A royal gift, century-old photographic clues, an international art detective and Dunedin’s missing statue. Or is that two statues? Bruce Munro cocks his trilby, turns up the collar on his trench’ and sets off in search of a large sculpture, once given to the city, that has disappeared into thin air.

A royal gift, century-old photographic clues, an international art detective and Dunedin’s missing statue. Or is that two statues? Bruce Munro cocks his trilby, turns up the collar on his trench’ and sets off in search of a large sculpture, once given to the city, that has disappeared into thin air.

THE mysterious black and white image of a knight leaning on his broadsword stares up at me from the top of a precarious pile of papers on a cluttered desk.
Beyond the large dirt-smeared office windows dark clouds gather behind the Dunedin Town Hall clocktower and its next-door pal, St Paul’s Cathedral.
Anyone hoping for a fine afternoon hasn’t got a prayer.
I glance back at the photo. I’ve been a hack for more years than I care to recall and this picture has travelled with me from one newshound job to another for most of them.
Every few years I once again stumble across the manila folder containing this photograph and three other ageing sheets of photocopied paper.

It is always this intriguing page I pick up first, staring at the statue of a stoic knight in armour, his hollow eyes resolutely on the distance, his steely winklepickers planted victorious on the coiled body of a screaming, four-headed, serpent.
St George, the dragon-slayer. Gifted to the City of Dunedin in 1927. Photographed on display in the city art gallery the same year. Now, missing.
That much I know. Because some 20 years ago, working for the Dunedin Star, I wrote a story about this statue of St George, by London-town stone carver Gilbert Bayes, that had been given to the good citizens of Dunedin and then lost or stolen.
There was no happy ending then.
The two central, unanswered questions, ‘‘How could a three-quarter life-sized statue, and such a distinctive one at that, disappear? And, where is it now?’’ needled me like a Covid booster shot.
So, back then, the four key documents — a 1925 photo of St George standing proud in the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition; a 1926 letter by siblings E.I. and P.L. Halsted, owners of Hallensteins Brothers Ltd, offering to gift a Gilbert Bayes St George to the city’s lucky gallery; a March 1927 cutting from the Evening Star reporting the presentation of a St George statue by visiting swell, the Duke of York, to Dunedin on the occasion of the opening of the city’s public art gallery; and the May 1927 snap of St George, taken by early Dunedin shutterbug Cecil W. Pattillo — were slid into this brown manila folder for future reference.

This photograph, taken by early New Zealand photographer Cecil W Pattillo, in May, 1927, in the newly opened Dunedin Public Art Gallery, is the last evidence of the St George statue presented in March of that year to the people of Dunedin by the future King of England, George VI. IMAGE: DCC ARCHIVES

This photograph, taken by early New Zealand photographer Cecil W Pattillo, in May, 1927, in the newly opened Dunedin Public Art Gallery, is the last evidence of the St George statue presented in March of that year to the people of Dunedin by the future King of England, George VI. IMAGE: DCC ARCHIVES

This photograph, taken by early New Zealand photographer Cecil W Pattillo, in May, 1927, in the newly opened Dunedin Public Art Gallery, is the last evidence of the St George statue presented in March of that year to the people of Dunedin by the future King of England, George VI. IMAGE: DCC ARCHIVES

This photograph, taken by early New Zealand photographer Cecil W Pattillo, in May, 1927, in the newly opened Dunedin Public Art Gallery, is the last evidence of the St George statue presented in March of that year to the people of Dunedin by the future King of England, George VI. IMAGE: DCC ARCHIVES

This photograph, taken by early New Zealand photographer Cecil W Pattillo, in May, 1927, in the newly opened Dunedin Public Art Gallery, is the last evidence of the St George statue presented in March of that year to the people of Dunedin by the future King of England, George VI. IMAGE: DCC ARCHIVES

This photograph, taken by early New Zealand photographer Cecil W Pattillo, in May, 1927, in the newly opened Dunedin Public Art Gallery, is the last evidence of the St George statue presented in March of that year to the people of Dunedin by the future King of England, George VI. IMAGE: DCC ARCHIVES

This photograph, taken by early New Zealand photographer Cecil W Pattillo, in May, 1927, in the newly opened Dunedin Public Art Gallery, is the last evidence of the St George statue presented in March of that year to the people of Dunedin by the future King of England, George VI. IMAGE: DCC ARCHIVES

