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

About Me

My photo

Don Donovan: Biography

I was born on 20 January 1933, nine days before Hitler came to power in Germany, I grew up in south London. Although evacuated during the phoney war and the quieter times I lived in and out of air raid shelters during the blitz and experienced both V1 and V2 attacks on London. Left grammar school in 1948 aged 15 substantially undereducated. I wanted to go to art school but because of family ‘poverty’ joined a commercial art studio in the West End. I was, thereafter, variously a messenger boy, commercial artist and typographer. I was in the Royal Air Force from 1951 to 1953 when the only useful thing I did was to take part in King George VI’s funeral parade.

In 1955 I married Patricia O’Donnell, a RADA graduate, at that time playing opposite Derek Nimmo, they were juvenile leads in a touring repertory company. He went on to great success because he had a funny voice.

We came to New Zealand in 1960 where I worked in advertising. At length I became managing director of one of the companies of whose holding company (the largest domestic advertising complex in New Zealand) I was also a proprietor and shareholder. I left the industry in 1990 when my company was bought out by American interests. My timing was brilliant, at that point my first book had been published and the next was on its way.

We have two daughters and four grand-children.

Now, apart from writing, I function as a self-educated grumpy old man.

Books & Writings

‘New Zealand Odyssey’, with Euan Sarginson, Heinemann-Reed, 1989.

‘One Man’s Heart Attack’, New House, 1990. (A special edition of this book was purchased by CIBA-Geigy for distribution to NZ doctors).

‘Open 7 Days’, Random Century, October 1991.

‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’ by Saint Publishing in 1995 followed by:
‘New Zealand House & Cottage’ in 1997. (Saint Publishing have also published calendars for the years 1994 to 2004 using my watercolour illustrations).

‘The Wastings’, my first novel was published in July 1999 by Hazard Press. Although an international subject it had very limited distribution, only in New Zealand, and the rights have reverted to me. (Colin Dexter read 'The Wastings' and wrote to me: 'I enjoyed and admired "The Wastings"... a beautifully written work... a splendid debut in crime fiction... More please!'.)

Also the texts of photographic books:
‘Colourful New Zealand’
‘New Zealand in Colour’
‘Top of the South’
‘Above Auckland’
‘Hauraki Gulf Destinations’
‘Bay of Plenty’
and a compilation of photographs and quotations titled ‘Anzac Memories’ 2004 all published by New Holland.

My written and illustrated book, ‘Country Churches of New Zealand’ was published in October 2002 by New Holland, who also published ‘Rural New Zealand’ 2004 (photographs and text), and a series of four humorous books of photographs and quotations in 2004 and 2005 titled ‘Woolly Wisdom’, ‘Chewing the Cud’, ‘Fowl Play’, and ‘Pig Tales’. My most recent book was published in August 2006 by New Holland, titled ‘Political Animals’.

Over the years I have written for NZ Herald, Heritage Magazine, Next Magazine and various local and overseas travel and general interest media.