The School on the Hill

Queens Park School was known as the school on the hill because of its situation on Pukenamu, or Queens Park. Its proud motto was, Esse Quam Videri (To be is better than to seem to be).

1. Queens Park School Banner

Queen’s Park School banner, 1921. WRM ref: 1802.1719

The first school on Queens Park seems to have started in 1875. Then Girls High School was built on the site in 1879, opening in 1880. The term “High School” was used at the time to differentiate “Infant” schools from schools that taught older children, possibly from Standard 3 (Year 5) upward. In 1901 Girls High became a District High School for girls, combining some classes with classes from the Boys School. The early records of the school were destroyed by fire in 1905 which means there are not many details of those formative years.

The local Education Board started looking at the possibility of building a primary school in 1904. The fire of 1905 that burnt two classrooms in the Wanganui District Girls High School seems to have been the impetus for change. The Girls and Boys District High Schools were merged into the Wanganui District High School. Later in 1905, the old school was renamed Queens Park School and taught pupils up to Standard 6 (Year 8), both boys and girls. New single-seat desks were introduced that year too – Queens Park was the first school in New Zealand to have them! The School was noted for its strong Cadet group that started in 1906 and the talented Band, formed in 1916.

By the end of World War I, many Queens Park School boys had served and been wounded. A Queens Park School Roll of Honour lists 24 names of Old Boys who were killed while on active war service.

3. Queens Park School 1939

Queens Park School with Memorial Gates. Photo by FH Bethwaite, 1939. WRM ref 2005.56.32

A fire in 1917 destroyed many of the wooden school buildings. In 1920 a new brick building opened, and the pupils marched from their temporary home in the Methodist Church Hall, up the hill to the new school.

In 1926 Queens Park School pupils raised funds to build the Memorial Gates, in honour of past pupils who gave their lives in the War of 1914 – 1918. These gates still stand on their original site, the only visible reminder of the school on the hill.

From 1933 only pupils from Primer 1 to Standard 4 attended the school. Standards 5 and 6 pupils were sent to the newly established Wanganui Intermediate School, only the third intermediate school in New Zealand at the time. Queens Park School closed in 1972 and was demolished in 1977. A centenary was held in 1979, and surplus funds from the event were donated to repair and restore the Memorial Gates.

2. Queens Park School 75th Jubilee Plaque

Queens Park School 75th Jubilee Plaque. WRM ref 1984.8.3


Libby Sharpe is Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Wanganui Technical College

The development of Wanganui Technical College mirrored the changing awareness of the curriculum needs of secondary education in early New Zealand.

New Zealand district high schools tended towards the conservative academic curriculum of British secondary schools. The need for art, technical and industrial skills led to the opening of Wanganui Technical School in 1892, widely known as the School of Art, one of the first four in the country.

The Wanganui District High School building on Victoria Avenue was dismantled to make way for the Technical School. In 1896 the buildings were extended to create space for classes in clay modeling, needle work, woodcarving and carpentry. In 1899 literature, languages, mathematics and experimental science were added.

1. Wanganui Technical College 1911

The newly built Wanganui Technical College on Ingestre Street, 1911.  The second storey was removed in 1929 after the Murchison earthquake.
Ref: 1965.127.2 Photographer: Frank Denton

In 1910 the wooden Technical School building was demolished and a new school was built in Ingestre Street. Renamed Wanganui Technical College, it opened in September 1911. Pupils from the Technical School transferred to the new College.

The Technical College was divided into five departments: high school, commercial, engineering, agriculture and art. At first there were more evening and weekend classes than day classes. From 1912 to 1922, evening classes were compulsory for young people under the age of seventeen who were not attending school. By 1914 the day school had 70 pupils in the general course, 66 in commercial, eight in agriculture, 34 in domestic and none in the art course. There were 792 enrolments in the evening school.

2. Workshop class 1920s

Group of Wanganui Technical College pupils in a car workshop class, 1920s.
Ref: SCS/TC/9 Photographer: Frank Denton

Subjects offered included plane and solid geometry, machine construction and applied mechanics and building construction, a number of art and design subjects, shorthand, arithmetic, and architecture. Also offered were the academic subjects of French and Latin for those pupils intent on matriculation in order to attend university or sitting public service exams.

The commercial department was an exemplar in preparing pupils for work success. In 1915 the Government junior typist exam required 80 words per minute in shorthand and 32 words per minute in typing. A typist with this qualification could expect to earn £66 per annum. A pass in the senior exam meant an increase in salary to £96 pa.

