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'The Russians are coming!'

17 February 1873

David Mitchell Luckie
David Mitchell Luckie (Alexander Turnbull Library, PA2-2596)

On 17 February 1873, Aucklanders awoke to the alarming news that a Russian warship had entered Waitematā Harbour undetected and landed troops.

For many readers, this seemed to confirm their worst fears. Anglo-Russian conflicts during the 19th century prompted many New Zealanders to view the Russians as potential aggressors. In the aftermath of the Crimean War of the 1850s, unannounced visits to the South Pacific by Russian warships created alarm in New Zealand.

David Luckie, the editor of the Daily Southern Cross, was concerned about this threat and published a hoax report of a Russian invasion of Auckland by the ironclad cruiser Kaskowiski‘cask of whisky’. Despite an asterisk in the story’s headline referring to a date almost three months in the future, gullible Aucklanders were alarmed to read that marines from the Kaskowiski had seized gold and taken the mayor, Philip Philips, hostage.

A full-blown Russian scare in 1885 that grew out of Anglo–Russian rivalry in Afghanistan led to the building of fortifications to protect New Zealand’s coastal cities from attack from the sea.

How to cite this page

'The Russians are coming!', URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated