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The Spike or Victoria University College Review Silver Jubilee 1924

The Beginnings : Some Notes

page 14

The Beginnings : Some Notes

Several years ago when an attempt was made to celebrate the twenty-first anniversary of the starting of Victoria University College, in connection with the laying of the foundation stone of the North Wing of the College, I went through the Minutes of the Professorial Board in order to glean from, them such items of interest as might form the basis of a short address. As a good deal of what I noted then is germane to the present occasion, and worthy, I believe, of a more permanent record than in my own rough notes, I propose to set down what appear to me to be some of the most salient features in the development of the College, by way of redeeming the promise I made a few months ago that I would supply something for the Silver Jubilee Number of "The Spike."

The rapid development of the College since 1899 is reflected in the increases in the numbers of the Teaching Staff and in the numbers of the Students—from four Professors and two Lecturers to fifteen Professors and thirteen Lecturers, Assistants and Demonstrators in the one case, and in the other from 115 students attending lectures to 750 in 1923. It is also visible in the length of the Minutes of the Professorial Board. In the early days of the College when the classes met in the Girls' College and the Professorial Board in the back room of the offices of the late Mr. C. P. Powles, the original registrar of the College, one of the chief anxieties of the Chairman of the Board was to rake together sufficient business to keep the Board employed until the time arrived when it could decently adjourn for tea in the "Blue Platter," a small tea-room at the north end of Lambton Quay, long since defunct. The following. Minute of June, 1901, will cause the more recent amongst my colleagues to smile:

The Minutes of last meeting were read and confirmed. Mr. Joynt, University Registrar, asked to be allowed to apologise for a mistake in the last issue of the University Calendar relative to the V.C. teaching staff. There being no other business the meeting adjourned after a discussion on some general matters concerning the college.

One matter for congratulation in the history of V.U.C. is the almost uniformly good relations which have existed between the Professorial Board and the students of the College. As the Professorial Board has control of the discipline of the College, all serious misconduct on the part of the students is necessarily reflected in the pages of its Minute Book. There were undoubtedly one or two cases of misconduct during the early days of the College but only such as are inevitable, however regrettable, in dealing with a large body of young people between the ages of 17 and 20. The same is true, in the main, of the more recent history of the College. This may be set down to the fact that the College was exceedingly fortunate in having amongst its earliest undergraduates a large number of young men and women animated by high ideals, who established from the very first an esprit dc corps which their successors have endeavoured to perpetuate. The slate of feeling existing between the undergraduates and their teachers invariably finds expression in the College Magazine and not a few College Magazines have foundered on page 15 the reef of personal abuse. I think you will search the pages of "The Spike" in vain for anything that calls for serious animadversion. Chaff there is—as there ought to be—but the points of its "spikes" are, generally speaking, quite devoid of venom.

Amongst the undergraduates to whom, I believe, the college owes a great deal in this direction, I think I shall not go far wrong if I mention amongst the very earliest of our students the names of Fred de la Mare—known then and still by his friends as "Froggie"—battered somewhat by the war but still as large and serious as ever; George Dixon, always a keen sport who made himself responsible for the Athletics of the College and who is still ready to lend a helping hand; and, of a slightly later date, Siegfried Eichelbaum whose witty pen has enlivened many an extravaganza and capping carnival, and Allan MacDougall—a Rhodes Scholar—one of the most likeable and brilliant of our students, who, after a distinguished career at Oxford, was carried under in the maelstrom of the late war. Amongst the women students honourable mention is deserved by Lena van Staveren, still with us, and Mary Fleming, eldest daughter of the former Chief Inspector of Schools for the Wellington District, who died some six years ago. I have named only a very few—and these very early students—many other names will suggest themselves from amongst the students of a later date.

There is a well known line of Horace—"fortes creantur fortibus at bonis"—"From valiant and noble sires brave sons are born." In those former students whom I have mentioned and in many others, the students of Victoria College certainly had their "valiant and noble sires"; it rests with present and future generations of students to produce the brave sons.

The College Library

As the room in which the memorial window and brasses are erected is devoted to the housing of the College Library a few words on the history of this important institution will not be out of place. For a good many years—not a little against my own desire—I have acted as the Chairman of the College Library Committee and so may claim to know more about its development than any of my colleagues.