Subjects studied in the agriculture department included, botany, zoology, dairying, farm blacksmithing and gardening. Subjects studied in the domestic course included millinery, hygiene, physiology and applied art. In 1918 a sixth form for boys was opened for those wishing to study for further exams such as accountancy professionals.

3. College Council 1933

Wanganui Technical College Council Group, 1933.
Ref: SCS/TC/8 Photographer: Unknown

In 1933 the recently closed Central Infants School buildings and grounds were handed over to cater for the growing Technical College roll. By 1957 the roll was closed to girls; the last girls finished at Technical College in 1962. Later, two large woodwork shops and two new classrooms were added. In the 1960s a major rebuilding programme began. By 1961 work had started on a new gymnasium and plans had been approved for a building to accommodate one thousand students. Wanganui Technical College was renamed Wanganui Boys College in 1964.

In 1994 the school became co-educational again and was renamed Wanganui City College.


Libby Sharpe is the Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

The Sisters of St Joseph: Catholic Education in Whanganui

The Sisters of St Joseph are an Australasian order founded by Mother Mary MacKillop and Father Julian Tenison Woods in 1873. Mother Mary was canonised in Rome in 2010.

A distinctive habit was worn by the Sisters, unchanged until the late 1960s. The habit was a sign of their consecration to God, and served to identify their unity as a group. The distinctive blue monogram distinguished their Order. Today Sisters do not wear the habit but show a symbol of their consecration with a silver ring and a lapel pin or a pendant.

4. Sisters of St Joseph

Sisters of St Joseph – Sisters Madeleine and Bernadette Murphy, 1934.  Ref: Tesla Studios 26000

The Sisters arrived in the town of Whanganui in 1880. They immediately set up a school for girls in Victoria Avenue which they named Sacred Heart Convent. It was a mixture of primary and secondary pupils, many of the older children being boarders from surrounding rural districts. Their mission was to provide education for the children of the poor. St Joseph’s Convent School, also in Victoria Avenue, had been running since 1858 staffed by lay teachers. The Sisters also took over teaching duties there. It closed in the 1940s.

As the town of Whanganui grew, so did the need for more schools. The Sisters taught in Catholic primary education and in a secondary girls’ college, working extremely hard, and for the most part, with scant resources. But what came out of their work and persistence was a wide-reaching and comprehensive Catholic school system. It provided a first class education for every Catholic child in the district, regardless of wealth, race and social status. Those not able to afford the very modest fees were never turned away. Between 1880 and 1904 seven new schools were opened.

2. Sacred Heart Convent

Sacred Heart Convent, 1912.  Ref: SCH/Misc/40

Alongside reading, writing and arithmetic, the Sisters also taught and nurtured the tenets and practice of the Catholic faith. This is what gave their schools their distinctive character. Icons or statues featured in every school as part of the traditional Catholic devotion. A crucifix, as a symbolic representation of Christ was present in every classroom. A small container of holy water was usually placed just inside the door of every classroom.

The Sisters were always busy. Religious Sisters were not permitted by the Government to attend Teacher Training Colleges so the Sisters of St Joseph gained their Teaching Certificates by studying through the New Zealand Correspondence School. The exclusion continued until the 1970s.

Sisters taught full-time, prepared and marked lessons, cleaned their own classrooms and the convent and they taught music to private pupils. The Sisters also tended to their daily devotions and played an important role in parish work and pastoral visiting, attending retreats and contributing to community life. Despite their commitments, they were always encouraged by their Order to be creative, to extend their talents and to find some time for hobbies and recreation.

1. Villa Maria

Villa Maria Boarding House and School, once known as Hutchinson’s Folly, c1900. Ref: 1962.90.12

Villa Maria opened in Cameron Terrace in 1898 to accommodate Catholic boarders of all ages and for use as classrooms for primary pupils. The building, called locally Hutchinson’s Folly for its former owner, had plenty of rooms and extensive grounds for pupils to play in. The “Villa kids”, as they were known, moved to a new site in Guyton Street in 1944 and their little school was renamed St Monica’s. It closed in 1963.

Holy Infancy School opened in 1899 in Aramoho with 40 pupils and grew quickly with the expansion of the suburb. The school was also known as Sister Rita’s School as she worked there for 40 years and was a well-known and much loved character. In 1966 Holy Infancy was renamed St Joseph’s. In 1970 it became an Intermediate School for girls, finally closing in 1979.

