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Victoria University College an Essay towards a History

IV — A Home of its Own

page 83

A Home of its Own

Was the council right in doing as it did? It is an unprofitable question, but it insists on being asked. John Henry Newmann, in his University Sketches, describes a conversation he once had with an ‘academical luminary’ casually met on a stage-coach. ‘One point which he was strong upon, and was evidently fond of, was the material pomp and circumstance which should environ a great seat of learning. He considered it was worth the consideration of the Government, whether Oxford should not stand in a domain of its own. An ample range, say four miles in diameter, should be turned into wood and meadow, and the university should be approached on all sides by a magnificent park, with fine trees in groups and groves and avenues, and with glimpses and views of the fair city, as the traveler drew near it. There is nothing surely absurd in the idea, though it would cost a round sum to realize it. What has a better claim to the purest and fairest possessions of nature, than the seat of wisdom? So thought my coach companion; and he did but express the tradition of ages and the instinct of mankind.’ The tradition of the ages perhaps, thus interpreted in terms of the eighteenth century aristocratic English landscape gardener, designing his page 84 splendid country seat; but not the instinct of that segment of mankind that came down from its perch on the Wellington hills to do business on the reclaimed land of the former, the colonial tradesman or attorney. It was New Zealand, a colony and a democracy; it needed education—that is, the necessary qualifications for teachers and practicing lawyers—and it needed something cheap. It had no particular truck with Wisdom. How many members of the Council, that body democratically chosen for the direction of a democratic college, had the beginnings of an understanding of university education? What did stout, with his ceaseless pertinacity in running up blind alleys after the latest ideas from America, really know about it all? Alternately ignored and bullied by Seddon, whose cocksure ignorance had done so much to determine the shape of things, to raise gratuitous obstacles to the rational solution of any problem, what could the Council do?

It might, as some people suggested it should, turning its eyes away from Pharazyn's glittering temptation, brave the charges of incompetence and simply wait. There might be a magnificent view from the hill on Salamanca Road (generations of students indeed, gazing down on that vies, have experienced loveliness and nobility and poetry and a lifting of the heart), but more was necessary. The college was in being, even if in rented rooms; it could continue to exist and expand, yet awhile, in rented rooms. It would outlast Seddon. There stood the Mount Cook site, crowned at one end by the vast red-brick extravagance of the pseudo-gaol, like a vision of Stupidity: the finest site in the city, ample, superb. In twenty years the gaol would have gone, and another building be rising in its place—but not the home of a college. But would waiting have got Mount Cook, even after Seddon? It is impossible to say. It not, there was land in plenty in the suburbs, hundreds of acres at Karori, at Miramar; the whole page 85 Hutt valley stretched out in farmlands, and a farm or two would have given something that even Cardinal Newman and his academical luminary would not have despised. But there was that unhappy dogma, the college must be in Wellington, it must be ‘central’; there was that unhappy fact, it was founded for evening classes, for the part-time student; it was not, the chorus reiterated, for the ‘rich’. When, a little later, before the vested interest in Kelburn had become impregnable, the suggestion was made that it should be moved out to Karori, the immediate retort was ‘But how will the law students get sown to their offices on time?’ Always the short view triumphed; and from short view to short view the Council proceeded, from excavation to excavation and then to retaining wall, biting deeper and deeper into the clay and crumbling rock, while the thin unlovely line of buildings advanced higher and higher up the hill, and only the bulldozer and the mechanical shovel saved it from being lost, in the end, in a wild abysm of expense. Yet what, in 1901, would any other ordinary person have done? And has any ordinary community the right to blame its own past for not producing extraordinary persons? The town of Wellington itself was plumped down with no great regard to the amenities of living. We are still fighting the nineteenth century. In 1901 the college had 144 students. The Council aimed at accommodating a good many more than that. It might even persuade itself that it was taking not a short, but a long, view. It had a few scraggy pines on its estate, in a group; it could do without groves and avenues. It set out to level 1½ acres, ‘in order to gain ample space’; and the Minister of Education cut the first sod.

