Image 'Sale of a mokomokai', 1864

TLF ID R2466

This is a watercolour painting created by British soldier Horatio Gordon Robley (1840-1930) in 1864. It shows a Mäori chief in European dress with a moko (skin marking) on his face, holding what appears to be a mere (short flat club). To his left, on the ground, is a mokomokai (severed, dried, marked human head). The chief stands on the shore and seems to be motioning with the mere. Behind him, a few boats are depicted in the harbour and several Mäori look on. The painting measures 27.2 cm x 21.9 cm.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset depicts the sale of a mokomokai - an international trade in the remains of indigenous peoples developed during the colonial era; the return of traded body parts has now became a major focus for many indigenous peoples.
  • It indicates Robley's interest in mokomokai - he came to New Zealand with the 68th Durham Light Infantry to fight in the New Zealand Wars (conflict between local Mäori and the government over land issues in the mid-19th century); in his retirement he acquired a collection of around 35 heads, which he later sold to the Natural History Museum in New York.
  • It illustrates Mäori conducting trade with Europeans - mokomokai had no commercial value until the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand.
  • It is an example of Robley's skills in watercolour and pencil drawings - widely known as the 'soldier with a pencil', he was told to record what he saw as a document for the public back home.

Other details

  • Content provider
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Author
  • Date of contribution: 1864
  • Name: Horatio Gordon Robley
  • Remarks: artist
  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 29 Aug 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
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Learning resource type
  • Image
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  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements