Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

19 August 2010

1913: News from Oamaru of the Failure of Scott’s Antarctic Polar Expedition

In an Internet age when messages flash around the globe in a twinkling of an eye it is almost impossible to appreciate that, in times past, the latest news of an event might follow its happening by weeks, months, even years.

Thus it was that the world heard of the deaths of Robert Falcon Scott and his companions almost a year after it happened.

Scott’s party died within a few miles of safety after having travelled to the South Pole in 1912. Their journey ‘home’ was blighted by the knowledge that they had not been the first to the pole, they had been beaten by Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian expedition. A sense of failure pressed upon their dispirited shoulders as, daily, they weighed their food and fuel and realized that it would run out before they could complete their ‘manhaul’ walk to base.

They died in their tent on 29 March 1912. Scott kept his diary up to date to the last and was the last to die. There they lay until they were found eight months later on12 November 1912.

Thereafter the news had to be taken to the outside world (no cell phones, no wireless telegraph). The ship Terra Nova sailed north from the Antarctic and on 10 February 1913 arrived at Oamaru Harbour on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Two officers rowed ashore and walked along the harbour wharf to the nightwatchman’s hut to enquire the whereabouts of the overland Telegraph Office. From there the message was flashed to London that Scott’s Expedition to the South Pole had ended with the deaths of the party almost one year earlier.

The people of Oamaru did not find out the news until they read it in the London newspapers (which would have taken about six weeks to reach New Zealand). That delay was caused by contractual arrangements surrounding the polar expedition which forbade any but its official sources to publish news of related events, achievements and, of course, subsequent

The nightwatchman’s hut still stands at Oamaru Harbour – it’s that red one, the one with the brick chimney and modillions under the eaves.



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By Don Donovan