HRH Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the royal children
This lithograph is an exquisite exemplar of the reproduction of a portrait of the British imperial family. Franz Xavier Winterhalter, painter to the Royal Courts of Europe, completed this image in 1845. The Parisian lithographer, Alphonse Leon Noel, copied it on commission a year later.
Queen Victoria sits with the Royal Consort Prince Albert, surrounded by five of their nine children – on her right, Prince Alfred in white, and Edward the Prince of Wales in red, while daughters Princess Alice, and her first born, Victoria the Princess Royal, admire the infant Princess Helena. How did this remarkable picture find its way to Te Awamutu?
By 1849, the Waipā valley supported many flourishing flour mills, and vast acreages of grain. Early missionaries had introduced new horticultural practice and technology, in which the local iwi excelled. Their communities flourished, exporting produce to Auckland, and later Sydney and California. Three successful mills operated in Rangiaowhia, and entrepreneurial leaders included the chiefs Kingi (George) Te Waru of Ngāti Apakura and Hoani Papaiti (John Baptist) Kahawai of Ngāti Hinetu. When Governor Sir George Grey visited the Waipā district in 1849, these two chiefs urged him to present a gift of their finest flour, accompanied by a letter, to Queen Victoria. This missive declared –
“We, King George Te Waru, and John Baptist Kahawai, salute you; we return our thanks to you for your letter, in which you tell us that the land shall not be taken away; but that the Treaty of Waitangi shall be abided by. We are averse to fighting with white people, or amongst ourselves, but let the Queen always foster us; we approve of the custom of the white people, and the Governor loves us.”
As receipt of such gifts was not the Queen’s policy, the Secretary of State for the Colonies wrote from Downing Street, London on the 7th March 1850 acknowledging the above letter and the gift of flour to Her Majesty. Making an exception from her usual practice, the Secretary advised them that in this case she accepted both the flour and the letter –
“as an expression of their loyalty and attachment. As a mark of Her Majesty’s appreciation of the good conduct of these chiefs which you have reported to Her, the Queen has been pleased to order two pictures of Herself with His Royal Highness Prince Albert and the Royal children, to be transmitted to you for presentation to them”.
The two art works reached New Zealand in 1850. One was of the Royal Family; the other was described the Queen in ceremonial robes. They were exhibited initially in Auckland , as a “source of gratification to the native population generally”, and then conveyed by waka along the Mangapiko River, where they rested on the Sabbath, just below Ōtāwhao, now Te Awamutu. From there, they proceeded to Kahawai’s house, and then to the homestead of Te Waru.
At each place they were greeted with cheers and great excitement by both Europeans and Māori. In a letter dated December 12th 1850, the Reverend John Morgan noted that –
“the Queen arrived safely by waka at Rangiaohia on Monday the 9th, a little below the Rangiaohia mill”.
By referring to the paintings as a living person, the Queen Herself, Reverend Morgan reflects the Māori sensibility of the time. He eventually became the custodian of Te Waru’s gift, and his house was “frequently crowded with visitors looking at the picture for hours at a time…” Kahawai’s royal portrait was cared for by Father Garaval in the Roman Catholic Presbytery; Te Waru was a Protestant and Kahawai followed the Catholic faith.
In 1863, colonial forces invaded the Waikato. In February 1864, Randle Cotton Mainwaring, government agent, took possession of Morgan’s property which the Reverend had entrusted to Hohaia Ngahiwi, who was well aware of the importance of the painting. Mainwaring and his cohort occupied Ngahiwi’s house, and the mission, and then relocated Ngahiwi to Hopuhopu. He also took the painting to his own house at Whatawhata. From this point, conflict occurs. William Searancke, Resident Magistrate of Kirikiriroa (renamed Hamilton), acquired the artwork, insisting in private correspondence that “the picture was looted by the troops during the campaign and purchased by Mr Mainwaring from the soldiers. Hori Te Waru’s people then being in open rebellion.” Searancke thus acknowleged the image as a trophy of war, and effectively countered any further claims. The lithograph remained in his family for many decades.
Almost a century later, in 1958, Miss Phyllis von Sturmer donated the picture to the Te Awamutu Museum, “to be held in memory of my grandfather, Wm. Searancke.”
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