Ripa (Ripper) Island – as most of us call it today – was known to the Ngati Mamoe and the Ngai Tahu as Ri-papa. ‘Ri’ means rope and ‘Papa’ means flat rock. As ropes made of flax were used to bring the Maori canoes – some the length of 24 metres – up onto the island in this fashion, you can see how the name came about.
In 1883, the Governor of New Zealand, Sir William Jervois approved a project to turn Ri Papa into a battery. Prison and soldier labour were used to build Fort Jervois.
The most well known prisoner of Fort Jervois was Count Felix von Luckner in 1918. He had been the commander of the German ship ‘Seeadler’ and was regarded more as a jolly pirate than a navy captain. He was captured when his ship was wrecked and imprisoned at Motuihi Island, near Auckland. When he escaped and was recaptured, he was placed at Fort Jervois.
He managed to escape from his cell one night but instead of making a run for it, he let himself into the guard’s house and surprised them. As the guards actually liked Felix, they let him stay for an evening of card playing before putting him back in his cell! Felix always boasted that he had never killed anyone during the war.
For a more in depth look at Ripa Island, please check out the following link: http://www.peelingbackhistory.co.nz/ripa-island/
*image courtesy of The Knights of Malta – http://www.osjknights.com/