Precious cargo

Katikati’s famed rugby legend, David Gallaher, led the first UK All Blacks tour in 1905 which demonstrated to the world the might of this tiny Pacific nation on the field. Over a hundred years later, the Western Bay Museum looked to celebrate the life of this local rugby legend by displaying his 1905 lambs-wool rugby shirt in their “Champions in their Field” exhibition. In this piece, Director Paula Gaelic shares her experience of loaning this precious piece of rugby history from Te Papa.


Gallaher in 1905 during the Original All Blacks‘ tour

David came from a large Ulster Irish family that travelled to New Zealand on the George Vesey Stewart’s Katikati Special Settlement scheme with hopes and dreams in their hearts. Like many settlers, they quickly discovered the plot of land was un-farmable so the couple scraped by doing odd jobs as their family grew and grew. As a young man, David worked in the freezer works and quickly he made himself known on the rugby field where he rose through the ranks and lead the All Blacks team in its first tour outside Australasia in 1905.

The inaugural tour – the first outside Australasia – was a smashing victory for the All Blacks with just one loss, 3-0 to Wales. Premier Richard Seddon met their boat on arrival in Auckland in March 1906, and told them their names would live on in the history of football.


The civic reception in Auckland following the side’s arrival back in New Zealand. The Prime Minister Richard Seddon is standing on the dais addressing the crowd.

Celebrated in sporting and military fields, David fought in the Boer war and later in WWI where he died on Gravenstafel Spur, in Flanders. His grave in Nine Elms Cemetery, Belgium has become a shrine to NZ tourists and All Blacks teams alike. David’s name lives on in the form of a trophy that is contested nearly every year between New Zealand and France.

David Gallaher joined the Mounted Rifles in 1901 to fight in the Boer War

In a bid to bring David’s remarkable story to life, our museum wanted to put on a display his team mates original cap and badge and looked to complete the display by obtaining his 1905 tour jersey, a replica of which is held at Te Papa. The original item had been sold for $275,670 to a private collector.

At the time, I was relatively new to loaning items, so I approached National Service’s Museum Development Advisor Sally August six months prior to the opening to ask about loaning the rugby shirt. From there, I contacted Te Papa’s Loans and Acquisitions Officer, Erin McFarlane, who outlined the process and provided me with a checklist.

Although daunting at first, the 15 page document clearly outlined borrowing conditions and gave me the reassurance that our museum was up to standard. The document covered everything: staff, volunteers, climate control, lighting, windows, security, exterior checks of the building, emergency procedures, exterior doors, record keeping, fire protection, handling and packing, exhibition preparation and installation.

The whole process gave a small museum like ours the assurance that we’re keeping up with the standards of bigger museums. It was a confidence booster that our collections were kept in safe hands and helped to ease my nerves over our key collection pieces such as Denny  Hulme’s first MG car and Greg Davis’s Wallabies captain uniform. 

To meet the loaning standards, we changed the exhibition space to reduce the potential for light damage by placing an army blanket over one end of the case which I felt was fitting given that David is a war hero as well as a sporting one. I was not prepared to take any risks.

Once these requirements had been checked off, I then booked a regular courier only to discover they didn’t do a hand-to-hand transfer which is a requirement for any loan from Te Papa. Fortunately however Erin was travelling the direction of Katikati, so she was able to deliver this piece of precious cargo just in time for the exhibition.

Rugby jersey [1905 replica], 2011, New Zealand, by Robertina Downes, Deborah Cumming, Manawatu Knitting Mills Ltd, New Zealand Rugby Museum. Commissioned 2011. Te Papa (GH017325) . Gallaher swapped his rubgy shirt with Wales captain Gwyn Nicholls, who gave it to an employee of his laundry company. It ended up in the hands of Thomas Mahoney, a van boy at Nicholls’ business, and had remained in the Mahoney family ever since. The shirt went up for auction in Wales and was sold to a British bidder for $275,670.

The jersey proved to be one of the hero pieces in the exhibition. There is something about being able to see these items in the flesh that brings history alive – the lambs-wool material, the hand embroidered silver fern and the leather lacing. It breathed new life into the exhibition.

Although we are a small Museum, we aim big. Our collections aren’t as nearly as vast at the collections held by our national museums, so we rely on loaning key items to tell our stories, in our way. Now we’re well versed in the process and we have the stamp of approval, well, there’s no stopping us now.

  • For information on loaning an item from Te Papa, see here.
  • For information on loaning an item from the Auckland Museum, see here.
  • For information on how to keep your museum and its taonga safe, take a look at our security guide.
  • For practical advice on managing loans effectively – as both borrowers and lenders, see our borrowing and lending guide.

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