In 1911 a foundation stone was laid by His Grace Bishop Francis Redwood for a new school in Oakland Avenue on St John’s Hill. In 1912 the new Sacred Heart Convent and School were opened by the Bishop. The building was 188 feet long, 100 feet wide, three stories high, and had 300 windows. Heart of matai was used for the floors in the four classrooms and the six piano rooms. The convent was lit by gas and was on town water supply. It also had tanks to store 3,000 gallons of rain water. There were balconies at the front and back which, in addition to affording the best views of Whanganui, doubled as fire escapes. By 1948 the school catered for secondary school girls only. In 1982 it was demolished.

The merging of St Augustine’s Boys College and Sacred Heart Girls College became Cullinane College in 2003. It is situated in Peat Street and continues today.

The distance from town made it difficult for pupils in Castlecliff to attend a Catholic school. When St Vincent’s School opened there in 1918, the Sisters travelled from town to school by tram until the 1930s when they were taken by car. A falling roll saw St Vincent’s amalgamate with St Anthony’s in Gonville in 1947.

3. Sacred Heart Dancing Girls

Sacred Heart Convent Dancing Girls, 1931.  Ref: Tesla Studios 23804

St Mary’s School has a long history of relocating. In 1919 the school was located at the corner of Victoria Avenue and Ingestre Street. In 1927 St Mary’s moved to Hurworth, the site of an old Anglican boys’ school in Grey Street. In 1964 the school was off again, this time to the former Marist Brothers School in Wicksteed Street. Finally, in 1988, a newly built school named St Mary’s opened in Aramoho on the former Holy Infancy site and still continues.

St Anthony’s School opened in Gonville in 1925. At first the new school building was used for Mass on Sundays. In 1930 a nearby house was purchased and converted into classrooms. A crisis in resourcing led to the Catholic schools of New Zealand whilst retaining their special character, being integrated into the national education system, supported by government. In the ensuing reorganisation, St Anthony’s was moved to Marcellin School in 1982.

A new school opened on the old Marist Brothers site at Totara Street. Marcellin School drew in the intermediate pupils from the newly closed St Joseph’s in Aramoho, as well as the St Anthony’s pupils. It is still operating today.

St Anne’s School in Wanganui East first operated from a house on the corner of Kawakawa and Nixon Streets. It opened in 1942 with just seven juniors and two young nuns. A new school was built in Raine Street in 1976. The school is still going strong today.

The Sisters of St Joseph finished teaching in Whanganui in 1988. During the course of 108 years the Sisters were involved in 10 primary schools, three of which remain today to carry forward the Catholic tradition so ably laid by the Sisters.

Now the Sisters of St Joseph’s family of schools is staffed by lay principals and staffs. The world of the Catholic nun has changed and the Sisters turn their considerable talents and experience to other forms of education. They continue to give support in their community wherever it is needed.


Libby Sharpe is Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum and Helen Doyle is a Sister of St Joseph.

Early School Memories

Education has been an important feature of the Whanganui region since its earliest beginnings. For Māori most learning was done within the whanau, but there were also schools of special learning. With the arrival of Christian missionaries English-style schools were set up. Because of the importance the local community placed on learning, Whanganui became the education centre of the central North Island.

The school logbook was used by the head teacher to record the activities of each day. Attendance records, punishments, problems and the weather were constantly commented on. The quotes used here come from the Brunswick School and Kai Iwi School logbooks, dated between 1880 and 1915.

The School

Yesterday the School was used for election purposes and when I opened the school in the morning I found things had been left upside down generally. I insisted upon the Returning Officer, who came along at the time, putting things as they were found. I really think, when the school is used for any purpose outside school work it should be left as found especially as I am responsible for the care taken of the school and its furniture. The Returning Officer seemed to think that it was the teacher’s place to put things straight.

 Found on opening the school that the seat of a long desk had been broken during last night’s church service: reported matter.

Throughout today the ponies in school grounds having been quarrelling and squealing at 3.20 pm one of them kicked the school porch breaking one of the boards.

