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HMS New Zealand Piupiu

The piupiu was gifted to Captain Lionel Halsey RN Commanding Officer of the battleship HMS NEW ZEALAND during the ships visit to New Zealand in 1913. The provenance, and in particular the gifting iwi of the piupiu, cannot, at this stage, be substantiated.

Halsey himself wrote only that the piupiu was presented “by a Maori chief” after the chief “with his tribe had been shewn [sic] over the ship…”.[1] However, later exhibition text and a chronological account state quite clearly that it was presented by “Te Heuheu Tukino, Paramount Chief of the Ngati-Tuwharetoa Tribe”.[2] However, there is no source given for this information and no other reference to this chief (Te Heuheu Tukino V, c.1865-1921) in relation to the piupiu can be found.

Written evidence reveals that a piupiu was passed to Captain Halsey by the Southern Maori MP, Taare Rakatauhake (also known as Charles Rere) Parata, on behalf of the Ngai Tahu chief, Mana Himiona Te Ataotu.[3] This was on Saturday 19th April 1913, while the ship was docked in Wellington.

Other anecdotal evidence however has suggested that this piupiu came from a Te Arawa chief. This is supported by an account in the diary of Halsey’s daughter from a trip to Rotorua in 1933: “Our guide, Rangi, who is a Princess of the Arawa tribe, and related to Metataupopoki [sic], the Chief of the tribe, was very excited about me being Father’s daughter. She remembered well when he brought the H.M.S. ‘New Zealand’ to New Zealand in 1913, and remembered how he was made Honorary Chief of the tribe, and given the Apron [sic] which he wore over his naval uniform in all the actions in the Great War in which he commanded the ship”.[4] The chief referred to would have been Mita Taupopoki (c.1845-1935), Tuhourangi (Te Arawa) and Ngati Wahiao leader.

Legend has it (not substantiated by evidence) that the Maori chief presenting the piupiu made three prophecies. The first was that the ship would be involved in three sea battles, that the ship would be hit only once and that no one on board would be killed. The chief requested that Halsey wear the piupiu in battle to protect the ship and crew.

On 28 August 1914, HMS New Zealand went into action in the battle of Heligoland Bight. Halsey donned the piupiu over his uniform, and as he recalled, “Officers and men who were in the Conning Tower… were so startled at seeing me in this extraordinary clothing that they appeared to be quite incapable of carrying on with their very important personal duties and I had quickly to explain why I was thus attired.”[5]. The ship was not damaged or hit during this action.

Halsey wore the piupiu again at Dogger Bank (24 January 1915). Before the action he “got many messages from all over the ship hoping that the [piupiu] was again going to be worn”[6]. Once more, although the ship came under heavy fire, it was never hit.

In May 1915, when Halsey was promoted and appointed to another ship, he passed the piupiu over to his successor on HMS New Zealand, Captain J.F.E. Green. Captain Green was told of the Maori chief’s request and agreed to wear the piupiu into action, which he did during the Battle of Jutland on May 31st 1916. Again, the ship came under heavy fire but was hit only once, sustaining minor damage and no casualties. The piupiu remained on board the ship until surrender of the German fleet in 1918.

The piupiu was then returned to Halsey who later lent it to the NZ Division of the Royal Navy to be displayed in the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition in Wellington, 1940. Upon his death in 1949, Halsey (by then Admiral Sir Halsey) left the piupiu to his youngest daughter, Ruth Halsey – although as Ruth’s sister, Mrs Joan Wood, recalled “Lord Mountbatten tried hard to get hold of the Maori skirt when my father died, but my sister was having none of that!”[7]. As Ruth Halsey’s wish was for the piupiu to return to New Zealand, after she died in April 2002, her nephew [Halsey’s grandson] John Wood, offered it to the Navy Museum.

Although no images have been found of the piupiu being presented to Captain Halsey or wearing it, an image of Halsey’s cabin at the time[8] shows a number of Maori taonga that were presented to him, including a piupiu (top right corner). However, this does not to match the pattern of the museum’s piupiu (which has five bands).

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[1] Copy of letter from Lionel Halsey to Mr Jordan, 17 February 1939 [Object information file for piupiu 2007.1.1]

[2] Copy of exhibition text; typed chronological account of the history of the piupiu, unnamed. The source of the information is not stated. [Object information file for piupiu 2007.1.1]

[3] This is clearly stated in one newspaper report [Unsourced newspaper clipping, ‘Maoris Visit Warship’: Boyle Collection scrapbook DLG 0032], “On behalf of the chief, Mana Hiniona [sic], Mr C.R. Parata, M.P., also presented Captain Halsey with a piupiu…”. Another newspaper account [ND Times, Tuesday April 22, 1913: Boyle Collection scrapbook DLG 0032] partially substantiates this, “…Mana Himiona, a young chief of the Ngaitahu tribe, presented Captain Halsey with a feather mat. Mr C.R. Parata handed to the Captain a piupiu (loin cloth)”. The fact that most accounts agree that a Maori chief gave the piupiu, and the ambiguous wording “handed to the Captain”, seems to indicate that the first newspaper account is correct.

[4] Diary of Mrs Joan Wood, entry for Monday 4 December 1933 [provided by John Wood]

[5] Copy of letter from Lionel Halsey, 17th February 1939 [Object information file for piupiu 2007.1.1]

[6] ibid

[7] Letter from Mrs J Wood to Lt.-Commander P Dennerley, 24 March 1994 (Object information file for piupiu 2007.1.1)

[8] Unsourced newspaper photograph: HMS New Zealand scrapbook (Loan 0233 from Wellington Museum of City & Sea)

Posted on April 27, 2016
Filed under: Commemorating Jutland - 100 years on

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