This photograph, taken by early New Zealand photographer Cecil W Pattillo, in May, 1927, in the newly opened Dunedin Public Art Gallery, is the last evidence of the St George statue presented in March of that year to the people of Dunedin by the future King of England, George VI. IMAGE: DCC ARCHIVES

This photograph, taken by early New Zealand photographer Cecil W Pattillo, in May, 1927, in the newly opened Dunedin Public Art Gallery, is the last evidence of the St George statue presented in March of that year to the people of Dunedin by the future King of England, George VI. IMAGE: DCC ARCHIVES

This photograph, taken by early New Zealand photographer Cecil W Pattillo, in May, 1927, in the newly opened Dunedin Public Art Gallery, is the last evidence of the St George statue presented in March of that year to the people of Dunedin by the future King of England, George VI. IMAGE: DCC ARCHIVES

THE mysterious black and white image of a knight leaning on his broadsword stares up at me from the top of a precarious pile of papers on a cluttered desk.

Beyond the large dirt-smeared office windows dark clouds gather behind the Dunedin Town Hall clocktower and its next-door pal, St Paul’s Cathedral.
Anyone hoping for a fine afternoon hasn’t got a prayer.
I glance back at the photo. I’ve been a hack for more years than I care to recall and this picture has travelled with me from one newshound job to another for most of them.
Every few years I once again stumble across the manila folder containing this photograph and three other ageing sheets of photocopied paper.


It is always this intriguing page I pick up first, staring at the statue of a stoic knight in armour, his hollow eyes resolutely on the distance, his steely winklepickers planted victorious on the coiled body of a screaming, four-headed, serpent.
St George, the dragon-slayer. Gifted to the City of Dunedin in 1927. Photographed on display in the city art gallery the same year. Now, missing.
That much I know. Because some 20 years ago, working for the Dunedin Star, I wrote a story about this statue of St George, by London-town stone carver Gilbert Bayes, that had been given to the good citizens of Dunedin and then lost or stolen.
There was no happy ending then.
The two central, unanswered questions, ‘‘How could a three-quarter life-sized statue, and such a distinctive one at that, disappear? And, where is it now?’’ needled me like a Covid booster shot.
So, back then, the four key documents — a 1925 photo of St George standing proud in the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition; a 1926 letter by siblings E.I. and P.L. Halsted, owners of Hallensteins Brothers Ltd, offering to gift a Gilbert Bayes St George to the city’s lucky gallery; a March 1927 cutting from the Evening Star reporting the presentation of a St George statue by visiting swell, the Duke of York, to Dunedin on the occasion of the opening of the city’s public art gallery; and the May 1927 snap of St George, taken by early Dunedin shutterbug Cecil W. Pattillo — were slid into this brown manila folder for future reference.

This photograph, taken by early New Zealand photographer Cecil W Pattillo, in May, 1927, in the newly opened Dunedin Public Art Gallery, is the last evidence of the St George statue presented in March of that year to the people of Dunedin by the future King of England, George VI. IMAGE: DCC ARCHIVES

This photograph, taken by early New Zealand photographer Cecil W Pattillo, in May, 1927, in the newly opened Dunedin Public Art Gallery, is the last evidence of the St George statue presented in March of that year to the people of Dunedin by the future King of England, George VI. IMAGE: DCC ARCHIVES

This 1926 letter records the offer by the owners of Hallensteins, the brothers EI and PL Halsted, to gift a statue of St George, by Gilbert Bayes, to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society. IMAGE: SUPPLIED

This 1926 letter records the offer by the owners of Hallensteins, the brothers EI and PL Halsted, to gift a statue of St George, by Gilbert Bayes, to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society. IMAGE: SUPPLIED

With the years, although the mystery endured, the details dimmed like the eyes of a rumpot in a back-alley jazz bar at 3am.
In August last year then, when I opened the folder again, I was starting almost from scratch.
Unable to find the original story I’d written, nor remember who had first alerted me to the missing statue, I tracked down Ian Halsted, descendant of the brothers whose letter said they had purchased ‘‘the bronze statue ‘St George’ by Gilbert Bayes’’. The statue had previously been on display in the swanky and wildly popular New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition, held in Dunedin in 1925 and 1926. The brothers "intended presenting it to the art gallery", their letter stated.
Perhaps the statue has somehow made its way back into family hands, I muse, biro between my lips like a smokeless coffin nail.