Competitive designs were to be called for. By July 1902 a Building Committee could report having interviewed the Minister of Education and Sir Joseph Ward, the acting-Premier (Seddon was off instructing the Empire how to man- page 86 age South Africa), to ask for £40,000 for the building. The Professorial Board, its advise requested by the Council, had suggested, besides laboratories and class-rooms, a science museum, a large lecture and examination hall, a library hall, two common rooms for students and a luncheon of dining-room—a building which would be ‘cheaper in the long run than the erection of a college adequate merely for present needs’. But Sir Joseph Ward thought those requirements could be met for £25,000 and asked for a more detailed plan and estimate. So the Council agreed to try for £30,000 and a sketch plan free by the Government Architect; and spike composed its castigation of Blair for thinking that any less sum would do. Controversy, which had accompanied the college the short length of its days, did not now stop; professors were still articulate to some purpose. ‘To expect to educate men to great and noble ideas in mean and ignoble surroundings’ wrote Maclaurin to the Evening Post, ‘is to neglect one of the deepest lessons of modern science.’ But that did not influence the government, which, having seen sketch plans and an estimate produced by the local architect Mr J. Charlesworth (the Government Architect being too busy), agreed to grant £15,000 spread over three years. At that the Council, taking the bit momentarily between its teeth, decided to erect a £30,000 building, call for competitive designs, and have an assessor appointed in Melbourne to give judgment on them. Easterfield impartially gave all the contestants who wanted advice a lay-out for the science part of the building. There was to be no more washing of test-tubes in a bucket in the back-yard. At the Council meeting in June 1903 it was announced that the firm of F. Penty and E. M. Blake had won the competition, with Charlesworth second. The unsuccessful architects complained, but to no purpose. The plans went to the Premier, who was home again; he looked at the elevation and said firmly, It wants another storey'. To record this as page 87 an aesthetic judgment would have been gratifying, for it was undoubtedly true; but it seems to have been based merely on Seddon's conviction that to build a two-storey building was to waste the site and to waste money. The also was true, and the Government Architect, John Campbell, made the criticism on both grounds, while pointing out, furthermore, that no provision had been made for the extensions that would be inevitably necessary. So Messrs Penty and Blake added a storey. On the last day of March 1904 the council met. ‘At 7.30 Mr. Graham came in and informed the council that Mr. Seddon would receive Mr. Evans and himself presently. [Mr Evans was now the Chairman.] Mr. Evans and Mr. Graham went up to the Premier's house and on their return the Chairman reported that the Premier approved of the acceptance of the Tender and that the Government would give £25,000 towards the cost of the Building.’ The tender was that of Mr. A. Maguire, £25,371 for the science block and the middle protion of the arts building. The ornamental wings to this middle portion, designed as college hall and museum, were excluded, and the Seddonian to storey was to be for the immediate future merely an unlined shell. But there Mr Blake's picture was, with a hansom cab driving briskly towards the two little top-hatted gentlemen in front, and the noble pile reaching skywards, all patent ventilators and finals and crenellations, with spire and oriel windows complete. ‘The building’ reported the Evening Post, no doubt on expert advice, ‘has the chief characteristics of the late perpendicular period of Gothic, which style lends itself admirably for the purposes of a university building’. Inside, as appeared in due course, the style changed to a sort of bastard Early English, breaking down in the science building, as the architects gave up the unequal struggle, into plain utility.

Now every month, as Mr Maguire pushed on, in those happy days of crowding bricklayers and carpenters, there was page 88 something to report. The Governor, Lord Plunket, consented to lay the foundation stone, on Saturday, 27 August, 1904. There was the usual overweight of speeches. A new chairman of the council, Dr. C. Prendergast Knight, took the occasion to thank Seddon ‘for saving them from that hideous clay hillock surmounted by that ugly forbidding brick building once destined for a gaol’, but was happier in his references to the enthusiastic and much-tried students. The Attorney-General gave Governmental explanations. The mayor hoped the University would follow Education along modern lines, ‘for on this depended the future of our commerce and manufacture, and on these the nation would rise and fall’. Easterfield, for the Professorial Board, trod diplomatically among congratulations and reassurances, Stout carried off the oratorical honours with a history of the college, a demand for generous administration of the great principles of free, compulsory and secular education, and an appeal to the example of America. ‘He hoped our wealthy people would feel as the wealthy American did—that to give money for education was the greatest act of patriotism a man could perform.’ Lord Plunket added to the appeal for private munificence.

The Governor, with his silver trowel, had an appreciation of his roe that must have seemed to some, at least, of his hearers eminently fitting. ‘The ceremony in which I have just taken part is the most important function which has fallen to my lot since my arrival in New Zealand’–though certainly he had not been hare long. There were students whose sense of the high seriousness of the occasion would not be satisfied with anything less than an Ode, and one of them, Seaforth Mackenzie, provided verses that have not ceased to be, for that generation, one of the New Zealand classics.

Here in the common clay,
Here in our strait demesne,
Lay we the stone in trust,
Waiting the fuller day:

page 89

There was suitable acknowledgment to the Duke of Wellington for winning the battle of Salamanca: and now here was a Citadel to be guarded inviolate. Farewell to the Girls' High School farewell to Victoria Street–

No more our step will be a trespasser
Beneath the portals of an overlord:
But there will be the greeting and the stir
Of fellowship within our rightful Hall.

This was to be the Citadel of pure Wisdom.

Clear face of Pallas, will thine eyes be kind
Towards thy fane for ever?

It is again very naive, very band of brothers, very mens sana in corpore sano, very sentimental! It was also, for those men and women, very true, it was something they lived by.

And if they could be sentimental, they were apt at a sterner note. It now looked as if a completed building would cost £50,000. The council must appeal to the public. A special meeting to consider the matter lapsed for want of a quorum. The council was prepared to set up a committee and send round a circular but did not quite like the work ‘canvass’. The chairman thought that canvassing for funds would be undignified. The issue of Spike that contained the Ode rent Dr C. Prendergast knight, rent the New Zealand Times for its lack of Sympathy, praised the Evening post for its sympathy, and went on to examine the attendance of councillors at their meeting. it is a close, a very frank examination; it does not hesitate in its conclusion that a number of them might very well depart. Did these lax gentlemen read Spike? At any rate a circular went out, signed not only by knight, but by Easterfield and Maclaurin for the Board and by Dixon and A. H. Johnstone for the Students' Association. The Dixon and A. H. Johnstone scribed £210 among themselves—there were then 195 of them. In November the middle District members of parliament page 90 went as a deputation to Seddon, With Evans and a colleague: the premier received them kindly but had given no definite answer, he said all would come right in the long run'. The long run is a thing that it is difficult to define. By 1905 the government had provided £31,000. The building originally designed was never finished. The Pharazyn £1000 paid over. There is no record. of The citizens of Wellington providing anything at this stage. The council being unwilling to canvass, Easterfield and J. W. G. Aitken, the mayor, went round the town. ‘The general attitude’ it is recorded, ‘was that it was the duty of the Government to pay up,’1 When in 1909 the government agreed to give a subsidy of £2000 for the building of a science wing at the rear of the original block, if £1000 could be raised independently, the Council decided to ‘make a special to the public spirit of the College District … for the completion of this urgent work’. Public Spirit was screwed up to the extent of £825.

