Before 1885 there possibly would have been only a few people in New Zealand who had ever heard of the Panjdeh region in what is now Turkmenistan. To the British, it was considered a region of Afghanistan. The Russians, however, believed that the region was a tributary of Merv, a city that was part of the Khanate of Khiva, which had been a protectorate of the Russian Empire since 1873. For the British in India, the steady creep of the Russian Empire towards the north western borders of the Raj was a constant concern. Therefore, when Russian forces under General Alexander Komarov captured the Panjdeh region on 30 March 1885, it was expected that war between the two empires would immediately follow. Across the British Empire, all naval vessels were ordered to standby ready for deployment and the movement of all Russian military ships was closely monitored.
Lyttelton was ready to play its part in the defence of the empire with Torpedo Boat No. 168, Defender.
Torpedo Boat No. 168 Defender
The fear that New Zealand lay within the reach of Russian warships was made all too visible when, in 1881, the Russian war ship, Afrika visited Auckland. To defend its ports, New Zealand began to construct a series of costal fortifications. To accompany these fortifications, four torpedo boats were ordered.
Defender was one of four 2nd class Thornycroft Spar Torpedo Boats that were built in 1883 in Chiswick, London, by shipbuilding firm, John I. Thornycroft & Co. Powered by steam, and reaching 63 feet in length, each boat was armed with a McEvoy spar torpedo. Unlike the use of propelled torpedoes, which could be launched from a distance, spar torpedoes had to be driven into the side of the target. To provide cover as the boat moved to attack, a Nordenfeldt machine gun was situated on top of the conning tower.
After being tested, the boats were shipped to New Zealand, with the first two arriving aboard the Lyttelton in Port Chalmers on 9 May 1884. Assigned to Lyttelton, Defender arrived at the port in December 1884. The remaining boats were deployed to their new destinations. Taiaroa went to Port Chalmers, Waitemata to Devonport, and Poneke to Wellington. Following its arrival in Lyttelton, Defender was moored off Gladstone Pier where it remained under the authority of Captain Hugh McLellan, Harbour Master and Captain of the Naval Brigade. Ten men were chosen by McLellan to serve on the torpedo boat, assisted by five members of the Armed Constabulary. However, only five at a time would be on permanent duty.
The Defender of Baker’s Bay
In 1885 it was decided to house Defender at Baker’s Bay (now called Magazine Bay) where a magazine building had previously been constructed in 1874 by the then Provincial Government to house black powder and explosives. A torpedo boat shed, large enough to house three boats, and a slip, was constructed. However, the location and design of the slip were criticised, as the boat could not be launched during a high tide or during swells. This was lampooned in an article in the Lyttelton Times with the suggestion that a placard be painted on Godley Head with the following: “To Russians and all others whom it may concern. Hostile parties wishing to shell the Port of Lyttelton are requested to time their visit for fine weather, otherwise they cannot be fittingly received by the local authorities.”
Because Defender was only tested once every three months, and without a full time engineer to oversee its maintenance, its engines soon rusted. In March 1886 Rear-Admiral Robert A.E. Scott visited Lyttelton to observe a display of the boat’s performance. Unfortunately, due to the condition of its engines, the boat was only able to reach a speed of 12 knots. Later that year the boat was equipped with Whitehead mobile torpedoes.
Decommission, ruin and restoration
The predicted war with the Russian Empire never came. Since the ruler of Afghanistan, Emir Abdur Rahman Khan, remained unconcerned by the Russian occupation of Panjdeh, the British in India had no excuse to send military forces to the Russian-Afghan border on his behalf. When the threat of a Russian invasion passed, Defender remained idle. Although in 1888 it was suggested, in a report to the Government by General Shaw, that the boat be transferred to Wellington, she remained on inactive duty in Lyttelton.
In 1899 Defender was decommissioned and sold to Mark Thomas, a steam launch operator. He salvaged the boat’s vital parts before disposing of the hull on Purau Beach. It is believed that the conning tower eventually ended up in a paddock where it was used as trough. In 1909 the Mount Herbert County Council hired Alex Rhind and Co. to haul the remains of the boat further up the beach, a process which resulted in the hull breaking in half. The remains were still visible when artist Jess Hollobon painted a scene of Purau Beach in 1930. They were finally covered over in 1958.
In 1998 David Bundy was tasked by Project Port Lyttelton to locate and excavate the remains of Defender. Referring to an aerial photograph taken in 1958 of Purau beach, he was assisted by a team of soldiers using metal detectors. Eventually the remains were found, with some sections buried at a depth of 30 metres. After being excavated, the remains were taken to Lyttelton where they were restored. In 2003 the Lyttelton Torpedo Boat Museum Charitable Trust opened the Thornycroft Torpedo Boat Museum in the former magazine house and placed the restored remains, complete with a spar torpedo, on display. Today, the remains of Torpedo Boat No. 168, Defender are a reminder that colonial New Zealand, although located in the lower Pacific, was not immune from the effects of Russian and British expansion into the khanates of Central Asia.