This 1926 letter records the offer by the owners of Hallensteins, the brothers EI and PL Halsted, to gift a statue of St George, by Gilbert Bayes, to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society. IMAGE: SUPPLIED

I give Halsted a bell.
A former general manager of Hallensteins, does he recall seeing the statue or know of its current whereabouts? No, regrettably, he does not, Halsted replies.
With no instant solution, and needing a guaranteed story for the following weekend, the folder goes back in the pile. Other, more pressing, stories come along. Months slip by, but St George is never far from mind.
At noon on an unseasonably cold Thursday in the middle of February, I return to my quest for the truth.

The Gilbert Bayes statue of St George, given to the city in 1927, stands in the centre of the Great Britain Court at the New Zealand & South Seas Exhibition, held in Dunedin, 1925-1926. IMAGE: SPECIAL PICTORIAL HISTORY, NEW ZEALAND & SOUTH SEAS EXHIBITION

The Gilbert Bayes statue of St George, given to the city in 1927, stands in the centre of the Great Britain Court at the New Zealand & South Seas Exhibition, held in Dunedin, 1925-1926. IMAGE: SPECIAL PICTORIAL HISTORY, NEW ZEALAND & SOUTH SEAS EXHIBITION

The folder’s second document, the March 18, 1927 newspaper article, is a real poser, apparently contradicting the Halsted letter.
It reports the presentation of ‘‘the statue of St George which had been a prominent feature of the British Court at the New Zealand Exhibition’’ by Prince Albert, Duke of York, on behalf of the British Government, to Dunedin’s mayor Guy Tapley.

This clipping from the Evening Star, March 18, 1927, records the presentation of the St George statue by Prince Albert, Duke of York, to Dunedin mayor Guy Tapley who promised the statue would be ‘‘preserved for all time in this art gallery’’. IMAGE: EVENING STAR

How could the statue be bought by the Halsteds for the art gallery and then given by the prince to the city? Did the British Government buy the statue off the Halsteds? Or even lean on the brothers until they coughed up?
I tap furiously at my keyboard. A flurry of questions are fired at the city council’s archivist Prue Milbank and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s public programmes and collection manager Tim Pollock.

Dunedin Public Art Gallery public programmes and collection manager Tim Pollock. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Dunedin Public Art Gallery public programmes and collection manager Tim Pollock. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

The city’s records relating to the art gallery are now held by the gallery, Milbank fires back.
Pollock’s answer has to wait for the return of the gallery’s registrar.
The other side of the weekend, Pollock sends a message that packs a double punch, hitting me between the eyes and slapping them wide open.
The gallery does have a St George statue in its collection, donated by the Halsteds. But it’s not the right one.

This clipping from the Evening Star, March 18, 1927, records the presentation of the St George statue by Prince Albert, Duke of York, to Dunedin mayor Guy Tapley who promised the statue would be ‘‘preserved for all time in this art gallery’’. IMAGE: EVENING STAR

This clipping from the Evening Star, March 18, 1927, records the presentation of the St George statue by Prince Albert, Duke of York, to Dunedin mayor Guy Tapley who promised the statue would be ‘‘preserved for all time in this art gallery’’. IMAGE: EVENING STAR

This clipping from the Evening Star, March 18, 1927, records the presentation of the St George statue by Prince Albert, Duke of York, to Dunedin mayor Guy Tapley who promised the statue would be ‘‘preserved for all time in this art gallery’’. IMAGE: EVENING STAR

This clipping from the Evening Star, March 18, 1927, records the presentation of the St George statue by Prince Albert, Duke of York, to Dunedin mayor Guy Tapley who promised the statue would be ‘‘preserved for all time in this art gallery’’. IMAGE: EVENING STAR

The yellow-framed picture I have
guarded like a favourite hand piece
is quite different from the image
attached to Pollock’s email. Yes, it is
leaning on a sword. But his St George
is much smaller, a mere 55.5cm.
Mine has a good metre on his. And
his is bronze with coloured enamel
and only one dragon underfoot.
Mine, I believe, is a plain, manly
bronze and has conquered a
four-headed beast.