The building was opened by the Governor, amid flags and greenery which inadequately hid the nakedness of unfinished third storey walls, on Friday, 30 March 1906. on the Saturday night following the students held a bazaar. Kirk and Easterfield provided demonstrations in their new laboratories.

It was not be thought of that students would be satisfied with merely a building, Many months before the opening wider thoughts had been active. A committee had been set up' to watch the college site, the college Council, and things in general in the interests of the Tennis Club', day from the college excavation had been deposited and leveled in a suitable place, but something more was needed, for which there page 91 was no fund. The students decided to excavate tennis courts themselves; and somehow—so great is the compulsion of disinterested labour in the crises of human history—the Tennis Club was able to drw not merely on its own efforts, but on those of students in general, of the professors, of Dr Knight, that chairman of the council who so often incurred the wrath of spike, and even of the Premier. At half past two on the afternoon of Saturday, 9 September 1905, Mr Seddon rode up, wielded pick, shovel and barrow with the finish of an old West coaster, and made an appropriate speech. He could tell them as an expert they wouldn't find much gold there, but physical exercise was a valuable thing. The government would help those who helped themselves, and he would anticipate the Public Works Statement to the extent of the £6000 the University was then asking for—of which a quarter would come to Victoria. He got on his horse and rode away. It was magnificent. Who now could nourish hard thoughts of the dictator? The ladies dispensed afternoon tea amid general rejoicing. And them Saturday after Saturday Beere the organizer drove on his band—a band that dwindled, it must e confessed. Two courts, three courts were dug out; in 1906 two men, Dixon and Gillanders (neither of them played tennis) were still digging; in 1907 Dixon (who else could it be?), horny-handed, completed the fourth court by himself. There was, it seems, at least one giant in those days. And with all that clay, under, around, and looming over the red brick Gothic (‘late perpendicular period’) of the college building, who could differ from the sentimental gentleman who now instituted the fashion of referring to the beloved as ‘The Old Clay Patch’?

Excavation was not quite enough. Some money had to be expended. The Council made a grant, the students'Association a lesser one, members of the Tennis Club took up debentures. But the amount was small compared to that needed page 92 for the second building on the Old clay Patch, not red brick this time but wood, the Gymnasium. For no sooner was the original building in use (and the students. outrunning estimates as they always did, were by then almost 400 in number) than men began to talk of the next steps, Why not a ‘residential department’? Why not hostels for men and for women? And if These could not be compassed why not at least a gymnasium? A gymnasium was urgently necessary; for nor merely were debates being held in the bare dubiously-furnished top storey of the college building—the council had presented fifty chairs which broke whim sat on—but dances; and then the Football Club began to practise there, and the plaster fell off the ceiling below in Easterfield's laboratory. The architects sent in a cheque for £20 which the council as gallantly returned. Obviously football practice could not go on. But if it could not go on how could the Football Club be expected to win matches? The Football club had been founded in 1903 In that year its first Fifteen played nine games and lost nine; in the next year it got a notable recruit in T. A. Hunter, newly appointed to the staff, who believed that football was a game of brains, and won one match by default; and then it went on to greater things, brain and brawn combined, Hunter with it (he was captain of the first senior team of 1095.) until the impact of his head on the knee of the great Freddy Roberts of Oriental, twin halves of one august event, finished his flashing half-back career. The Football club at any rate wanted a gymnasium, and steered its way with diplomacy towards the consummation of its desires, past of round the opposition of those other students who also ‘wanted’ (in metaphysical terms) a gymnasium, though they knew it not. Subscriptions were called for; an anonymous donor, later identified as sir Francis Bell, provided £250; Lieutenant Shackleton, back from the Antarctic, lectured for the cause and gave £250, the Governor, the ever page 93 open-handed Lord Plunket, £ 10, and gradually the rest of the money was raised from students and others and a government subsidy, until a gigantic Bazaar, with professors' wives in charge of the stalls, wiped out the indebtedness left over. It was in fact a Gymnasium and Social Hall that was opened on another notable Saturday afternoon, 30 July 1909, with the usual flags, photographers and afternoon tea. It was' a building such as the college has long needed'–two-storied, with a ‘large room’ on top for gymnasium and dancing; on the ground floor ‘a large assembly hall with a stage’; there were dressing rooms, a caretaker's room, a committee room, even a kitchen. The Gymnasium won the envy of an eminent visitor fullness of time, foundations began to go and joists began to creak, how many college generations had it seen, and heard? ‘–how many, uncounted, hundreds of dances under the sedate eves of the patient row of chaperones how many chaperoneless hundreds; how many football and hockey practices, with appropriate thudding of balls bodies, and sticks; how much dramatic ranting on the stage of the assembly hall; by how many remorseless waves of oratory had it been engulfed, enough not only to confound the chairs, but to wash away walls joists, floors, foundations and all? How many suppers were cut and mixed in those downstairs rooms? What poundage of sandwiches, what cubic content of fruit salad, what astronomical reckoning of meringues were there consumed? The college, truly, could not have done without the gymnasium.

