Century-old Maori portraits auctioned in UK

Century-old Maori portraits auctioned in UK

A treasure trove of century old Maori photographic portraits has been sold at auction in England, but most won't make it home to New Zealand.

The photos were taken by a woman thought to be New Zealand's first woman professional photographer.

The 12 photographs of Maori from the 19th century were on the block in England, going to the highest bidder.

The images were taken by Elizabeth Pulman, thought to be New Zealand's first woman professional photographer.

"They're a very emotive subject, quite controversial subject, but a very, very emotive subject, and we have had a lot of interest from people wanting to trace ancestry of descendants," says Christina Trevanion of Trevanion and Dean Auctioneers.

The photos have been locked away in a draw for 40 years, but locked away together. Worried they'd be separated and not returned to whanau in New Zealand, London Maori Club Ngati Ranana travelled to Shropshire to bless the images.

"Ultimately I think the taonga belong home," says Ngati Ranana chairman Lewis Whaitiri.

There was hope, with hundreds of New Zealanders registering for online bidding.

In the auction queue behind all sorts of antique and antiquated relics, the photos were sold one-by-one. In the end just four went to New Zealand, two to France and the rest the UK.

New Zealand-born Andrew Parker and his business partner bought five, spending nearly $16,000.

"Ethnographica is very popular at the moment, so there should hopefully one day be a profit," says Mr Parker.

"To us they're just our whanau, so to see people put on money on your whanau is a big thing and it is quite devastating," says Mr Whaitiri.

But Mr Parker says he doesn't have qualms about that.

Newshub spoke to the man selling the photographs. He's English but used to live in New Zealand, where he says he developed a strong connection to Maori culture.

We wanted to talk to him about the images – where they came from and where he thinks they belong – but our interview was shut down by the auctioneers, worried about controversy.

The seller had lucked upon the photos hidden between the pages of a book he bought about moko – Maori tattooing.

All up they sold for close to $40,000.