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The American Fleet in Auckland, 1908

And now the book:

Electronic Publication:

Auckland, August 1908: A Stop on the Great White Fleet World Cruise.  By: Robert Garry Law

2008 ISBN:  978-0-473-13645-1   37 pages.

This booklet places the visit of the Great White Fleet to Auckland in its New Zealand context and its geopolitical context - that of great power rivalry over prestige, territorial ambitions and projection of force by battleship lead fleets. It shows the social context of Auckland 100 years ago. Illustrated with contemporary pictures, many drawn from colour printed post cards.

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This is available in electronic form only.

Some postcards:



The Great White Fleet cruised the world in 1907/09. It was an exercise in demonstrating the USA's arrival as a naval power, and typical of the style of the then President - Theodore Roosevelt - a hero of the Spanish - American war. He was President 1901-1909.

The fleet left US territory - Hawaii - for New Zealand and after the longest leg in the world circling voyage, anchored in Auckland on August 9 1908. New Zealanders gave the fleet a very warm reception and invited Sperry and his staff to the opening of the Tudor styled bathhouse in Rotorua. There was a Maori reception there. At the conclusion of one of the dances, a Maori bounded from the circle of dancers. Halting before the admiral and his staff, the Maori dancer broke into a broad, toothy smile and exclaimed, "bully!"* Even in remote New Zealand, Roosevelt had made his mark, to the great surprise and amusement of Sperry and his staff.

* Roosevelt often used the word "bully" as an adjective meaning superb/wonderful.

The crews were all male - a great contrast to the fleet crews of today.

On August 15, the fleet sailed for Sydney, Australia. The postcards from the voyage show how Auckland was decorated for the event and the parades.

The fleet was equipped with radio and made pioneering broadcasts -  see http://radiodx.com/spdxr/Great_White.htm, though the first trans-Tasman radio communication had been made earlier that year.

US Admiral Sperry with Joseph Ward, New Zealand Prime Minister

The Parliamentary train prior to leaving Wellington to meet the fleet. This was the first train to travel on the nearly finished main trunk railway.
The train guard's recollections (with sound file).

In Auckland Harbour

Radio aerial (between the masts) on Louisiana


This photograph from the Weekly News of August 20 1908 depicts Ngati Whakaue chief Kiharoa presenting gifts to Admiral Sperry at the opening ceremony of the Rotorua Bath House, which coincided with the visit of 200 US naval officers. It was a thermal spa. Within weeks of its opening the sulphur fumes had turned the white paintwork black and it had to be repainted. Today it is a museum.

More Weekly News Pics:

Kiwi had not been settled on as a symbol of New Zealand - here an extinct moa suffices. Hail Columbia was the unofficial US national anthem of the time. Kia Ora is a Maori greeting (Be well) commonly appropriated by European New Zealanders in such contexts - though Maori had little role in the Auckland events beyond the attendance of the Maori King Mahuta.


The time of the visit in 1908 was at the height of the postcard craze. It is not surprising to find there are many from the  Auckland visit, as there are from all the places it visited.

Parade Pictures
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Patriotic Cards
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City Decorations and Scenes
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x23.jpg (71375 bytes)new1.jpg (35008 bytes)31587341_full.jpg (19486 bytes)30832392_full.jpg (34217 bytes)ashore.jpg (28305 bytes)queen st x.jpg (38633 bytes)arch.jpg (32635 bytes)7402_1.jpg (21451 bytes)onehunga drill hall.jpg (18588 bytes)queenstl.jpg (39711 bytes)

Two flags photo series
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Single Flag series
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Multi-ship Pictures
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The Ships in Auckland Harbour
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Louisiana.jpg (30084 bytes)
Minnesotaminnesota.jpg (27458 bytes) Vermont Georgia
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Nebraska New Jerseynew j.jpg (26190 bytes) Rhode Island Kentucky
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Another rare coloured photo card from the visit.

30832083_full.jpg (28695 bytes) kia ora.jpg (43049 bytes) aucklandsperryreception.jpg (23587 bytes)

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posted waihi 08.jpg (18394 bytes) Posted Waihi August 1908 - ? but not taken in Auckland?

Hand made card - locally posted - reverse:  5rev.jpg (48476 bytes)

Welcome Maoriland - used to the USA.

Stereo Cards (Thumbnails) - these were not postcards but from sets for use with viewers.
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Cards from the Crew

Not all the postcards used on the visit were specially prepared. This one posted to the USA in August 1908 is almost certainly from one of the crew.

The memorial in Albert Park is to the Boer War dead and the trophy guns are from the same war. New Zealand did not regard itself as isolated from world events. Its principal trade was with Britain. It was an enthusiastic participant in the Boer War enforcing the perceived rights of British residents in the Boer republics.

8_08 back.jpg (17681 bytes) Rear - thumbnail

From a USS Ohio sailor - but postmarked Seattle September 1908 - this must have been returned there for posting.

Another card home is this one of an Australasian Station ship HMS Powerful in Auckland.
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Reverse (thumbnail) "The citizens of Auckland are all English..." 