Meanwhile, the surrounding clay began to look less intolerably graceless. Paths were laid down; shrubs were hopefully planted; the taupata hedge was planted outside the tennis courts; the city fathers did something to make the Mount street approach look less like the bed of a mountain page 94 torrent and provided lights; in the winter of 1909 the unemployed of the city removed gorse and carted away more clay, fitted up class-rooms on the top storey of the college buildings, and improved the gymnasium. In return the Students’ Associations organized a concert and raised £35 for the Mayor's Relief Fund. It was the day of small things.

It was the day of small things also in the attempts that were made to enable students to enable students to live together, in the providing of ‘the residential department’. Teachers and students may be the essentials of a university, but community in the mechanics of living can add greatly to the corporate life, Professors; wives dispensed limitless sympathy, a limitless hospitality—who ever could forget among them, the delightful Mrs Mackenzie?–and more than one mother of students made a Wellington home a sort of social annexe to the college. Yet such gifts of pure goodness were the graces, not the mechanics, of living. Students whose own homes were not in Wellington were hard put to it to live together. There were one or two boarding-house keepers who almost maintained unofficial hostells—there was Miss Ewart's in Brougham street for instance where the inmates lived the full university life with great damage to the windows, for they insisted on playing football all over the house—but this was inadequate. The Council could do nothing. In 1906, however, Mrs Wallis, the bishop's wife, and a number of other philanthropic ladies, put forward a plan for a women's hostel, with which the Council decided that neither it, nor any member of the professorial Board, could have official connection as it promised to be a religious establishment, Undeterred, the good Mrs Wallis kept on, a section was bought and a house was built in ‘Woolcombe Street’, and thus the Victoria House of today came into existence. It was opened in 1908 its afternoon teas, though not elaborate, were highly esteemed by the male friends of the young women in residence. There was, they reported, jam on the biscuits. page 95 In the same year, out of funds held by the Anglican church, and designed as a memorial to Bishop Hadfield, was built the hostel for men known as Hadfield House, not far from the college in Kelburn—primarily for theological students, but as these were few in numbers, for others also. It maintained a precarious though lively existence for some years. Its wardens were not met born for the task; but more important, having accommodation only for sixteen, economically it could not make ends meet and had to be sold. The Society of Friends also managed a hostel, for women, but its population was mainly one of Training College students.


The academic staff was increasing in number. As new men came they brought complications. Esterfield's demands for the teaching of science had been an eye-opener for the Council, but it had done what it could to satisfy him, and he had got a building designed to his taste. Now Kirk hardly appointed, wanted to get the island at Island Bay for a marine Laboratory and Biological Observing Station, and wanted a fund started for the purpose so that he could collect money in proper form. The Council, never very good at collecting money itself, gave professor Kirk permission to go ahead, but the public of Wellington was no more inclined to support a Marine Laboratory than it was other good academic causes, and Kirk's ideal remained unrealized. And then the college had hardly been in its new building a year when Mr Hunter was beckoning it on to a strange region of ‘experimental psychology’. Mr Hunter was an acquisition of 1904.

By the beginning of 1903 Professor Mackenzie had decided that he should lay down his load of mental science. There was talk of doing away with the part-time lectureships of Richmond and Ritchie, and it was decided to end their engagements from the close of that year. Mr Ritchie said it page 96 was a mistake to suppose he wished to retire, and that he was willing to ‘take up’ mental science. But it was otherwise decreed: for one session Mackenzie would take logic, Dr Chapple, of the Council, would lecture ‘on the physiological side’, and Evans on ethics; and then at the end of the year it was decided to advertise for a lecturer in Mental Science and Political Economy—at £300, or two separate lecturers at £150 each. The choice form sixteen candidates was Thomas Alexander Hunter, a black-haired little fellow with a cock-sparrow face and a brain that never stopped working. He came from Otago, where he had achieved first-class honours both in the formal subject of mental science and in its other branch, football, and though he was only twenty-eight he had already, so he told the council, ‘nearly ten years' experience as a teacher’. He had also, in his nuggety way, done some useful exploring in Southland and had climbed a number of mountains. He was a very capable young man indeed. The Council, as when it appointed von Zedlitz, had not the faintest glimmer of what it was doing; but it acted cautiously, and for a start appointed Mr Hunter only for one year. Nor were the students, when they composed their capping-songs for 1904, much wiser. A suitable verse was fitted to the tune of ‘Tit-Willow’.

A newcomer here that we know little of
Is Hunter—Tommy, young Hunter!
The Chancellor surely should make him a Prof.-
Hunter! Hunter! Tom Hunter!
For he's such an enthusiast in his own skill
That his students can't follow him, and never will,
While he shows such impatience—it's pard-nable—still
Won't do, Hunter! Young Hunter!

