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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

Wanted—An Australasian Squadron. — A Cry of Twenty Years Since

page 21

Wanted—An Australasian Squadron.

A Cry of Twenty Years Since.

It is the poet Campbell who says,—

"Britannia needs no bulwarks,
No towers along the steep;
Her march is o'er the mountain wave,
Her home is on the deep."

Exactly! But on the pacific waters of our Australian seas every one must desire to be assured that Britannia's floating bulwarks shall float so numerously and well as that they shall give a good account of any privateer or interloper which, in case of a war, may choose to prowl about these latitudes. It has to be remembered that Russia las already broken the terms of the Treaty of Paris of 1856, and her fleets can now enter the Dardenelles. By that treaty, which followed the Crimean war, privateering was abolished. Seeing that Russia broke the treaty on one point she may on another, and that other, if she thought fit, is likely to be the article abolishing privateering. America, who was no party to the treaty, refused to agree to the abolition of privateering. We know how much injury to our shipping a few fast-sailing privateers or ships of war may inflict. The history of the confederate cruisers "Alabama," "Shenandoah" and "Florida," tell a complete story on that subject. Hence the necessity of a large squadron of ships being placed on the Australasian station, so that the Colonies and their shipping should be completely protected. There is little likelihood that a hostile ship of war from any nation will visit an unfortified colonial town with hostile intent. But our commerce—our gold and wool ships—would be seriously endangered unless a fleet, numerous, swift, and strong were placed in these waters. The pure fiction published yesterday, with its grotesque incidents and situations, its "water-gas" and "submarine pinnace," created quite a commotion in town and elsewhere. We meant that it should do this. But the reader might have seen, by tracing an asterisk in the title to the foot-note, even apart from internal evidence, that it was a fiction purporting to be taken from the Daily Southern Cross, of May, 1873, three months after date! If it shall direct attention to the necessity of these Colonies being properly protected it will have served its object. We do not agree with the idea that was mooted in the Legislative Council that the colony should go to the expense of erecting forts. page 22 These would give excuse for a hostile visit, not likely to be made to places unarmed. The colony cannot afford this. Torpedoes can render any attempt at entering our harbours dangerous, if not impracticable A few of these judiciously placed would make Auckland invulnerable, and render no approach to the city nearer than seven or eight miles possible. The Manukau could be similarly protected. On the open sea our own squadron should be made sufficiently powerful to do the rest, if ever its services were required.

* * * * * * * * * *

Our evening contemporary (The Star*) says that now is the time to secure sufficient defences for the coast of New Zealand, and declares a conviction that "one well-armed vessel might enter any of our ports, and bid defiance to its inhabitants." It suggests "torpedoes and batteries." Coast batteries would be costly, and may be deemed otherwise objectionable. As we point out in another column, torpedoes should protect our harbours, and the British Navy our seaboard. In that case, if a hostile ship were to venture into this region, she would have some difficulty in getting away again.

* * * * * * * * * *

The Excitement in Auckland.

Comical were many incidents which followed the publication of the Cross yesterday, produced by a cursory perusal of the article describing an ideal visit of a supposititious and visionary Russian ironclad with the not very original name of "Kaskowiski" (Cask of Whisky) pretended to have been built in the snowy regions of ice-bound Alaska. Crowds besieged our office, and discussed the question in the street. Some persons in the country—who, like others, forgot to read the foot-note of the article that explained the whole romance (which, as is said elsewhere, was written as a warning to lead to future protection)—took up a plank of their flooring and concealed their money and jewels; others proposed to go far into the interior. One tradesman, who on Saturday had drawn a large sum of money to pay a month's purchases, confidentially informed a friend that he had hidden it, and asked if it was safe. The watermen pulled up their boats and sought no fares. A cautious shipmaster stood on his deck with a watch in one hand and a telescope at his eye, waiting for the eight o'clock hoisting of the British Ensign at the peak of our own war steamer. His watch was fully five minutes fast; and minute after minute passed, and still the well-known bunting did not appear page 23 "By Jingo, the Russians are there!" he ejaculated, as he hurried below. An old naval man pulled on his uniform while his wife was reading the account, but before he had sallied forth to the barracks she discovered the foot-note, and said "Oh, Robert, it's only a hoax." "Hoax, be adjectived" was the reply as he proceeded to take off his war paint. A school in the suburbs gave its pupils a holiday that they might go and see the Russian frigate. Knots of people at the wharf were tracing out, as in a map, how the exploit was accomplished. One blue-jacket could not understand it, for "they did not mention it [onboard," but he swore "We'll lick the Russians." One energetic lady asked a knot of men on the street why they did not go and shoot the Russians. One poor old woman resident in the vicinity of Nelson Street, upon hearing the news, cast her eyes around her domicile to discover the most valuable of her Lares and Penates to save from wreck and ruin. After much cogitation she fixed upon her favourite washing tub, by which she had earned her living for so many years, as the most valuable article to be saved, and buried the treasure in the garden. Stories of this kind are multitudinous. The thing has been a day's wonder, and it is hoped it will have the effect intended. Auckland has shewn she can be aroused from apathetic slumbers.

* Note.—It may be added here (without offence after all these years) that the then editor and co-proprietor of the Star (Mr G. M. Seed), while, in his paper, condemning the "Kaskowiski" article for creating such a panic as was never before witnessed in Auckland,—in a moment of comic confidence said to the writer, "By Jove, I'd have given fifty pounds to have bad the story for the Star.!" Mr Reed was, years after, the author of a most circumstantial account of "The discovered Noah's Ark" on the summit of Mount Ararat (printed in the New Zealand Herald), the verisimilitude of the details of which rendered it a hoax widely believed and accepted, and seriously commented on by hundreds of journals, and made the orthodox theme of many sermons and Sunday School disquisitions in various parts of the world, especially in America.—D.M.L.