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Object: Box

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Title Box
Production Hansen, Hans (carver), 1914-1918, New Zealand
Medium summary Inlay of kohekohe, rewa rewa, and paua shell
Materials kauri, wood, paua shell, paint
Classification boxes
Technique marquetry, wood carving, inlay, painting
Dimensions Closed: 120mm (Height) x 290mm (Length) x 187mm (Width/Depth)
Open: 155mm (Height) x 290mm (Length) x 187mm (Width/Depth)
Credit line Purchased 2005
Registration number GH011328

German-born Hans Hansen decorated this box while he was interned as an 'enemy alien' on Somes/Matiu Island during World War I. The island, in the middle of Wellington Harbour, was to be Hansen's home from August 1914 to December 1918 and is painted on the inside lid of the box.

Although a prisoner of war, Hansen could still earn extra money for tobacco and other small luxuries by selling carved trinkets and boxes. Despite being officially a security risk, he was permitted to go into town on several occasions to buy materials for his craftwork. It was a lucrative hobby: Hansen even sold an inlaid box to one of the soldiers at the camp for £1/5 (1 pound, 5 shillings, or 25 shillings). Calculating for inflation, this works out at between $150 and $200 in 2008. In Hansen's day, 7 shillings and 3 pence bought 1 pound of tobacco, so his earnings from the box could have purchased 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms).

An enemy alien

Hansen was a tall (1.85 metres or 6 feet, 1 inch), tattooed man working on Wellington wharves for the Union Steam Ship Company at the time of his detention. He had arrived in New Zealand three years earlier, but had put off becoming naturalised.

However, New Zealand citizenship did not necessarily help those of German or Austrian descent. Under the War Regulations Act 1914, 4000 Germans and 2000 Austro-Hungarians were registered as 'enemy aliens' - even those who were naturalised. The act also defined men who were of military age like Hansen, who was 29, as security threats, who as such could be detained by the Minister of Defence.

Altogether around 450 enemy aliens were imprisoned on Somes/Matiu Island in Wellington Harbour and Motuihe in the Waitemata Harbour, Auckland, during World War I, an indication of a prevailing atmosphere of intense anti-German feeling, which sometimes became hysterical.

Related information

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