ST George and the Dragon, 1920, Bronze with enamel, by Gilbert Bayes, Dunedin Public Art Gallery Collection. Given to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society by the brothers EI and PI Halsted, in 1926. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

The yellow-framed picture I have guarded like a favourite hand piece is quite different from the image attached to Pollock’s email. Yes, it is leaning on a sword. But his St George is much smaller, a mere 55.5cm. Mine has a good metre on his. And his is bronze with coloured enamel and only one dragon underfoot. Mine, I believe, is a plain, manly bronze and has conquered a four-headed beast.

ST George and the Dragon, 1920, Bronze with enamel, by Gilbert Bayes, Dunedin Public Art Gallery Collection. Given to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society by the brothers EI and PI Halsted, in 1926. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Spill the dirt, bo, or I squirt metal, I want to demand. But I play it cool.
Could there have been two statues of St George, both by Gilbert Bayes, both in the South Seas Exhibition? And if this smaller one was gifted by the dapper Halsteds, where is my bold beauty with the lifeless eyes?
‘‘It’s possible that there were two sculptures. But we have only ever had one in the gallery collection,’’ Pollock replies.
What then is the painting that appears in the background of the 1927 Pattillo photo of St George-the-bigger, I ask, suspecting the image was snapped at the gallery.
Yes, Pollock agrees, the painting is Helpless, by Gotch and Ingram, and has been in the gallery collection since 1892.

This enormous, moody British shipwreck painting, Helpless, c.1886, oil on canvas, by Thomas Cooper Gotch and William Ayerst Ingram, which is in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery collection, appeared in the background of Cecil W. Pattillo's 1927 photo of the St George statue, taken a few months after the statue was presented to the city by Prince Albert on behalf of the British Government. IMAGE: SUPPLIED

This enormous, moody British shipwreck painting, Helpless, c.1886, oil on canvas, by Thomas Cooper Gotch and William Ayerst Ingram, which is in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery collection, appeared in the background of Cecil W. Pattillo's 1927 photo of the St George statue, taken a few months after the statue was presented to the city by Prince Albert on behalf of the British Government. IMAGE: SUPPLIED

Outside, thunder peals and wind rattles the Daily’s large glass panes like hot lead hitting home.
Questions are mounting like the body count after a mobster drive by.
This statue might not have belonged to the gallery, but how long did it remain there for all to see? If it was given to the city rather than the gallery, does the council have any record of it? When and how did the statue disappear? And above all, where is it now?

A Dunedin City Council Archives reference card for the CW Pattillo photo of the St George sculpture given to the city in 1927. Note the description suggests the statue was at that time in possession of the art gallery. When the card was created is unknown. IMAGE: DCC ARCHIVES

A Dunedin City Council Archives reference card for the CW Pattillo photo of the St George sculpture given to the city in 1927. Note the description suggests the statue was at that time in possession of the art gallery. When the card was created is unknown. IMAGE: DCC ARCHIVES

I put my questions to the council, trying to get the lowdown on how easily it could have misplaced an almost life-sized Ye Olde mannequin. The questions flap aimlessly around the halls of power, are slapped with an Official Information Act notification and, more than a month later, come home to roost, looking much worse for wear.
The bottom line — the city has 295 items listed in its civic art work collection; the St George is not listed there; the council won’t be gassing about how much any of its art collection is worth; and any earlier copies of the collection list are, like the good knight himself, missing.
It is early April. The sun has sunk without a trace and I’m still at work. The office feels claustrophobic, but a thick Scotch mist rolling through town, hiding good and bad deeds alike, does not invite aimless perambulation.
I decide it is time to call in a favour.
Arthur Brand is a big wheel in the world of lost, stolen and forged art.

Arthur Brand is an Amsterdam-based international art detective. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Arthur Brand is an Amsterdam-based international art detective. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

I had stumbled across him while trawling the ether for any sign of St George on a rich mix of on-the-level and dodgy art sites.
The mugshot on his website shows a handsome mush in classy duds.
Touting as the world’s only full-time art gumshoe, Brand, also dubbed ‘‘the Indiana Jones of the art world’’, has spent his life tracking down the world’s great stolen masterpieces, from Picassos to Van Goghs.
He doesn’t actually know me from Adam but my search has gone off the boil and I’m left hoping he can throw me a lifeline.
For a while it doesn’t look good. Brand says I can call him in Amsterdam but then does a no-show.

