Research of Toi moko repatriated from France 

All research to date regarding French Toi moko (as at July 2012).

1.  Background information

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa) has repatriated 21 Toi moko from 11 French museums and institutions.

The returned Toi moko were held at the following institutions in France:

Museum in France 

 Toi Moko

Rouen Museum, Rouen
Repatriated May 2011.

Musee Quai Branly, Paris
Repatriated January 2012.


Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris
Repatriated January 2012.


Musee National de la Marine, Paris Repatriated January 2012.


Museum de Nantes, Nantes
Repatriated January 2012.


Museum de Lille, Lille
epatriated January 2012.


Musee des Beaux-Arts of Dunkerque (Dunkirk)
Repatriated January 2012.


Musee des Confluences of Lyon, Lyon
Repatriated January 2012.


Musee de Sens, Sens
Repatriated January 2012.


Musee des Arts Africans, Oceaniens, Ameridiens d Marseille
Repatriated January 2012.


University of Montpellier, Montpellier
Repatriated January 2012.


Total Toi moko



2. What we know about Toi moko repatriated from France

The first French explorer who arrived in New Zealand was Jean-Francois-Marie de Surville, who arrived in the North Cape on 16 December 1769.  This was shortly after Captain Cook’s arrival on the Endeavour.  Surville’s expedition into the Pacific was in search of the great southern continent, and his stop over in New Zealand was for fresh water and supplies, as his crew was stricken with scurvy. 

From this earliest encounter with Māori the French noted the art of Māori moko or tattooing.  On board the French vessel named St Jean Baptise was crew member Pottier L’Horme who gave his description and perspective of Māori tattoo as he encountered amongst the people of Tokerau (also known as Doubtless Bay).  L’Horme wrote:

"The painting [tattooing] of the face is a mark of distinction, so that they do not all have painted faces, and those that do have the face painted do not all have it done in the same way"

From these early encounters with Māori communities the French expeditions wrote about their visits but also acquired curiosities to take home to France.

Some of the curiosities included Toi moko or Māori tattooed heads.

The trade in Toi moko from New Zealand took place between 1770 and the 1860s.

Some are the heads of tribal rangatira (chiefs) and toa (warriors) whose uri (living descendants) still live within their tribal territories.These ancestors died during the active process of preserving the mana (prestige and dignity) of their families and communities.

Their heads taken during battle, mummified and offered for trade to Europeans in exchange for muskets, gun powder, and other foreign goods.

Other heads are said to be those of captives or slaves whose heads were specifically tattooed for the trade.  Historian and moko enthusiast H.G Robley wrote:

"The chiefs were not slow in taking advantage of the discovery, and set to work to kill the least valuable of their slaves, tattooing their heads first…as though they had belonged to men of high rank, drying them and then selling them."

For Māori living during this period, the tribal identity was paramount, and many tribal groups seemed to have taken a pragmatic approach to the trade of Toi moko of enemies’ heads, as part of a strategy to ensure access to new weapons such as muskets, which ensured their survival against traditional and new enemies.

French museum records indicate some of the Toi moko are associated with the following French collectors and explorers who travelled into the Pacific including Hyacinthe de Bougainville, Auguste Berard, Louis Claude de Saulces de Freycinet, brothers René Primevère Lesson and Pierre-Adolphe Lesson, and Dumont d’Urville

However, further research is required to uncover crucial information that will help the Toi moko return to their communities of origin within New Zealand.

3. Accession information: Toi moko formerly housed in French museums

Musée Quai Branly, Paris (7 Toi moko)

Accession notes received from the NZ Embassy in Paris on 23 January 2012

"The seven Maori heads from the Quai Branly Museum were originally held at the Laboratory of Physical Anthropology of the Musée de l'Homme, located at the Trocadero in Paris.

These seven heads were acquired from donations made between 1885 and 1999. Specific information on the conditions of their acquisition are uncertain. However, it is likely they were all acquired on the European market, the collection of heads in New Zealand having ceased shortly after 1840.

The first two heads entered the collections of the Museum in 1885 from anonymous donations. (Inventory Numbers: 71.1885.61.1 and 71.1885.1.2)

In 1886, a head was given to the Museum by the Parisian department store "Printemps". (Inventory number: 71.1886.24.1)

In 1929, a head was given to the museum following the death of Dr Louis Capitan (1854-1929), French physician and pre-historian, vice-president of the Commision of Historical Monuments and professor at the College de France and School of Anthropology. He was one of the founders of prehistoric anthropology. The specimen is one of 300 items donated to the Musée de l'Homme upon his death. (Inventory number: 71.1929.14.427)

In 1947, two heads were donated to the Museum by Sir Adrian Paris, recorded as residing at the time at 196 boulevard Pereire in Paris. (Inventory Numbers: 71.1947.57.1 and 71.1947.57.2)

The last Maori head to enter the museum's collections was acquired recently, This was a gift from Madame Germaine Urban, in 1999. It is believed to have belonged to one of her ancestors, who resided in New Zealand in the 19th century. (Inventory number: 71.1999.24.1)

The seven Maori heads held until now by the Musée du Quai Branly since its opening in June 2006 have never been exhibited or photographed in accordance with the wishes of the Government of New Zealand. They have been kept in the Museum's reserve collection."