By the time The Christchurch Star was published on the afternoon of Saturday 23 November 1963, it would have been hard to find someone in Christchurch who had not already heard that the President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been assassinated earlier that morning (7:00am New Zealand time).
But when the initial shock had passed what was the rest of the day like for the people of Christchurch?
Just an ordinary day…
For George Hewitt, a retiree, and his wife, Frances, the day could not have started any worse. In the early hours of the morning, their house at 83 Waimairi Road had burned down. Perhaps they were already recovering at their son’s house in Athol Terrace when they heard the news of the assassination. If they were already looking for a new house then they could purchase a bungalow in Cashmere for £3430 or wait to attend the auction of 412 Cashel Street.
Michael James Russell, a 21 year old motor assembler, was no doubt feeling sorry for himself after being both fined and forced to pay for the repairs to the window of a van he damaged with his fist on Manchester Street at 1:40am that morning.
William Leslie Travers, the manager of the Christchurch branch of the Bank of New Zealand spent the day trying to smooth over an embarrassing mistake. The old bank building on the corner of Cathedral Square was ready to be demolished in preparation for the construction of a new bank. An auction was being held to sell off the building’s fittings. When people turned up they found that someone had accidentally left confidential paperwork detailing the accounts of the bank’s customers spilled all over the first floor.
For many of the city’s children, the events unfolding on the world stage may have seemed irrelevant in comparison to the excitement of the Hay’s annual Christmas parade which took place that morning on the banks of the Avon River.
With his engagement to Lynne Stanton of Riccarton publicly announced, Reginald Watts of Bryndwr was possibly planning a visit to Kennedy’s jewellery showroom at 244 High Street to look for a suitable set of wedding rings.
Meanwhile Francis Curtis, who had already spent seven weeks sleeping in the back of his own jewellery shop on Cashel Street in order to deter burglars while it underwent repairs, still had three more weeks left.
Undoubtedly some people were considering purchasing their first television set. If they were prepared to wait for ‘quality’ then they could order an Admiral television through the product’s New Zealand distributors, H.W. Clarke.
Beverley Pollock and Paul Amfelt of Dunedin’s Globe Theatre Company would have spent the day waiting to read the Star’s review of their performance of the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s Rosmersholm, which they had given the night before at the Museum Theatre.
The young adults who had recently finished school would have been searching and applying for jobs. For young men there were a variety of apprenticeships available or perhaps a chance to start a career as an accountant with a firm such as Cyclone Industries, as a junior clerk at Andersons Limited or in insurance with the National Insurance Company of New Zealand Limited. Options for young women were limited to positions such as a clerk at Gordon and Gotch on Tuam Street, an office assistant at Woolworths in Sydenham or a sewing machinist at Arthur Ellis and Co. Meanwhile Randini, a comedy magician and fire eater, was looking for work performing at ‘all types of functions’.
As the day drew to a close, some were perhaps wondering whether they should make the effort to go and see Lawrence of Arabia given that it was in its final week at the Odeon Theatre on Tuam Street.
The Saturday 23 November 1963 issue of The Christchurch Star has often been linked to the conspiracy theories which surround the assassination. Some claim that the issue contained information which could not have been readily known by the staff working to meet the afternoon publication deadline. However these claims have been disproven by Bob Cotton, who was a reporter working for The Christchurch Star on that fateful day. Efficient global communication, combined with the fact that the The Christchurch Star already possessed material on the leading figures in the story in its archives meant that the staff had plenty of relevant information to work with.
Despite this, copies of the issue have often been requested by international researchers for use as source material. Containing 36 pages in total, news of the assassination is only covered on three pages. While many of these researchers may have dismissed the rest of the newspaper’s contents, the remaining pages give us a glimpse into what was for many people in Christchurch just an ordinary Saturday.
Recently there have been a number of articles in the world’s press covering the rise of the Alt-Right in politics, and confrontations between Neo-Nazis and anti-racists. Many media commentators have drawn the conclusion after incidents such as Charlottesville, Virginia that President Donald Trump tacitly supports the white supremacist movement and, indeed, draws much voter support from this group. Many political pundits feel that the meteoric rise of Trump in the election campaign was due to the disaffected, poor, and often rural white population.
There are a number of interesting books and films on these movements, both fiction and non-fiction. Some deal with former white supremacists and Neo-Nazis moved to reject the creed of racial hatred. One such epiphany is featured in the documentary Erasing Hate (a video streaming on our eResource Access Video). It tells the story of American Neo-Nazi skinhead Bryon Widner who wanted to start anew with his wife and family and underwent painful laser removal of his white supremacist tattoos.
