Oamaru Scot 100 celebrations

Oamaru was the first port of call for the Terra Nova on its return from the South Pole with that Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his party had died on their return from the Pole.

In the early hours of 10 February 1913 the Oamaru Harbour Board’s night watchman, Neil McKinnon, was expecting the arrival of the Ngatoro. Instead another ship arrived and ignored his signals to identify itself. Eventually two men were rowed ashore but they refused to provide any information on why they were there and asked to speak to an official. McKinnon escorted the two men to his hut and telephoned the harbour master, Captain James Ramsey.

The two men were Dr Edward Atkinson and Lieutenant Harry Pennell from Scott’s Terra Nova. They were sent ashore at Oamaru to send a coded message to the expedition’s New Zealand agent, Joseph Kinsey, informing him that Scott and his polar party had perished in the Antarctic.

McKinnon directed the men to Ramsey’s house on Wharfe Street, as the harbour master made his way down Arun Street to meet them. The men identified themselves to Ramsey and the port’s medical officer, Dr Alexander Douglas, but apparently swore the pair to secrecy. They stayed at Ramsey’s house until daylight, when the coded message was sent from the Post Office to Kinsey. The men took the next train to Christchurch to meet the Terra Nova in Lyttelton. . .

The centenary of this event is being marked by the Oamaru Scott 100 celebrations.

Oamaru Harbour will come alive with the celebration of a golden age in exploration. 100 years since the Terra Nova arrived off Oamaru Harbour the town will host five days of events including sea and land activities, education and adventure programmes, art, literature and lectures.

A list of events is here.

Among them is the world premiere of The Night Visitors, a play by Paul Baker.

Small town.  Big news.

At 2.30 a.m. on February 10, 1913, two strangers arrive at the house of the Oamaru Harbour master.   Their task is to secretly telegraph a grim secret from the Antarctic that  will become immense international news.

That much is true.  The Night Visitors then imagines both the comedy and the drama of this unique moment in Oamaru and New Zealand history. 

How will the traumatized Polar explorers cope with their sudden return to ‘civilization’?  And how will the Forresters – Mum, Dad and two kids,  a typical New Zealand family with quite enough problems of their own – react to their unexpected night visitors?

During the wee hours of February 10, and over the next few days as the news of Captain Scott’s death becomes public, the phenomenon known as ‘Polar madness’ starts to emerge, while the fault lines in the Forrester family are comically exposed.

The Night Visitors explores an Oamaru and New Zealand of exactly one hundred years ago.  Many conventions and beliefs have changed, but human nature seems constant.  The play also takes the audience back to the stark tragedy of the Antarctic.

The Night Visitors was commissioned as part of the OamaruScott100 centenary commemorations of the Terra Nova’s clandestine visit to Oamaru.  Paul Baker’s previous play, Meet the Churchills, also balanced drama and comedy, and fact and fiction.  It enjoyed a critical and commercially successful season at Wellington’s Circa Theatre in 2011, and was nominated for several awards.   A previous play, Conscience, was produced at the Court Theatre Christchurch in 2003.   

Paul Baker was Rector of Waitaki Boys’ High School from 1999 to 2012.   He is uniquely positioned to write The Night Visitors, having visited the Antarctic (with three boys from the school)  and researched the New Zealand of a century ago for his doctoral thesis.

Booking information is on the link above.

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