From the Principal
First a Ship and now a car create links locally, regionally and globally.
On March 10th 1917 a significant event took place in the Atlantic Ocean. The SS Otaki, a New Zealand Shipping company vessel, named after our Ōtaki River took part in a battle with a German Raider which would later lead to the establishment of the Ōtaki Scholar.
Account of Action
At about 2.30 p m on 10th March, 1917 the S.S. Otaki, whose armament consisted of one 4.7 inch gun for defensive purposes, sighted the disguised German raider Moewe, which was armed with four 5.9 inch, one 4.1 inch and two 22 pounder guns, and two torpedo tubes. The Moewe kept the Otaki under observation for some time and finally called upon her to stop. Captain Archibald Bisset Smith refused to stop, and a duel ensued at ranges of 1900-2000 yards, and lasted for about 20 minutes.
During this action, the Otaki scored several hits on the Moewe, causing considerable damage, and starting a fire, which lasted for three days. She sustained several casualties and received much damage herself, and was heavily on fire. Captain Bisset Smith gave orders for the boats to be lowered to allow the crew to be rescued. He remained on the ship himself and went down with her when she sank with the British colours still flying, after what was described in an enemy account as “a duel as gallant as naval history can relate.”
The link to the SS Otaki and the Ōtaki Scholar from Robert Gordon’s College (RGC) is a very strong and enduring one dating back to 1937 when the Ōtaki Shield was first presented to the Head Boy at RGC as the first Ōtaki Scholar by the family of Archibald Bisset Smith in recognition of him being a former student of the college. Since this time the Ōtaki Scholar has been coming to Ōtaki (apart from 1939 to 1945 due to WW2).
Ninety nine years on from this event in January this year, the Vintage Car Club of New Zealand (Inc) hosted its first International Rally since 1965 in Dunedin. The Vero International Festival of Historic Motoring brought together another chapter as historic vehicles and motorbikes were gathered to blend into the well preserved Victorian and Edwardian architecture of Dunedin. Among those vehicles was the 1932 Lagonda motor car owned by the Lord Lieutenant of Orkney, Bill Spence and his wife Sue. At the conclusion of the rally Bill and Sue drove the vehicle up the South Island to Ōtaki where they were staying with their relative, Bill Hall.
The Lord Lieutenant of Orkney is the Queen’s representative in Orkney and performs a similar roll to that of our Governor General but in local provinces. There are 30 Lord Lieutenants in Scotland and 45 around the rest of Britain. The significance of the Lord Lieutenant’s arrival is that he is in charge of the 100 year commemoration service of the Battle of Jutland to be held in Orkney on May 31st. This is a significant event and it will also serve to remember all those lost at sea in WWI and Victoria Cross holders, which includes Archibald Bisset Smith of the SS Otaki for most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of the S.S. Otaki.
This connection prompted us to contact Lord Lieutenant Bill Spence and invite him and his wife to be welcomed formally into Ōtaki with a powhiri at Raukawa Marae. As chance would have it, this aligned with a visit from a former Ōtaki Scholar David Pittendriegh who came to Ōtaki in 1966 and Dr Robin Maclachlan who was the Ōtaki Scholar in 1952 and who now resides in Whanganui. The powhiri at Raukawa Marae was a chance to allow our guests to participate in the welcome that the Ōtaki Scholar now experiences on his arrival in New Zealand to commence his journey. As well as the large representation from Raukawa Marae we also had the Mayor Ross Church, Chairperson of the Community Board, Counsellor Gaylor, staff members from KCDC, members of the RSA and other local community people in attendance. At the conclusion of the powhiri Rupene Waaka, Chairperson of Nga Hapu o Ōtaki, took over as Master of Ceremonies and led proceedings which enabled our Mayor, the Lord Lieutenant and others to take the opportunity to talk more about our connections that have developed over the years.
Lord Lieutenant Spence was very taken by this event and could clearly see the strong links that Ōtaki Community has with Scotland through its ties with Robert Gordons College and that these have now extended across the wider Kapiti community. As a result he invited the Mayor (or his representative) to attend the Battle of Jutland commemoration service in Orkney, alongside our Prime Minister, so this a real honour and tribute to the Ōtaki connection which has grown out of a sea battle back in 1917. He also committed to communicate with the Aberdeen City Council that a significant 100 year commemoration service and events would be taking place in Otaki on March 10th 2017 and that this should be mirrored in Aberdeen when they lay a commemorative paving stone outside Robert Gordon’s College to recognise the bravery of Bisset Smith.
On the day following the powhiri Ōtaki College was pleased to host the Lord Lieutenant and his family and show them around. This included a preview of the Ōtaki/Sander Scholar murals that will be unveiled in the hall to mark the 99th year of the battle. A highlight for me was a ride around Ōtaki in in the 1932 Lagonda, a very impressive motorcar!
The tradition, created through the Ōtaki Scholar and more recently the Sander Scholar, has led to lifelong relationships and the development of proud young people going forward to make a positive impact in the communities in which they choose to live. The scholarships provide encouragement to students to work hard in their academic, sporting and cultural endeavours. Through the gallantry of a man taking part in an epic sea battle ninety nine years ago in WW1 and more recently a visit of a car enthusiast we continue to build on the very strong ties between our community, Kapiti and a global exchange. A legacy to be proud of!
2015 Sander Scholar, Clare McInerney — Heather, talks about her time in Scotland
The thought of my trip to Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen, Scotland was both exciting and a little bit daunting. Travelling across the world on my own was definitely a new experience for me and I hoped that I was going to manage it well.
I left Ōtaki on a very sunny January 7th and travelled to Aberdeen via Auckland, Los Angeles and Heathrow. LA airport is not the most welcoming but I safely made it back onto the plane to Heathrow, London. Aberdeen was experiencing some of its worst flooding in history as I arrived and the airport had been closed a few hours earlier while the runway was repaired! I made it and was warmly welcomed by staff from Robert Gordon’s College.
During my time in Aberdeen I stayed with their Head Girl, Morna Holmes, and was made to feel like one of their family. I arrived in the middle of winter and the temperatures were at times below 0 degrees. I found that even with my polypro, polar fleece and puffer jacket on I was still not quite warm enough!
My first week was spent trying to get over jet lag (I had 6 nights with very little sleep) and spending time at the college. Robert Gordon’s College has 1,650 students from age 3 years in the nursery school through to 18 year olds in the senior school. I really enjoyed spending time with the younger students and they enjoyed hearing about NZ.
At the end of the first week I caught the train through to Edinburgh and spent an afternoon and night there. I really loved Edinburgh and was able to have dinner at the restaurant which was the building where JK Rowling wrote the first of the Harry Potter books.
I then had a 3 day tour of the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye which reminded me a lot of the scenery of New Zealand. I was hoping to see the Northern Lights but unfortunately the timing didn’t work for this.
While in Aberdeen I was able to meet up with Benjamin Osugo, the 2015 Ōtaki Scholar, who had stayed with my family. It was really good to catch up with him again.
My 2 weeks away were a fantastic experience for me. I have made new friendships and it has given me a desire to travel more.
I would like to thank Shelley Macrae of Sander Ties for providing this scholarship and to Ōtaki College for the support that was also given to me. I highly recommend this scholarship to other students.
Ōtaki College 2015 Head Girl and Sander Scholar