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Object: Ship’s Bell

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Title Ship’s Bell
Production Unknown (maker/artist), circa 1450, Tamil Nadu
Materials bronze
Classification clapper bells, pots
Dimensions Overall: 166mm (Height)
Credit line Bequest of William Colenso, 1899
Registration number ME000842/1

The missionary William Colenso met Maori near Whangarei using this bell about 1836 as a kohua (iron pot) to cook potatoes. It is bronze, thirteen centimetres long and nine centimetres deep, and has an inscription.

Colenso was told that the bell had been found after a heavy gale had blown down a large tree; it was uncovered from the tree roots. Its owners believed that the bell had been in the possession of the iwi (tribe) for several generations.

Colenso swapped an iron pot for the bell. After his death he bequeathed the bell to the Colonial Museum, forbear to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.The bell produced a lot of interest when it was exhibited, and discussions and theories abounded about its origins.

The bell was photographed and copies sent to England and various people in India. Tamils in Southern India immediately recognised the writing on the bell.The bell has been identified as a type of ship's bell. Some of the characters in the inscription are of an archaic form no longer seen in modern Tamil script suggesting that the bell could be about 500 years old. The bell is believed to have been cast about the year 1450. Archaic Tamil script on the bell has been translated as meaning, "Bell of the Ship of Mohaideen Bakhsh".

How the Tamil bell came to be in New Zealand remains an unsolved mystery.

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Disclaimer: This information was created from historic documentation, and may not necessarily reflect the best available knowledge about the item. Some collection images are created for identification purposes only and may not be of reproduction quality. Some images are not available due to copyright restrictions. If you have information or questions about objects in the collection, contact us using our enquiry form. You can also find out more about Collections Online.