They were to know a good deal of him before long. He grew in patience. He rapidly gained ‘the respect of the hard-working, and the confidence of the muscular element’, page 97 reported Spike, with its finger on the pulse of opinion. He gained also, it seems, the confidence of the Council, who reappointed him (with History added to his load—on paper: he never taught it) and agreed to spend £50 on ‘apparatus’; who were then in 1906 prepared to appoint him for five years (History had gone and Political Economy had become Economics) at £400; and by the second half of 1907, with a Hunter returned from a trip to America, all Cornell and Titchener, were agreeable to the setting up of a psychological laboratory. It was a queer idea, but Mr Hunter had given them a demonstration one afternoon in his room. Mr Hunter showed an extraordinary capacity for producing first-class honours men among his students (there were three in 1906); and at the end of 1907 Mr Hunter to his surprise was informed that he was to be a professor at £500 a year. Other professors got more, but this one was working up. Inexhaustible in energy, with his eye on all sorts of things and an opinion on most, with a sceptically appraising judgment on his fellowmen and a rigid standard by which to weigh footballers, with William James for his philosopher and Marshall and Hobson for his economists, he continued to work up. Certainly there were limits to his versatility; he could hardly, one guesses, have lectured, like Mackenzie whose mental science he supplanted, on the loves of Shelley; but then could Mackenzie have played half-back in senior Rugby, or gone exploring in Southland? He was never a master of polite letters: it may be doubted if he ever found solace in Virgil, and the psychology of William James's brother Henry would with difficulty have held his attention. He studied German, seeking aid therein from von Zedlitz, not so much for the culture of his soul, as to see what the untranslated psychologists were getting at; and though von Zedlitz might be more intimately acquainted with the European poets, would he have known what to do with all the apparatus in that new, that recondite laboratory? page 98 At least, ‘young Hunter’ might have argued, if to gaze on the cosmos unblinkingly, with some faith in the ability of the human mind ultimately to disentangle it, was to share in part of the civilized tradition, he was to that extent a civilized man, unabashed colonial as he was. For Hunter, though London-born, and with a French grandmother, was bred a New Zealander. Perhaps there was something French in the instinctiveness and candour of his commonsense, that logic that was so often brought to a halt by the unlimited relish of mankind for confusion—as there is a shade of France in that cheerful face of the football photograph of 1905. (In France certainly he would have been a captain among the anti-clericals.) But to such an ancestral strain he added the capacity for fresh questioning which comes sometimes to the mind born and educated in a province, the unsophisticated and native inability to take tradition on trust, to venerate established facts merely because they are established. Perhaps he should have played as a child with Mark Twain on the banks of the Mississippi rather than with the little Presbyterians in the scrub on the Dunedin hillsides. Perhaps he would have got into trouble anywhere. Certainly he owed something to those intellectual characteristics like his own in his older, much-admired brother, the brilliant uncompromising Irwin, the surgeon, from whom could be derived aid and comfort in the war against sham; for Otago was strewn with the splinters of the idols which that terrible wit had assailed. Thomas, with his native gift for doubting, was to smash one or two idols himself in his time, not without a righteous joy. A righteous joy: though Hunter, one is persuaded, did a good many things because they were jobs that someone ought to get on with, and so, with or without allies, he got on with them himself; in the end, if one stands back and examines him carefully, with all scientific detachment, placing him in a due historic perspective, one sees something else. One sees the dissenting conscience hard page 99 at work, not merely logic; one sees a sort of moral passion; one thinks irresistibly of a great Victorian, also no philosopher in the technical sense, the Thomas Henry Huxley whose ideal university was founded on ‘the fanaticism of veracity’. Hunter too, who had Huxley's inability to keep out of a fight, believed in the distinction between right and wrong; he shared as his own the conviction that ‘veracity is the heart of morality’. Such men are dangerous.

When the Council first discussed the new lectureship in mental science, other decisions were made. Civil engineering was regretfully dismissed. In 1902 Maclaurin had suggested an addition to his salary for the law work he was doing. He got no more than hearty thanks. Then it was resolved that, ‘with a view to making the Law School at Wellington the most complete in the Colony a Professorship of Law be established’, Richmond to teach jurisprudence and constitutional history for a year with the additional salary Maclaurin had been denied; then, as we have seen, it was decided to give Richmond and Ritchie notice. The former survived. In 1904 parliament voted to each of the four colleges an annual grant of £1500 for what was vaguely called ‘special teaching’. When this money came in the Council, considering the nature of special teaching, naturally enough turned to law, and in 1905 decided to advertise a chair. Then it took thought. Why not be more ambitious? Dr Knight and Mr Bell went to call on the Premier; without further money, they said, ‘specialization’ was impossible, but with £500 more they could specialize in both law and science, at £1000 each. The Premier was gracious, he granted the money, and now the Council decided on two chairs of law; one, the senior, (£700) of ‘Law’, i.e., jurisprudence, Roman law, international law, conflict, and constitutional law and history; the second, of English and New Zealand Law (£600), to be advertised in New Zealand only, and taking in all other branches. The pro- page 100 fessors should be forbidden private practice. While the committee was still deliberating Stout reported having heard that the great Salmond, author of the Treatise on Jurisprudence, and then occupying the chair of law at Adelaide, had expressed a wish to come to New Zealand. Stout had cabled enquiring whether he would accept an engagement at Wellington were it offered, Salmond was willing, and in December 1905 he was appointed to begin in the next session. The second chair was given to Richmond.

Here, in John William Salmond, was a catch indeed. Born in Scotland, but with degrees from Otago in arts and London in law, he had gone from a small country practice at Temuka to Adelaide; his Jurisprudence (1902) had almost immediately become classic, and in 1906 not merely was its second edition in the press, but also the equally classic Torts. The author was admired by the celebrated Sir Frederick Pollock; the celebrated F. W. Maitland had suggested him for Oxford. He came to Wellington. He was an extremely able teacher. He was as passionately interested as Richmond in first principles, but had more success in finding them; he lectured as lucidly as he wrote, with all-embracing grasp, with economy, with the sort of latent humour that can colour, without disturbing, the texture of a man's utterance. (There was in Salmond a potential Samuel Butler, Butler of the Notebooks. He loved the unbuttoned epigram.) He was a first-rate tutor also, his room and his home at his students' disposal, the tobacco and the tea ready, the mind working always; and he was a first-rate talker. Yet he had the profound, the undeliberate humbleness of the really great scholar; Salmond, it was said later, would consider at length a point put by the office-boy. He might have made Victoria College illustrious; and he left almost as soon as he came. For this man, who admired not organizers and administrators but the research student, who had never as a practitioner achieved the prosperity even page 101 of a small-town lawyer, who had never spoken to a jury and hardly knew how a court of law worked, deep down nourished a desire to be practical, to get his hands on law in its immediate dealings with men. Alas! there were public men who knew his capacities, and in January 1907 his letter of resignation came to the college. He had accepted the office of Counsel to the Department of Parliamentary Drafting; he was prepared to carry on the work of the chair gratuitously, till June, when the session began, and perhaps even longer till a successor was appointed. He was a miraculous law-draftsman, the government never had an abler adviser, the books went into edition after edition, Harvard sent him the Ames medal, in due course he became a judge, he was knighted, he figured to some purpose at the Washington Conference: it was a disinterested pride alone that the college could take in all this. Here, it might say, he once was.

