Advent Day 9 – Another unpublished blog draft finally sees the light of day!
17 February 1873: Daily Southern Cross editor David Luckie publishes ‘The Russians are coming!’ hoax in New Zealand
If you want to read the whole article, you can find it here:
During the 19th century the Russian and British empires were involved in a number of conflicts. With nothing but clear blue water between New Zealand’s shores and Russia’s Pacific ports, many New Zealanders feared a sea-borne invasion.
On the 17 February 1873 the editor of The Daily Southern Cross, David Luckie, published a hoax report of a Russian invasion of Auckland by the Russian ironclad Kaskowiski (Cask of Whisky).
Aucklanders were alarmed to read that the crew of the Kaskowiski had seized gold and taken the mayor hostage.
Story reprinted in full here earlier on my blog
This hoax was believed by a considerable part of the city’s population, despite a footnote appended to the article which ‘explained the whole romance’.
Crowds besieged the offices of the Daily Southern Cross and the ‘incident’ was discussed in the streets throughout the city. This sounds much like the American public’s response to Orson Welles’ War of The Worlds on 1930s radio.
To a general reader or a gamer looking for a historical scenario, there seems almost too much detail.
Harking back to the ‘nobility’ of Allied actions against a hereditary or past enemy in the Crimean War grounds this fictional warning in the reality of recent colonial history. It foregrounds the new barbarism of secret weapons – a mephitic sleeping gas that knocks out the crew of enemy warships, a submarine pinnace.
Today in a world of fast jets, drone strikes, aircraft carriers and chemical weapons, warring governments and insurgencies still compete to slur or smear their rival over the minimising of civilian casualties. The other side has to appear more barbaric to justify military intervention. We want a war where “our side” (the good guys) fights with decency and clean hands …
Rereading the article today in a 24 hour rolling news culture, it seems quite clunky.
Hard to believe it caused the upset and public outcry it did. To us in retrospect it reads more like H.G. Wells’ prophetic Victorian Science Fiction. It sits comfortably within a genre of “The Battle of Dorking” and Edwardian invasion narratives against Britain.
At the same time today to a modern audience, it almost reads like a Carry On Up The Khyber script with its clunky puns about the Khazi of Calabar and Bungdit Din. The Russian ship is called the Kaskowiski (Cask o’ Whisky). It is captained by one Admiral Herodskoff (Herod’s Cough?) , Herod being the traditional Nativity bad guy and abuser of civilian populations. The story is simultaneously trying to give itself away and create and maintain realism, partly to pardon or excuse the Editor against exactly the reaction it wants to stoke up. The story says “I showed you it was nonsense, full of Herodskoff, Kaskowiski and other puns, set and dated three months in the future but you believed the truth behind it.”
It is an elaborate practical joke but written with a political aim. It has to be read in the spirit of the technology and times of 1873, of remote posts of Empire when there were very few news outlets, telegraph being the most modern, newspapers already full of old news.
The Crimean War with its on-the-spot reporting by William Russell of disastrous logistics and medical care was only a decade in the past. An expansionist Tsarist Russia was still a rival and traditional enemy of the British Empire.
After all, it’s not as if we live in a world where fake news and social media storms no longer happen. It’s not as if countries go to war anymore in coalition, based on a now infamous “dossier” about Weapons of Mass Destruction against a former enemy of ten years before.
The day after the hoax was published in 1873, the Editor David Luckie stated his intention was to publish the article as a warning, which would hopefully lead to future protection.
The Russian war scares of the 1880s caused the New Zealand Government to erect batteries overlooking the harbours of the four main centres.
Elsewhere across the British Empire the Volunteer Regiment movement was being formed, partly for Home Defence.
Remains of these Victorian batteries, some updated to meet the threat of a Japanese invasion during the Second World War, can still be seen on the NZ coast.
For games scenario ideas based on the Kaskowiski incident see below
More NZ Heritage Links
You can explore more about these historic places associated with New Zealand’s coastal defence, on the New Zealand Heritage List, by following the links:
Fort Takapuna / O Peretu, Auckland http://www.heritage.org.nz/the-list/details/86
North Head –Devonport, Auckland http://www.heritage.org.nz/the-list/details/7005
Blumine Island Battery Historic Area, Queen Charlotte Sound http://www.heritage.org.nz/the-list/details/7529
Wright’s Hill Fortress, Wellington http://www.heritage.org.nz/the-list/details/7543
Battery Point Battery Historic Area, Lyttelton http://www.heritage.org.nz/the-list/details/7553
These NZ preparations look very much like the 1850s / 1860s Palmerston Follies preparations against a possible French invasion in early Victorian Britain. They would continue in New Zealand to be prepared for active service against the Japanese threat in WWII.
Blogposted by Mark Man of TIN, Advent Calendar Day 9 – Sunday 9th December 2018.