I start to wonder if he’s a muckety-muck.

So, here I am, pulling another late one, giving it one last shot on the blower. He picks up.
Turns out the time-zone difference was the problem and Brand is in fact a right gee.
We jaw like old pals and he gives me the skinny.
He rates the missing saint ‘‘a brilliant piece’’, ‘‘very beautiful’’ and ‘‘an important statue’’.
A bronze like that would be worth ‘‘a few tens of thousands of dollars’’.
But that is not its real value, Brand says.

Spill the dirt, bo, or I squirt metal, I want to demand. But I play it cool.
Could there have been two statues of St George, both by Gilbert Bayes, both in the South Seas Exhibition? And if this smaller one was gifted by the dapper Halsteds, where is my bold beauty with the lifeless eyes?
‘‘It’s possible that there were two sculptures. But we have only ever had one in the gallery collection,’’ Pollock replies.
What then is the painting that appears in the background of the 1927 Pattillo photo of St George-the-bigger, I ask, suspecting the image was snapped at the gallery.
Yes, Pollock agrees, the painting is Helpless, by Gotch and Ingram, and has been in the gallery collection since 1892.

This enormous, moody British shipwreck painting, Helpless, c.1886, oil on canvas, by Thomas Cooper Gotch and William Ayerst Ingram, which is in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery collection, appeared in the background of Cecil W. Pattillo's 1927 photo of the St George statue, taken a few months after the statue was presented to the city by Prince Albert on behalf of the British Government. IMAGE: SUPPLIED

This enormous, moody British shipwreck painting, Helpless, c.1886, oil on canvas, by Thomas Cooper Gotch and William Ayerst Ingram, which is in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery collection, appeared in the background of Cecil W. Pattillo's 1927 photo of the St George statue, taken a few months after the statue was presented to the city by Prince Albert on behalf of the British Government. IMAGE: SUPPLIED

Outside, thunder peals and wind rattles the Daily’s large glass panes like hot lead hitting home.
Questions are mounting like the body count after a mobster drive by.
This statue might not have belonged to the gallery, but how long did it remain there for all to see? If it was given to the city rather than the gallery, does the council have any record of it? When and how did the statue disappear? And above all, where is it now?

A Dunedin City Council Archives reference card for the CW Pattillo photo of the St George sculpture given to the city in 1927. Note the description suggests the statue was at that time in possession of the art gallery. When the card was created is unknown. IMAGE: DCC ARCHIVES

A Dunedin City Council Archives reference card for the CW Pattillo photo of the St George sculpture given to the city in 1927. Note the description suggests the statue was at that time in possession of the art gallery. When the card was created is unknown. IMAGE: DCC ARCHIVES

I put my questions to the council, trying to get the lowdown on how easily it could have misplaced an almost life-sized Ye Olde mannequin. The questions flap aimlessly around the halls of power, are slapped with an Official Information Act notification and, more than a month later, come home to roost, looking much worse for wear.
The bottom line — the city has 295 items listed in its civic art work collection; the St George is not listed there; the council won’t be gassing about how much any of its art collection is worth; and any earlier copies of the collection list are, like the good knight himself, missing.
It is early April. The sun has sunk without a trace and I’m still at work. The office feels claustrophobic, but a thick Scotch mist rolling through town, hiding good and bad deeds alike, does not invite aimless perambulation.
I decide it is time to call in a favour.
Arthur Brand is a big wheel in the world of lost, stolen and forged art.

Arthur Brand is an Amsterdam-based international art detective. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Arthur Brand is an Amsterdam-based international art detective. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

I had stumbled across him while trawling the ether for any sign of St George on a rich mix of on-the-level and dodgy art sites.
The mugshot on his website shows a handsome mush in classy duds.
Touting as the world’s only full-time art gumshoe, Brand, also dubbed ‘‘the Indiana Jones of the art world’’, has spent his life tracking down the world’s great stolen masterpieces, from Picassos to Van Goghs.
He doesn’t actually know me from Adam but my search has gone off the boil and I’m left hoping he can throw me a lifeline.
For a while it doesn’t look good. Brand says I can call him in Amsterdam but then does a no-show.

