There are few finer examples of colonial New Zealand silverware than this ewer and goblet set. Local silverwork of such quality and sophistication was rare, simply because few people in this country were wealthy enough to afford it.
European silversmiths (who also worked with gold) began bringing their skills and traditions to this country in the middle of the nineteenth century. At the time, large amounts of gold and silver were being mined here, adding to the colony’s prosperity, and allowing more people to afford ornamental wares.
In colonial times, as today, a wide range of silverware was produced in New Zealand. There were royal gifts, ceremonial and religious items (both Christian and Jewish), Masonic jewels (which included medals and insignia), commemorative items, sporting and agricultural awards and trophies, and items of personal adornment.
Sometimes pieces were commissioned in honour of important family occasions. Te Papa holds two such items. A silver mug commemorates the christening of Percy Seaborn Kettle Maqasser in 1873. Also owned by Te Papa is a silver and pounamu berry spoon which Sydney Luttrell gave to his wife on the birth of their child Elizabeth in 1903.
Other items marked community events, and were paid for by public donation. The ewer and goblet set is an example of this. It was made in 1874 by the Christchurch firm, B. Petersen & Co, and had been commissioned by the staff of the Canterbury Railway Company as a retirement present for their general manager John Marshman.
The ewer and goblet set was passed down through John Marshman’s family until 1993, when Te Papa purchased it.
B. Petersen & Co, and a number of other silversmiths gave their work a local flavour. In this set, the jug is inset with oval panels of high-quality pounamu, a material treasured by Maori. Other early New Zealand silverwork was embellished with motifs based on native plants and birds. An example from Te Papa’s collections is a punga fern table centrepiece by Frank Grady (1840–1914).
Text originally published in Tai Awatea, Te Papa's onfloor multimedia database (2001).