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.
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.
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 narrow two-seat majority and Walter Nash – at nearly 76 years old – became New Zealand’s oldest-ever Prime Minister. A key figure in the first Labour government (1935–49), Nash became Labour leader following the death of Peter Fraser in 1950. Despite defeat in the 1960 election, Nash remained leader of the party until 1963, showing that age was no barrier to high political office. He was still MP for Hutt when he died at the age of 86 in 1968.
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. Her first book, The Lagoon and other stories, a collection of short stories, was written while she was at Seacliff. After her final discharge in 1955 Frame met the writer Frank Sargeson. She lived and worked at his home in Takapuna from April 1955 to July 1956. With his encouragement Frame rapidly wrote Owls do cry, which she completed in August 1955. The book was published by Christchurch’s Pegasus Press in April 1957.
The story is centred on the Withers family, who live in the drab, fictional South Island town of Waimaru (based on Oamaru, where Frame had spent much of her childhood). Only the poetic voice of Daphne Withers rises above the gloom. Daphne is confined in an asylum and subjected to barbaric electric shock treatment, mirroring Frame’s own experiences. While the book was met with general acclaim, it was too close to the bone for many in Oamaru, who thought it too negative and too personal.