In the very wee hours of 10 February 1913, two men rowed into Oamaru Harbour from a large sailing vessel, woke the telegraph operator and had him send a coded message to London. They then locked him in the office so that he would not be able to reveal to anyone the terrible news that he had just been made privy to. It was only 24 hours later, when the news made its way back to New Zealand, that the boy was released and he could join the rest of the British Empire in mourning the death of Capt Robert Falcon Scott.
Capt Scott was one of the last great explorers of the previous century, vying with Norwegian Roald Amundsen to be the first man to reach the South Pole. While Scott did indeed reach the pole on his ill-fated expedition, Amundsen had beat him to it by only a few days. Not only that, but Scott and his team would never make it back to civilisation, as their party perished on the ice as they made their way back to the coast to rendezvous with their ship, the Terra Nova.
Commemorations of this fateful voyage commenced in the UK last year, and culminated last week with a five-day programme celebrating the great legacy of Capt Scott, with a true panoply of events, from speeches by Scott’s descendants, to films about the Antarctic, to presentations by others who have made the exploration and study of the icy continent their life’s work, and much more. In addition, the commemorations saw the unveiling of two new features in the Oamaru Harbour area–a mural depicting Scott and his team, and a memorial plaque at the wharf where the two mysterious night visitors landed. This is in addition to the genuine Antarctic hut, formerly used by New Zealand scientists, which was installed at the harbour late last year.
Oamaru has embraced its links with Antarctica whole-heartedly, and is now an ideal spot for anyone with an interest in that continent to learn a bit more about our town’s role in the opening of Earth’s last great frontier.