Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Victoria University of Wellington 1899 ~ 1999 A History

[two] — War and peace

page 30

War and peace

WAR MARKED THE century's, and the college's, second decade. In the years before and during the First World War the college was embroiled in two political struggles. Both were fought over ‘University Ideals’ – the title that Picken, a leading combatant in one case, took for his presidential address to the college Debating Society in 1908. The first was the struggle against ‘the system’: the examining university. It was not Victoria's struggle alone. Nor was it new. Much of the critique advanced by the University Reform Association, which was formed by the Victoria professors in 1910, had been aired before: by the royal commission in 1879, for example, and by the professor of English at Canterbury College, Arnold Wall, who had been campaigning for some years, and with small success, for reform of the structure of the arts degree. The student pursuing a bachelor of arts degree in the University of New Zealand – and most did – took six one-year courses from a total of 17 recognised subjects (although not all were taught at every college); Latin and mathematics were compulsory. Partly as a result of Wall's efforts, the Senate had grudgingly agreed to revise the regulations in 1905 to allow one subject to be advanced for a second year. The low standard of the undergraduate, or ‘pass’, degree, which valued breadth rather than depth, combined with the system of external examining, which encouraged cramming rather than learning, were the major pedagogical concerns of the university reformers.

It was, moreover, an age of university reform. There had been several recent commissions of inquiry into British universities, including the University of London, which was now to abandon the ideal upon which the University of New Zealand was founded. In 1907 the president of Stanford University, David Starr Jordan, who was visiting New Zealand, was asked by Stout (the university chancellor now, as well as a member of Victoria's Council) to comment on the colony's university page 31 system. Stout was impressed with the American's advice (as he was by all things American), which largely foreshadowed the aims of the local reformers; he had himself been an opponent of the examining university ideal.1 But a committee was appointed and no action resulted. Senate committees were not prone to decisive action.

It was through the activist zeal of Victoria's professors that existing moves for reform now became a ‘university reform movement’. Perhaps this was because Victoria was the youngest of the four colleges and felt itself to be suffering the most, being the poorest, with the highest proportion of part-time students and denied a special school.2 Perhaps too it was because its professors were, on the whole, relatively young and new to the system. Laby, noted Stout (who was soon to turn against reform), had started criticising the university only weeks after his arrival in Wellington. ‘They are all newcomers,’ the chancellor complained, ‘and know little of our history or our needs.’3 Both of the Australians, Laby and Picken, the newest members of the professoriate, were vocal protagonists. Laby had been ready to resign within a year of his appointment. Picken later stated that if he had known about the university's examination system beforehand he would probably not have applied for the chair.4 His condemnation of the system before the Debating Society in 1908 was acclaimed and reprinted in the press.

Also, and more obviously, Wellington was the place from which to launch a political campaign. If there was some emphasis in the deliberations of the University Reform Association on the needs of the sciences, it reflected the prominent involvement of the science professors: Picken, Laby, Easterfield, Kirk and Hunter
The Professorial Board, 1909. Back: Wilson, von Zedlitz, Easterfield, Kirk, Rankine Brown. Front: Hunter, Picken, Mackenzie, Adamson, Richmond

The Professorial Board, 1909. Back: Wilson, von Zedlitz, Easterfield, Kirk, Rankine Brown. Front: Hunter, Picken, Mackenzie, Adamson, Richmond

page 32 (a social scientist). Von Zedlitz too was an ardent reformer, but Brown and Mackenzie were not so revolutionary-minded. The association was formed following a public meeting at the Town Hall on 31 May 1910, called by a group of Victoria staff and graduates, and addressed by Easterfield and von Zedlitz. A further meeting at the college a week later, attended by about 60, resolved to form an association ‘to endeavour to increase the efficiency of University education in New Zealand’.5 A.L. Herdman, a lawyer and member of Parliament, was elected president, and an array of political, commercial and ecclesiastical figures of some prominence were chosen as vice-presidents. The executive committee consisted of the reforming professors and two other members of the college staff, the education lecturer William Gray, and Phoebe Myers, demonstrator (professor's assistant) in biology; Dr Fell and Augustus Hamilton from the Dominion Museum; one member of the college Council, lawyer and journalist A.R. Atkinson; the Reverend William Jollie; and Mrs Richmond Hursthouse, whose pupils donated the proceeds from two ‘entertainments’ to the cause. Hunter, embarking on a distinguished career in academic administration, was elected secretary. Easterfield was the treasurer and hosted the committee's meetings in his room.

The primary goal of the University Reform Association was a royal commission. Its manifesto was set out in a 196-page pamphlet, edited by Hunter, Laby and von Zedlitz, and published in August 1911. A brief historical survey preceded a catalogue of the defects of ‘the system’: external examining; the low standard of the pass degree (especially the arts courses, which most students took); neglect of research; the parlous state of college finances; inadequate libraries; methods of appointment (which had not always been rigorous); and an administrative structure that denied teachers ‘that democratic freedom of self-government which in varying degrees all other universities possess’.6 The reformers would give the professors a place on the Senate and the college councils and influence in academic affairs. A circular letter had been sent to 150 academics and university administrators overseas, and the 65 responses, all but two of them supportive, formed the appendices, along with the Jordan memorandum and (mischievously) a reforming speech made by Stout in 1886.