What could the disappointed Council do now? It thought of Maclaurin. Able as he was, few mathematicians of good calibre had presented themselves to him: in seven years he had had only three honours students. He had been publishing papers in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, preparatory to his Treatise on the Theory of Light of 1908, but perhaps he would change over to law. Another committee sat and recommended special inducements. The head of the law school should have a distinctive title—say Dean of the Faculty of Law—and a distinctive salary—say £800—and be allowed to receive fees for opinions on cases submitted to him by solicitors. As long as lawyers were unwilling to abandon the advantages of private practice there would be greater difficulty in getting competent professors of law than of other subjects—but the ‘risk is obviously less in the case of a man who has devoted himself for years to the career of a University Professor’. Maclaurin was unwilling to relinquish all connection with mathematics, and made the condition that an page 102 honorary chair should be established for him. The Council was agreeable, he became Professor of Law, Dean of the Faculty of Law, and Honorary Professor of Astronomy, and consented to manage the higher mathematics for the second term as well (though not in an honorary capacity). All seemed well, in April 1907; and in September Maclaurin announced that he had been offered, and had accepted, the chair of Mathematical Physics at Columbia. The Council, in extremis, held a special meeting; they advertised; and in January 1908 they appointed James Adamson. Nobody but a Scot, argued Stout, could teach Roman law.

To lose Maclaurin was sad, but it was inevitable. It was the penalty the province pays to the metropolis, the perimeter to the centre of things. He would have adorned any university in the world and he had already stayed in Wellington two years longer than he had originally planned. The bird of paradise had alighted, and was gone. It cannot be said that our citizens knew either what they had harboured or what they had lost; for ordinary men with difficulty understand the transcendent. That swift and debonair intelligence went to New York only for a year; then, taking within his hands a moribund institution at Boston, within a decade he virtually created the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and there, beneath the roof that he had raised, in the winter of 1920, with the snow falling outside, dead, he lay in state. Destiny, for Maclaurin, was more dramatic than for his colleagues—or for his successor. There was indeed little of the dramatic about Adamson, large-framed, dour, shy behind his rather heavy features—in so many ways different from the high-spirited man he followed. Adamson was no raconteur, no amused spectator of life. He was solid, with a solid Scots accent, and solid success in arts and law at the University of Edinburgh, and with solid and unimaginative persistence for the next thirty years he drove his men through the requirements of the page 103 New Zealand LL.B; a disappointed man, one guesses, that the Wellington School of Law had seemed so much more promising on paper, in Edinburgh than it ever was in reality,2 but persisting till the end when, in 1939, desperate sickness drove him from his task. Of all the Scotsmen who came to out college, he most retained his native cast and tone; irredeemably aboriginal, as it were; always, and only he, ‘Scotchy’.

The Council perhaps, as crisis faded, thought it had been too generous with law. Before the end of Adamson's first five years, though it was pleased with the increase of law students, it resolved to abolish the title of Dean of the Faculty and offer the chair to Adamson at the normal professorial salary. Thus in danger, the Dean attended a meeting in person and ‘made a statement’—a statement persuasive enough to secure the continuance of his privileges. Richmond, in the other chair, was not so lucky. Though one of his colleagues has said that there were students who regarded his lectures as the best given in the college, his idiosyncrasies were defeating him. Law was a fascinating mistress; she was no mere creature of statute, clause and amendment; he could never interrupt her service casually at the end of the hour; so, at the end of the hour, regularly, for ten or fifteen minutes, the creaking of Austrian chairs rose in crescendo, till the voice of the lecturer was obliterated, and then the lecture came to an end. The non-philosophical complained that their success at examinations was not being materially forwarded; in 1910 the Council set up a committee to consider the matter, some of the members of which were singularly blundering in their approach on delicate ground; and Richmond himself provided the solution by not seeking re-appointment at the end of his five years. The Council did its best to be monetarily generous, page 104 and he retired to practice in Christchurch as a consultant on knotty points, and to compose a metaphysical work, never published, of some complexity. It was the college's misfortune that it had no place for Richmond, even as it had to lose Maclaurin; but the ascetic sensitive philosopher was no doubt, in that raw commercial community, a luxury which it could not afford. The chair was offered to James Garrow, a Dunedin man (born in Scotland) who had been school-teacher, secretary of the Dunedin Employers' Association, registrar of the University of Otago, and law lecturer there. He had the degree of LL.B and some legal practice. As an examination coach he shone; his duplicated notes were readily saleable. ‘We hope’, remarked Spike, ‘that the college Council will not let him slip through their fingers, as they already have some of our most distinguished professors.’ But Garrow did not slip through their fingers; he remained till 1929. He was an unexciting kindly man; he would play his gramophone to students who shared his taste for music, and his annotated editions of various local acts of parliament were useful to the profession.3

