1 May 2015

Hinemihi survives fire, but taonga destroyed

12:55 pm on 1 May 2015

A massive fire which destroyed the British stately home, Clandon Park, has also destroyed Maori taonga stored inside the building.

An unidentified Maori group in front of the Hinemihi meeting house at Te Wairoa in the 1880s.

An unidentified Maori group in front of the Hinemihi meeting house at Te Wairoa in the 1880s. Photo: Burton Brothers (Dunedin, N.Z.). Burton Brothers, 1868-1898 (Firm, Dunedin) : Ref: PA7-19-19. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22697676

Fire tore through the building - home to the Surrey Infantry Museum - yesterday afternoon.

Te Maru O Hinemihi chairperson Alan Gallop said only the shell of the mansion in Surrey remained after Wednesday's blaze but Hinemihi, just 60 metres from the house, was undamaged.

"Someone was stationed throughout the night with a fire extinguisher just in case a spark landed on the roof and set fire to her.

"Fortunately she's still standing, she's untouched, and she's still standing proud as she has for the last 123 years in the grounds of Clandon Park."

Mr Gallop said among items lost in the fire was the original bill of sale drawn up when the whare was sold to the Earl of Onslow in 1891.

Also lost was a kiwi feather cloak gifted to the Onslow's son, who had been given the Maori name of Huia and used at his christening at St. Paul's church, Thornden on 26 January 1891 and traditional Maori weapons made of wood and greenstone.

Mr Gallop said the greenstone may have survived the fire and inspectors would search for them when it was safe to enter the building.

Other taonga included stuffed birds including a Huia and Kiwi, plus official regalia used by the Governor on official duties in New Zealand.

Also lost were Lord Onslow's collection of valuable books from and about New Zealand, an oil painting of him produced from various sittings in Government House, Wellington during his term of office (1889-1892) with a map of New Zealand in the background and a scale model of Hinemihi made in wood.

Mr Gallop said a dozen tukutuku panels woven in the UK using authentic material brought over from New Zealand, also went up in the fire.

He said they were designed to eventually go into a restored Hinemihi and were woven by UK-based Maori and British weavers working in London and at Clandon Park under the tuition of Cathy Schuster, an experienced weaver and teacher of the art.

Mr Gallop said the one bright side was that the panels could be remade.

An extensive restoration of the wharenui was being planned, but Clandon Park was likely to be closed for several years and the committee that managed Hinemihi would discuss the idea of returning the building to New Zealand Mr Gallop said.

"Now might be a very good time for her to come home - to come home to Aotearoa and possibly be rebuilt in or around where she originally stood in the small settlement of Te Wairoa, where she was the only building left standing after the eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886."

The Hinemihi whare was brought to Britain by the owner of Clandon Park, the fourth Earl of Onslow, who was the governor of New Zealand between 1889 and 1892.

The National Trust which manages the property in Surrey told the Guardian the interior of the Grade I-listed stately home had been left 100 percent smoke- and fire-damaged. The fire is believed to have started in the basement before spreading through voids to the roof space.

The 1720s mansion was home to a prized collection of 18th Century furniture, porcelain and textiles, the BBC reported.

About 80 firefighters tackled the blaze at its height and crews have managed to save a "significant" number of valuable antiques.