Recently, Adrian Coleman kindly gifted to Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust’s collection the well-known and highly contested Hawke’s Bay rifle shooting trophy known as the Coleman Shield.
Adrian’s great-grandfather, James Henry Coleman had commissioned the shield in 1895 from Hardy Bros, Sydney jewellers, for the cost of 65 guineas.
The shield was described in the Hawke’s Bay Herald as “one of the best prizes ever offered to [military] volunteers in New Zealand”. James Coleman’s intention was to “arouse a new interest in the breasts of the young men who should be the life and soul of the various companies in this district” and to promote healthy competition amongst the military corps throughout Hawke’s Bay.
The article continued: “there is no more entrancing pastime than rifle shooting - it develops the nerve and courage of a man, as more arduous sports do, without unduly taxing his bodily faculties.” The conditions of the competition were that two shooting contests were to be held each year – one in autumn and the other in spring with the highest aggregate score of both determining the overall winner.
On arrival the shield was proudly displayed in J Wilson Craig’s booksellers shop in Hastings Street, Napier for all to admire. Made of bronze and silver and fitted onto a kauri mount, its sheer size was impressive being 28 inches (71 cm) long by 21 inches (53 cm) wide.
The quality of the silver reliefs was superb. The circular central panel, which was the main feature, portrayed riflemen firing at a target and featuring a New Zealand landscape in the background. Four smaller silver panels surrounded this work of art - the two top panels depicted varieties of New Zealand ferns while the two lower two portrayed Māori and European weapons. Surmounting these panels was the figure of a rangatira defined by two huia feathers in his hair, holding a pounamu patu and wearing a hei tiki and korowai.
The dedication below the central panel read “Challenge Shield for Rifle Competition for Hawke’s Bay. Presented by J H Coleman, 1895”. Regulations for the competition were set in place, the first one being that a limit of twenty men could be chosen to represent each volunteer military division. The conditions stipulated that each competitor had to dress in their corps uniform.
The first rifle competition for the Coleman Shield was held on 24 May 1895, the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birthday. Eighty keen and enthusiast men assembled on the Taradale shooting range. Together they fired 1,200 bullets at targets (situated at different distances) in the standing, kneeling and lying-down stances. The Hawke’s Bay Herald reported that although the rifle shooting arrangements were excellent, the discipline was very lax. The bugler and flag attendants disregarded safety measures and did not alert the signalmen who frequently came out of the “butts utterly unprotected”. An accident could easily have occurred especially as the shooters were hampered by “reflection from the water of the Inner Harbour”.
The second segment of the competition was conducted on 8 November 1895, the Prince of Wales’ birthday. Shooting was seriously compromised by a “heavy and treacherous wind” which blew from “all points of the compass and rendered shooting erratic and uncomfortable”. In fact, competitors found it difficult to hold a gun steady in such stormy conditions. A large number of spectators including wives, families and sweet-hearts weathered the winds to watch the men compete.
At the end of the day, the scores proved very close between Hastings Rifles and Napier Rifles. The finale was tense and exciting. At the last range of 400 yards the Hastings Rifles were shooting well and confidently and it looked like they would win, but “the local rifles [Napier] were not to be denied and won a most exciting contest by an aggregate of 22 points”.
James Coleman, after giving a rousing speech, ceremoniously handed the shield to Captain Chicken of the Napier Rifles “amidst sustained cheering”. The shield was solemnly placed on a horse-drawn vehicle and a guard of honour respectfully surrounded beside it.
An impromptu procession of remaining volunteers and spectators, encouraged by the beat of a small but enthusiastic band marched in front of the entourage, through the main streets of Napier towards the Masonic Hotel. On entering the hotel, His Worship the Mayor, George Swan, presided and a number of appropriate toasts were drunk to celebrate the auspicious occasion, followed by jovial reminiscences recalling military volunteering in Hawke’s Bay’s past.
Proudly the winners had a small circular medal made engraved with “1895 Napier Rifles 1061 points” fixed to the outer edge of the wooden rim of the shield, a custom that was to continue until 2001 – sadly the final year of competition for the Coleman Shield.
29 March 2020
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