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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

  • Contributor
  • Name: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Organization: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Horatio Gordon Robley
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Organization: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements