Dressed in his school uniform with a korowai fastened around his shoulders, Cameron Stephen walked slowly onto Ōtaki's Ngāti Raukawa marae grounds.

Cameron, 18, was led into the marae's whare where a powhiri was conducted by various dignitaries as well as students from local colleges, for the special guest from Scotland's Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen.

Cameron is the 75th Otaki Scholar in a tradition fostered between Robert Gordon's and Ōtaki College.

The 75th Otaki Scholar Cameron Stephen in the Raukawa marae in Otaki. Photo / David Haxton
The 75th Otaki Scholar Cameron Stephen in the Raukawa marae in Otaki. Photo / David Haxton

He spoke about the history which led to the important connection between both colleges.


On 10 March 1917 Archibald Bisset Smith was in command of the New Zealand Shipping Company vessel SS Otaki, a refrigerated cargo ship, with a crew of 71, which was sailing from London to New York in the Atlantic when it was attacked by the German raider SMS Moewe.

"Although armed with a only a small 4.7 inch gun the Otaki returned fire and fought bravely.

"But when the Otaki was badly damaged and five of his men had been killed, Captain Smith gave the order to abandon ship.

"He stayed onboard as his ship sank."

After the war Captain Smith was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery and devotion to duty.

"In 1937 his family presented a shield to Robert Gordon's College [which he had attended before joining the Merchant Navy] as a memorial and this is presented every year to the senior boy who is judged pre-eminent in character in leadership and athletics.

"The New Zealand Shipping Company, later P & O, offered a free passage on one of their ships to New Zealand for the winner of the Otaki Shield and the New Zealand Government organised transport and accommodation for the boy during his travels."

The first Otaki Scholar to visit New Zealand, William Anderson, arrived in Wellington in July 1937 onboard RMS Rangitata.

Almost exactly 82 years later, on Thursday last week, Cameron Stephen, the 75th Otaki Scholar to visit this country, was welcomed to Ōtaki with the powhiri.

Cameron said it was an absolute honour to be there on behalf of Robert Gordon's College.

"When I first joined the college I used to imagine how amazing it would be to be head boy and have the opportunity to travel to the other side of the world on behalf of your school.

"And now that dream is a reality I can't express enough how excited and humble I am."

Moreover, he said values Robert Gordon's College cherished were the ones shown by Archibald Bisset Smith.

"Everyday, in and out of the classroom, we are encouraged and taught to become team players that will mature and develop into leaders with a constant sense of community at heart of everything we do."

Ōtaki College principal Andy Fraser said the SS Otaki and Otaki Scholar stories were important influences on the college's identity, and in defining some of its unique relationships in New Zealand and overseas.

Mr Fraser noted the deadly sea battle all those years ago which at the time brought great sadness.

"But out of it has built this wonderful tradition."