The 1950s

Page 10 – 1957 - key events

Scott Base established

Scott Base

New Zealand’s permanent Antarctic research station, Scott Base, was declared open by Captain Harold Ruegg, the Administrator for the Ross Dependency, on 20 January. The base was named after British explorer Robert Falcon Scott. The New Zealand flag was raised on a flagstaff that had been used by Scott at Hut Point in 1903. The base was originally established to support the privately run Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (TAE). It was built to accommodate both the New Zealand party of the TAE and a group of New Zealand scientists who were attached to the expedition as part of the International Geophysical Year (IGY), a worldwide research programme in 1957–58. 

NZ’s last execution

Mt Eden Prison

On 18 February, 68-year-old Whanganui farmer Walter Bolton became the last person to be executed in New Zealand when he was hanged at Mount Eden prison. After a controversial trial, he had been convicted of murdering his wife, Beatrice. Bolton’s execution raised the usual questions about the death penalty. Some people believed that capital punishment was legalised murder and that it was morally wrong to take another human life. Others opposed capital punishment on religious grounds or because mistakes could be made. Rumours that Bolton’s execution had been ‘botched’, as well as lingering doubts as to his guilt, contributed to intense debate about capital punishment in New Zealand.

The death penalty for murder was abolished in 1961.

Age no barrier for Nash

Walter Nash

The National Party had been in power since 1949. Shortly before the 1957 election Sid Holland stood down as Prime Minister due to ill health. His successor was Keith Holyoake. The Labour Party won a two-seat majority and Walter Nash – aged nearly 76 – became New Zealand’s oldest-ever Prime Minister. A key figure in the first Labour government (1935–49), Nash had become Labour leader following the death of Peter Fraser in 1950. Despite defeat in the 1960 election, Nash remained leader of the party until 1963. He was still the MP for Hutt when he died at the age of 86 in 1968.

Owls do cry

Janet Frame

Owls do cry, the first novel by Janet Frame, was published. It is regarded as one of the most significant pieces of New Zealand fiction in the post-war period.

Diagnosed with incipient schizophrenia in 1945, Frame was hospitalised at the Seacliff Mental Hospital near Dunedin on numerous occasions over the next decade. She wrote her first book, The lagoon and other stories, a collection of short stories, while at Seacliff. Shortly after her final discharge Frame met the writer Frank Sargeson, at whose Takapuna home she lived and worked for more than a year from April 1955. With his encouragement Frame rapidly wrote Owls do cry, which was published by Christchurch’s Pegasus Press in April 1957.

The story is centred on the Withers family, who live in the drab South Island town of Waimaru (based on Ōamaru, where Frame had spent much of her childhood). Only Daphne Withers shines through the gloom. The sensitive Daphne is confined in an asylum and subjected to barbaric electric shock treatment, mirroring Frame’s own experiences. While the book was widely acclaimed as ‘the first great New Zealand novel’, it was too close to the bone for many in Ōamaru, who thought it both too negative and too personal.

Other events in 1957:

  • Sir Leslie Munro became the first New Zealander to be elected President of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
  • Ian Cross’s novel The God boy was published. At the time it vied with Owls do cry for recognition as ‘the first great New Zealand novel’.
  • Death of poet A.R.D. Fairburn.
  • New Zealand's Court of Appeal was established.
  • Barry Briggs became world (motorcycle) speedway champion.
  • William Hamilton’s first commercial jet boats were produced.
  • Auckland businessman Morris Yock trademarked the jandal.

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