I start to wonder if he’s a muckety-muck.

So, here I am, pulling another late one, giving it one last shot on the blower. He picks up.
Turns out the time-zone difference was the problem and Brand is in fact a right gee.
We jaw like old pals and he gives me the skinny.
He rates the missing saint ‘‘a brilliant piece’’, ‘‘very beautiful’’ and ‘‘an important statue’’.
A bronze like that would be worth ‘‘a few tens of thousands of dollars’’.
But that is not its real value, Brand says.

The Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the 1937 Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later known as The Queen Mother). Also in the photo are Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) at front, with Princess Margaret Rose (later known as Princess Margaret). PHOTO: ODT FILES

The Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the 1937 Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later known as The Queen Mother). Also in the photo are Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) at front, with Princess Margaret Rose (later known as Princess Margaret). PHOTO: ODT FILES

His Royal Highness, the Duke of York, replies to the civic address of welcome, in Dunedin, 1927. PHOTO: OTAGO WITNESS FILES

His Royal Highness, the Duke of York, replies to the civic address of welcome, in Dunedin, 1927. PHOTO: OTAGO WITNESS FILES

The Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the 1937 Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later known as The Queen Mother). Also in the photo are Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) at front, with Princess Margaret Rose (later known as Princess Margaret). PHOTO: ODT FILES

The statue was the gift of Prince Albert. Prince Albert became King George VI, the stammering speechifyer and last emperor of India, who got the top job when his brother abdicated to get hitched to an American broad who was a double divorcee.
‘‘So, it is a good piece of art and it was donated by a future king on the other side of the world,’’ the art detective enthuses.
‘‘He was quite a character.
‘‘How good a story is that.’’
Brand has heard not a dicky bird about the missing St George in the sometimes-murky worlds he traverses.
‘‘But ‘disappeared’ is probably ‘stolen’,’’ he says.
If it was stolen and then sold before the advent of online databases, which became a thing during the 1990s, then it could be flying under the radar, he reckons.
Brand gives a few tips about questions to ask and I bid him good night.
This hasn’t been the conversation I hoped for. But it has put a spotlight on the importance of this statue and this search. St George was given to Dunedin by a king.

Prince Albert, the Duke of York, at Logan Park, Dunedin, March, 1927. Bertie, as he was known, is seen arriving at Logan Park, responding to a speech by Dunedin mayor Guy Tapley and saluting marchers. It was during this event that the future King George VI presented the St George statue to the City of Dunedin. VIDEO: HC GORE

Prince Albert, the Duke of York, at Logan Park, Dunedin, March, 1927. Bertie, as he was known, is seen arriving at Logan Park, responding to a speech by Dunedin mayor Guy Tapley and saluting marchers. It was during this event that the future King George VI presented the St George statue to the City of Dunedin. VIDEO: HC GORE

When did the statue take a bunk?

It is time to cast a wider net.
Barbara Brinsley might be a grand old dame but the stylish octogenarian and warhorse of Dunedin art and fashion is up to the minute, answering my call on her cellphone.

Dunedin fashion icon and arts scene doyenne Barbara Brinsley.  PHOTO: ODT FILES

Dunedin fashion icon and arts scene doyenne Barbara Brinsley.  PHOTO: ODT FILES

An art gallery lifer with links stretching back six decades, Brinsley is all ears about the St George but admits she has never heard of, let alone laid eyes on, the statue.
My gut tells me she has nothing to hide. (It also tells me I haven’t had lunch.)
That narrows the disappearance to sometime between the late 1920s and the early 1960s.
As she rings off, Brinsley gives me a tip; try Priscilla Pitts.

