Skip to content

Clandon Park's colonial connection to New Zealand

Oil painting of William Hillier, 4th Earl of Onslow, in 1903
Oil painting of William Hillier, 4th Earl of Onslow, in 1903 | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

Clandon Park has many connections to Britain’s colonial activities across the world. Its colonial connection to New Zealand comes from William Hillier, 4th Earl of Onslow, who served as Governor from 1888-92. William bought a traditional Māori meeting house back to England as a memento of his time in New Zealand.

British colonial rule in New Zealand

As the transatlantic slave trade was gradually ending, Britain’s colonial connections expanded to New Zealand.

This was one of the last habitable land masses in the world to be settled, but archaeological records suggest that the first East Polynesian migration occurred around 1250-1300 AD, many centuries before European colonisers arrived. The first was Dutch seafarer Abel Tasman in 1642, followed by British navigator James Cook over 125 years later.

The Treaty of Waitangi

In 1840 the British claimed sovereignty over New Zealand following the Treaty of Waitangi, a controversial agreement signed by Māori leaders and British representatives of the Crown which is still debated today.

There was a Māori language and English version of the treaty, which had different interpretations, leading to violent clashes over land and property between Māori groups and the British for several years after it was signed.

The British gradually imposed greater control so they could further expand into New Zealand. By then, the Onslow family of Clandon Park had been active in British politics for several centuries; three Onslow men were Speakers of the House of Commons and many had been MPs.

At this time it was becoming commonplace for aristocrats to take up roles within the British political system previously reserved for diplomats and military leaders.

William Hillier becomes Governor of New Zealand

In 1888 William Hillier, 4th Earl of Onslow, was appointed Under Secretary of State for the Colonies - a junior ministerial role based in the Colonial Office in London, overseeing the management of Britain’s colonies across the world.

He was only in this role for a year before he was appointed Governor of New Zealand, moving his whole family there to take up the post. They lived at Government House, an enormous residence in Wellington.

Projecting and protecting power

Most of the violent clashes between the British and the New Zealanders had passed by this point and William’s role was largely ceremonial. He was responsible for representing the Crown, projecting an image of royal gravitas and power.

The Governor was also the conduit for any communications between New Zealand and the British Colonial Office in London.

William and his young family participated in New Zealand life as an imperial presence within the colony. His second child, Victor Alexander Herbert Huia Onslow, was born in New Zealand in 1890 and given a Māori name.

Māori meeting house, known as Hinemihi, at Clandon Park, Surrey
Māori meeting house, known as Hinemihi, at Clandon Park | © National Trust Images/Nick Meers

A memento with spiritual significance

Lord Onslow resigned from the role in 1892. He returned to England and resumed his parliamentary career in the House of Lords, becoming Parliamentary Under-secretary of State for India in 1895 and for the colonies in 1900.

When returning from New Zealand, he purchased a carved Māori meeting house called Hinemihi te Ao Tawhito (Hinemihi of the old world), as a memento of his time there.

Hinemihi had been an ancestor of the Ngāti Hinemihi tribe centuries ago, and the building was seen as a living embodiment of her spirit. Find out more about Hinemihi’s history here.

Collections were often brought back to Britain by colonial government officials who lived in or visited countries under British rule. They could be powerful tools in the British Empire, used to underline the differences between the English and ‘other’ cultures and to reinforce the British understanding of a hierarchy of civilisations.

Hinemihi comes to Surrey

Often such souvenirs were looted or stolen, but Hinemihi was paid for in an agreement with the leader of Ngāti Hinemihi. We do not know how freely this agreement was made, but Lord Onslow paid £50 (approximately £4,000 in today’s money) for Hinemihi and arranged for her to be brought from her original home in Te Wairoa back to England.

The carvings from the meeting house were transported to Clandon Park, where they were affixed to a new structure, made by estate staff. She is now used by the UK Māori community for ceremonial events and celebrations.

Find out more about our agreement in principle to return Hinemihi to her ancestral home in New Zealand.

Pink roses and a central fountain in the Dutch Garden in July at Clandon Park, Surrey

Discover more at Clandon Park

Find out when Clandon Park is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

You might also be interested in

Māori meeting house, known as Hinemihi, at Clandon Park, Surrey

History of Hinemihi 

Discover the history of Hinemihi. Follow her journey from construction in New Zealand to the grounds of a stately home in Surrey.

Māori meeting house, known as Hinemihi, at Clandon Park, Surrey

A new future for Hinemihi 

Find out about plans to return Hinemihi, the 19th century Māori meeting house in the grounds at Clandon Park, to her ancestral home in New Zealand.

A collage image containing three artworks: a painting of Teresia, Lady Shirley by Van Dyke at Petworth House; an oil painting of a young coachman at Erddig; and a photograph of the Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar at Polesden Lacey.

Addressing our histories of colonialism and historic slavery 

Read our report on colonialism and historic slavery in the places and collections we care for and discover how we’re changing the way we approach these issues.

A view of the south front of the house and the formal garden at Clandon Park, Surrey

History of Clandon Park 

Clandon Park's history spans more than three centuries, from its origins as a grand Georgian home to its time as a First World War military hospital and subsequent restoration in the 1960s.

Inside the Speakers' Parlour with portraits on the wall above a fireplace and a laid dining table at Clandon Park, Surrey

The Onslow family at Clandon Park 

The Onslow family first moved into Clandon Park in 1641 and since then there have been record-breaking politicians, First World War workers and pioneering women.

Taken two days after the fire, this photo show a mass on charred timbers piled on top of one another, with the shell of a room seen behind.

The fire at Clandon Park 

Curator Sophie Chessum witnessed the fire at Clandon Park first-hand. Read her account of the night of 29 April 2015.


The project at Clandon Park 

Take a look at our timeline to find out what the team have been working on.