Museum de Nantes (1 Toi moko)

This Toi moko is associated with French expeditions to the Pacific in the mid 1820s.

It has been housed at the Nantes Museum since 1826, and was given by François-Louis Busseuil (1791-1836) a navy surgeon on board of “la Thétis” whose captain was Hyacinthe de Bougainville (1782-1846).

Museum de Lille (1 Toi moko)

This Toi moko is associated with a collector called Alphonse Moillet who is known to have gathered objects from Europe, North Africa and the Americas.

The head was part of a collection that was put under the supervision of the Lille Natural History Museum in 1990.Prior to this date, this collection had been kept in storage for a hundred years. The original collection was donated to the city of Lille by Alphonse Moillet in 1850. The donation lists a "head of a New Zealand chief" which is likely to be this artefact.

Moillet who bought this head never travelled to New Zealand, and it is believed he bought it from a merchant or a sailor.

Musee des Beaux-Arts of Dunkerque/Dunkirk (1 Toi moko)

Accession notes received from the NZ Embassy in Paris on 23 January 2012

"The information provided by the museum indicated that the head was donated in 1841 by Duhamel for whom the museum has no information at hand."

Musee de Sens (1 Toi moko)

The Sen Museum holds a Māori head that originates from the collector Alfred Lorne. It was given by Alfred Lorne’s heirs to the museum in 1844. It was gathered, it seems, during the voyage of the Astrolabe captained by Dumont d’urville in 1827

Musee des Arts Africans, Oceaniens, Ameridiens d Marseille (1 Toi moko)

This Toi moko was collected by Henri Gastaut (1915-1995) who had a private collection of skulls from different parts of the world. He was a doctor, biologist and neurologist.

University of Montpellier (1 Toi moko)

Accession notes received from the NZ Embassy in Paris on 23 January 2012

"The Maori head is from the collection of Joseph-Marie Dubrueil (1790 - 1852), who was appointed professor of anatomy at the Medical Faculty of Montpellier 12 December 1824. After his death, the family gave his collection to the Conservatory of Anatomy. The presence of foreign heads, including a head identified as Maori, in the Dubrueil collection can perhaps be explained by the fact that M. Dubrueil, MD of the Faculty of Paris, was a surgeon in the Navy School of Rochefort then that of Toulon and was at sea during this period of his life."

Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris

Accession notes received from the NZ Embassy in Paris on 23 January 2012

"Initially kept in the comparative anatomy section of the Jardin de Plantes, the collection of the Museum of Anthropology was transferred to the Museum of Mankind in the 1930s, when it was created. It is from this collection that the Maori heads returned to New Zealand from the Musée du Quai branly.

The four Maori heads are from various sources: scientific expeditions, legacies of the College de France and donations.

  • No. 1142: donation made in 1820 by Louis Claude de Freycinet Saulces (1779 - 1842), geologist and geographer, captain and commander of Uraine.
  • No 1143: Lesson collection, presumably resulting from the voyage of the Coquille (from the same trip as the National Maritime Museum)
  • No. 1530: from the former collection of the College de France
  • No. 3317: donation made by Maxime du Camp, writer and collector (1864) "

Musee des Confluences of Lyon, Lyon

Accession notes received from the NZ Embassy in Paris on 23 January 2012

"The museums collection included two Maori heads. The mummified tattooed head listed under inventor number 60007992, labelled "Neptunian New Zealand Race, capacity 1L43" was part of the ethnology collection of the museum.

A second Maori head (inc. 30000099) was discovered in 2011, as part of the inventory of the collections, in the physical anthropology section. The skin is only present on the left side of the skull, and only a few remnants of tattoos are visible.

The precise origin of these two heads is unfortunately not known. They are part of a batch of four pieces referenced in the Catalogue of human skulls (1st half of the 20th century) and are visible in a photograph of the ethnology hall of the Museum at the Palais Saint-Pierre, in 1914. It is not known at this time what happened to the other two heads mentioned in the old records."

Musee National de la Marine, Paris

Accession notes received from the NZ Embassy in Paris on 23 January 2012

"On the occasion of a scientific journey around the world, carried out between August 1822 and April 1825 by Lousi-Isidore Duperrey on board the corvette L Coquille, that the navy botanist and qurgeon René- Primevère Lesson collected this Toi Moko, on 5 April 1824, in the Bay of Islands, on the East Coast of New Zealand's North Island, and brought it back to France. Lesson was appointed Curator of the Natural History collection of the town of Rochefort in 1820. The object, listed in the collection of the National Maritime Museum, was filed then exposed after the World War II in the Natiral History collection of neighbouring town La Rochelle."

Rouen Museum

Research pertaining to Mr Louis Hegésippe Drouet, who donated a Toi moko to the Rouen Museum in Normandy France in 1875.

