The Night Visitors


The Night Visitors, a play by Paul Baker, was commissioned for the Oamaru Scott 100 celebrations.

It is based on the story of two men who rowed ashore from the Terra Nova to telegraph the news of Captain Robert Scott’s death to the world. Sponsorship from a media company gave it first rights to the news so the visit was shrouded in secrecy.

Dr Baker explains in the programme:

Almost everything in the play that happens within the Forrest household is plausible, but fictitious.

Almost Everything that is referred to outside the Forrest household is factual.

The play is set in the home of harbour master Edgar Forrest (Jon Pheloung) and his wife Enid (Caroline Claver) where  Lieutenant Kerr (Richard Huber) and Surgeon Lieutenant Adams (Francis Biggs) come to wait until the telegraph office opens.

Underlying tensions between the Forrests  and their sons,  Jack (Nathan Mudge) and Cecil (Cody McRae), are brought to a head by the arrival of the visitors.

Edgar is in charge of the harbour but Enid rules the home; Jack  is a misfit in his family and small-town Oamaru; there are questions, and questioning, of faith and science; and there’s the unresolved grief over the death from cancer of 12 year-old Emily but “we don’t talk about Emily”.

All this provides drama aplenty but there is also lots of comedy with some very, very funny one-lines, many of which are delivered by Enid.

Baker’s script artfully weaves the intersection of the biggest international news of the day and other historical events  with the domestic drama within the family.

Under the skilful direction of Patrick Davies the actors bring the people and events of the time to life with realism and feeling.

This is a professional performance which I highly recommend.

The Night Visitors opened on Wednesday and has sold-out each night so far.

Performances continue at 4pm and 8pm today and the season concludes at 1pm tomorrow.

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.

Parkinsons prompts rector’s early retirement


Waitaki Boys’ High was regarded as one of the country’s best schools under the leadership of legendary rector Frank Milner.

Its fortunes have varied in the decades since then, but under the current rector, Dr Paul Baker, Waitaki has regained its reputation as a leading educator of young men.

It is sad for the school and him that the onset of Parkinson’s disease has forced his early retirement.

I haven’t had a close association with Waitaki recently but have noticed the improvement in the performance of its pupils during Dr Baker’s tenure.

The school always had a good reputation for sport,  thanks to his leadership academic and cultural pursuits now have equal prominence.

Change is nothing new for Dr Baker, who has overseen a period of rapid transformation at Waitaki Boys’, and in the education sector, since he took over the helm in 1999.   

 “I’ve always been a big believer in starting things off to see how they will develop. Planting seeds and seeing how they grow, adapting, amending as time goes on,” he said.   

“I’ve never been a big believer in five-year plans, or three-year plans and knowing exactly where and how something is going to develop. You can’t predict that because you’re      working with human nature.”   

He said boys’ schools had essentially reinvented themselves,  with spectacular success, as places “where a whole variety of  different models of masculinity are promoted”.   

The model student is now academic, cultural and a sportsman, “but the hope always is that they are one and the same person”.   

Dr Baker is passionate about education and an advocate for boys’ schools.

He was a member of the Ministerial Reference Group on boys’ education. The NZ Herald published his views part 1, part 2 and part 3 .

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