The vicissitudes of law have taken us beyond a strict college chronology. We may regard the foundation professors, with Kirk, Von, Richmond and Hunter, as the first ‘generation’ of our teachers; by the time of Maclaurin's departure they, and their students, had built up a sort of life, a community, something essentially of the nature of universitas, which was noticed clearly by the perceptive among the later-comers. The first of this ‘second generation’ to arrive, himself at an impressionable age, not yet thirty, was Picken, appointed at the end of 1907 to succeed Maclaurin in mathematics. David page 105 Kennedy Picken had gone from his native Glasgow with a brilliant degree to Cambridge, where he was elected a foundation scholar of Jesus; and from equal distinction there he had returned as chief assistant to the professor of mathematics at Glasgow. He was vice-president of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society, he had edited its Proceedings; he no doubt, with all this distinction, deemed it not un-honourable to seek the chair where Maclaurin had sat. He was triumphant over other good applicants—including both his own successor, Sommerville, and Gifford of Wellington, who had been filling the gap, and whose name was bound for high eminence in the mathematics of astronomy. Picken, with his wide and candid forehead, his curly hair, his general air as of a rather startled cherub, his earnestness of the Christian doing with his whole might whatever he found to do, was no light-hearted jester even in the cause of Goodness. What had startled him was the inadequate preparation of New Zealand youth for the higher mathematical studies—but, even more than that, what may be referred to briefly as the System, something that will receive more attention hereafter.

He was followed to New Zealand in 1909 by one who became the friend of his bosom, T. H. Laby. The Council, it will be recollected, had got £500 extra from the government and had determined on ‘specialization’ in science as well as law. In science, after due consideration, this resolved itself into appointment of a professor of physics (at £600, not the full rate) and of an assistant for Kirk, one who could lecture on geology. Thomas Howell Laby took the chair in physics. This very remarkable man was an Australian, born in 1880 in a Victorian bush township, who without formal schooling, beyond the elements, had forced himself upward by sheer intellectual power. He never passed a matriculation examination or became an ordinary graduate, but, managing to get a junior demonstratorship in the Chemistry School of the Uni- page 106 versity of Sydney, he there put in four years of intense study and original research, largely pioneer work on the radioactive materials to be found in Australia. He attracted the attention of Lord Rayleigh, then president of the Royal Society, through whose good offices he was granted an 1851 research scholarship; and the years he spent at the Cavendish Laboratory, from 1905 to 1908, earned him the respect both of Sir J. J. Thomson, its director, and of Rutherford, as well as of a great number of other English scientists. Tall, thin, square-profiled, with a slightly diffident manner that was easily submerged in an indignant eloquence, he knew more about the System than Picken did, but by no means the whole truth. Indeed he had left England only to be nearer his mother, whose devotion to him he matched with an answering devotion of his own. Within a year he was considering resignation—he ‘appeared dissatisfied with the position here’, it was reported to the Council, ‘and complained of being out of touch with scientific developments’. Nevertheless he determined to stay; though a poor lecturer he was a magnificent organizer of research and trainer of researches; he had good students, of the calibre of Burbidge and Hercus; and in his paasion for original work was prepared to found and keep going a research scholarship himself—the £ 50 from the ‘anonymous donor’ carrying a government subsidy. Naturally he opened his physics laboratory in October 1910 with a public ‘demonstration’; for not only did he share to the full Easterfield's faith in the experimental method of teaching, but he also had a sound idea of the publicity value of showing the ordinary man technical things at work. In the meanwhile, unable to get on with any important continuation of his English research, he gave himself of the completion of his share in the preparation of that famous volume ‘Kaye and Laby’–the Tables of Physical and Chemical Constants the first edition of which came out in 1911. He was an excellent trainer of page 107 laboratory assistants: to the small but useful workshop he set up he brought from Australia the incomparable physics mechanic H. E. Strawbridge, who was to remain permanently at the college, and permanently Laby's admirer. Good at the expounding off difficulties, persuasive in controversy, he shared, the interest in imperial and international affairs that was then becoming fashionable, through with Laby the interest had grown rather from his impassioned reading, in his bush school-days, of Seeley's Expansion of England, than from fashion. He duly addressed the Debating Society, not on science, but on the ‘German danger’ and ‘preparedness’, and he was always willing to talk to a cabinet minister on the same subject.4 When Lionel Curtis, the great apostle of a new-shaped British Commonwealth, arrived in New Zealand in 1910, Laby was one of the first to meet him, and then began his association with the ‘Round Table’ groups which ever after was one of the chief interests of his life. Meanwhile the college: Sympathetic and generous to young people of promise, rather touchy and obviously resentful of obstructive fools, he proceeded to make his mark. In 1913 the Council was able to raise both Laby's and Hunter's salaries to the normal figure. Certainly the young men were giving satisfaction as teachers, even if they caused a good deal of trouble otherwise.