The campaign was taken to Parliament, the press, the university Senate and Victoria's own Council. A petition begging for a royal commission, signed by Laby, Picken and 11 other members of the Victoria teaching staff, was presented to Parliament in 1910. When it was considered by Parliament's education committee in September 1911, von Zedlitz, Hunter, Laby, Easterfield and Kirk gave evidence for the Reform Association. So did the Council chairman, Charles Wilson, who, although he supported the call for a commission, was less well disposed towards the reformers. The state of the college finances, he testified, was ‘horrible. If we go on as we are now, I think at the end of next year or the year after we shall have to cry a halt altogether, financially.’ But the reform pamphlet, he thought, was in parts ‘in very questionable taste’ and ‘lamentably inaccurate’, and he defended his Council against the charge of neglecting the library, blaming the professors instead. He was librarian of the General Assembly Library, and so not unexpectedly sensitive page 33 on this point (especially, perhaps, as he had once hoped to have control of the college library himself).7

Five Canterbury professors and the Victoria Council had lent their support to the petition. The committee concluded, however, that a royal commission was unnecessary. It believed the university was already making moves towards reform (a conference of professors had met in November 1910, although it was not authorised to consider the most vexed question of exams), and directed the inspector-general of schools, George Hogben, to report on university finance. In the meantime, the Reform Association lobbied members of the Senate, and Hunter was put forward, successfully, as the Wellington Court of Convocation nomination for election that year. Picken, Hunter and Laby propagated the reform case in newspaper articles. The senators reluctantly debated the reformers' demands, and agreed to an annual professorial conference; the reformers lobbied the new Massey government; and Stout became increasingly resolute in his opposition to what he labelled a ‘campaign of depreciation’ by ‘the Victoria College malcontents’.8

Relations between the professors and the Council became testy. An attempt to gain direct professorial representation on the Council in September 1912 was deflected by a deft tactical manoeuvre on the part of Stout: it passed instead his motion that the Council chairman become an ex officio member of the Professorial Board, and vice versa. At the next Council meeting he moved that a committee be appointed to investigate certain public statements made by Professor Picken which had cast ‘grave reflections on the Professors and Students of Victoria college’. ‘The University Professor,’ Picken had said (in the record of the Council minutes), ‘is a man whose value to the community should consist in his personality, his individuality of outlook, and his originality of thought but such qualities would chiefly serve to make life a burden to the men whom we call “Professors” in New Zealand.’ A ‘great majority of the students,’ he also said, ‘left the College less sound in body and mind and soul than on the day they entered, except for the salutary influence of their personal contact with one another.’9 Perhaps this was unwise. Whatever the merits of the reformers' cause, it is hardly surprising that Stout should be affronted by such a public slight to the college he had ‘founded’. However, the threat of disciplinary action and a showdown (professors were threatening to resign) were averted. The Council, while ‘regretting’ the speech, decided that an inquiry would not be in the best interests of the college. Perhaps the manner and tone in which Picken and his colleagues conducted their campaign hardened the chancellor's opposition, and harmed their own cause. So at least the commissioners who eventually were appointed (10 years later) suggested: ‘the vigour with which the agitation was conducted begat a similar vigour in opposition, and resulted in bitter and prolonged controversies, of which we do not yet see the end.’10

Support for reform from the other colleges grew, however, as Stout's and the Senate's reluctance hardened. When, in November 1912, the annual professorial conference met and the 30 assembled professors unanimously recommended the gradual abolition of external examining, the Senate abolished the conference. Six petitions now descended upon Parliament. Victoria's carried 27 signatures. The page 34 Victoria contingent who gave evidence this time included Professors Adamson, who presented the needs of the law school, and Brown, dean of the faculty of arts. (Mackenzie, however, had not been converted: he published his own pamphlet, Educational Reform: shall we Germanise our educational system?, under the pseudonym ‘Festina Lente’.) Brown argued the case for the arts and, for them especially, the paramount importance of a good library. In fact, Victoria could boast the largest of the college libraries.11 But ‘syntactical work in Latin … in which I am personally interested, I find exceedingly difficult to bring to any definite conclusion owing to the absence of books’. He suggested, too, that one college should specialise in the arts. This was a singular contribution to a debate which focused almost wholly on science and professional subjects, and one that was not taken up: ‘the word “science” in these days,’ he ruefully observed, ‘is something like the blessed word “Mesopotamia”; and science, after having been, I admit, unjustly held down by the brute force of the older arts subjects, is now threatening to exercise some oppression in its turn – it has a capacious maw, it is somewhat noisy, and very keen and enthusiastic – whilst the average Arts Professor is a quiet, studious creature whose work is sometimes undervalued in these material days.’12

There was no royal commission, but a small advance had been made. Under the New Zealand University Amendment Act which was passed in 1914, a Board of Studies consisting of five members of each Professorial Board was established, with power to advise the Senate on academic matters. It was through this body that a prolonged struggle to reform the examination and degree systems was now carried on, principally by the Victoria and Canterbury representatives. The statutory grants were raised by the 1914 act, Victoria's to £9000; in addition, each college now received a proportion (some £1000 per annum) of the national endowment, a part of this sum dedicated to libraries. Four national research scholarships were established.13 The Reform Association was disappointed, and published a second pamphlet saying so, but felt it had achieved all that it could short of the elusive royal commission, and dissolved itself.

