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October 14th, 2013
The Hell-Hole of the Pacific

Today, the small township of Russell in the Bay of Islands is a sleepy place. Tourists and summer boaties visit the place, but on the day of our visit, we wandered across the street without worrying about traffic. Not so back in the early nineteenth century.

Russell Sea Front

In the 1830s it was wild and full of whalers, seamen, traders, escaped convicts and adventurers. Some sailing captains steered clear of the place because they feared their crews would desert. Russell or Kororareka, as it was also known, was the original capital of New Zealand. Missionaries, who intended to bring religion to the new lands, were horrified by the behavior of drunken men and of the loose women who cavorted with them.

Russell still has New Zealand’s oldest church—Christ Church.

Christ Church Est 1836

This church came under fire during the Battle of Kororareka in 1845. You can still see the musket holes in the walls of the church.

Christ Church Bullet Holes

Pompallier House was the headquarters of the French Catholic mission. This is a National Trust building and very interesting to visit. After the Catholic ministers moved on, the building was used as a tannery and later a private residence. The gardens are lovely.

Pompallier House

Russell also has the oldest licensed premise in New Zealand, the Duke of Marlborough. We visited the second oldest pub a few weeks ago at Riverhead.

Duke of Marlborough Pub

The Duke of Marlborough overlooks the water and is very peaceful these days. It’s hard to imagine drunken sailors, prostitutes and the revelry that so upset the missionaries, or settlers, soldiers and Maoris in the heat of battle.

If you’re ever down this way, I highly recommend a visit to this beautiful area and the surrounding areas of Paihia and Waitangi.

11 comments to “The Hell-Hole of the Pacific”

  1. They never got around to repairing the wall? And I thought I procrastinated.


    ps. There’s a shiny metal butt in my comment stream for you.

  2. No, there are around half a dozen musket holes, and they’ve gone right through the wood, leaving the hole.

  3. Must not rain much there.

  4. It’s known as the winterless North :)

  5. You weren’t joking about the holes!

  6. No, I wasn’t :) I thought they were quite cool.

  7. Beautiful!

  8. It is a gorgeous place. Captain Cook named the area the Bay of Islands, and they say it hasn’t changed much since he discovered the place during his sail around New Zealand.

  9. That’s fascinating. What do you think changed to drive out (or civilize) the drunken men and prostitutes?

  10. I’d say that the missionaries prevailed. Also, the rest of the country started opening up for settlers.

  11. Sounds like an interesting place to explore.