Historic Māori cloak found in English cupboard

UPDATE: The auction mentioned in the story below has been cancelled after the sellers received threats and abuse.

A rare Māori cloak that's believed to be from the time of the Waikato Land Wars has been discovered in an old cupboard in England. 

But instead of being returned to New Zealand, the Sussex couple who found it are putting it up for auction. 

Mary Squires discovered it at home last year in an old cupboard.

"There was an old bag in it and I looked in it, and didn't know what it was," she told Newshub.

Along with her husband Steve, they started digging through their family history, tracing the cupboard back to Elizabeth Chudley Grice.

"When she died, she left certain things to my father - quite a lot of brown furniture," said Steve.

And when Steve's dad died in 1983, Steve and Mary got the cupboard.

"It's been sitting in that cupboard for at least 100 years, I imagine," said Mary.

Chief Rewi Maniapoto and the cloak.
Chief Rewi Maniapoto and the cloak. Photo credit: Burston & Hewett/supplied

It nearly sold at auction last year as a generic tribal mat for less than $200, but the owner cancelled the auction at last minute because in the bag this had been kept in, she found an old handwritten note that read: 'Māori mat worn by the chief Rewi when peace was declared between Māori and Europeans after the battle of Orakau.' 

A bit of research led them to Chief Rewi Maniapoto, a key figure in the Waikato Land Wars.

We don't know anything about New Zealand history really, but then found it really interesting," said Mary. "[We] found the picture of him and thought, 'actually, it looks exactly like the one he's wearing in his photograph'." 

Mary and Steve considered gifting it back to Ngāti Maniapoto, but decided to auction it instead.

"We would love it to go back to New Zealand, but not necessarily as a gift," said Steve.

"It's estimated at a few thousand pounds, but we'll see what the public decides," said Burstow & Hewett auctioneer Mark Ellin.

Mary and Steve Squires.
Mary and Steve Squires. Photo credit: Newshub.

There's been interest from numerous museums in New Zealand, as well as the iwi, but there are local British bidders too - which means there's no guarantee this taonga will return to Aotearoa. 

"What puzzles us is how it's ended up in our little town in eastern Sussex," said Ellin.

The cloak will go under the hammer on September 18, with no reserve.