Under the Victoria College Amendment Act passed in September the same year, the college's Council was reconstituted to include two members of the Professorial Board – a further minor victory for the reformers which Stout and Wilson fought to the end. Brown and Adamson, the more moderate members of the reforming party, were the first professors elected to the Council in 1915. Other changes to the composition of the college's governing body were also made by this act: the politicians' right to elect a member was removed (with the result that the thorny Wilson retired); representation of the Court of Convocation was raised from two members to four, and that of teachers and the Education Board reduced from three to two; and one member would now be elected by the City Council. The composition of the Professorial Board was also amended: lecturers – a rising class – were excluded.

The act also empowered the college to charge the students a general tuition fee (a ‘college fee’). And it changed the institution's name, from Victoria College to Victoria University College (just to make it clear that this was not a secondary page 35 school). A sign of a different kind, perhaps, of the college's growth as an institution was the appointment in 1915 of its first full-time registrar – that ‘objectionable functionary who carries out with gusto the unpleasant duty of collecting fees from impecunious students’, as he once described his office.14 He was G.G.S. Robison, a former schoolmaster (and one-time private secretary to his brother-in-law, William Pember Reeves), who held the position until his retirement in 1948.


The larger war that began in August 1914 affected all of the colleges in predictable ways. Student numbers fell, clubs went into recess and capping celebrations were curtailed; the work of the science departments was diverted to military purposes. Kirk made a study of fly control in military camps. The chemistry laboratory produced morphia for military hospitals and carbons for searchlights, and in the physics workshop ‘a good deal of attention has been given to signalling and bomb-throwing apparatus’.15 The number of students attending lectures fell from 377 in 1914 to 320 in 1917, and women outnumbered men (but only just): in 1914 there were 243 men and 134 women attending the college; in 1917 there were 148 men and 172 women. Of the 600 Victoria students and former students who served, 150 died.

At Victoria, the war also occasioned one of the most controversial episodes in the college's, and the university's, history: the manner in which, in the diplomatic words of the college's annual report to Parliament in 1916, the chair of modern languages was ‘rendered vacant by the passing of the Alien Enemy Teachers Act’.16 It was an instance of official capitulation to the kind of popular paranoia that is
George von Zedlitz, professor of modern languages

George von Zedlitz, professor of modern languages

page 36 not unexpected in wartime; but was also a chilling demonstration of the fragility of one of the more basic of those university ideals for which, in a different context, the reformers had recently been fighting – that of academic freedom.

The act in question was passed, in 1915, specifically to remove from the college staff its Silesian-born professor of modern languages, George von Zedlitz, whose German connection, tenuous though it was, became an embarrassment not to the college but to the government. Von Zedlitz had not seen his father – a baron and head of an old Silesian family – since he was four years old; he had been raised by his English-born mother and not returned to Germany since he left at 14. He had tacitly renounced his German citizenship, although he had not become an official British subject. On the outbreak of hostilities between Germany and Russia he approached the German consul (unwisely, it may be seen in hindsight) to offer his services in a non-combatant role. The gesture was declined. After Britain entered the war he offered the college Council his resignation lest his lack of formal citizenship should become an embarrassment. The Council refused to accept it. He gave the government the written assurance it required of his loyalty. But popular feeling was less easily assuaged. As anti-German feeling rose, so did a vitriolic, public anti-von Zedlitz campaign, which intensified against the background of Gallipoli and the sinking of the Lusitania in the autumn of 1915. The professor was accused of signalling to German submarines; there was a rumour that he had been shot for operating a clandestine wireless station; anonymous letters to the press demanded his removal – other Germans had been dismissed from the public service, and interned, so why not he? The Council went in deputation to the government, and was reassured that a proper authority would shortly be set up to deal with such situations.

Throughout the whole affair the majority on the Council stood by their professor. In June, when a report was adopted endorsing its support for him, an amendment that he be asked to resign was lost by eight votes to two. The two were Wilson, between whom and the professor there had existed a mutual antagonism since von Zedlitz had criticised the General Assembly Library (and it had been exacerbated, one imagines, by Wilson's criticism of the University Reform Association), and the chairman, Clement Watson, headmaster of nearby Te Aro School and a founding Council member. The Professorial Board and 50 past and present students of von Zedlitz presented testimonials in his favour, and while student numbers overall were falling because of the war, enrolments in the modern language classes alone had increased. ‘Von’, as he was generally known, was a popular professor: an energetic supporter of student clubs and a spellbinding lecturer.

