Although made in Victorian-era London, this sterling silver epergne clearly depicts a New Zealand scene - a Māori man, woman and child, and a British soldier underneath a ponga tree.
An ornate centrepiece
An epergne (sounds like e-purn) is an ornate centrepiece for a dining table. They were used to display items such as fruit, nuts and flowers in tiered bowls. First appearing on the tables of 17th-century French nobility, epergnes were popular with Victorians when entertaining at home.
The decorative appearance of this epergne is characteristic of early to mid-19th century English design. It features complex floral elements, typical of the naturalist style of the Victorian period.
The epergne was made in 1858 by London silversmiths Stephen Smith and William Nicholson. Eight years' earlier their work had been selected to appear in the Great Exhibition of London - the first international display of manufactured products.
The Great Exhibition was attended by more than 6 million people and influenced art and design styles of the era, especially in the United Kingdom and its colonies.
The New Zealand connection
So why did a London-made dining table centrepiece feature a scene from New Zealand?
The epergne is called the Wynyard Testimonial, named after Colonel Robert Henry Wynyard, who was patron of Auckland Museum when it opened in 1852.
English-born Wynyard had chosen to follow family tradition and enlist in the military. In 1845 he was posted to New Zealand as the first colonel of her Majesty's 58th Regiment. His first duty on arrival was to lead reinforcement troops against the Māori chiefs Hōne Heke and Te Ruki Kawiti in the Bay of Islands.
In addition to his military role, Wynyard was appointed by Governor Grey to several executive roles, including the first superintendent of the Auckland Province and officer administering the Government of New Zealand.
In 1858, the 58th Regiment was recalled to England. At the end of Wynyard's posting, the people of Auckland gave him 300 gold sovereigns. He used the money to buy the epergne. The silversmiths Smith & Nicholson specialised in commemoration and presentation pieces that were traditionally given as a mark of regard and esteem.
The epergne's lengthy engraving begins with the words: "Presented to Colonel ROBERT HENRY WYNYARD C.B. of her Majesty's 58th Regiment on his departure from New Zealand by a number of inhabitants of the City and Province of Auckland in testimony of their high appreciation and of the abilities, integrity and urbanity which has characterised his discharge of the several important duties which devolved upon him during thirteen years Official residence in New Zealand from August, 1845 to October, 1858."
After Wynyard died in 1864 his wife Anne returned to Auckland. The family kept the epergne secured in a bank vault for several generations. It was loaned to Auckland War Memorial Museum in 1988. In 2014 the family permanently gave the epergne to the Museum.
Cite this article
The Wynyard Testimonial. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 21 June 2016. Updated: 1 July 2016.
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