2018 Historical Anniversaries

Happy New Year! Anniversaries give us a chance to reflect and remember how our yesterday shaped our today. Here are some historical anniversaries to watch out for this year – as usual I’ve included a mix of local and international, some well-known and others that are likely to slip by with little recognition.

Wherever possible I’ve included recommendations for ways that you can participate in commemorations.


50 Years ago – This is a big one for New Zealanders. On 10 April 1968 the inter-island ferry TEV Wahine foundered at the entrance of Wellington Harbour. A total of 53 people lost their lives as a result of the tragedy. This remains the worst maritime disaster in New Zealand’s modern history. The images captured by photographers and news cameraman of the stricken vessel in the storm and survivors emerging from the surf are seared into our national consciousness.


Ship Wahine sinking in Wellington Harbour. Ref: 35mm-01149-29-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22571518

Learn more about the Wahine disaster here. To commemorate the anniversary the Wahine 50 Trust have planned a number of events. Visit their impressive website here to find out how you can get involved. Highlights will include a Dawn Service at the Wahine Memorial, Eastbourne, and at the Wahine Memorial at Frank Kitts Park there will be a performance by the Orpheus Choir and a Flotilla Review will pass the Wahine Mast. This will include some of the vessels that participated in the 1968 rescue.

75 Years ago – Tensions between wartime allies reached breaking point in Wellington on 3 April 1943 when American serviceman tried to prevent Māori soldiers from entering the Services Club. New Zealand serviceman, both Māori and Pākehā, took exception to this and the resulting brawl with the Americans continued for hours. This incident is referred to as the ‘Battle of Manners St’. While it would be nice to see participants from both sides return to the scene under a banner of friendship, I’m not currently aware of any intentions to mark the anniversary. Maybe you could go to the Manners Street McDonalds and order a KiwiBurger?

75 Years ago – On 22 February 1943 a total of 48 Japanese prisoners of war and one guard were killed during a riot at a POW camp at Featherston.

100 Years ago – The First World War continued to take its toll on New Zealanders. There are far too many anniversaries to list them all but I’d like to draw attention to a few specific ones.

On 16 April 1918 over 200 men of the 2nd NZ Entrenching Battalion surrendered after being surrounded near Meteren, on the Western Front. This was the largest number of New Zealanders taken prisoner in any one battle during the war. One of my great great uncles was taken prisoner during this incident. Fortunately he survived his time in captivity – others weren’t so lucky.

Another centenary to mark closer to home is the sinking of the steamship Wimmera. On 26 June 1918 she struck a mine that had been laid by the German Raider SMS Wolf north of Cape Maria van Diemen. Twenty-six people lost their lives.

New Zealand’s last major action in the war was the liberation of the French town of Le Quesnoy on 4 November 1918. A service will be held on the anniversary. This will be one of the last of the big official First World War centennial commemorations, followed by another one on 11 November marking one-hundred years since the signing of the armistice that brought hostilities to a close.

Also this year we remember the deadly impact that the 1918 flu pandemic had on communities in the South Pacific, including New Zealand and especially Samoa, where an estimated 22% of the population lost their lives – making it one of the hardest hit places in the world.

Check out the WW100 site to see what First World War commemorations are happening  in your community and ways that you can get involved. Make sure to visit exhibits at your local museum before they close. If you are in Christchurch then check out the new ‘Canterbury and World War One: Lives Lost, Lives Changed’ special exhibition.

125 Years ago – On 19 September 1893, a world-first occurred. A new Electoral Act made New Zealand the first self-governing nation to grant the vote to all women.  This was thanks to the tireless efforts of suffrage campaigners, notably Kate Sheppard. You’ll recognise her face from our $10 banknote. Check this brilliant database to see if any of your ancestors added their names to the official suffrage petition that was presented to parliament. On 28 November, New Zealand’s women were able to exercise their new right at the voting polls. This helped encourage similar movements all over the world.


Kate Wilson Sheppard. Ref: 1/2-C-09028-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22651169

Lots of commemorations are in the works to commemorate both these dates! Check out the Suffrage 125 Facebook page and also the Ministry of Culture and Heritage page here to find ways that you can get involved.

150 Years ago – This year marks the 150th anniversaries of the start of two particularly dark chapters in New Zealand’s history – Tītokowaru’s War in Taranaki and Te Kooti’s War on the East Coast. The cost of these two conflicts was high for both Māori and Pakeha. There were massacres on both sides, bloody battles, atrocities and even cannibalism. It is no surprise that many New Zealanders have been content with forgetting these nightmares, but it is part of our history – we can’t change that – and it is important that we remember it and acknowledge the influence it had on our country.