Priscilla Pitts, pictured here in the late 1990s at about the time she became director of both the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Toitu, then known as the Otago Early Settlers Museum.  PHOTO: ODT FILES

Priscilla Pitts, pictured here in the late 1990s at about the time she became director of both the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Toitu, then known as the Otago Early Settlers Museum.  PHOTO: ODT FILES

DPAG director Cam McCracken. PHOTO: ODT FILES

DPAG director Cam McCracken. PHOTO: ODT FILES

Priscilla Pitts, pictured here in the late 1990s at about the time she became director of both the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Toitu, then known as the Otago Early Settlers Museum.  PHOTO: ODT FILES

Pitts was director of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery for a decade from the late 1990s, when the gallery shifted from its seven-decade stay at Logan Park to its shiny new abode in the Octagon.
I let my fingers do the walking and track Pitts down to a landline in Wellington.
Everything was catalogued when the shift was made to the middle of town, she says. The St George was not found under a sheet in a forgotten storage room.
In earlier decades, however, galleries and museums were ‘‘less careful’’ with their collections and it ‘‘wasn’t uncommon’’ for pieces of art to be lent out.
‘‘In my time, we did bring back quite a few pieces from various points around the city,’’ she says.
That included a marble sculpture standing outside the public library and fine frames adorning walls at the law courts.
‘‘But things have been very different for quite a while,’’ Pitts concludes.
There is an even chance St George was given permission to take a walk and forgot to come home.
A newshound is a dog with a bone. I still have questions for the council and the gallery. Did either organisation ever sell any of its baubles, big or small? And I still want to try to pin down when St George-the-bigger was entered or removed from either institution’s collection registers.
The gatekeepers at the council are getting tired of my calls. They have nothing more to say.
I follow Pollock past masterpieces old and new, through doors to staff working areas, and into the roomy office of gallery director Cam McCracken.

DPAG director Cam McCracken. PHOTO: ODT FILES


Introductions are made, we rehash old ground, I’m shown pages from a copy of the 1925-27 collection register. It lists the Halsted St George, but no other.
Nothing to see here folks.
But I am wrong.
My emailed questions had caused Pollock to rummage through ‘‘a few boxes of loose material’’.
Sitting on the table is a copy of a yellow-leaf, typed letter topped by a fancy coat of arms in red above the bold black words ‘‘BRITISH COMMISSION’’.

Pollock pushes the letter over for me to have a gander. Dated December 16, 1926, it is from S.J. Graham, British High Commissioner to New Zealand, and addressed to ‘‘Dear Sir Lindo’’ Ferguson, Dean of the Medical School and chairman of the Art Gallery Society.
The letter, three pages long, is making arrangements for the duke’s presentation of the statue on behalf of the British Government.
It is the second-to-last paragraph that has the sucker punch.
The high commissioner is talking himself up for a commemorative wooden plaque he has had made for the statue.
‘‘It is a very fine piece of work with which I think you will agree,’’ writes the chump.
And then adds, ‘‘and it will probably outlast the statue itself, which unfortunately, is only made of plaster’’.
I slump in my chair, staring at the words.

Only made of plaster.

How long would a plaster statue last?
If it was given the treatment it should still be in good shape, the art boffins assure me.
We take a quick tour of the gallery’s decorative arts storage room — a low-lit cavernous space stacked high with itemised large paintings, carved furniture, vases and statues — and then I’m politely given the gate.
Hoofing it back to the office beneath a threatening sky, I recall the art detective’s reassuring words: the true value of the statue lies in the fact that it was the gift of a king.
The paper’s ancient lift is out, again. I climb three flights of stairs to the newspaper office, sit at my desk and begin to type. Outside, rain begins falling in large, fat drops.
I scan back over the long-dead journo’s March 18, 1927 report of the statue’s presentation to the city. I notice for the first time the mayor’s response.

This letter, dated December 13, 1926, was sent by the British High Commissioner, SJ Graham, to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society chairman, Sir Lindo Ferguson, organising the presentation of the St George statue and noting that it ‘‘unfortunately is only made of plaster’’. IMAGE: DUNEDIN PUBLIC ART GALLERY

This letter, dated December 13, 1926, was sent by the British High Commissioner, SJ Graham, to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society chairman, Sir Lindo Ferguson, organising the presentation of the St George statue and noting that it ‘‘unfortunately is only made of plaster’’. IMAGE: DUNEDIN PUBLIC ART GALLERY

This letter, dated December 13, 1926, was sent by the British High Commissioner, SJ Graham, to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society chairman, Sir Lindo Ferguson, organising the presentation of the St George statue and noting that it ‘‘unfortunately is only made of plaster’’. IMAGE: DUNEDIN PUBLIC ART GALLERY

