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Antique English clock returned home

Monday 14 August 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Art, Features


Antique English clock returned home
Simon Crispe, Makea Karika George Ariki and Ngāti Makea Karika witness the clock’s return and learn more about its history. MELINA ETCHES/23080707

Resting magnificently in its timeless beauty on a brand new cabinet in the Makea Karika Ariki palace is the long-lost antique English made clock.

After 90 years, the clock, which was presented to Makea Karika Takau Ariki in 1933 by the then New Zealand Governor-General Lord Bledisloe (1930-1935) and Lady Bledisloe, has returned home.

To mark this occasion, a special turou (welcome) ceremony was hosted by Makea Karika George Ariki and Ngāti Makea Karika to witness the clock’s revival and learn more about its captivating history a week ago.

Auckland architect Simon Crispe and wife Marianne, and New Zealand senior journalist Jane Phare and her husband Byron were welcomed to the Makea Karika palace by a “karakia’ performed by Anautoa Rangatira, Tuaine Unuia.

The clock was repaired by Crispe’s father and has been in his care for over 40 years.

No one had ever come back to collect the clock, he said.

After being gazetted in the New Zealand newspapers in 1987 for quite some time and with still no one claiming it, the clock remained in the Crispe family.

In 2007, Crispe inherited the clock.

“My dear father looked after it for over 40 years, and when nobody came to collect the clock after it had been repaired he didn’t know what to do and didn’t know where it belonged,” said Crispe.

“I think the problem with it was someone had wound the hands backwards and broken some of the parts inside, and so we’ve been able to fix it and I’ve just serviced it so it’s ready to go hopefully for another 100 years.”

Makea Karika George Ariki presents Simon Crispe with a pāte (drum). MELINA ETCHES/23080704

The timepiece is encased in oak, in a design known as the ‘Napolean hat case’, weighing about 2 kilos, it is an English clock made by the “Empire” clock company, explained Crispe.

“It’s a very nice movement striking on a big gong - the movement is made of brass. And it has a very special sterling silver plaque, probably made in New Zealand.”

The engraving on the silver plaque reads: Makea Karika Takau Ariki from the Governor General and Lady Bledisloe 1933, which intrigued Crispe.

“We had no idea what those words really meant, we thought it was Māori (Aotearoa) and we talked to Māori people and they had no idea where the clock had come from, and so we are absolutely delighted to find its rightful owner.”

Crispe said he was uncomfortable owning it, because he knew from the plaque that this was a very special item that had been gifted by the New Zealand Governor General to the Cook Islands 90 years ago. He wanted to return it to its rightful owners.

Last year, Crispe called on Phare to assist with tracking down the clock’s original owner and extensive research and discussions led to the clock's return to Rarotonga.

Phare initially phoned Ian Karika, one of Makea Karika Takau Ariki’s great-grandsons who was at the hills of the Takitumu Conservation Area when he received her call.

Karika distinctly recalled their conversation because he was surprised the call even got through since phone coverage was not always good in the area.

“I thought she was calling about the birds, but it was about a clock which I knew nothing about,” he said.

Makea Karika George Ariki presents Jane Phare with a kumete (bowl). MELINA ETCHES/23080705

Phare also contacted Makea Karika George Ariki who said he was surprised to receive a phone call about the clock.

And the mystery of the clock began to unravel.

Phare finally worked out the lineage and wrote about the clock.

 “To see the clock there is so special and to hear it chime where it would have chimed 90 years ago,” she said.

Makea Karika George Ariki said, “What surprises me is that not one Cook Islander in New Zealand at the time (late 1980’s) saw the notice about this clock in the newspaper back then,” said

 “We are very appreciative to Simon and Jane for tracing it back to our family and bringing the clock home,” he said.

Weeks before arriving on Rarotonga, Crispe overhauled the clock completely again to make sure it was spot on.

He also spent some time training Makea Karika George Ariki in keeping the clock going.

Makea Karika George Ariki presented Crispe with a pate, and Phare a carved kumete in gratitude for their efforts in returning the clock.

As the clock ticks and chimes once again in the place where it stood, it serves as a poignant reminder for Ngāti Makea Karika of their tupuna (ancestor) Makea Karika Takau Ariki.

Lord Bledisloe, also known as Charles Bathurst, supported various causes and events. In 1931, he presented the silver trophy - the Bledisloe Cup.