Death of Von Tempsky

Watkins, Charles Henry Kennett, 1847-1933. Watkins, Kennett, 1847-1933 :Death of Major Von Tempskey at Te-Ngutu-o-te-Manu, New Zealand, 7th September, 1868 / W P lith; [from a painting by Kennett Watkins] Wanganui, A D Willis [1893]. Ref: C-033-006. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23254119

My regular readers will know that I’ve previously criticized the lack of attention given to New Zealand Wars 150th anniversaries. Fortunately, a promising shift has occurred in the last few years and this important part of our history is starting to be given more of the acknowledgement and attention that it deserves. Last year, for the first time ever, an official national day of remembrance of the New Zealand Wars was held. To find out ways to be involved in the second Raa Maumahara National Day of Commemoration check out the Te Pūtake o te Riri website here, and keep an eye on the Radio NZ website.

150 Years ago – A M 7.2 – 7.5 earthquake struck off Cape Farewell on 19 October 1868. This scarcely warrants a mention in the history books as it wasn’t close to any major settlements – so loss of life and widespread destruction were avoided – but it was a severe shake that was felt right across central New Zealand and even as far away as Auckland and Dunedin. In Nelson it was described at the time as “one of the most severe earthquakes which has been experienced since the settlement of the province.” Over in Collingwood, closer to the epicentre, few chimneys survived unscathed. Most New Zealanders won’t have heard of this event and that is precisely why I’m including it in this list – as a reminder that there have been so many large seismic events in our recent history that many have already faded into obscurity. We live on shaky isles – we should always be prepared for the next one. Consider commemorating this anniversary by updating your emergency kit. Actually, don’t wait until then. Update it now.

Cape Farewell

Cape Farewell, the most northerly point of the South Island. The top of the south was rocked by a large earthquake in 1868. © Lemuel Lyes

200 Years agoHongi Hika led a taua (war party) against East Cape and Bay of Plenty iwi. This was one of the first major campaigns of the Musket Wars. If you know little about the New Zealand Wars then you’ll likely know even less about this earlier series of conflicts. Two of my go-to books on the subject are ‘The Musket Wars‘ by R. D. Crosby and ‘Guns and Utu‘ by Matthew Wright.

250 Years ago – On 26 August 1768, James Cook departed Plymouth onboard the HMS Endeavour. He was heading to the South Pacific to observe the transit of Venus. This voyage would change the world map, contribute to a new age of scientific research and bring different cultures into contact with each other.

Cannons on replica Endeavour

Cannons on the deck of the replica Endeavour, Sydney, Australia. © Lemuel Lyes

While 2018 will mark 250 years since the start of this voyage the main commemorations here in New Zealand won’t take place until the following year, with 6 October 2019 marking 250 years since the moment when cabin boy Nicholas Young sighted the headland that now bears his name. Expect lots of fanfare and speeches around then. The Ministry of Culture and Heritage has established a National Coordinating Committee to oversee the ‘First Encounters 250’ commemoration which will include a visit by the Endeavour replica, which should be something to really look forward to as it has been a while since it last visited. Watch this space!



50 Years ago – Braaaaaains! On 1 October 1968, George A. Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead‘ premiered. It transformed the horror film genre and ushered zombies into the nightmares of millions.  The concept of zombies predates the film, but Romero is responsible for evolving them into the brain-eating and apocalypse-inducing variety we are used to seeing on the big screen. This film sparked a horror subgenre that seems unstoppable.

Night of the Living Dead

Still frame from George A. Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968).

So this October consider commemorating the anniversary with a screening of this classic and make sure to wish a happy fiftieth birthday to the undead!

75 Years ago – Members of the White Rose were apprehended. This brave group at the University of Munich printed and distributed leaflets denouncing the crimes of the Third Reich, including the persecution of the Jews. On 18 February 1943, siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl were caught after throwing leaflets into the university atrium. Along with others from the group they were found guilty of treason and executed. The story of their peaceful resistance continues to inspire young people today – especially in Germany.

100 Years ago – There are a large number of centenaries this year – way too many to list – so I’m going to briefly draw attention to only a small handful. On 21 March, the Germans launched a new offensive on the Western Front in an attempt to end the war before the full strength of the United Sates arrived. On 21 April, Manfred von Richthofen flew his last mission. On the night of 16/17 July the Romanov family were executed. Two days later on 19 July, seven Sopwith Camels took off from a converted battlecruiser and attacked a German airship base in Denmark. This was the world’s first successful raid from a carrier flight deck. Finally, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the Armistice of Compiègne came into force, marking the end of hostilities between Germany and the Allies.

These are just a few of the huge number of centenaries that will be observed this year. As usual, one of my top recommendations if you want to find out more about what was happening a century ago is the ‘Great War’ YouTube channel.  They do a great job at making history accessible – go check them out now!

