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Family pleads for return of music box gifted 50 years ago

It was the early 1970s when William Main asked his wife Jill what she wanted for Christmas that year.

“I don’t know, darling: a bird in a gilded cage,” Jill replied.

She never expected her husband to give her what she had asked for, said her daughter Sarah, a counsellor.

But Sarah’s father managed to find a French nightingale music box, built in the early 1900s, through the network of historians and collectors he habituated.

The mechanical bird in a metal cage that sang in French while turning its head and flapping its tail feathers was kept in a tea crate and wrapped in black crepe and orange ribbon to be opened by Jill on Christmas morning.

Last Friday, burglars broke into the empty family home in Wellington – it was on the market after William and Jill’s deaths earlier this year.

The only thing that was taken? The mechanical nightingale and its metal cage.

Now Sarah and her siblings have put out a call to try and find their whānau’s missing taonga. “Please, please, please return this taonga to us.”

The music box was a centrepiece of the family’s home for decades, loved by children for its ability to sing after being wound up and fed a penny.

After William and Jill died, it was arranged Sarah’s brother would take the novelty contraption home to Auckland, to fix it and share with his children.

With all the furniture and belongings cleared out, the only thing left inside of any significance was the mechanical nightingale, “heavy and delicate,” sitting on a stand next to the fire-place.

Sarah said she never believed anyone would want the contraption; it was worthless aside from its sentimental value.

It had also been broken several years ago after being wound up one too many times.

She was horrified when it was taken. The burglars had ransacked boxes filled with photographs and family keepsakes, scattering them across the floor, and had also helped themselves to ginger beer in the fridge.

While the counsellor believed her parents would have forgiven and forgotten the theft, Sarah and her family are less kind-hearted.

All she wants is the bird in the cage that her father gifted to her mother returned. The couple had fallen in love at first sight, meeting while they were working at Wellington Technical College.

The contraption is broken and essentially worthless to whoever has it now. No questions will be asked, Sarah said. The thieves can just leave it on the doorstep.





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