Card sent by USS Nebraska sailor.

krd rev 08.jpg (21086 bytes) "Frank" writes home to New Jersey.

gwf front.jpg (98597 bytes)Card from father to son in Reading PA:  "Be good and go to school....."

8e7b_1.jpg (36453 bytes) Card of Shortland St PO and reverse - to Nebraska.

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Auckland postcards collected in 1908 by fleet sailor George Biller, but not posted.

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Some superb Maori cards collected by a captain of one of the battleships, not posted.

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Some others

Some other 1908 era postcards of Auckland and Rotorua - though not from the fleet crew (thumbnails):

1908_pc_view.jpg (40871 bytes)1908_pc_2.jpg (11254 bytes)1908_pc_3.jpg (38758 bytes)rotorua_1908.jpg (30783 bytes)cd_1_b.jpg (19537 bytes)100_0375.jpg (37801 bytes)260.jpg (44171 bytes)1908x.jpg (24910 bytes)1908y.jpg (40569 bytes)aug 08 card.jpg (24141 bytes)1908 used 2.jpg (20989 bytes)1908 used.jpg (26552 bytes)1908z.jpg (31707 bytes)1908 post to us.jpg (36783 bytes)posted 1908.jpg (46829 bytes)used 190816688812_full.jpg (20535 bytes)posted dec 08.jpg (24223 bytes)1908 card1.jpg (25596 bytes)1908 card 2.jpg (26643 bytes)1908 card 3.jpg (31500 bytes)1908 card 4.jpg (42507 bytes)oth.jpg (31619 bytes)45182103_full.jpg (53837 bytes)get_photo.jpg (100248 bytes)COWES.jpg (89961 bytes)breezy.jpg (48031 bytes)hobson.jpg (54266 bytes)shore.jpg (22799 bytes)155602209_full.jpg (54340 bytes)155603762_full.jpg (45119 bytes)155604267_full.jpg (35090 bytes)c816.jpg (20518 bytes)

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11265184_full.jpg (52023 bytes)Australasian fleet in Auckland (thumbnail)

Auckland Panorama from about 1912

Three brochures:

And medals:



What were the sailors wanting? - why to meet girls of course - preferably a Gibson Girl - like they had in California:

Perhaps catch a tram to the Onehunga Tea Kiosk? The Belle Epoch had reached here too.

Dance card for ball at Government House



Historical Context

The arrival of the Great White Fleet in Auckland drew ten percent of the national population as a welcoming committee.  At the time New Zealand and Australia were terrified of a Japanese advance.  The reduction of the British fleet in the Pacific greatly enhanced this concern. This was as a result of the 1902 treaty between Japan and Britain. Britain, in a fierce naval arms race with Germany, was then content to leave only obsolete and small naval units in the far east.  As a result New Zealand and Australia viewed the American fleet almost as a saviour when it arrived in the Pacific.  Rear Admiral Sperry took every opportunity to perpetuate this Anglo-American friendship, often giving rousing speeches to receptive crowds. The new naval march Anchors Aweigh was no doubt played. 

From the Crimean War onwards Russia was perceived as a threat in the Pacific. Auckland and other ports underwent several stages of harbour fortifications through to1900. In 1873 there was the infamous raid on Auckland by the Kaskowiski  More   In 1886 a Russian cruiser Vestnik was visiting New Zealand. The contemporary eruption of Tarawera was heard widely through the North Island and was initially thought by many to be the sound of the cruiser firing at towns or cities. 

At the Battle of Shantung in 1904  and  in the battle in the Tsushima Straits in 1905 Japan had eliminated Russia as a naval threat in the Pacific. A major factor in the latter battle was that the Russian Baltic fleet arrived at Japan in poor order after sailing halfway round the world. The US wanted to demonstrate that was not inevitable - a fleet could sail around the world and remain in fighting trim.

After its victory Japan was now seen in the South Pacific as the threat replacing Russia. Britain had spared little on its Australian flotilla, which was seen as obsolescent. From 1908 the Australian Government started its own naval construction programme. New Zealand's response was different, deciding in 1909 to contribute a battle cruiser to the British fleet - HMS New Zealand. She was to have been the flagship of the Australian flotilla but German rivalry never allowed her to be released for that, though she did visit here in 1913.

Despite this British lean, the US fleet was seen in New Zealand as a welcome counterbalance to Japan.

New Zealand was more influenced then by the USA then than is sometimes realised today. Many of the miners to the gold rushes here were from the USA. Early cars and popular magazines were sourced there, as were early movies. American architecture was influential too. Californian bungalows were the rage and the Mission style found favour in some public buildings, such as Auckland Grammar School, completed in 1913. Visiting sailors from the fleet complained that most of the goods they saw for sale came from the USA.

Albert Park - Auckland  The group of oak trees that stands near the band rotunda are a stand of oaks originally planted in 1908 to commemorate the visit of the United States Navy's Great White Fleet. Each tree honoured one of the 16 battleships in the fleet and was planted by its captain. More  Most survive today.

A curiosity - The white, spar and gold upper works of the ships, abandoned by the US Navy soon after the trip, are still used today by the US Coast Guard.


Auckland Postcards

GWF Visits New Zealand