Oamaru’s harbour may not seem very big or important today, but 100 years ago it was a bustling port, with ships coming and going regularly, taking New Zealand lamb, wool and gold to Britain and bringing manufactured goods back. But in 1913 a particularly important vessel arrived in port, the centenary of which will be a major cause for commemoration in town.
In the early 20th Century, the age of exploration was focused on the world’s extremes, and nothing was more extreme than the South Pole. Several teams sought to be the first to claim the honour of being the first to reach this landmark, with the British, Norwegians and Americans among the most assiduous. Robert Falcon Scott–whose name would become associated with several geographical features of the Antarctic, was captain of the Terra Nova, which set sail from Cardiff in 1910, seeking to be the first to reach the geographical South Pole. Unfortunately, when Scott reached the Pole in January 1912, he found that he was not the first–his Norwegian rival Amundsen had got there in December 1911! To make matters worse, Scott was to perish during the journey back to the coast from the Pole, along with all the members of his party.
News of Scott’s fate was not to be learned, however, until 10 February 1913, when the Oamaru harbour watchman caught sight of a ship that refused his instructions to identify itself. When two crewmen of the ship rowed to shore, they insisted on speaking only with an official, whereupon they phoned their NZ agent to announce to the world that Scott and his party had died during their expedition, causing shockwaves felt all across the world.
In 2013 Oamaru (along with other spots connected with the Scott expedition) will be commemorating the centenary of the Terra Nova’s return. Details of the commemoration will be released as the anniversary approaches.