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.
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.
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.
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.