the body snatchers
A Fairy Tale......?
Norwegian flax traders visited Golden Bay in 1825 - who knew? This exhibition by Toy Murchie with weaving by Bronwynn Billens (Ngāti Tama, Te Atiawa) has brought to light a fascinating tale behind the discovery in July 1976 of a number of skeletons, unearthed at Pohara Beach during excavations for a new subdivision there. There was much confusion about this find as the remains included European-style coffins and a mix of both European and Maori artefacts. A story once well known to Maori and early European settlers emerged.
In 1825 a Norwegian ship came into Golden Bay to obtain a cargo of flax. After the ship was loaded, several of the ship’s boats went ashore near the mouth of a river to fill casks of water. A westerly blew up and as they attempted to return to the ship, the heavily-laden boats were overturned and a number of sailors drowned.
The bodies were retrieved by their ship-mates, and a burial was conducted in accordance with both Maori and Christian rites at a nearby Maori urupā (cemetery). Arrangements were eased by the presence of a Maori language speaker carried by the ship.
A couple of Norwegian ships’ boys who survived this event later returned to the area during the time of the Aorere goldrush and tried, without success, to find the graves, which they wrongly recalled as being near Patons Rock.
Local residents were reminded of these burials in the 1920s, when there was erosion around Patons Rock and they were warned by old-timers to watch out for remains.
Unfortunately some of the relics unearthed at Pohara Beach in 1976 were reburied within three days at an unmarked site at Rototai Cemetery, and as they weren’t forensically examined, an opportunity was lost.
Thanks to the awareness this exhibition brought, a plaque and blessing, acknowledged and recorded, the place in which the remains were buried.