Friday, 5 July 2013

Mr Pillans’ Head

Mounted albatross head, Tauranga Heritage Collection
In 2013 a mounted albatross head may seem like an grotesque wall decoration but in 1890, when this head was gifted to William Soutau Pillans II (1849-1915), it proudly graced his family home.

The albatross head was a present from the famous ornithologist Walter Buller (1838-1906) as thanks for bird illustrations drawn by Pillans. A keen collector of bird specimens Buller is best known for his famous book The History of the Birds of New Zealand first published in the early 1870s.

Buller's Birds  (Avaritia non habet legem), by Liam Barr (Courtesy of the artist)
Exactly how Pillans and Buller crossed paths is not known. Pillans was an adventurer and fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. He took part in an number of expeditions in the South Island and was a member of the first party to cross from Milford Sound to Lake Te Anau.  It is probable that they had similar interests and moved in the same circles.

The head was donated to the collection by Mary Lellman in the 1970s. As the granddaughter of William and Mary Pillans, after whom Tauranga’s Pillans Point is named, Mary recalled that after William’s death the head was removed by her grandmother as she believed that it would bring bad luck.  

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