Two men battled with swords in a central Auckland room until one was cut in the arm, in a duel over an insult to the British crown.

A former British army officer took it upon himself to defend his monarch's honour when a Russian visitor made a "grossly insulting remark", according to a colourful account of the blood-soaked scrap in papers around the country.

"Naked swords; thrust and parry; duel in Auckland; Britisher beats Russian," screamed the Northern Advocate on Tuesday, July 16, 1935.

The story in the Northern Advocate, July 16, 1935. Source / National Library
The story in the Northern Advocate, July 16, 1935. Source / National Library

It is said to be the last recorded duel in New Zealand.


The fight had occurred the Friday night before the news reports, in a "dingy room" in Queen St. Its cause was a slur that one of the two well-dressed Russians cast on King George V, apparently during a discussion, lubricated by whisky at a city hotel, of "monarchies and society systems".

The Soviet Union in 1935 was ruled by the dictator Josef Stalin.

The British officer told the "Russian-Pole" that he would "not sully his hands to strike him and challenged him to a duel".

"A suitable room was found on the top floor of a Queen Street building and the Russian produced a magnificent set of duelling swords and masks.

"'We will not bother with the masks', remarked the Englishman.

"Seconds were appointed, and, after the combatants had taken off their coats and collars, the fight began.

"For several minutes they fought on and the foreigner realised that he had struck a tougher proposition than he had imagined. Neither gained the advantage until the Russian tried to connect with a 'drawing lunge'. This incensed the Englishman, who finally ran his antagonist through the fleshy part of the arm.

"The defeated party ... knew a good deal about swords and how to use them, but he was not good enough for the Englishman.

The Englishman fought for the honour of King George V. Photo / Getty Images
The Englishman fought for the honour of King George V. Photo / Getty Images

"The Russian fought seriously and produced a thrust which, if it had gone home, might have ended the contest. However, the Englishman, who knows a thing or two about bayonet fighting, recognised the tactics of his adversary and jumped aside unscathed.

"For the rest there was a deal of leaping, clashing and panting until the fight ended ingloriously for the Russian who retired to daub his bleeding arm."

The reports did not name the duellers.

Donald Kerr, author of The smell of powder: a history of duelling in New Zealand, says the 1935 sword-fight was the last duel recorded in the country.

He found that duels were fought over women, wine, insults, money - and fruit.

William Gisborne was suspended from his role as justice of the peace in 1850 after duelling with a man offended by being hit in the face by an orange thrown at a party and which had rebounded off another man.

Kerr found three cases in which a dueller had died from wounds.

Three of the 10 duels described in An Encyclopedia of New Zealand involved newspaper editors. No one was injured in these duels, nor in Gisborne's.

The Northern Advocate said in 1935 that duelling was a military and civilian crime. Under the Crimes Act, any involvement in duelling, even just issuing a challenge, was punishable by a year's imprisonment with hard labour. Charges of murder or conspiracy to murder were possible if anyone was killed.

The paper said there had never been a prosecution in New Zealand.

AUT law expert Professor Warren Brookbanks said the duelling provisions were repealed with the enactment of the Crimes Act 1961.

"Anyone duelling today would likely be prosecuted under section 3 of the Summary Offences Act 1981 for disorderly behaviour if there was no injury to either party, or under the appropriate provision of the Crimes Act 1961 for any injury or death resulting from the encounter."