2020 Historical Anniversaries

At the beginning of each new year I like to share a list of some upcoming anniversaries to watch out for, a mix of some from New Zealand and some international, some notable events and some a little more obscure, but first there is something to celebrate. We made it to the twenties! At last, a decade with a name that everyone can agree on and a reputation to live up to. Speakeasies, flappers and all that jazz. A decade with some distinctive styles and enviable aesthetics.

As a collector of vintage photography I can’t help but want to celebrate by sharing a snapshot from my collection – one of my favourite candid views from 1920s New Zealand – taken during what looks like a fun summer outing to Ward Island in Wellington harbour.

NZ1920sPM copy

Ward Island, Wellington, New Zealand during the summer of 1924/25. Lemuel Lyes Collection.

In the months and years to come I look forward to sharing more previously unpublished photographs from the original twenties but in the meantime here is a list of some anniversaries to keep an eye out for this year.


50 Years Ago – In 1970, the Royal New Zealand Air Force purchases its first Skyhawks from the United States. These fighter jets are a common sight in our skies during the 1970s, 80s and 90s until the squadrons are disbanded in 2001. Most of them are eventually sold but a few are still on display here in New Zealand.


RNZAF Skyhawk, Air Force Museum of New Zealand, Wigram, Christchurch. © Lemuel Lyes

50 Years Ago – The Save Manapōuri Campaign delivers a record-breaking petition of over 260 000 signatures, nearly 10% of the national population at the time. This is notable not just for preserving a beautiful lake by successfully opposing a proposal to raise the water level by 30 metres (because aluminium), but this is also considered to be the first environmental movement in New Zealand. I’m sure this could be debated, but there is no doubt that it is a success story that inspired many other campaigns to preserve our natural treasures – a legacy that proudly continues today.

100 Years Ago – On 25 August 1920, Captain Euan Dickson becomes the first pilot to fly across the Cook Strait. Flying a Le Rhone Avro from Sockburn aerodrome in Christchurch, with an unscheduled stop south of Kaikōura and a scheduled one at Blenheim, before making the successful flight between the two islands and landing at Trentham in Upper Hutt. A trip that many of us take for granted today. I hope that the centenary of the achievement is commemorated in some way, but if not then perhaps consider paying homage by dressing up as a pioneering aviator and booking a flight from Christchurch to Wellington on 25 August (if anyone from Air New Zealand is reading this can you make this a thing please), or, ahem, perhaps arrange a paper plane throwing competition at your workplace.


Captain Euan Dickson, Mr C.H. Hewlett and Mr J.E. Moore. Archives NZ. AEPK W2774 19953 Box 1 35 (R11174482). CC BY 2.0

100 Years Ago – Indian workers in Fiji go on strike and there are fears that European lives and property might be at risk, so at the request of the Governor of Fiji, a small contingent of New Zealanders armed with machine guns are sent on the government steamship Tutanekai as a show of force. This is notable as the first peacetime deployment of New Zealand soldiers overseas (with the exception of commemorative contingents). However, not all New Zealanders approved of the decision to send troops – some watersiders in Auckland refused to assist in the loading of what they considered to be a ‘strike-breaking expedition’.

150 Years Ago – Julius von Haast gets a new home for his moa! The Canterbury Museum was originally located in the Provincial Council Buildings but the designated rooms there were bursting at the seams with the growing collection of geological, zoological and botanical treasures, so a new home for them was needed (every collector knows that feeling). On 1 October 1870 a new building on Antigua Street, now Rolleston Avenue, was opened to the public and 223 lucky visitors toured the new exhibits. Haast could now sit surrounded by an army of moa.


Julius von Haast admiring moa skeletons, Canterbury Museum, circa 1872. Accession No: 2016.15.23, Canterbury Museum

Over the next one and a half centuries the museum building continued to expand, enduring earthquakes and inspiring many generations of visitors to take an interest in science and history. At its core the Mountfort Gallery survives to this day. The moa have taken flight to another wing, the gallery now home instead to the decorative arts and costume collection, where you can walk through time and see wardrobes from the 18th – 20th centuries. Frocks, uniforms, top hats, motoring attire and crystal chandeliers, what’s not to like! A young History Geek cherished visits to this gallery with his grandparents and can very occasionally still be found here. This list wouldn’t be complete without a shout-out to this beautiful place. Go pay it a visit!