About Louis Hegésippe (Eugésippe) Drouet (1817-1882)

Louis Hegésippe Drouet was born into humble means on 18 September 1817 at Martainville Le Cormier.This village is located 76km south west of Rouen, the most important town in the region of Normandy.His father was Jean Eugésippe Drouet and his mother Marie Madeleine Langlois[1].

At some stage L.H. Drouet departed Martainville to pursue a career in Paris.  It is recorded that in 1861 Drouet is an employee of stockholder, Jean Pierre Elme Leduc[2].

It also seems between 1861 and 1871, L.H Drouet’s circumstances dramatically changed for the better.  While in 1861 Drouet lived in the “working class and entertainment quarter” in the 18th arrondissement (district) in Paris.  By 1871 he lived at 131 rue de Morny, within the wealthier area of the 8th arrondissement.  By coincidence this is the same area as Jean Pierre Elme Leduc his employer[3].

 {3} Electoral list of the 8th arrondissement on the 18th June 1871 

Also in 1871, it is recorded on the Parisian electoral role that L.H Drouet is now a landowner, which further reflects the major shift in circumstances[4].

In 1875, Drouet travelled to Rouen and during this period he presented a Toi moko to the Rouen Natural History Museum. This was his only donation to the museum, as there are no further gifts associated with him according to Rouen Museum records. 

During this period the Natural History Museum of Rouen was well-known as a research institute pertaining to biology, chemistry and medicine.  It was also a museum with an interest in acquiring collections from overseas and in particular specimens such as skulls which were used in the study of phrenology, which was regarded as a “scientific” discipline in Europe at that time, but has since been dismissed as quackery and pseudo science. 

It is possible Mr Drouet had an interest in supporting research and science at the time, and wished to donate the Toi moko to an institution that was showing high interest in this type of study, as well as wishing to support a museum within the same region of his early and formative years.

Drouet passed way on 12 February 1882 at the age of 64 years.  According to the death certificate he was single with no issue.  His occupation is recorded as businessman[5]. 

Link to the Toi moko

There is little information available that directly links the Toi moko to L.H Drouet, except for the donation to the Rouen Museum in 1875, however, there is a possible link with the Toi moko through Mr Drouet’s former employer Jean Pierre Elme Leduc.  

Jean Pierre Elme Leduc (also known as Saint Elme Leduc)

Jean Pierre Elme Leduc was a wealthy businessman who knew many important and influential people in France. 

As a businessman he owned property and business interests in France and also in its colonies.  It is said he had business interests on Agalega Islands (aka Galega Islands), an archipelago 1,100 km north of Mauritius.  His brother Auguste Leduc was stationed on this Island from 1827 to manage and administrate the plantations, labourers and slaves. 

During this period on the Island, Auguste Leduc met Furmichon the 2nd lieutenant on the French exploration frigate “Artémise”.  From this meeting they became good friends and often wrote to each other[6]. 

Between the years 1837 and 1840 the “Artémise” undertook a major expedition around the world.  This expedition stopped at many ports of interest where it is known Toi moko were traded including islands in the Republic of Mauritius, Port Jackson in Sydney, Hobart in Tasmania[7], and also the Hokianga in New Zealand[8].   

Although it is possible that a Toi moko may have been purchased during the travels of the “Artémise” in the Indian and Pacific oceans, and then passed onto the Leduc family, this evidence is circumstantial and further research will need to be conducted to verify this possibility.   

When J-P Elme Leduc passed away on 20 November in 1861 he was recorded as being single with no issue. 


Anne Salmond. Two Worlds: First Meetings Between Maori and Europeans, 1642-1772, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 1992.

Horatio Gordon Robley. Moko: the art and history of Māori tattooing (reprint), Twickenham: Senate, 1998.


[1] Death certificate of L.H Drouet: Décès, 8e arr., 12/02/1882. V4E 3470 (p.9).  Archives numérisées -

[2] Death certificate of Mr. Le Duc: Décès, 8e arr., 20/11/1861. V4E 880 (p.28). Archives numérisées -

[3] Death certificate of Mr. Le Duc: Décès, 8e arr., 20/11/1861. V4E 880 (p.28). Archives numérisées - And the electoral list of the 8th arrondissement on the 18th June 1871extact from “liste électorale du 18 Juin 1871, quartier du Faubourg du Roule”.  [D.1M2 180]

[4] Death certificate of Mr. Le Duc: Décès, 8e arr., 20/11/1861. V4E 880 (p.28). Archives numérisées -

[5] Death certificate of L.H Drouet: Décès, 8e arr., 12/02/1882. V4E 3470 (p.9).  Archives numérisées -

[6] Galega, 1827-1839, Poivre, Desroches, Saint-Joseph, 1842-1851: Memoires d'Auguste Le Duc, planteur dans l'ocean Indien (Collection Peuples et pays de l'ocean Indien) (French Edition) p.101.

[7] “La campagne de circumnavigation de la Frégate l’Artémise, 1837-1838-1839-1840”, Tome V by Captain Laplace. p.337.

[8] New Zealand and the French, two centuries of Contact, edited by John Dunmore, 1990. p.17.