'The Russians are coming!'

17 February 1873

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

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

For many readers, this seemed to confirm their worst fears about Russian invasion. 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, editor of the Daily Southern Cross, exploited this fear to boost newspaper sales, publishing 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 Russian marines from the Kaskowiski had seized gold and taken the mayor hostage.

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