat of arms of Joseph Banks: a shield 6 centimetres long, with a cross on it and four fleur de lys, one set in each quarter of the cross. Banks was later to be given a knighthood, but at the time this mere was commissioned, he styled himself simply Joseph Banks Esq. and the name, with Joseph shortened to J O S, runs along the top of the shield. At the base of the shield is the date of commission, 1772, the sevens elongated elegantly in the style of the time.

Banks made careful preparations for the Second Voyage (1772-75). He bought scientific equipment and items such as glass ear pendants, beads and metals to trade with the peoples he would meet on the voyage. His invoices for many of these purchases survive, including one dated 27 March 1772 for 40 metal clubs, for the sum of £19.00, 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.'

In the end, Banks decided not to go on the voyage. It is possible, though, 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.

On display: Enlightenment: Trade-Discovery