Thursday, 2 April 2015

Queen Victoria School for Girls, Parnell, Auckland by Edward Bartley

Entrance with foundation stone, Queen Victoria School for Maori Girls, Parnell, Auckland. Image BFA 2003

Through our heritage built environment we can reach the ideals and aspirations of our forebears. Sometimes it takes quite a leap. 
This is certainly the case when looking at educational buildings. The culture of 19th and early 20th century education is so far from our views today.

At an Anglican Diocesan Synod in October 1900 Rev Hare Maihi proposed the establishment of a school for Maori girls in Auckland. This proposal was unanimously approved. [i] In February 1901 the Synod conceived and discussed of the building of such a school as a permanent memorial to Queen Victoria.[ii] The suggestion was subsequently approved and a target for fundraising set at £10,000, to be solicited from the whole community. [iii]

A model for the school already existed in Napier. Hukarere School was founded ‘to give Christian education to Maori and half-caste girls and to train them to be good and useful women.’ When established in 1875 it was the only Protestant residential school for Maori girls in the country.[iv]

From its inception Queen Victoria's was to be a boarding school, drawing students from all around the region. It was intended to supplement the facilities in Napier, expanding the opportunity for higher education to include those centres of Maori population such as Tauranga and Whakatane. 

The discussion around the enterprise did not focus on the academic potential of young Maori women, but upon the ‘europeanising’ of a generation. For Sir Apirana Ngata, speaking at a conference of students of Te Aute Maori Boys’ College, the European concept of the Home as a civilising and educating social structure for future generations was the key benefit of higher schooling for Maori girls.[v] The special character of the school as a Christian establishment carried expectations of the inculcation of a ‘moral tone’ which was considered as a desirable influence on this rising generation of young mothers-to-be.

The site for the school was in Glanville Terrace, Parnell, opposite the existing St Stephen’s Maori Boys’ School. This land was a gift of Ngati Whatua. Given the royal associations of the project, the ceremony of laying the foundation stone was timed to coincide with the visit of the Duke of Cornwall and York with his Duchess in June 1901.[vi]

At this stage there were still insufficient funds to begin the building process. Edward Bartley began the design process, in his capacity as Diocesan Architect. Tenders were called In June 1902, after which the design was reworked to bring it more into line with the financial resources available. The intended capacity was for sixty boarders. This was halved and the plans altered so as to leave room on the site for an additional wing as and when funds became available. Tenders were then re-advertised in September of that year. This time J Davis’ tender of £2131 was accepted.[vii]

There was immense good will for the project from the majority of the community  with fundraising being undertaken as far south as Masterton and Wairarapa.. A stylish bazaar was held on the grounds behind Government House in March 1903. Well attended and hugely successful, this event met the cost of furnishing the school, but not more. 

The enterprise was always cash strapped. The school’s continued reliance on public generosity was stressed at the opening ceremony in May 1903.[viii]

Somehow Queen Victoria School survived until 2001, dogged by financial constraints all the way. Her sibling school of St Stephen’s had closed the previous year. 
The range of educational options in a changing world undoubtedly contributed in the drop in enrolments -back to the 60 girls envisaged in 1901. One hundred years later such a small role was no longer a viable proposition, placing an untenable pressure on families to meet the ever increasing fees. 
Image Jubilee booklet, Queen Victoria School Jubilee June 1953 p 59

The school is remembered with great fondness by past students and their families as a Spartan but happy place. It fulfilled its purpose well and in the early twentieth century was held in high esteem as an educational provider and  training establishment for community leaders.

[i] NZ Herald 12 Oct 1900 page 6 col 6
[ii] Ibid 12 Feb 1901 page 6
[iii] Ibid 20 Feb 1901 page 3
[iv] Ibid 21 May 1901 page 3
[v] Ibid 13 May 1901 page 6
[vi] Ibid 13 June 1901 page 5 col. 6, page 6 col. 6
[vii] Ibid 30 Sept 1902 page 4 col. 8
[viii] Ibid 23 May 1903 page 6 col 1 & 2