An update on Hinemihi

Hinemihi at Clandon Park

28 November 2019

We have agreed in principle with Heritage New Zealand for the historic carvings of Hinemihi, a traditional Māori meeting house, to return to New Zealand in exchange for new carvings. We will now seek formal assistance from the Charity Commission and progress the legal consents we need from the UK authorities.

The new carvings would be created in collaboration with specialist Māori carvers, to continue the tradition of a Māori meeting house in the grounds of Clandon Park, a National Trust property in Surrey, UK, for visitors and others who value this special cultural connection.

John Orna-Ornstein, our Director of Culture and Engagement at the National Trust said: ‘We approached this decision with great care and have thoroughly researched the international significance of Hinemihi. We have consulted the Māori community and others here in the UK and in New Zealand. Hinemihi is unique and we recognise the deep spiritual relationship between our Māori partners and the historic carvings of their honoured ancestor.’

‘In principle we have decided to progress an exchange whereby the historic carvings would return to New Zealand, in return for special new carvings for a Māori meeting house presence at Clandon Park. However this is a long process - Hinemihi has listed building status and the relevant UK authorities need to give consent. We are also seeking the formal assistance of the Charity Commission.’

‘We’re looking forward to continuing our longstanding relationship with the Māori community and working closely with Heritage New Zealand as we take the next steps.’

Why did the National Trust make this decision?

Our decision to exchange the carvings of Hinemihi, after wide consultation and careful consideration, takes forward the story of Hinemihi at Clandon Park and reflects her unique global significance and circumstances. 

Together with our Māori friends and partners we have cared for Hinemihi at Clandon Park for many years. We recognise their deep spiritual relationship with the historic carvings of their honoured ancestor, that they consider Hinemihi a living being and want her to return home. The proposed exchange of carvings will deepen the close Māori relationship with Clandon Park, creating a lasting presence through new carvings with spiritual significance and power which will enrich the experience of our visitors, communities and others who value this special cultural connection. 

Hinemihi is one of the oldest surviving Māori meeting houses in the world. Since coming to the UK in 1892, she has stood outside in the gardens at Clandon and her carvings have experienced inevitable weather-related damage. It is no longer advisable that they remain outside and unprotected.

Since being in National Trust's care, Hinemihi has been looked after in partnership with the Māori community in New Zealand and the UK, including collaborative programmes of conservation and repair. In December 2016, Hinemihi's carvings were removed from Clandon so that crucial conservation work could take place at the National Trust's conservation studio. We recently completed this work, cleaning the ornate carvings and consolidating their paintwork.

The exchange will enable the long-term care of the carvings in an appropriate environment, reducing further damage. The new meeting house created with our Māori partners at Clandon will be suitable for the British weather.

As next steps we will need to obtain consent from the UK statutory authorities, assistance from the Charity Commission and work with our New Zealand partners regarding the details of the exchange and the nature of the new carvings for a meeting house at Clandon Park.

Photograph of Hinemihi in Te Wairoa before the eruption

What is the history of Hinemihi – where did the carvings come from? 

Hinemihi was built in 1880 in Te Wairoa, New Zealand as a traditional Māori meeting house. In 1886, a huge volcanic eruption devastated the region, killing 153 people. Some of the tribe sheltered inside Hinemihi and were the only ones to survive. After the eruption the tribe was displaced and Hinemihi was left behind.

Hinemihi at Clandon Park

How did Hinemihi come to be at Clandon Park? 

Hinemihi was purchased in New Zealand by William Hillier 4th Earl of Onslow, following his tenure there as Governor in 1892. The sale was agreed with a member of the Ngāti Hinemihi community and the Earl brought the carvings back to England, with a new structure built for the purpose at Clandon Park.

Why is Hinemihi spiritually significant to the Māori community?

For the Ngāti Hinemihi community, the meeting house carvings are an embodiment of their honoured ancestor Hinemihi, and are alive. Hinemihi is therefore addressed as ‘she’, and is part of the history of her tribe. 

What was she used for originally, in New Zealand?

Meeting houses are ceremonial places used for celebrations, marriages, funerals, and other important tribal events. Hinemihi’s construction began in 1880. Commissioned by Chief Aporo Wharekaniwha, head of the Ngāti Hinemihi sub-tribe, she was created to fill the traditional roles of a meeting house but also to entertain tourists interested in cultural performances.

Has Hinemihi been used as a meeting house in the UK? 

Since the mid-1990s, Hinemihi has been adopted as a meeting house by Ngāti Rānana (a London-based Māori group) and regularly used by the Māori and Pasifika communities in the UK. Annual Māori traditional feasts and participatory care and conservation projects have enabled community members to contribute to Hinemihi’s spiritual and physical wellbeing in partnership with the National Trust.

What about Clandon Park and her significance to people in the UK? 

We recognise that Hinemihi has special connections in the UK, and we support the exchange on the basis that there will continue to be a carved meeting house at Clandon Park. We would work in partnership with Hinemihi’s community in New Zealand to produce new carvings for Clandon Park, ensuring that our longstanding connection with Hinemihi and New Zealand continues to grow.

How did you reach this decision? 

The Board of Trustees made the decision for the Trust. We conducted thorough research including consultation with different groups in the UK and New Zealand, reviewing Hinemihi’s significance and carrying out a Heritage Impact Assessment to understand the implications of this decision. We took advice from the relevant UK statutory bodies including Historic England and Arts Council England.

What consultation did you do to help you make the decision? 

We commissioned independent international heritage consultants who conducted the consultation and created the report which informed the Trustees’ decision. This process was agreed in advance with Heritage New Zealand.

We consulted Māori communities, including Ngāti Rānana and Te Maru in the UK and more widely in New Zealand. We also considered Hinemihi’s relationship with Clandon Park and the Guildford community. Independent consultants held face to face meetings with Surrey residents and councillors; we discussed the future of Hinemihi with our staff, volunteers and visitors to Clandon Park, and we conducted an online survey of our members and the Māori community in New Zealand. 

We also spoke with other relevant organisations about the context for this within the museum and heritage sector, including Historic England, Guildford Borough Council, Arts Council England and the Charity Commission as statutory bodies. 

What are the next steps, when will the carvings exchange happen? 

We anticipate this will be a long process. At this stage the Trust has only given an in-principle decision to exchange the carvings. As next steps we will need to obtain consent from the UK statutory authorities, assistance from the Charity Commission and work with our New Zealand partners regarding the details of the exchange and the nature of the new carvings for a meeting house at Clandon Park.