Search our collections

Advanced Search

Object: Sextant

This image has All Rights Reserved.

Title Sextant
Production von Zatorski, Walter (manufacturer(s)), 1917, New Zealand
Materials brass, glass, wood
Classification sextants
Dimensions Overall: 274mm (Height) x 122mm (Length) x 283mm (Width/Depth)
Credit line Gift of the Minister of Defence, 1918
Registration number NS000048

This sextant (navigational instrument) was made in 1917 by German merchant marine cadet, Walter von Zatorski. At the time he was interned as a prisoner of war on Motuihe Island in the Hauraki Gulf, about eleven kilometres northeast of Auckland, New Zealand. He had been captured when New Zealand forces took the Pacific Island of German Samoa (now the Independent State of Samoa) during World War I (1914-1918).

The sextant and its case are totally improvised, and were made using the fuel tank from a Primus stove and the brass hinges from a rudder that had washed ashore. The adjusting screw came from the handle of a safety razor. Von Zatorski ordered tools and solder through the camp canteen to assemble the instrument.

In December 1917, von Zatorski's sextant was put to use when a party of prisoners, lead by Count Felix von Luckner ('Sea Wolf'), escaped from Motuihe and captured the scow Moa. Using von Zatorski's handmade instrument and a map copied from a school atlas, the men navigated an accurate course to the Kermadec Islands - around 1000 kilometres northeast of New Zealand - before they were recaptured.

Museum collection
The New Zealand government confiscated the sextant on the prisoners' recapture. However, the fine workmanship of the piece was greatly admired and it was gifted to Te Papa's predecessor, the Dominion Museum, in 1918.

Related information

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.