Mountfort Gallery, Canterbury Museum. December 2019. © Lemuel Lyes

150 Years Ago – On 14 May 1870 a crowd in Nelson gathers to watch a football match unlike anything they have seen before.

“Now some player runs with it, and a general scrimmage ensues; it is all shove, pull, rush, and roll about in a confused mass till “down” is cried, and away the ball goes again till perchance it gets in touch or caught.”

Colonist, Volume XIII, Issue 1319, 17 May 1870

If any malevolent time travelers want to sabotage the rise of the All Blacks then this would be a good place to start. This match between the Nelson Football Club and Nelson College is believed to the first game of rugby played in New Zealand.

200 Years AgoHongi Hika‘s trip to England. This is one of those stories that I’ve heard at least a dozen film producers and screenwriters threaten to turn into a blockbuster feature but it never seems to eventuate. The famous Māori chieftan and war general hitches a ride to England on a whaling ship and is introduced to King George IV.


Barry, James, active 1818-1846. Barry, James :[The Rev Thomas Kendall and the Maori chiefs Hongi and Waikato]. Ref: G-618. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.


A crowd of powdered faces gasps as a curious figure is introduced and steps forward. It is HONGI HIKA. He reaches out his hand in friendship, then bows before the robed figure.


                                             How do ye do, Mr. King George?


                                              How do ye do, Mr. King Hongi?

The chieftain was presented with a case of gifts including a suit of armour. This wasn’t just a diplomacy mission though, on the way back home he stopped into Sydney and exchanged most of his gifts for three hundred muskets and ammunition. This escalated the intertribal Musket Wars, swung the balance in Ngāpuhi’s favour and resulted in a series of bloody campaigns and a domino effect that cascaded down the country. Hongi didn’t trade in all his gifts though, he famously wore his suit of armour into battle, warding off bullets ala Ned Kelly. During one battle in 1827 he neglected to wear his armour and was hit by a musket ball, dying of his injuries the following year.

To read more about the Musket Wars I can recommend Ron Crosby’s book or Matthew Wright’s ‘Guns and Utu’. The best way to commemorate the bicentenary of Hongi’s legendary OE? Make the damn movie already.

250 Years Ago – Captain Cook was still hanging around. On 27 March 1770, he put into Admiralty Bay in the Marlborough Sounds for wood and water, then on 1 April sailed westwards towards Australia (where he had the whoopsy moment on Great Barrier Reef which resulted in cannons being offloaded – one of which is now on display in Te Papa).


Tuia250 Commemorations at Rapaki, Whakaraupo/Lyttelton, December 2019. © Lemuel Lyes

The official Tuia250 commemorations ended in Te Māhia last month after a series of powerful and engaging events up and down the country. Many thousands of New Zealanders seized the opportunity to learn and connect with the past. It was much more than just a commemoration of the earliest encounters between Māori and Pākehā, it was also an opportunity to share stories, exchange knowledge and celebrate the navigational feats of the first people to arrive in Aotearoa. The Tuia250 flotilla of va’a tipaerua, waka hourua and tall ships helped to inspire many to take an interest in those stories, and in that sense the voyage isn’t over but is just beginning. Last month Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced that she is seeking advice on how to best support the waka building and voyaging community. So the official Tuia250 commemorations are over, but watch this space!



50 Years Ago – On 14 April 1970, astronaut Jack Swigert utters those famous (but frequently misquoted) words, “Houston, we’ve had a problem”. The Apollo 13 mission was a successful failure, after a serious malfunction the crew uses the lunar module (LEM) as an ad hoc lifeboat. They didn’t get to walk on the moon but they survived to walk on Earth again.

File written by Adobe Photoshop? 5.0

Apollo 13 splashes down in the South Pacific on April 17, 1970. Johnson Space Center, NASA

75 Years Ago – The Second World War ended. Seventy-five years on and the number of veterans left with us are dwindling, so cherish those who are still here to share their stories. To mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the conflict there will be commemorations all over the world, including onboard the USS Missouri, the warship upon which the official Japanese surrender ceremony took place. They have put the call out for any surviving veterans who witnessed the surrender to get in contact.