150 Years ago – On 12 March 1868, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Queen Victoria’s second son) survived an assasination attempt during a visit to Sydney, Australia. He was shot in the back. It was serious, but not fatal. The would-be assassin, Irishman Henry O’Farrell, was apprehended, found guilty of attempted murder and executed. Fourteen years later his brother shot at Archbishop Goold. Failed assassination attempts seem to have been a bit of a family thing.

Attempted Assassination of H.R.H. Prince Alfred

THE ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATION OF H.R.H. PRINCE ALFRED AT CLONTARF, NEAR SYDNEY. Ebenezer and David Syme, Melbourne, 1868. Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria

200 Years ago – On Christmas Eve, Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht was performed for the first time, at St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf. Silent Night is now one of the world’s most well-known Chistmas carols, although most of us sing (or attempt to sing) a slightly different version to the original. A special Silent Night Music Festival is being held in Austria to commemorate the 200th anniversary.

250 Years ago – As mentioned in the New Zealand list above, this was the year that James Cook departed on his voyage of discovery. While some mariners were adding to our understanding of the natural world, others were eating it to extinction. Sadly, 1768 is cited as the year that the last Steller’s sea cow was killed. These extraordinary animals were only discovered by Europeans in 1741. They were slow, large (three times as long as a dugong), and tasted like corned beef. This made them a welcome alternative to ship’s biscuits and it didn’t take long for hunters and sailor to wipe them out. Along with New Zealand’s moa they are one of the last examples of megafaunal species driven to extinction by human hunting. Check out this fascinating study for more information.

Steller's sea cow

Illustration of Steller’s sea cow by Johann Friedrech von Brandt. From ‘Extinct Animals’ by E. Ray Lankester, 1905

I don’t really have any suggestions on how to commemorate this anniversary other than to make a trip to see some of the marine mammals that we are lucky enough to still have with us. Or maybe make yourself a nice corned beef sandwich.

300 Years ago – Pirates! Lots of pirates! This was the Golden Age of Piracy. In 1718, Commodore Blackbeard (he had given himself a promotion) commanded a fleet of ships; Stede Bonnet, ‘The Gentleman Pirate’, was given a pardon but then returned to his wicked ways and Calico Jack took control of his first command.

Blackbeard had a hell of a year. His fleet blockaded the port of Charles Town, accidentally ran his most famous ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, onto a sandbar, marooned some of his crew on a deserted island and fought his last battle on 22 November, resulting in his death. Bonnet met his end at the end of a rope on 10 December after losing the Battle of Cape Fear River and Calico Jack, well he was just getting started. You might recognise his flag…


The Jolly Roger flag flown by Calico Jack Rackham. This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

One last thing to note – check out this incredible discovery that was recently made in the chamber of one of Blackbeard’s cannons! Easily the most interesting article I’ve read so far this year.

500 Years ago – In July 1518, Frau Troffea began dancing in a street in Strasbourg (now in France). People stared and laughed but that didn’t deter her. She kept dancing for days. Then others started to join in. Within a week there were over thirty dancers and within a month there were around four hundred. Mostly women. Some of them continued to dance until they collapsed and died from strokes, heart attacks, or exhaustion. One report suggests that at the height of the event maybe as many as fifteen people died every day.

The cause of this dance rave was a mystery to officials and they didn’t know how to respond. They decided that it was a “natural disease” and the best course of action was to just keep dancing. So they opened guildhalls and a grain market, clearing room for the ravers, and even built a stage and hired musicians to encourage them. Eventually everyone just went home. There were several other outbreaks but this incident is one of the most well-documented.


Close up from engraving of Hendrik Hondius shows men assisting two women affected by the plague. Based on drawing by Pieter Brueghel. Sourced from Wikipedia.

This isn’t a legend. It actually happened – and the cause of it is still debated today. The leading theory is that it was a sort of mass hysteria or stress-induced psychosis. If you want to commemorate the 500th anniversary, then I note that Tomorrowland, the world’s most succesful electronic dance festival, is being held in July in Belgium and would be as an appropriate event as any for a reenactment. I also really hope that some flash mobs get in on the action that month as well in Strasbourg or/and elsewhere, preferably in historical costumes. Seems like too good an opportunity to miss. Doof doof.

There are way too many other anniversaries to list – these just scratch the surface. Are there any other specific ones that you are intending to commemorate? Let me know in the comments below. Wherever you are I wish you all the best for 2018.

© Lemuel Lyes

8 replies »

    • Thanks for stopping by! Happy new year to you. Great to see that you’ve written an article about the Featherston camp. You’ve done a really great job! It is one of the parts of New Zealand that I haven’t been to but really hope that I have the opportunity to some day.

  1. Best wishes for the New Year to you.
    I’m looking forward to reflecting upon some of these anniversaries as they occur.

  2. So much to read in your last post.For me the Wahine commemorations will be special.I remember it so well.
    Love the burger idea on manners st.😊

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