World War One through place names. Pyramus Peak, Canterbury.

HMS Pyramus

The name of this feature came about from a family connection. Amongst the party who first scaled it in 1914 was Jim Dennistoun, a prolific New Zealand climber who had already achieved the first ascent of Mount D’Archiac and Mitre Peak. On this occasion, Dennistoun decided to use the title of the Royal Navy ship to which his younger brother George had been posted.

The HMS PYRAMUS was a Pelorus-Class protected cruiser. Being lightly gunned and armoured, it tended to be used for ‘police’ duties and did not sail with the main battle fleet. PYRAMUS formed part of the escort for the New Zealand force that occupied German Samoa in 1914, before taking part in the Rufiji Delta action in German East Africa.

George Dennistoun served throughout the First World War. In addition to his time on the PYRAMUS, he was a transport officer for one of the ships that carried the Main Body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force to Egypt, and was Senior Naval Officer in the Lake Nyasa Gunboat Flotilla. George received the Distinguished Service Order after showing conspicuous bravery during an engagement with a German vessel.

Jim Dennistoun was to prove less fortunate. After making his way to England on a steamer, he managed to obtain a commission in the North Irish Horse. By 1916 he had transferred to 23 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps. Jim was shot down over Germany and underwent several operations as a prisoner of war. Complications arising from the last of these procedures resulted in his death on 9 August 1916.


  • Auckland Museum, ‘James Robert Dennistoun’, Online Cenotaph
  • Colledge, J.J. and Barlow, Ben, Ships of the Royal Navy: The Complete Record of All Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy from the 15th Century to the Present, Newbury: Casemate, 2010.
  • Honorary Geographic Board of New Zealand: Correspondence, vol. 9, pp. 35, 56-57.
  • New Zealand Geographic Board, ‘New Zealand Gazetteer’
  • Reed, A.W., Place Names of New Zealand, Rosedale: Penguin, 2010.