ric Harper, from a prominent Canterbury pioneering family, was an outstanding sportsman who excelled in at least four different pursuits. His Grandfather, Henry Harper, who was the first Anglican Bishop of Canterbury, probably set the family's mountaineering passion in motion way back in 1857. Eric's uncle, Leonard Harper at the age of 20, made a visit with Henry, his father, to Kaiapoi and heard from the chief Tainui that ‘after the battle of Kaiapoi when Te Rauparaha had raided the South Island, certain Maori had fled up the Hurunui River to the West Coast and settled there. Leonard persuaded Tainui to allow his son Ihaia and two other Maori to guide him across the ranges, and promised not to publicise his trip. This became the first successful crossing of the Southern Alps by a European.
In Leonard's footsteps followed Arthur Harper, his son, in becoming another of New Zealand's celebrated pioneering mountaineers, explorer and naturalist. It was Eric's cousin, Arthur, who took him under his wing and introduced him to the world of mountaineering. Eric helped make many important discoveries in the Southern Alps. He was the first to the 6,500ft Denniston Pass in 1908 and had the honour of a creek being named after him! In 1913, Eric climbed the challenging 2280m peak of Mt Davie in the Waimakariri valley along with fellow climbers Arthur Harper and George Denniston.
The New Zealand Alpine Club was founded in 1891, but went into recess around 1896. Arthur Harper modelled the club on the Alpine Club of England, where climbing first developed as a gentleman’s amateur pursuit. The New Zealand club was the only other alpine club in the world to require a qualification for membership, and to exclude professional guides. (Note: Arthur's Pass was named after Sir Arthur Dobson who in 1864 made the first crossing - not Arthur Harper!) He attempted to revive the now-defunct Alpine Club in 1914, but the restrictions he imposed on membership, as well as the onset of the First World War, meant that it did not function effectively until the 1920s.
Eric's father was George Harper, the 5th son of Bishop Henry Harper and one of 15 siblings. He was born in England and educated at Eton. George married Agnes Loughnan in 1871, Christchurch and proceeded to have 10 children. George was a lawyer and was the head of the relief committee in Christchurch during the great depression. He was knighted by the First Labour Government and died, at the age of 94, in 1937. He is buried with his parents and siblings in the Anglican section of the Barbadoes St Cemetery. His tombstone has the words: ‘Much experience is the crown of old men and the fear of God is their glory’. Agnes, and several of the couple’s children, are buried among the Loughnans in the Catholic section.
For reasons unknown, Eric and his younger brother (and possibly an older brother) attended St. Patricks College in Wellington between 1889 - 1892. His athletic skills beginning to stand out with success' during the annual sports days; Recorded in the Wellington Evening Post, November 12, 1890: "The St. Patrick's College Picnic and Sports Event, saw a 13 year old Eric Harper take 1st prize in the High-Jump with a jump of 4ft 31/2 in. He did however have a handicap of 4in." He won his first national track title in 1901 in the 440 yards hurdles with a time of 62.6s and in 1902 won the 880 yards in 2m 2s.
As a 22-year old Eric entered the Canterbury side in 1900 from the long established Christchurch club. He played regularly for the province until 1905, making 14 appearances in all, and for the South Island in each of the 1902 and 1905 seasons. One
game during 1900, Christchurch had to play Kaiapoi in the playoffs, who had only a few seasons previously been at the top of the championships. So at Lancaster Park, before a record crowd, the match ended in a draw, 6 all. It was a hectic game. Playing again on the following Saturday, before a still bigger crowd, the score was, with ten minutes to go was again 6 all. Christchurch then scored at the corner flag, and Eric Harper converted with a beautiful kick. They won 11 - 6. Eric, in his era, was big for a back at 1.80m and around 80kgs and his physique and pace equipped him well for the three quarters, where he was equally adept as either a wing or centre. His brother Cuthbert represented Canterbury 1906 and was also a prominent athlete. After playing for a combined Canterbury, South Canterbury and West Coast selection against the touring British side in 1904 he made his test debut as a centre in the one-off international at Athletic Park. Eric became a member of what was to be known as 'The originals' All Black team. One description of his playing style was recorded as "Eric Harper is a fine centre three quarter. Sure with his kicks, a good tackler, plenty of pace, a 'potter' of goals, and a place-kick." The All Blacks won 9-3, but Eric received only mixed reviews for his performance. He was overlooked for the 1905 side's preliminary tour of Australia and only added to the touring party for Britain and France after that. Eric had only a moderate tour after suffering an early injury and played only four of the first 17 matches in Britain. He went on to play 10 matches in all but with injuries taking their toll was included in the side for the international against France. He scored two tries in this match to add to the four he had scored in earlier appearances. In the match against Cheltenham he also showed himself to be a competent goal kicker by converting three of the four tries. Back in New Zealand, the post offices would run up a flag on Sunday mornings to indicate to the communities that we'd won again. It had a huge impact.
