In the mid-1890s, in his early twenties, Thomas Aubrey Chappé Hall (1873-1958) left his English home for New Zealand. He lived and worked in Aotearoa for most of the next 60 years.

By his own account he travelled to the Whanganui River soon after arrival here, and met Hori Pukehika, the noted Te Ati Haunui-a-Paparangi carver, who agreed to teach him to carve. That changed the course of Hall’s life. He continued to carve into his seventies and his reputation for that work became a significant part of his identity.

By Moira White

Early days

Early in the new century Thomas Aubrey Chappé Hall left his life of moving between bush camps on the Whanganui River, often by means of a kopapa (small canoe) named Te Ao. He moved to Tauranga, joined the Mounted Rifles and was part of the 6th New Zealand contingent which sailed for Capetown in February 1901 to fight in the Second Anglo-Boer War.

After returning to New Zealand, he sailed, fished and travelled, and in 1904 married Ethel Adams. A high-backed Edwardian chair, the earliest known example of his work currently in a public collection, dates from that year.

Auckland Museum

The following decade the family moved to Auckland.

In 1928, Director of the Auckland Museum, Gilbert Archey asked Hall to undertake ‘restoration’ work on the whare whakairo (carved meeting house), Hotunui, in preparation for the opening of the Auckland War Memorial Museum building. This included carving a new paepae, a new panel for the mahau and new papaka. Archey also asked Hall to oversee the installation of the waka taua, Te Toki a Tapiri.

Thomas Aubrey Chappé Hall, photographed in Hotunui’s mahau at the Auckland War Memorial Museum in 1929.

Auckland Museum PH-RES-1346

Otago Museum

HD Skinner of the Otago Museum was looking for a skilled carver and carpenter for a comparable project in Dunedin. Hearing of Hall’s work on Hotunui, Skinner initiated contact through Archey. Soon after, Hall travelled south to begin work designed to enable the whare whakairo, Mataatua, to be publically displayed in the Otago Museum.

Extensive work, undertaken in stages, eventually included construction of tukutuku panels for Mataatua’s interior, and raupo thatching. In one area – inside, discreetly below the window – Hall indulged his interest in horse racing and pleasure at New Zealand-born Phar Lap’s win in the 1930 Melbourne Cup.

Panels carved by Thomas Chappe Hall for whare whakairo Mataatua.

© All Rights Reserved Otago Museum

Hall was called upon by the Otago Museum again in the early 1930s to effect the transformation of Te Paranihi’s unadorned hull into a formally decorated waka taua (war canoe) for display. That work involved carving side strakes, and attaching an earlier Ngati Toa tauihu and taurapa. A diary entry from WH Skinner (HD Skinner’s father) in New Plymouth, shortly before this work began is intriguing:

‘Called upon by Mr Hall of Auckland the professional carver of Maori arts. He is on his way South to carve the side strakes or boards of the big canoe in the Dunedin Museum, secured from Wanganui. I met him again in the afternoon at the Museum and went over a number of carvings. Harry wishes him to adopt the Taranaki patterns of Maori Art as shown on these panels found in the swamp at Waitara’.

Hall’s final project for the Otago Museum involved a large pātaka (storage house); another problematic construction; in this case with an unknown provenance. Hall carved a new paepae, and then added completely new sides based on images of carvings from a pātaka in the Museum fur Volkerkunde in Berlin.

Other commissions

Queen Victoria College students at the dedication of the whare wananga, Torere, at Emilia Maud Nixon's Tainui Garden of Memories in Howick, in October 1936.

Auckland Libraries

In between these commissions, Hall accepted others; all from pākehā.

Miss Emilia Nixon asked him to build a small whare – Torere – designed as an important part of her Tainui Garden of Memories in Howick.

Another was for a mahau which stood behind Bishop Pompallier’s missionary altar when the 100th anniversary of the first mass Pompallier celebrated in New Zealand was commemorated in Northland in 1938.

Other patrons included St Paul’s Cathedral in Dunedin for a child’s altar, and a class of students at the Auckland Teachers College for a lectern.

His own home held a great variety of objects that he carved – from a grandfather clock to a storage chest.

Preparations for the centenary celebrations of Bishop Pompallier’s first mass in New Zealand, held in Hokianga in 1938

Dio archives

And so...

Historian Damian Skinner has discussed some of the nuances in the relationship between Māori artists and 19th century pākehā patrons of the whare whakairo, but Hall (and some others) moved even further into that ambiguous space.

Contemporary accounts of his work described it as Māori, reproductions of Māori carving, and/or work of Māori design; possibly not clearly differentiating between these awkward terms. Hall was not isolated from Māori artists of his day, yet apparently still felt comfortable working as he did. He often ‘signed’ his work, using Māori words and transliterations of his name, such as ‘Tamati Hape Hore’ or ‘Tiahape Hore’.

In relation to taoka (treasure) Māori, for Hall, the word ‘Māori’ seems to have indicated that something was made correctly. Hall set more boundaries in such matters than some of his employers. He valued traditional standards and perhaps imagined that he lived a little in both worlds. Except of course he did not. His insertion into the chronology, if not the whakapapa, of Hotunui, Mataatua, and other taoka might appear to be a point where his personal story, the mana of his teacher, and the museology of the early twentieth century overlapped, depending on one’s perspective.

Header image:  Thomas Chappe Hall,  Tūru whakairo (Edwardian carved chair).  Hall identified himself as ‘TAMATI TE HAPE HORE’ on the footrest of this high-backed chair which he carved in 1904. All Rights Reserved. Te Papa,  ME023251

Crafting Aotearoa 

This article is part of a collection of 52 essays that form an online companion to the book, Crafting Aotearoa. Spanning three centuries of making and thinking in Aotearoa New Zealand and the wider Moana (Pacific), this book looks at the artistic practices that, at different times and for different reasons, have been described by the term craft. Crafting Aotearoa tells previously untold stories of craft in Aotearoa New Zealand, so that the connections, as well as the differences and tensions, can be identified and explored. This book proposes a new idea of craft – one that acknowledges Pākehā, Māori and wider Moana histories of making, as well as diverse community perspectives towards objects and their uses and meanings.

Edited by Karl Chitham, Kolokesa U Māhina-Tuai and Damian Skinner

Hardcover book published by Te Papa Press

RRP $94.00

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White, Moira. 'Englishman creates Mā​ori Whakairo', Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Published: 11 11 2019.

More Information

‘Loss of Pakeha Expert in Maori Art’ New Zealand Herald, 22 May 1958:15

Hall, T.A.C. 1932. ‘Letter to the Editor’. Journal of the Polynesian Society 41(3): 234–6.

Barton, G. And D. Reynolds. 1985 Hotunui. The Restoration of a Meeting House. Auckland, Auckland Museum.

White, M. 2008. ‘ ‘Oxford man learned Maori craft’: the work of Thomas Aubrey Chappé Hall’ Records of the Auckland Museum. 45: 43-71

Otago University Museum and Hocken Library. 1933. Annual Reports for the Year 1932 pp. 6-7. Dunedin.

Description of parts of the Marae:

Neich, R., 1991. Jacob William Heberley of Wellington: A Maori carver in a changed world. Records of the Auckland Institute and Museum, pp.69-146.

Damian Skinner, The Māori Meeting House: Introducing the Whare Whakairo. Wellington: Te Papa Press, 2016

Related objects

Jacob Heberley carved objects, such as the figure-supported bowls at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Te Mata o Hoturoa, the waka taua at the Whanganui Regional Museum 

J H Menzies carved furniture