Gonville School Staff in about 1915. Back row: Miss D Martin, Mr W Williams, Miss K McCormick, Miss S T Andrews, Miss M S Tuffin, Mr C H Bowater, Miss M Curham. Front row: Mr H Wood, Mr S H Gould

Gonville School Staff in about 1915. Back row: Miss D Martin, Mr W Williams, Miss K McCormick, Miss S T Andrews, Miss M S Tuffin, Mr C H Bowater, Miss M Curham. Front row: Mr H Wood, Mr S H Gould


Attendance was often irregular for a variety of reasons.

Robert absent for week. Doctor suspects scarlet fever symptoms.

Weather wet. Attendance very bad only 2 girls present.

Attendance this week has been very poor owing to harvesting in the district.

Fine weather this week.  Elder boys kept at home to assist with ploughing and planting.

Race day: only 19 scholars in attendance.

Harvest Festival put together by Central Infants School pupils, who colloquially referred to themselves as the Sinful Infants, 1921

Harvest Festival put together by Central Infants School pupils, who colloquially referred to themselves as the Sinful Infants, 1921


Monthly exam. P2 Work needing most attention Arithmetic, Geography & Drawing.

Have adopted a new plan for the drawing lessons and am trying figures of birds and animals to be copied from B.B. These at any rate, are more interesting to the children than the conventional figures they are so tired of. Took a pig and a rooster this week and, for first attempts, got some very good work.

Arithmetic in Standard V is rather weak. In St II it seems to be very fair; but very foolish mistakes are sometimes made. Recitation throughout the school is now very good. There sometimes seems to be some of the old carelessness left even yet, but it does not often crop up.

Queens Park School newly built in 1920

Queens Park School newly built in 1920


Planting and maintaining a good school garden was considered useful training and had special resonance in rural areas.

Garden Tools: 5 Spades, 5 Digging forks, 5 Dutch hoes, 5 Garden rakes, 6 Hand forks

The following seeds were planted today: 1 pkt cabbage (Enfields Market.2oz S. Ammonia), 1 Row onions (Giant Rocca 1oz Super Phos), 1 Row onions, (Giant Rocca 1oz Sul. Ammonia), 1 Row Potatoes (British Green ½lb Nitrate Soda), 1 British Green (½lb Blood), 1 Row Beet, (¼lb S. Ammonia), 3 Rows Purple Top. (3oz Blood), 3 Rows Purple Top (3oz Superphosphate).

The weather continues fine and favours the gardening.

Observed Arbour Day when 50 hedge-plants were planted along the road-side.

St Johns Infant School, Primer III class, 1915

St Johns Infant School, Primer III class, 1915

The Teacher

Taking lessons seemed to be only a small part of the teacher’s job.

Received note from Mr. B objecting to his son remaining after school to take part with others in sweeping the school. Answered that school cleaning was in the hands of the Committee … It was decided that the Committee cannot force a child to take part in sweeping if its parents object.

Lunches have been missed from school porch this week. Boys suspected one of the Primers as the culprit. Have been informed that the thefts were committed by a certain stray dog which took bag, lunch etc.

Pupils and staff of Raumai School, 1920.

Pupils and staff of Raumai School, 1920.


Children were physically punished for many different reasons.

Five boys stayed at dinner-hour in paddock (to which they are allowed to go to play cricket) 15 minutes after time. Caned them according to age and size. Lost time to be made up at Playtime tomorrow.

I have found it necessary to cane all pupils in 2nd Standard for not learning the Spelling lesson with meanings.

Caned John for carelessness in Arithmetic … after caning him I observed that he managed to get the whole perfectly correct without being shown a single sum.

Caned David (6) for stealing an apple from the school porch.

Brunswick School, 1922

Brunswick School, 1922


Without modern medicines children were often absent, sometimes for quite long periods.

Found on one child tiny white nits adhering to the hair: reported matter to the Chairman suggesting that notices to parents should be sent direct from Committee as such a notice coming from a teacher would entail endless disputes with parents.

Four pupils are at home with Influenza, while a new epidemic is now visiting us in the shape of sore throats accompanied by troublesome swellings. Am seriously contemplating interviewing the Chairman re closing the school for a week.

Kaitoke School pupils with teacher and school dog, 1902

Kaitoke School pupils with teacher and school dog, 1902


Important occasions were often celebrated with a holiday.

Tomorrow is a general holiday for all schools on account of Election Day.

School closed Nov. 18th Wanganui Agricultural & Pastoral Show – People’s Day.

The Committee at its monthly meeting last evening decided to forego the usual annual picnic and ask the pupils to make the proceeds as a present to the Belgium Relief Fund …