It is quite impossible to exaggerate the importance of a Library in a University institution. The Library is really the centre round which the work of the College—of teachers and taught—revolves, and one of the chief functions of a University College is to interest its students in books and to teach them their proper use. At the same time the history of many institutions like Victoria College shows that it is not always easy to impress this view on the governing body who are often loath to supply adequate funds for library purposes. From the very start the Professorial Board was alive to the necessity of providing and organising a Library.

I find in the minutes of the second meeting of the board on May 4th, 1899, a proposal that British publishers should be written to for donations of books for the College Library. This resolution was carried into effect but with little result, and naturally so, for publishers are not charitable aid societies but business men who do business on a cash basis. In answer to this well meant but foolish appeal the College received a certain page 16 number of school books, most of which have been banished from the shelves long ago whilst others may be said to linger there on sufferance. From the Minutes of October 4th of the same year it appears that a deputation was received from the Students' Association suggesting that "subscriptions be invited for starting a College Library." I do not think that this suggestion led to anything, but it shows the high spirit in which the V.U.C Students' Association started its activities.

In May, 1900, arrangements were made for cataloguing the books in the Library and for drawing up provisional regulations, and these regulations appear in the minutes of June 6th. At the same meeting the Chairman was empowered to write to the Council suggesting that "funds should be placed at the disposal of the Board for the purchase of books for the Library." At the next meeting a reply was received from the Council to the effect that "it would consider the matter later when funds were less limited and there was a proper building to house the books." There is a good deal of reason and common sense in the Council's reply, for the funds at its disposal in those early days—owing to the expenditure on the Queen's Scholars—were limited and the College had no fixed habitation, but was the guest of the Girls' College. However, the Professorial Board was not daunted, for in the minutes of May 1st, 1901, there is a reference to the sending of Professor Maclaurin and myself as a deputation to the Council in order to urge upon it the claims of the College Library. This apparently led to the institution of a Council Library Committee, for at the July meeting of the Board the chairman was instructed to write to the Council reminding it that this Committee had not yet met. The letter produced some effect, for the minutes of August refer to the granting of £100 for the purchase of books. I see from a later minute—September—that these books were purchased through Whitcombe & Tombs on very much better terms than we can buy books now.

In 1906 the College migrated from the Girls' College to the original portion of the present building, and this encouraged the Professorial Board to bring up the question of the Library once more. At a meeting of the Board held in December of that year a motion was passed suggesting to the Council that a fixed annual grant of £250 should be made to the College Library, and though the Council did not see its way to appropriate the full amount, an annual grant of £200 was set aside for the purpose.

Shortly after the establishment of the College in its present home, Mr. Manson of Palmerston North bequeathed to the College the sum of £300. For this legacy the College has to thank Professor Mackenzie—a friend of the testator and one of his executors. At the suggestion of Professor Mackenzie the £300 was devoted to library purposes and by means of the Government subsidy and a further grant from the Council a total of £1000 was secured. This £1000 really gave the Library a start and provided a nucleus. In the cataloguing of the books then purchased, and of others that had accumulated, and for the devising of a simple system of classification, the Library owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. Charles Wilson—the Parliamentary Librarian—an original member of the College Council.

The College Library is now well established and contains something like 18,000 volumes. Though not the largest, I believe that it is the best selected and most useful collection of books in page 17 any of the four University Colleges. The housing of the Library of the New Zealand Institute in the main room of the old Library, has brought within reach of Professors and students the most extensive collection of scientific periodicals that exists anywhere in New Zealand. For several years the Council voted the sum of £120 for the purchase of the back numbers of periodicals. As the result of this vote the College now possesses complete sets of many important journals,—a matter of prime importance to all who have occasion to consult them, for nothing is more disheartening to a student than a break in his periodical literature.

Diminutive though it is, compared with the vast collections of literature that exist in the older universities of Europe and the modern but wealthy universities of the United States, Victoria College has good reason to be proud of the progress of its Library during the last twenty years. It is now housed in a handsome chamber, which provides adequate accommodation for readers, and is in charge of a most loyal and conscientious Librarian. The College Council is at present spending on the Library something between £800 and £900 per annum. Compared with other College Councils the Council of V.U.C. has always dealt generously with the Library, if one remembers that the funds at its disposal, though now very much larger than they used to be, are still far from adequate for the proper carrying on of a University Institution.

J. Rankine Brown.