He earned the nickname 'Aristocratic Eric' amongst the team due to the way he always 'stood-out' and his social background. At the various formal dinners during the tour, Eric was one of the few who wore a full dinner suit, whereas the others wore just ordinary suits. During a visit to a local theatre one evening, he managed to land a part in the show - as a soldier! But despite his social aptitude and flair, he didn't really fit into the Originals as a valued player. Some argue that this may have been due to the fact that he was a 'Southern man' and was one of the minority. The 'powers to be' continually selected North Island players over Eric, even though when he did play, he scored tries! Eric played only three of the first 13 tour matches and two of these were on the wing. He would not even get to play against Ireland when Dixon and the tour committee would play Mynott, a first-five-eights, even though the Taranaki man had never played as a three-quarter before.
Eric also chose not to go on the American leg of the tour where they were to play an exhibition match in New York. Instead he returned to New Zealand via Suez. In the end, Eric (along with fellow All Black Billy Glenn) were among those who played less than half the matches during the 1904 tour against Britain, although neither is recorded as having suffered a significant injury. Eric was 28 by the end of the tour, a relatively advanced age for a player in those times, and played no more first class rugby. Money seems to have been an issue for some of the players on tour. Though most books about the tour do not mention it others report that each Monday Bob Deans, Jimmy Hunter and Eric Harper (Jim O'Sullivan and Billy Glenn may also have been involved), all from wealthy backgrounds, each contributed two pounds into a fund for tour members who needed it. He remained involved in the game and had a spell on the Canterbury union management committee. Eric also wrote a few articles for the NZ Herald newspaper after his return.
Looking back, there was only one 'professional' man in the Originals team and that was Eric. Before he enlisted in 1817, his occupation was Barrister and Solicitor. He worked in his father's legal firm. (His father, having previously been bankrupt). Eric was married to B. A. S. Harper and lived at 8 Kilmore St West, Christchurch. The house stood until 1998 when it was demolished to make way for the Grammar School. He had two children, Frederick George and Anne. Eric also spent three years of voluntary military service prior to WWI and he was rejected for enlistment in July 1916 due to varicose veins but had an operation in September!
The other Harper sons however, wasted no time in joining the war effort. Both Robin and Gordon had enlisted and were soon in the Middle East taking on the Turkish army.
Eric initially joined the 26th reinforcements, Canterbury Mounted Rifles. Even though he was nearing middle age, Eric still answered the call of duty listing himself a year younger than he really was... but not before having grieved over his little brother's death;
His younger brother, Gordon Gerald Harper, born 1885, had enlisted with the Canterbury Mounted Rifles as early as October 1916 and saw action at Gallipoli. He was wounded during the beach landing at Suvla Bay in August that year and was hospitalised in England. He received a D.C.M and a commission to 2nd Lt for services while in charge of machine guns at Gallipoli. After recovering he went to Egypt where he was part of the Yeomanry Cavalry. He died on 12 August 1916 from shell wounds received while fighting at Romani alongside his brother Lt Robin Harper. Robin carried him off the front line personally. Gordon is buried at Cairo War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt, Ref M:133. He had described the experience of the desert conditions in a number of letters home... "I had to set up the guns in the moonlight amongst gruesome objects of all kinds. The ground was covered with helmets, boots, swords and dead men... as the day advanced the fearful heat wave descended on us and our drinking water soon gave out... many collapsed in the middle of this prostration the Turks were announced. The men were swaying about as they tried to mount the guns on the horses, for escape was the only thing to attempt... I fell off my horse and for some hours men kept pouring well water over me... as the fierce sun went down we mounted our horses and rode home very thirsty and feeling quite sorry for ourselves."