This letter, dated December 13, 1926, was sent by the British High Commissioner, SJ Graham, to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society chairman, Sir Lindo Ferguson, organising the presentation of the St George statue and noting that it ‘‘unfortunately is only made of plaster’’. IMAGE: DUNEDIN PUBLIC ART GALLERY

This letter, dated December 13, 1926, was sent by the British High Commissioner, SJ Graham, to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society chairman, Sir Lindo Ferguson, organising the presentation of the St George statue and noting that it ‘‘unfortunately is only made of plaster’’. IMAGE: DUNEDIN PUBLIC ART GALLERY

This letter, dated December 13, 1926, was sent by the British High Commissioner, SJ Graham, to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society chairman, Sir Lindo Ferguson, organising the presentation of the St George statue and noting that it ‘‘unfortunately is only made of plaster’’. IMAGE: DUNEDIN PUBLIC ART GALLERY

This letter, dated December 13, 1926, was sent by the British High Commissioner, SJ Graham, to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society chairman, Sir Lindo Ferguson, organising the presentation of the St George statue and noting that it ‘‘unfortunately is only made of plaster’’. IMAGE: DUNEDIN PUBLIC ART GALLERY

This letter, dated December 13, 1926, was sent by the British High Commissioner, SJ Graham, to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society chairman, Sir Lindo Ferguson, organising the presentation of the St George statue and noting that it ‘‘unfortunately is only made of plaster’’. IMAGE: DUNEDIN PUBLIC ART GALLERY

This letter, dated December 13, 1926, was sent by the British High Commissioner, SJ Graham, to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society chairman, Sir Lindo Ferguson, organising the presentation of the St George statue and noting that it ‘‘unfortunately is only made of plaster’’. IMAGE: DUNEDIN PUBLIC ART GALLERY

This letter, dated December 13, 1926, was sent by the British High Commissioner, SJ Graham, to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society chairman, Sir Lindo Ferguson, organising the presentation of the St George statue and noting that it ‘‘unfortunately is only made of plaster’’. IMAGE: DUNEDIN PUBLIC ART GALLERY

Pollock pushes the letter over for me to have a gander. Dated December 16, 1926, it is from S.J. Graham, British High Commissioner to New Zealand, and addressed to ‘‘Dear Sir Lindo’’ Ferguson, Dean of the Medical School and chairman of the Art Gallery Society.
The letter, three pages long, is making arrangements for the duke’s presentation of the statue on behalf of the British Government.
It is the second-to-last paragraph that has the sucker punch.
The high commissioner is talking himself up for a commemorative wooden plaque he has had made for the statue.
‘‘It is a very fine piece of work with which I think you will agree,’’ writes the chump.
And then adds, ‘‘and it will probably outlast the statue itself, which unfortunately, is only made of plaster’’.
I slump in my chair, staring at the words.

Only made of plaster.

How long would a plaster statue last?
If it was given the treatment it should still be in good shape, the art boffins assure me.
We take a quick tour of the gallery’s decorative arts storage room — a low-lit cavernous space stacked high with itemised large paintings, carved furniture, vases and statues — and then I’m politely given the gate.
Hoofing it back to the office beneath a threatening sky, I recall the art detective’s reassuring words: the true value of the statue lies in the fact that it was the gift of a king.
The paper’s ancient lift is out, again. I climb three flights of stairs to the newspaper office, sit at my desk and begin to type. Outside, rain begins falling in large, fat drops.
I scan back over the long-dead journo’s March 18, 1927 report of the statue’s presentation to the city. I notice for the first time the mayor’s response.

‘‘This statue, which will be preserved for all time in this art gallery ...
‘‘The value of the statue has become enhanced a thousandfold by the fact that the presentation of it to the City of Dunedin has been made by your Royal Highness.’’
St George was given to Dunedin by a king. The statue has made a clean sneak. We’re whistling in the dark.
The rain gains volume and velocity, as though trying to wash away all evidence of a secret it only knows.
Where is he now?
Did St George get loaned out and never come back, falling between cracks in art gallery and city record keeping?
Did some heel make off with him? Has he been traded from one bent hand to the next, beyond these shores?
This minute, somewhere in this careless city, country or world, is someone glancing up from page or screen to look across the room at a statue that has simply always been there, a knight leaning on his broadsword, about which they knew so little, until just now?

Design: Mathew Patchett