A year after a unicorn sculpture was stolen from an iconic house on Nelson’s Rocks Rd, it has been returned, albeit “a bit worse for wear”.

The sculpture had been on display at the property colloquially known as the ‘Red House’ but was stolen after the building was left red-stickered and unoccupied after it was hit with a landslide during the August 2022 storm.

At the time, owner Caleb Harcus said whoever took it would have had to go to a “grand old effort” to get down the sculpture, which had been bolted to a concrete pad high above the ground.

The sculpture is a replica of the figurehead on the HMS Unicorn – one of the oldest still-floating ships in the world, launched in 1824 and now docked in Dundee, Scotland as a museum.

The figurehead was commissioned by Harcus and painstakingly replicated from polystyrene, except for its wooden horn, before it was coated in 12 layers of paint. Scotland’s royal banner of arms was even substituted for Nelson’s coat of arms.

However, being primarily made from polystyrene made it vulnerable to damage.

“When they bolted it down and it fell on the ground, it ended up a bit worse for wear,” Harcus said.

And though he’s pleased to have the sculpture returned, Harcus is not keeping it.

“We’ve put it up for sale because I just don’t want it. It was sort of connected to the house, and now the house probably will get demolished.”

The sculpture ended up costing Harcus about $17,000, but he’s not seeking that much for it on the market.

“If I get $5 for it, that’s great,” he said. “I just want rid of it. Simple as that.”

It’s been an uncertain time for the Red House since it was red-stickered in August 2022 as clarity has been sought from both Nelson City Council and his insurance company, but demolition appears to be the most likely fate for the iconic building.

Though Harcus now looks “the other way” when he passes the property, he said the support shown to him by Nelsonians since the storm and the theft has been “lovely”.

“It just goes to show how nice and well-connected we are in Nelson. Everyone knows everyone and everyone is friendly, and helpful, and wanting to help. For me, being in a wheelchair, I need help so many times from so many different people, and I get so well looked after living in Nelson – and so does the unicorn,” he said.

“It’s just nice that everyone was on the lookout for it.”

By Max Frethey, Local Democracy Reporter

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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