Needless to say, the popular clamour continued, regardless of the college's confidence in him and the official judgement of the Aliens Board (in July) that his removal was unwarranted. In response to a question in Parliament in August 1915 the prime minister, while denying the right or intention of the government to interfere with the statutory powers of the college Council, announced its intention to introduce legislation ‘to deal with the situation, inasmuch as it is of opinion that neither in University college nor public schools is it desirable that unnaturalized page 37 enemy subjects should continue to give instruction to the youth and children of the Dominion’. If steps were not taken by the Council, or the professor himself, to remove him, the government would legislate.17

As the Alien Enemy Teachers Bill proceeded through Parliament, von Zedlitz three times asked to be allowed to resign, but was refused, and the Council petitioned the House, also to no avail. There were four members of the college Council in the legislature, and all voted for the bill. A.L. Herdman, the attorney-general (and recently president of the University Reform Association), hurriedly resigned his seat on the Council to avoid a conflict of interest. When the bill was passed, several other councillors planned to resign in protest, but an amendment to the Education Amendment Act was hastily passed to stop them from doing so. (It provided for their replacement by government nominees.) Von Zedlitz was dismissed; he was granted a year's salary (the maximum allowed by the act); and the Council set down its account of the case in a pamphlet.18

For the remainder of the war years the French classes were taken by the professor's ageing, widowed and popular assistant, Margaret McPhail, until her death (rumoured to have been from overwork) in 1918. German was taken from 1916 until the appointment of a successor to von Zedlitz in 1919 by Mary Baker, a graduate of the Univerity of Melbourne and (representing the absent professor) the first woman on the Professorial Board.

The Council of 1915 had acquitted itself honourably in its defence of von Zedlitz; it did not do so when it decided against reappointing him after the war. But this was a different Council, which, faced with protests from the Returned Soldiers' Association, school committees, and education and town boards, voted against Hunter's motion for his reinstatement. Von Zedlitz opened a private University Tutorial School on The Terrace, and kept a close association with college and university affairs: he served five years on the university Senate, and was made a professor emeritus by Victoria in 1936.19

To his chair the college appointed Edwin Boyd-Wilson. He was (reassuringly perhaps) a New Zealander who had studied at Canterbury and Cambridge, taught in Belgium, Sydney and Perth, and was now to teach at Victoria for 34 years. He was a man of prodigious energy both in the classroom and out of doors (a tramper, hunter and footballer); and a maker of wine, and of tea brewed from water drawn from the radiator in his room. (‘A professor,’ he was reported to remark on his retirement in 1954, ‘always has the right to be eccentric.’)20


The sequel to the university reform story came in 1925 with the long-awaited appointment of a royal commission, in the persons of Sir Harry Reichel, principal of the University College of North Wales, and Frank Tate, director of education for Victoria, Australia, and their damning and decisive report. The heroic efforts of the Victoria professoriate had no need to be repeated. Virtually everyone except the University of Otago was now agreed on the need for reform. The unending and undignified struggle over special schools, and a growing movement for page 38

The professors outdoors, 1917. Standing, from left: Kirk, librarian Horace Ward, registrar George Robison, Rankine Brown, Cotton, Hunter, Mackenzie, Sommerville, Marsden. Seated: Adamson, Garrow, Easterfield

separation into four independent universities, had forced the issue. At the Victoria Council meeting in June 1925 all but Stout voted for a motion put by Hunter in favour of separation. The reforming Hunter was deputed by the Senate to provide advice to the commissioners.

The Reichel–Tate report rehearsed the charges made by the earlier reformers, but had the added weight of international authority and a more devastating turn of phrase – famously, in the opening observation ‘that the New Zealand University offers unrivalled facilities for gaining university degrees, but that it is less successful in providing university education’.21 External examining, part-time study and exempted students (Victoria's particular bane), the pass degree, the scramble for special schools, funding, understaffing, neglect of research and libraries, and the exclusion of teachers from administrative and academic responsibility were all condemned. The commissioners had been given a wide brief, which specifically included the question of separation, but this they did not counsel (yet). The University of New Zealand Amendment Act 1926 adopted only their administrative recommendations, redefining the university as a federal structure of four colleges, reconstituting the Senate to be more representative of them, and replacing the Board of Studies with an Academic Board, still with the power only to recommend (on any matters concerning the university, but especially academic). The critical recommendation of a full-time vice-chancellor, however, was not taken up until page 39 1938, when Hunter was appointed principal of the university, but only part time.22

The question of special schools – ‘the football of university politics’, in Hunter's phrase – had exercised the commissioners greatly.23 And it is the necessary context in which to consider the development of Victoria's academic establishment in its second and third decades. ‘Each college should have at least one special school to keep it in touch with the life of the community in which it is situated, and to arouse interest in the College among the people of the University district,’ remarked the college's annual report in 1921.24 During that year Victoria initiated a joint approach to the government with Auckland, requesting the provision of special schools for the North Island colleges. This followed its unsuccessful call for a conference of colleges on the subject late the previous year. In August 1920 the Council had received a letter from G.H. Scholefield advocating the foundation of a chair of Pacific studies, and shortly afterwards a request from a group of architecture students in Wellington for the college to introduce an architecture course (a subject taught only at Auckland). The science faculty recommended that the college make ‘claims for Architecture, Agriculture, Forestry, and Studies in connection with the Pacific’; the Professorial Board resolved on just agriculture and forestry.25

Pacific studies, it must be argued, was the most appropriate of these for Victoria – as well as being the personal interest of the journalist and historian Scholefield. Did he see himself in the chair? In a few years he was to succeed Charles Wilson as parliamentary librarian, but in 1920 had just returned from London where his doctoral thesis (from the London School of Economics) on The Pacific, its past and future had recently been published. Wellington was the home of the Dominion Museum, where Elsdon Best, as honorary ethnologist, was writing his pioneering studies of pre-European Maori society and culture, and of the just-opened Alexander Turnbull Library, where the polymath Johannes Andersen, its first librarian, pursued his personal intellectual mission of ‘indigenising’ New Zealand's European culture and edited the Polynesian Society's Journal. Since the 1890s, and the formation of the Polynesian Society in 1893, Wellington had been the centre of the colony's emerging indigenous intellectual life, of an historical and ethnological scholarship which was ‘amateur’ only in the sense that it remained outside the university. The journalist–historian rather than the professor of history was the type of the colonial intellectual; the matrix of museum, General Assembly Library and Alexander Turnbull's library was his territory. The university existed on the fringes of this intellectual world, and Victoria was still to take advantage of the city's rich resources for historical and anthropological scholarship.

Instead Victoria acquired, albeit briefly, a school of agriculture, a singularly inappropriate subject for this college located on a precipitous hillside with hardly a farm in sight, except perhaps for its strength in the sciences. Whether agriculture would keep the college ‘in touch with the life of the community in which it is situated’ was at least debatable. But there was no doubt that agriculture was the coming thing. There had long been a demand in some quarters for farming education at university level, and it had gained a powerful advocate in the prime page 40 minister, William Massey, after 1912. The subject gained currency and urgency in the postwar climate of economic instability, concern about the declining fertility and productivity of the colony's agricultural industry, and the more general wartime stimulus given to scientific research. In 1923 a report commissioned by the university Senate recommended the establishment of a university-level agricultural college. The Senate agreed, but vacillated over whether it should be located at Auckland or Victoria. It had recognised the need to redress the balance of distribution of special schools which was weighted so heavily towards the South Island.

Victoria's Professorial Board had already – as early at least as 1920 – put in its bid. But the decisive development on its part was a £10,000 bequest for the foundation of a chair of agriculture from a Wairarapa runholder, legislative councillor and farming advocate, Sir Walter Buchanan. Without delay the Council appointed a professor. Geoffrey Peren, a graduate of Ontario Agricultural College, arrived in June 1924 to take charge of, in his own words, ‘surely … one of the most extraordinary Schools of Agriculture which ever accepted students’: a school without a farm, livestock, laboratories or funding (apart from his own salary), ‘jammed into a little room in the Physics Department, barely large enough to hold six students’.26 The Council took to the government his request for funding for three lecturers and a farm near Masterton, and was refused; the Dominion Farmers' Institute, however, gave £1056 to endow an agricultural scholarship. Despite these unpromising conditions, Peren started teaching in 1925 with 12 students and assistance from officers of the Department of Agriculture.

The college asked the Senate to approve the ‘Sir Walter Buchanan School of Agriculture’ for the purposes of the BSc in October 1924. A month later Auckland requested recognition of the school of agriculture it was planning to found with its own £20,000 bequest. The logical (but unlikely) thing to do was to combine
College and Salamanca Rd, 1918. Adkin collection, ATL 23178 1/4

College and Salamanca Rd, 1918. Adkin collection, ATL 23178 1/4

page 41 resources and establish a single agricultural college in the North Island. Peren toured the country promoting this course. The commissioners Reichel and Tate agreed. Victoria approached Auckland, whose professor at first opposed the plan, but in due course a conference held in February 1926 agreed to an amalgamation. A site was selected at Palmerston North, the necessary legislation was passed, and Peren became principal of Massey Agricultural College in 1928. It was an unexpectedly happy outcome on all sides. ‘The Prime Minister expressed great pleasure at the two Colleges agreeing to sink local differences and combining for the general good.’27

In ‘these material days’, it was perhaps not surprising that the college's other bid for a special school should be in commerce. F.P. Wilson had in 1909 been appointed lecturer in economics, history and geography ‘with a view to the Commerce degree’. The two-year Bachelor of Commerce was a mixture of liberal and technical subjects, the latter being also the professional requirements of the recently formed New Zealand Society of Accountants. Most students taking BCom courses did so to qualify as accountants; only a third of them also graduated with a commerce degree. Wilson was to teach economics and history for the BA, and the prescribed course for the new BCom: economics, commercial and physical geography, general history, statistical method, currency and banking, and industrial law. This eclectic teaching load was not peculiar to Victoria: Wilson's colleagues at Auckland and Canterbury, where commerce was already recognised as a ‘specialisation’, had similar responsibilities.28

Accountancy was introduced into the college's BCom syllabus at the instigation of the Society of Accountants in 1912. A grant from the society of £150 per annum for five years enabled the college to appoint two lecturers, in accountancy (J.S. Barton) and commercial law (W.F. Ward, who also assisted the classics professor with Latin). Their tenure was brief, however. The number of students fell from 70 in the first year to 25 in 1913, and to eight between 1915 and 1917. The teachers thought the problem was the location of the college, and the Council agreed to hold the classes in town. Probably the war was the greater factor. When the Society of Accountants withdrew its subsidy in 1917 the classes were terminated. Ten years later the Department of Education requested the reintroduction of accountancy, but the college demurred: ‘Accountancy subjects as defined,’ reported the Professorial Board, ‘fall below the proper standard of University subjects’, and past experience of student interest was not encouraging.29

Commerce, however, was a different matter from professional examinations in bookkeeping. In 1912 the brewer T.G. Macarthy died leaving a substantial estate in trust for charitable and educational purposes in Wellington. From this new-found source of educational funding, the Professorial Board hoped to secure money to enable the introduction of day teaching; the Council wanted a chair of economics and a ‘school of economics, commerce and history’. The teaching of economics, like agriculture, was ‘a matter of national importance’, and (unlike agriculture) was ‘not only cognate to law but also eminently appropriate to a University College situated in Wellington’.30 F.P. Wilson put the case more forcefully to the 1913 page 42
Barney Murphy, professor of economics

Barney Murphy, professor of economics

parliamentary education committee: ‘I think I can claim to be voicing the opinion of the majority of thinking men in the Dominion when I say the most important subject in the University curriculum is economics. New Zealand has been called “the world's economic laboratory” … Our University Colleges should produce men trained to analyse economic phenomena, men who will in years to come be the leaders of public opinion.’31

At first £2000 was expected, enough for the nucleus of a school. Then in 1916 the Macarthy Trust pledged £10,000 (to be paid in annual instalments of £1000) for the establishment of a Macarthy School of Economics. The money did not become available for a few years yet, but a start was made in 1918 with a lectureship. Wilson was reappointed lecturer in history and commercial geography (at a salary of £500), and a lectureship in economics advertised at £300. B.E. (Barney) Murphy was appointed after the position had been readvertised at £350.32 He was an arts, history and commerce graduate of Otago and Victoria (where he had been a student of Hunter). ‘Famed for his caustic wit and voluminous textbooks’, he was to gain a reputation as a lecturer especially to first-year students – although his wit, when it was sarcasm, was intimidating to some.33 Outside the classroom, his preferred pastimes were freemasonry, poker and rugby. In 1920, when the trust money became available, he was appointed professor of the Macarthy School of Economics, the first chair of economics in the university, which he held for 30 years. The school was to teach ‘economics, descriptive and analytic, with special reference to New Zealand conditions’; courses included economics at all stages for the BA and BCom degrees, as well as economic geography and industrial law (‘although these subjects do not fall within the scope of a Chair of Economics as ordinarily understood’). He would have preferred to teach ‘a general B.Sc. degree in Social Science with numerous options’, but the BCom was prescribed by the university.34

page 43

Another addition to the professorial complement in 1920 was education, £850 having been earmarked for this purpose under the New Zealand University Amendment Act, 1919, which had raised each college's statutory grant, Victoria's by £2500. (In the fickle nature of government funding, however, the grants were reduced again, Victoria's by £900, in 1922.) Since 1905 the principal of the Wellington teachers' training college, William Gray, had given lectures in education for the BA degree. The training colleges, one in each university centre, taught a two-year course, and selected students also did part-time university study. They made up a significant body of Victoria's students: 21% in 1925, a considerably higher proportion than at the other colleges.35 The relationship between Victoria and the city's teachers' college was also strengthened by their physical proximity. When Victoria first opened in its rented rooms, the training college was also located in Thorndon. Once Victoria moved to its site on the hill in 1906, teachers' college students joined the clerks and lawyers who made the climb from Lambton Quay, until in 1916 the training college also moved to Kelburn, a short, flat walk away.

Gray was succeeded in 1912 by J.S. Tennant, who became in 1920 Victoria's first professor of education. He was a part-time professor, however, who retained his position as head of the training college; and the Council was a little optimistic when in 1925 it observed that the ‘time appears to be ripe for considering seriously the necessity of establishing a School of Education’.36 The chair of education became a fully fledged, full-time chair, separate from the principalship of the training college, in 1927, but Victoria's relationship with the training college and its role in teacher education was not to develop quite as the Council anticipated: ‘either by affiliation of the Training College or such extension as will give the
Charles Cotton, professor of geology, 1921. S.P. Andrew collection, ATL 3482 1/2

Charles Cotton, professor of geology, 1921. S.P. Andrew collection, ATL 3482 1/2

page 44 University direct control over some experimental teaching institution’.37

The chairs of history and geology were created only after the two lecturers asked. Each had written to the Council more than once on the matter of his status and salary before Wilson was promoted to a professorship on the casting vote of the Council chairman in January 1921, and Cotton's promotion followed as a matter of course as the next agenda item. In the expansion and changing configuration of teaching and departments in postwar years, the rising subject of geography – ‘the claims of which are now compelling attention in all universities,’ Cotton observed in 1924 – fell uncertainly between the subjects of history, economics and geology, the BA and BCom degrees, and the faculties of arts and science.38

Wilson, the versatile but overburdened historian, was able to relinquish the teaching of economic geography to commerce students to the new school of economics after 1920, and with his elevation to the professoriate, history was ‘at last released from the danger of mere subordination in a school of economics and commerce’.39 When a class in geography for the BA was introduced in 1920 (chiefly to improve the standard of geography teaching in secondary schools) Murphy and Cotton agreed to share it. Cotton (‘entirely ex gratia’) took physical geography for arts students, and supervised all the practical geography work; Murphy's assistant took physical geography for both the BA and BCom. It was an unsatisfactory arrangement, with Murphy evidently resentful of the extra responsibility, and Cotton fearful that his teaching of geology (his first call) would suffer but unwilling to give up a subject in which he was keenly interested. He was also uncomfortably aware that they were not teaching the full geography syllabus. ‘I am doubtful whether, in these circumstances, the College is justified in granting Terms for B.A. in Geography,’ he told the Council in 1926. He proposed that a full-time assistant be appointed to his department to lecture in ‘the Human (and so-called “Political and Economic”) Geography … for B.A., as well as Economic Geography for B.Com…. while I retain the lecturing in Physical Geography’ (and also gain assistance in geology). But the Council declined this and his subsequent requests through the 1920s for full-time assistance. He was granted a part-time student assistant in 1930 only when he offered to contribute £100 towards the cost himself. And geography, which remained his responsibility, was not to emerge as a fledgling department, and then neither exclusively an art nor a science, until the 1940s.40


