The Otaki Shield

The Otaki Shield is awarded every year to the School Captain. It commemorates a sea battle involving a former pupil during the First World War.

Archibald Bisset Smith was born in Cults on 19 December 1878, the fourth of five children born to William Smith and his wife Annie Nicoll, who were originally from Rhynie. His father worked at various times as a grocer, tea merchant, accountant and commercial traveller.

Archie Smith spent two terms at Robert Gordon's College from August to December 1893. His two older brothers Alexander Nicoll Smith and William Charles Smith had previously each spent a year at the College. In 1895 Archie took up a four year apprenticeship with the Aberdeen White Star Line. His first ship was the iron clipper Sophocles which travelled between London and Australia.

He worked his way up through the ranks of the Merchant Navy, gaining his Master's ticket in 1903, at the age of just 24. A year later he joined the New Zealand Shipping Company and captained his first ship, the Rakaia, in 1912. When war broke out Captain Smith continued to make the hazardous journey between London and New Zealand.

In March 1917 Captain Smith was in command of the SS Otaki, a refrigerated cargo ship. With a crew of 71 he was sailing from London to New York, when his ship was attacked by the German raider Moewe. Although armed with 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, the Captain gave the order to abandon ship. He himself stayed on board as his ship sank.

After the war, Archibald Bisset Smith was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery and devotion to duty. In 1937 his family presented a Shield to the College as a memorial and this is presented every year to the senior boy who is judged "pre-eminent in character, in leadership and in 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 there.

The Head Boy no longer journeys to New Zealand by sea, but he is still warmly welcomed at a number of schools and receives hospitality throughout the country.

William Esson Martin

Also on the "Otaki" was William Esson Martin who was born on 11 April 1902, only son of a farmer at Cultercullen near Udny Station. He attended Cultercullen Primary School until he arrived at Robert Gordon’s College on 7 January 1913. He left the College on 21 February 1917 to join the SS “Otaki” as a midshipman.

Before he joined his ship, he wrote to his childhood sweetheart Annabelle Rennie from The Midland Grand Hotel in London. The letter can be seen in a glass case in the corridor beside Room 7.

Dear Annabelle, I am very sorry I had not time to see you before I left but I only got one day’s notice. You need not write here for I will be leaving here on Monday or Tuesday. I don’t know when I will sail but I am going to the ship about the middle of the week. I will write again and tell you my address. The name of the ship is the "Otaki".

Sadly, less than a month later he was killed, as he bravely helped to load the "Otaki's" gun. He was only 14, the youngest Gordonian to die in the First World War. His parents William and Margaret supported the College in the form of prizes for English and Modern Languages in memory of their son.

Archibald Bisset Smith

Otaki Shield