40 years of preserving Otaki's history:

OHS Historical Journals

Journal Index

Rangiatea Graves project

1919 Otaki Mail

Newsletters, photographs and much more.

OPEN EVERY DAY 10 am - 2 pm until 23 August


The exhibition marks 100 years since the sinking of SS Otaki on 10 March 1917.  The Otaki, a refrigerated freighter owned by the New Zealand Shipping Company, 71 crew when she engaged in a battle with the German auxiliary cruiser SMS Moewe in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. The Moewe was crewed by naval personnel and bristled with guns; the Otaki had only one small stern-mounted gun and a crew of 71.

In the ensuing battle, the Otaki set the Moewe on fire, but was ultimately subdued by the greater fire power of the Moewe. The Otaki was sunk, with its captain, Archibald Bisset Smith (pictured right), last seen heading for his cabin. Five others on the Otaki died, including the two gunners, one aged only 14 and the other 16 or 17. Five men of the Moewe were killed.      

After the war, the captain of the Moewe, Nikolaus zu Dohna-Schlodien, said Captain Smith's battle with the Moewe was “as gallant as naval history can relate”. It led to Captain Smith receiving a posthumous Victoria Cross for his bravery.

Captain Smith's wife, New Zealander Edith Broomfield, established an Otaki Shield award at her husband's old school, Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen, Scotland. This led to the awarding of the Otaki Scholar, who has visited New Zealand every year since 1937, bar the Second World War years. A Sander Scholar from Otaki College has visited Scotland each year since 2013.

The exhibition is one of several events in Otaki's World War 1 commemoration programme funded by the Lottery Environment and Heritage Fund.

A monument representing the SS Otaki and honouring the six seamen who died when the ship was sunk, was unveiled at Otaki College by Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy on 10 March. The bronze monument was designed and sculptured by Defence Force artist Matt Gauldie, who lives in Otaki. 

Dame Patsy laid a wreath on behalf of the Queen. Representatives of the Merchant Navy, the chief of the Royal New Zealand and the governments of New Zealand, Great Britain, Germany and other organisations also laid wreaths.