USA C-2719

Japanese representatives on board USS Missouri (BB-63) during the surrender ceremonies, 2 September 1945. USA-C-2719, Army Signal Corps Collection, U.S. National Archives

100 Years Ago – On 17 January 1920, the United States becomes a dry country as the nationwide ban on the sale of alcohol begins. A century later and ask anyone what imagery the prohibition era conjures up and it isn’t the absence of alcohol that comes to mind, but instead a world of bootleggers, mobsters, drinking dens, speakeasies and Great Gatsby-esque house parties. Let’s commemorate that. Sounds like more fun.

100 Years Ago – On 2 November 1920, KDKA in Pittsburgh broadcasts the election returns. Warren G. Harding wins and becomes the 29th President of the United States! But that’s not what’s so noteworthy and I doubt any of you care (seriously, of all twentieth century presidents, Harding is the one that stumps everyone at the pub quiz. He doesn’t even have a dam named after him like that Hoover guy). However something else more significant happened that night, KDKA was operating under the first commercial radio license in the United States. The age of commercial radio stations had arrived. KDKA is still broadcasting today, you can check them out here.

150 Years Ago – The Franco-Prussian War. Cuirassiers (French heavy cavalry wearing traditional armour), mitrailleuse (a rapid firing ancestor of the machine gun), railroads, Krupp’s breech-loading artillery and hot air balloons delivering mail over the heads of besieging armies. An often forgotten conflict, where Napoleonic tactics collided with modern military prototypes in a sort of prelude to the First World War. Also known as “that other time the Germans invaded France”. You probably haven’t heard too much about this conflict. I’d like to learn more about it myself. I’d also really love some balloon mail from the Siege of Paris for my postal history collection – in 2009 this rare example addressed to Australia sold in New Zealand for $238 625. Donations will be accepted.


Battle of Mars-La-Tour, August 16,1870 by Emil Hünten. Circa 1870. CC BY-SA 4.0

200 Years Ago – On 20 November 1820, the American whaler Essex is rammed and sunk by a sperm whale. Can’t fault that response really, I’d be pretty disgruntled too if someone was trying to harpoon me. The story of the Essex inspired Herman Melville’s 1851 novel ‘Moby-Dick’. I’m yet to see if there are any plans to commemorate this bicentenary but keep an eye on the Mystic Seaport Museum, home to the last of the American nineteenth century whalers – the Charles W. Morgan. That’s your best chance to get up close to a whaling ship, but on the flip-side you could always go on a whale watch tour down here in New Zealand to see a real live sperm whale.


Sperm whale, Kaikoura, New Zealand. © Lemuel Lyes

400 Years Ago – Puritanical pilgrims donned their capotains and chartered a ship called the Mayflower to take them to the New World. The quatercentenary will be marked with commemorations on both sides of the Atlantic, here is a list of planned events in the United Kingdom, and here in the United States. The centrepiece of the commemorations is the replica Mayflower II, which was recently relaunched after a multi-year restoration project.


Landing of the Pilgrims, by Charles Lucy, Painting. New York Public Library

500 Years Ago – Moctezuma II is killed, either assassinated or as a result of injuries suffered during a riot. The exact circumstances of his death are debated. Hernán Cortés and his army of conquistadors are driven out of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, but the days of the Aztec empire are numbered.


Modern reproduction of Moctezuma’s headdress, in the Museo Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City. CC BY-SA 4.0

What other anniversaries are you intending to commemorate this year? Wherever you are I wish you all the best for the year and decade ahead. Enjoy living in the twenties!

© Lemuel Lyes

8 replies »

  1. I wrote an account of what I could find out about Euan Dickson when I was a volunteer at The Treasury in Thames. It on the website of the Treasury in the Journal section – Vol.9 2016. What amazed me was the man’s war record- a highly decorated flyer for the Royal Naval Air Service. He was recruited by A & G Price in 1912 from the UK and soon after the outbreak of war found his own way back to the UK and the rest as they say is history. I think it’s . Very interesting man but ask any New Zealander who was the first man to fly Cook Strait and I doubt you will find one in a hundred who can say.

    • Thanks for the link! Yes, it seems strange that most New Zealanders have never heard of him, (myself included until recently). I wonder if the achievement was played down a little in popular memory as it happened much later than some would expect.

    • That’s a great recording! Thanks for sharing! You’ll have to get it on your Radio NZ show for the anniversary!

      Yes, looking forward to the NZ radio centenary too. I’ve heard a few people talking about the centenary coming up, so hopefully some sort of commemoration is planned down here.

  2. An excellent account of anniversaries around the world, Lemuel. This site of your has always been a source of education for me and for that, I thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s