Eric's embarkation date was 31 May 1917 from Wellington aboard the vessel 'Moeraki'. He was bound for Suez, Egypt, via Melbourne. Eric had also, like his brother Gordon, joined the Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment with the rank of Trooper. Having survived a full year of fighting in the desert against the Turks, bad news arrived from the battlefields of Europe that the Germans had broken through the French lines - the great Spring Offensive had begun. Eric's regiment had also just been forced to retreat from attempting to capture the fortress of Amman. It was 28 March. It was cold and wet by now and the Turks had reserves pouring in along with the Germans about to inject their own elite soldiers. Eric retired to the Jordan Valley. They had suffered 1346,000 casualties and spirits were low! As the situation in France was looking dire, many seasoned troops were pulled out to serve there and fresh but inexperienced Indian divisions arrived to fill the gaps. By April, the move to take Damascus continued but not before a plan to assault the fortress at Es Salt, where the local Arabs pledged to join them if they did so. Before this happened however, Eric's regiment quickly attacked the forward Turkish positions at Shunet Nimrin, just north east of Jerusalem, then their progress was held up. Eric died that day, 30 April 1918, aged 40 years, joining not only his younger brother but his captain from the 1905 Originals, Dave Gallaher, and 11 others who had played for the All Blacks after 1905, among the fallen.
While Eric's body was recovered and buried by officiating chaplin Rev A. McDonald at Es Salt near Nirim, 10 miles NE of Jerico, his name is also engraved on the Jerusalem Memorial, Israel. We are still trying to establish if his grave is marked or not.
IF YOU HAVE ANY ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT ERIC HARPER, PLEASE CONTACT US AT
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'All Blacks At War: The First XIII'
Wellington aged 26 Last Test 1 January 1906 v France at Paris aged 28 Rank Trooper, Canterbury Mounted Rifles Serial Number 35694 Died Tuesday, 30 April 1918, Palestine Age 40 Grave Listed on Jerusalem Memorial Ref Panel 1, but burried at Nimrin, 10 miles N.E of Jerico - grave possibly unmarked?
ERIC TRISTRAM HARPER
Born 1 Dec 1877, Christchurch Parents George & Agnes Harper, 11 Cashel St, Christchurch Education St Patricks College, Wellington 1889 - 1892. Christchurch Boy's High
Physical 1.80m, 80kg
Province Canterbury Rugby Club First made All Blacks from Christchurch, 1904 AB# 112 Position Three-quarter
All Black Debut 13 August 1904 v British & Irish Lions, Wellington aged 26 International Debut 13 August 1904 v British & Irish Lions at
The All Black Games that Harper played.
(+) = substitute; (-) = replaced
13 Aug vs British & Irish Lions at Wellington 9 - 3
28 Sep vs Northampton at Northampton 32 - 0
14 Oct vs Northumberland at North Shields 31 - 0
21 Oct vs Somerset at Taunton 23 - 0
1 Nov vs Surrey at London 11 - 0
11 Nov vs Richmond at London 17 - 0
15 Nov vs Bedford XV at Bedford 41 - 0
22 Nov vs West of Scotland at Glasgow
6 Dec vs Cheltenham at Cheltenham 18 - 0
23 Dec vs Newport at Newport 6 -3
1 Jan vs France at Paris 38 - 8
Points scored for the All Blacks
t c p dg pts
vs Northampton, 28 Sept 1905
vs Northumberland, 14 oct 1905
vs Cheltenham, 6 Dec 1905
vs Newport, 23 Dec 1905
vs France, 1 Jan 1906
Test Record by Nation
British & Irish Lions
2 - - - 6
1 - - - 3
- 3 - - 6
1 - - - 3
2 - - - 6
6 3 0 0 24
P W D L t c p dg pts
1 1 - - - - - - - 1 1 - - 2 - - - 6 2 2 0 0 2 0 0 0 6
Harpers Pass 1866
Eric Harper Devon, England 1905
Mountaineering in the 1880's
NZ Alpine Journal Volume 1
Christchurch Boy's High School
Early rugby game - Christchurch Boys High School
New Zealand Mounted Rifles badge
New Zealand Mounted Rifles 1918
Christchurch Boys High School War Memorial
The 1905 'Originals' All Black team
NZ v Sommerset 1905
Eric Harper in uniform 1917
Eric's House in Christchurch 1998
- now demolished
Eric's younger brother, 2nd Lt Gordon Harper D.C.M
Lt Robin Harper
Eric's brother, Robin Harper as a Captain in Egypt
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Last Updated Information - 06 March 2010