Otaki Scholar Visit

By Max Chu | Posted: Wednesday August 9, 2017

This week we have had the pleasure of hosting the 2017 Otaki Scholar Fraser Cowie. 

What is the Otaki Scholarship?

Every year, the Head Boy of Robert Gordon’s College (Aberdeen, Scotland) is given a scholarship by the NZ Shipping Company (now the Durham Association) to tour around NZ for 6 weeks. I stay at the school leaders' homes, at 10 different schools around the North and South Islands.

How did the Otaki Scholarship come about?

In March 1917, Captain Archibald Bisset Smith, a fellow Gordonian (RGC old boy) and his crew on board of the SS Otaki was intercepted by a strong German raider ship during its voyage from London to New York. The powerful German ship, the ‘Moewe’, left Captain Smith with two options: surrender or fight against the superior vessel with 7 guns and 2 torpedo tubes to the Otaki’s 1 gun. Despite causing heavy damage for such a small merchant vessel, the SS Otago took on grave damage. Captain Smith ordered his crew to the lifeboats while himself going down with his ship. It was these courageous actions that led to many reports of the Otaki’s valour in contemporary papers, as well as from the German sailors on the Moewe, and resulted in Captain Smith being awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery. There were 6 other casualties on the Otaki including another Gordonian, William E Martin who was only 15 years old, and the school still awards a prize in his memory. To remember the bravery of Captain Smith, the NZ Shipping Company, who owned the Otaki, with the help of the NZ government, set up a scholarship for a person from the captain's old school to come across here to NZ. I was lucky enough to be awarded this privilege.

What is your school like compared to Otago Boys’?

It is significantly larger, at 1650 pupils.  We have students from nursery, all the way up to sixth year (Year 13). Unlike Jamie, last year’s scholar, I have spent 6 years at the college as I started at RGC at the equivalent of Year 9 over here. Robert Gordon’s College is also a co- ed school; therefore there are girls as well as boys.

What schools in NZ have you been to before Otago Boys’?

Otaki College, Marlborough Boys’, Nelson College and St. Andrews College.

What schools are you going to next?

Scots College, Wanganui Collegiate, Napier Boys’, Rotorua Boys’, and Saint Kentigern College.

What has been the best thing about NZ so far?

I was lucky enough to fly a biplane in Blenheim and kayak in and around Abel Tasman Park which was stunning. Visiting the steepest street in the world is also something cool to say that I have done, as was skiing at Mt Hutt.

What are you most looking forward to for the rest of the trip?

I am looking forward to touring around the North Island now, and getting to see a bit more of the country as I am travelling by bus. Wanganui Collegiate in particular I hear is a school steeped in rich history, so that should be a good visit!