Image Betty Guard's comb, c1830

TLF ID R3718

This is a broken tortoiseshell hair comb with an extraordinary history. It was made around 1830 and belonged to Betty Guard (1814-70), an early European settler in New Zealand. It has a half-round shape and the remains of broken teeth. It measures 11.0 cm by 8.5 cm.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset is an artefact associated with a well-known family of early European settlers in New Zealand - the comb belonged to Betty, wife of John Guard, an ex-convict who established New Zealand's first shore-based whaling station in the Marlborough Sounds (at the north of the South Island) in the late 1820s.
  • It helps illustrate one of the most violent encounters between Mäori and Päkehä (Europeans) in the early contact period (pre-1840) - the comb is said to have saved Betty's life; in 1834, the Guards were returning from a visit to Sydney on the barque 'Harriet' when they were shipwrecked on the Taranaki coast and attacked by Ngäti Ruanui, a Mäori tribe who had been supplied with gunpowder by two sailors deserting the 'Harriet'; Betty was struck on the head with a mere (hand-held weapon) and the comb broke the impact of the blow, allegedly leaving a portion of the comb embedded in her skull.
  • It serves as a reminder of a significant event in New Zealand history, which became known as the 'Harriet' Affair - 12 passengers were killed and the remaining 16 passengers and crew were kidnapped and held captive; John Guard and five others were released on the promise they would return with a cask of gunpowder, but instead they alerted the New South Wales Governor, Richard Bourke, who sent a company of the 50th Queen's Own Regiment on two ships to 'teach the natives a lesson'.
  • It acts as a reminder that the subsequent rescue of the survivors was the first use of British troops in combat in New Zealand - although all accounts state that Ngäti Ruanui appeared willing to surrender their hostages, the British forcefully assaulted and burnt down the pä (village) with considerable loss of life; a later House of Commons select committee condemned the use of excessive force against the Mäori.

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
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: Guard Family
  • Remarks: Gift of the Guard Family 1984
  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 02 Sep 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning resource type
  • Image
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Operating systems
  • MacOS - minimum version: 10.6
  • MS-Windows - minimum version: XP - maximum version: 7
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements