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Victoria University of Wellington 1899 ~ 1999 A History


page 9


THIS IS VICTORIA'S second jubilee history. As if the task of writing the university's 100 years in a little over two was not challenge enough, I follow self-consciously in the footsteps of J.C. Beaglehole, whose elegant, idiosyncratic ‘Essay towards a history’ was published on Victoria's 50th jubilee in 1949. This work is shaped by that one in a number of ways. While it is centennial in scope, my research and writing have concentrated on the second 50 years. The first half century occupies a quarter of these pages, which do not claim to supersede Beaglehole, whose singular achievement is the way in which both his overriding interest in the students and his literary style evoke the spirit of time and place – a curious kind of ‘institutional history’.

This work too was intended to be different, at least within the local field. My brief was to make a contribution to the genre by focusing on academic life and the role of Victoria in the intellectual life of New Zealand, and the world, while not ignoring such important things as buildings and budgets, committees and councillors. (Buildings have certainly not been ignored.) Hence its shape. The first four chapters recount Victoria's foundation and its story until 1949. From there a thematic approach is taken more or less up to the late 1980s. Chapters deal in turn with administration and general themes of growth and change, buildings and site, the academic departments – in no significant order: science, commerce, law, social sciences and the arts, and various bits in between – and the students. It was with relief I learned half way through the project that the Students' Association had commissioned its own centennial history, for, despite intentions (and Beaglehole's example), it seemed the students were in danger of being crowded out by the professors, lecturers and lecture blocks: they have two chapters out of 13, an inevitably impressionistic treatment. The final chapter deals, necessarily hesitantly, with the 1990s.

Beaglehole confidently summed up the ‘spirit’ of the university in a sentence page 10 or two (the ‘wise, luminous and compassionate’ utilitarian spirit of John Stuart Mill). This history also hopes to describe what makes Victoria distinctive. Whether it succeeds is for others to say. The potential readership of a university history is as broad as the people who have made that history, and they will each have their own idea about where the centre of the university lies. But it is a simple fact that the university of the 1990s is much bigger and more complex than the university college of 1949. The historian can only aim to be relatively comprehensive within constraints which include time, resources, narrative sense, and her own areas of interest and expertise. Apology is hereby extended to all those who feel that their Victoria has been neglected, misrepresented or maligned.

I was greatly assisted in writing this history by an advisory committee convened by Gary Hawke. Its other members were Charlotte Macdonald, David Hamer, Bill Renwick, Katharine Jermyn and Fergus Barrowman. I am indebted to them for their advice, criticism and encouragement, inside stories and willingness not to interfere. Nor could I have managed the task without my energetic research assistant, Maureen McEnroe, who confronted the dusty boxes of the university archives in the basement of the Cotton building without flinching and with almost unfailing good humour. Many members of the university assisted my research. I would like to thank in particular: John Andrews, Tony Angelo, Ian Axford, Tim Beaglehole, Mary Boyd, Neil Curtis, W.E. Dasent, James Duncan, Robin Ferrier, Peter Franks, Ian Gordon, John Harper, Gary Hawke, Les Holborow, John McGrath, Don McKenzie, Phil Mann, Peter Morris, Christiane Mortellier, Peter Norrish, Jim Robb, John Roberts, Dick Simpson, Don Trow and Douglas White. In addition, the advisory committee convened a series of roundtable discussions, at which staff members, both past and present, discussed, reminisced and argued about the histories of their particular departments. These were fruitful exercises and I thank everyone who came – and everyone else who, in less formal situations, knowingly or not, contributed anecdotes, opinions and ideas. Unless otherwise indicated, photographs are from the university collections, including many by the university photographer, M.D. King. ATL in picture captions refers to the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand.

This history was commissioned by vice-chancellor Les Holborow, and completed with the support of his successor, Michael Irving. Tim Beaglehole, Stuart Johnston, Ian Boyd, Ivor Richardson, George Barton, Frank Holmes, Les Holborow, Douglas White, Peter Gibbons and Jock Phillips read and commented on the draft. Thanks also to: Lou Nichols, custodian of the university archives; Kathleen Coleridge and Blyth Sansum in the J.C. Beaglehole Room in the university library; Paul Cotton, Des Hurley, Peter Castle, Peter Munz and Murray Robb for pictures from their personal collections; Allan Thomas, Vincent O'Sullivan and the assorted residents of the Stout Research Centre where I was happily housed (with a harbour view) for two and a half years; for their various expert services in production matters, Rachel Lawson, Sue Brown, Jane Parkin, Sarah Maxey, Rachel Scott and Simon Cauchi; and first and last Ross Somerville, for putting up with it all for so long.