In the science faculty there were no new schools or departments in these years, but there were a number of professorial changes of a more routine kind. Laby and Picken had gone almost immediately the first wave of university reform had subsided, both to the University of Melbourne in 1915 (where Laby was to have a notable career as professor of natural philosophy). Laby was succeeded briefly by Ernest Marsden, from Victoria University of Manchester where he had worked alongside Rutherford on radioactivity; but in 1922 he made an unexpected move page 45
A student joke: a rogue slide slipped into Professor Cotton's teaching set (in 1921). Paul Cotton

A student joke: a rogue slide slipped into Professor Cotton's teaching set (in 1921). Paul Cotton

to an administrative career, as assistant director of education and subsequently the first secretary of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. D.C.H. Florance, who succeeded him as professor of physics, was appointed on Rutherford's recommendation and came to Wellington via Hong Kong, but he did not distinguish the subject at Victoria. Picken's place was taken by D.M.Y. Sommerville from St Andrews, who had been beaten to the chair by his predecessor in 1907. The ‘ablest Scottish geometer of his time’, as he was then considered, and an amateur watercolourist, he ‘conferred a measure of international academic lustre upon the college without stirring controversy’.41 The new professor of chemistry, who took Easterfield's place in 1920 when the latter decamped to the Cawthron Institute, also combined artistic and scientific accomplishments. This was P.W. Robertson, one of the college's own most brilliant students, who had published nine scientific papers while still an undergraduate, became Victoria's first Rhodes scholar, and taught at Rangoon and London before returning to his alma mater for 29 years. He was a considerable linguist as well as a chemical researcher of international standing, and ‘no less famous for his papers on the kinetics of kalogen addition to olefines than for his psychoanalytical studies of great writers’.42

The college also acquired briefly in the late 1920s a research fellow in freshwater fish, when annual funding of £400 for two or three years was given by the Wellington Acclimatisation Society. A far more valuable gift in monetary terms had been the £10,000 Sarah Anne Rhodes bequest in 1915 for the education of women in home science – a subject which, unfortunately, was taught only at Otago. The Professorial Board suggested first a residential hostel giving tuition in domestic science, then a research lectureship. The Council finally decided on a research scholarship and later a fellowship attached to Massey Agricultural College, so sending promising women graduates to continue their study elsewhere. A school of economics, or of social science, or even of agriculture was one thing; a school of domestic science – ‘the instruction of farmers’ wives in diet and dressmaking', as J.C. Beaglehole remarked – apparently ‘had no real connection with the work of a university’.43

An acquisition of a different kind strengthened the college's science departments. page 46
A professor at the chalk face: P.W. Robertson. Des Hurley

A professor at the chalk face: P.W. Robertson. Des Hurley

In 1921 it was agreed, through the offices of Kirk, to house the library of the New Zealand Institute, following a fire in the decrepit and overcrowded Dominion Museum that had been its home. This was meant to be a temporary arrangement until a new museum was built. In the event Victoria kept custody of the library until the Institute (by now the Royal Society of New Zealand) gained its first independent home in 1981. The several thousand volumes were moved into a room in the arts block near the college library in November 1922; the Institute's office followed six months later, and its council meetings were henceforth held at the college. Staff and students had access to the Institute library, and Institute members to the college library in turn. Although the collection was not outstanding (Kirk had explained to the parliamentary committee in 1913 that its periodical runs were mostly incomplete), the arrangement promised to make Victoria's library resources ‘in most scientific subjects … the best in New Zealand’.44 It also brought the college into a closer relationship with the scientific community outside the university at a time when the infrastructure of science in New Zealand was rapidly changing: the establishment of the DSIR in 1926 followed two decades in which the balance was shifting between amateur, government and academic science.


Although the mild-mannered Cotton had not been favoured in his requests for teaching assistance, staff numbers grew significantly between 1910 and 1930, with an expanding range, and lexicon, of sub-professorial positions. Departments emerged. First there had been just the professor. Then there was the professor and his part-time assistant, or ‘demonstrator’ in the laboratory sciences. In 1911 seven of these were listed in the college calendar for the first time, four of them women. By 1920 there were nine assistants or demonstrators to 10 professors, and five lecturers – one in history and one in geology (which had yet to attain the status of chair) and three in law (in evidence, procedure, and criminal law and torts). In the page 47 1920s ‘departments’ grew with the appointment of full-time assistants, who had some teaching to do, as opposed to professors' assistants, who marked exam papers and perhaps prepared some junior work. In the early 1920s the larger departments were entitled to a full-time assistant on a salary of £300. The nomenclature and salary of the junior staff varied as their numbers increased: there were ‘assistant and instructors’ and ‘assistant and demonstrators’, then assistant lecturers, then full-time and part-time lecturers. The scientists were also assisted by ‘lab boys’, who were paid at a weekly rate on a scale, set in 1921, ranging from 25s to 35s. In 1913 the departments had been sorted into faculties, each with a dean: arts, science, commerce and law.45