Other relevant documentaries and films on Access Video include:
“This was a week-long hui attended by Wiremu Ratana (1873-1939) and was the largest gathering of the Waipounamu Maori that had been held for many years. Its chief purpose was to discuss their claims over land taken from them in the past. Grievances were referred to as “Te hapa o nuitireni”, meaning promises made to them had not been fulfilled. Carrying bunches of broom, the three women headed a procession of women who welcomed the visitors, the waiata being led by the woman in the middle.”
Source: Christchurch Star, 4 Aug. 1922, p. 6.
The Ngāi Tahu Land Claim finally concluded with the signing of the Deed of Settlement on 21 November 1997 at Takahanga Marae, Kaikōura. The Ngāi Tahu Claim Settlement Act was passed into law the following year on 29 September 1998.
Do you have any historical photographs of Christchurch and Canterbury? If so, feel free to contribute to our collection.
Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch and Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.
What’s Your Bias? The surprising science of why we vote the way we do Lee De-Wit
This is a timely book considering some of the surprising election results of recent years. We may take for granted that people vote the same way as their parents, but it turns out that this is not so much to do with upbringing, but because of our genetic similarities. However there is so much more that influences the way we vote – or indeed if we vote! With chapter headings such as “Why do you always think you are right”, “What’s in a face” and “Faking it”, De-Wit offers an easy to read and fascinating look at the psychology behind our political preferences.
Children’s Garden: Loads of things to make and grow Matthew Appleby
Many of us want our children to get off the computer and enjoy the outdoors. The beauty of this book is there is no need to travel to the high country, you can introduce your children via your own garden, however big or small. The book is divided by the seasons and includes craft projects, cooking your produce, games, keeping animals etc. It shows that a garden can be full of creativity and fun, whatever the season.
Vitamin C: Clay + ceramic in contemporary art
Ceramics have left behind their image of rather nasty shaped pots created in night-school, and have now been accepted into the hallowed folds of “Art”. Each page has full colour plates ranging from the small and delicate to large monstrosities and installations. There is colour, detail, a dash of ‘goodness my three year old could have made that’, and plenty to be challenged by.
Part I: What were the NZ Wars?; Does it matter how we label them (NZ Wars vs Land Wars vs Māori Wars vs Sovereignty Wars?; NZ Wars and national identity
Part II: How have the Wars previously been acknowledged?
Part III: 2017 commemoration – Why now? What will occur?
Part IV: Looking forward to possible outcomes of commemoration
Christchurch City Libraries blog hosts a series of regular podcasts from specialist human rights radio show Speak up – Kōrerotia. This show is created by Sally Carlton.
Maria Pozza is a world expert in the topic of arms control and outer space, and shares her legal knowledge of this ‘out there’ human rights issue, speaking about issues such as tension between the laws of nation states and international treaties.
Part I: The importance of talking about arms control in outer space
Part II: Outer Space Treaty
Part III: What do we mean by ‘arms control’ (weaponisation vs militarisation); New Zealand and arms control in outer space
Part IV: Future of arms control in outer space
As Kingfishers Catch Fire: Birds and books by Alex Preston
Having kept notebooks over many, many years, Preston has collected the words of dozens of writers. Each chapter is arranged around a bird, each bird illustrated by Neil Gower. The Guardian gives this book a rave review:
Memoir, or rather memory, gilds the narrative. The most moving chapter describes Preston’s father, bedbound with lymphoma, as he watches a family of collared doves on the rooftop opposite his window. He is woken by a fledgling dove on the windowsill inside the bedroom and tries to rescue the bird. Describing himself in the third person, Preston’s father writes: “Placid and accepting, she allows his right hand to embrace her body… while he emanates all he can in telepathic sedation. It, or something like it, must be working, for her wings remain static and spread, her breast neither heaving nor fluttering … How warm to the touch. He wants to stretch the moment to eternity.” This, perhaps, is the essence of the book, this longing for communion, for connection with things other than ourselves.
Basic Mathematics: An Introduction by Alan Graham
I reserved this book on a whim…I am not known for my mathematical ability and thought that it was about time I tackled what could almost be called a phobia. I must confess to scanning this book and promptly returned it, obviously I will need some more indepth counselling before I can tackle my “issues”. However, in the brief time that this book held my attention I did think it was very user-friendly, tackled basic concepts, and would be especially useful if you were struggling with keeping up with your school age children’s maths.
Honar: The Arkhami Collection of Modern and Contemporary Iranian Art A very disappointing cover hides a luscious book documenting the Afkhami collection of Iranian art. The art in the collection is incredibly varied and at times surprising. Each artist has their own essay, plus there are well written and interesting chapters devoted to the collection itself and to Iranian art history.
What’s Your Bias? The Surprising science of why we vote the way we do by Lee De-Wit
We may think that we make rational decisions when it comes to voting but apparently we are just as much affected by our personality traits and unconscious biases as we are by what the news media and political debates are telling us. Perhaps you want to know more about why you think Jacinda is just the ticket or what it is about Bill that makes him irresistible? Apparently you will get to know more about yourself and the bigger political picture!