A postwar boom in student numbers necessitated the expansion of the teaching staff as well as the college buildings. Once it had recovered from the temporary wartime downturn, the college roll rose from 535 attending classes in 1920 to just over 800 in 1925. Wilson asked for help in history, for example, when enrolments in his pass class increased from 79 to 133 in 1924. A recent graduate, J.C. Beaglehole, was appointed as his assistant, and also assistant to the college librarian; when he took up a travelling scholarship in 1926, his place was taken by the young poet Eileen Duggan, who had graduated with first-class honours in 1918 (but was forced to retire at the end of a year through ill-health). In 1925 the college calendar listed 14 assistant instructors or demonstrators; in 1929 there were seven lecturers, four assistant lecturers and three demonstrators. An increase in the college's statutory grant in 1928 facilitated the rise in the status, and salaries, of the junior staff. The

The science faculty in 1919, including two of Victoria's earliest women teachers. Back: Marsden, Robertson, George Bagley, Cotton. Front: Kirk, Ethel Fenton (physics), Easterfield, Eileen Pigott (biology), Sommerville

page 48 law faculty was the college's, and the university's, largest, with two professors, six lecturers and one assistant in 1928, and 449 students.46


The emergence of the ‘lecturer’ and the ‘department’ was one of several milestones passed by the college in the 1920s. The most important, from the professors' point of view, was the introduction of day teaching. ‘The year 1926 marked a very important epoch in the history of our college,’ the annual report solemnly recorded, ‘– the first determined effort to break away from the dominating influence of evening lectures.’47 The Reichel–Tate report had been typically blunt on the ‘evils’ of the part-time system: ‘It lowers the standard of the degree, tends to degrade the university teacher into a pass-degree coach, and reduces corporate student life to an anaemic shadow.’48 As early as 1913 the Council had considered this step an ‘urgent necessity’, but it postponed a discussion of the matter when it was next brought to their attention by the Professorial Board in 1921. The professors were concerned about overcrowding in their classes. By the mid–1920s they considered the introduction of daytime teaching more important than any expansionist moves into new disciplines, new departments or new schools. It was for this reason that Hunter advised the Council against a proposal from the Australian Association of Psychology and Philosophy in 1925, for example, that it establish a department of social science. A request that the college appoint a lecturer in music was similarly declined.

The move was made tentatively and gradually. The students were consulted – science and arts students showed themselves the most willing – and in 1925 pass classes in arts subjects were duplicated during the daytime as an experiment.49 In 1926 all lectures and laboratory work in the sciences were held between 9am and 5pm. The revolution was extended gradually to the arts departments: from 1928 stage-one classes were held in the daytime and evening in alternate years. It was not completed across all faculties until the 1960s. This long-sought reform brought more problems than simply the need for more staff. Professor Florance had to ask for the physics room to be darkened for teaching in daylight hours. In 1927 the council reported a ‘rather serious diminution’ in student numbers, the first since the war, which it attributed partly to the change to day teaching in science, although the more important factor was a change in the policy of the Education Department regarding teachers' training colleges, which meant many Victoria students transferred to other colleges.50

The realisation of another cherished goal of the university reformers also came in 1926: the passing of the pass degree. The nine-unit degree was introduced this year for both the BA and BSc, with each subject progressing by year through three units or ‘stages’. Meanwhile, a less dramatic timetable change had also occurred: in 1920 the two-term academic year was replaced by three terms. The 1920s saw, too, the first visiting academic dignitaries to the college. The first was Sir John Adams, emeritus professor of education at the University of London. Lord Rutherford came in 1925 and gave a public lecture at the Town Hall under the page 49
Building with wings, c.1924. S.P. Andrew collection, ATL F18905 1/1

Building with wings, c.1924. S.P. Andrew collection, ATL F18905 1/1

auspices of the college as well as an informal lecture at the college, and in April Dr Carl Lotsky from Haarlem University gave three lectures on evolution.

And there was the silver jubilee in 1924 – a triple banger: the unveiling of the stained-glass memorial window in the new library, the 25th anniversary of the opening of the college, and the inter-college university sports tournament hosted that year by Victoria. The Education Board had agreed to close the schools in the district for the week following Easter to allow as many past students as possible to attend the celebrations. The war memorial window, designed by J. Ellis and built by Smith & Smith in Dunedin, was unveiled by Robert Stout on Good Friday, 18 April, the exact anniversary of the first college lectures.51 An ode on the occasion (this was becoming a college tradition) was composed by a recent history graduate, J.C. Beaglehole, and printed in the jubilee edition of The Spike, the college review.52 There followed a civic reception and luncheon on Saturday in the Town Hall Concert Chamber. Plans for a dinner in the evening had had to be abandoned because of the difficulty of organising catering at Easter; instead there was a ‘Social Evening at the College Gymnasium for Past Students not attending the Boxing Finals’. The entertainment featured ‘items by well-known past Students who delighted their contemporaries in former days and are still able to hold their own in good company’.53 Along with the tournament sporting contests in tennis, athletics, boxing and debating, there was a past students' tennis tournament on the Saturday morning. On Sunday afternoon an academic procession left the college for St Paul's Pro-Cathedral and a special university service.