The lecturer in geology that had been decided on was found in another young man, C. A. Cotton. Lecturers were treated more cavalierly than professors: ‘Mr Cotton to take up his duties within a fortnight’ ran the minute (it was April 1909) ‘and that he be required to make up for time lost at the beginning of the Session by lecturing during the vacation.’ Mr Cotton, thus abruptly pitchforked into action, was to make a name for himself. He was a New Zealander. A page 108 New Zealander also was F. P. Wilson, appointed the same year to lecture on history, economic, physical and commercial geography, economic history, currency and banking. Mr Wilson, one of those students of the college who had come to it hot with excitement in 1899, tall handsome and smiling, musical, tennis-playing, beneath this burden retained his optimism. He had need to. The principal of the Teachers' Training College had, almost ex officio, acted as lecturer in education, at first gratuitously; from 1905, this was William Gray, succeeded in 1912 by J. S. Tennant. It was in 1912, too, that more specific teaching for the commerce degree began, with J. S. Barton lecturing on accountancy and W. F. Ward on commercial law. Ward was a sort of valuable general Practitioner at the college; for some years he gave assistance to Brown with Latin.

One is forced to note, at this stage, the number of Scots who had come to the teaching staff at Victoria College, quite apart from those of Scots descent—and the stream had by no means dried up. The noblest prospect which a Scotsman ever saw, remarked Dr Johnson in classic words, in the eighteenth century, was the high road that led him to England. The noblest prospect from 1898 onwards, one may be forgiven for thinking, was that of the sea voyage to New Zealand.


It is obvious that every step in the development of the college was taken, not as part of the logical fulfilling of a well thought-out plan, to give a particular community the particular sort of university it needed in a particular age of history, but simply as an expedient dictated by the balance, for the time being, at the bank—plus what promises could be wrung out by an occasional deputation to the government. The fact represents the community—represents the colonial mind, slovenly, lazy, makeshift, satisfied with a passing enthusiasm, pretentious in the page 109 width of its Idly-held ambition, willing always to retire into complacency over a half-done job or an achievement not its own; pushed and shoved along a succession of lines of least resistance by the vigorous and determined individual, but moving as little and as meanly as possible. The governing body of Victoria College could not help reflecting this society, from which it was chosen. No one of its members had any consistent ‘idea’ of a New Zealand, or Wellington, university institution; and if he had had it, what could he have done for its realization? In 1886, Stout had had the fragment of a vision, but on the Council Stout, with his sudden starts in every wind of educational doctrine, was the politician rather than the statesman of a university. What really was specialization in law, political science, history, in the natural history of New Zealand? Where was Krik's marine laboratory? An Easterfield or a Laby might go out on his own for what he desperately needed, or put his individual entice, as it were, his elders into the provision of new toy; but these were piecemeal advances. When Laby discussed resignation it was really very difficult for councilors to understand what he was complaining about. It was easy to see why law students complained about Richmond: he was too engrossed in his subject, he kept on talking too long, he didn't stick to the syllabus. That was a practical problem, with a practical remedy. But the other problems, the problem of a real school of law, in which law might be the basis for the education of the whole man; the problem of science and the arts as the two wings of a great movement of advancing knowledge; the problem of the application of wisdom to the relations of men in the society at hand—these were hardly practical. What did the community care for a college to the extent? And if the community did not care for the college to be extent of supporting it, what could the council do? It had no gift imagination, no touch page 110 of fire; but even with imagination, with fire, what them? it needed money; the city, certainly with imagination untouched, clutched its money close: the government, if sufficiently pressed, would give money, but in dribs and drabs, With a lively consciousness that any gift to one college would be followed by noisy outcries from three others. This was the penalty education paid to democracy, and democracy to the geographical conformation of New Zealand. So the history of the college is a study in ‘ifs’;–if it could raise a few more pounds it could teach surveying, or geology, or currency and banking, or commercial, law, it could meet this demand or that demand, without venturing to examine what demand should be deemed legitimate. Nowhere in the Council's minutes is there reference to any decision made on educational principle. The note is instructive, in March 1907, on a letter from Otago enquiring whether it had adopted any principle in giving the title of professor as distinguished from that of lecturer; for it answered that the title simply depended on the salary.

The college continued to fight hard against the drain on its resources caused by the Queen's Scholarships, and in the end with success. Experience proved that Seddon's democratic experiment was an ill-judged one. From the beginning the examination was popular in the primary schools; Mr Gammell, the first examiner, was ‘both surprised and gladdened’ by the quality of the answer sent in to him; and among the names of candidates are some which in days to come carried an aura of brilliance, or at least the impress of a solid accomplishment. But they were all extremely young, all necessarily under the age of fourteen—so much so that when the time came for them to enter the college, after their absurdly exiguous two years of secondary education, they could not meet the age-requirement of matriculation, and administrative juggling had to make workable the confusion of law. In 1900 the Council resolved that it should be relieved of all responsi- page 111 bility, not only because of the expense, but because its control of scholarships held at secondary schools was absurd. If scholarships had to be maintained, then at least let them be divided into two series, the first tenable at secondary schools for your years, localized in the Middle District, paid for by the government and administered by the Education Department; the second fewer in number, competed for by winners of the first, on the University Junior Scholarship examination, tenable for three years, and supported by an additional grant to the college. The government reply to this was an amending bill which increased the maximum college liability from £ 1200 to £ 1800 per annum! Then the examiner reported a low standard; then the Professorial Board, after some experience of the work of scholars (it was now the end of 1902) wrote, almost needlessly, on the impossibility of getting good university work out of those who came to college much too young and with much too little secondary training. The government, at last taking notice, in twelve months more passed another act,5 adopting the Council's suggestion of 1900; an act which repealed the fatal Section 36 of the Victoria College Act, and provided immediately for six junior, and, from 1906, four senior scholarships, the latter awarded after any examination the Council might think fit—subject to government approval. There was one significant difference, however, from the Council's scheme: the Council was still to pay for the scholarships. On the other hand, it was to have £ 200 added to its grant—as a makeweight against the £ 1500 to the pay ment of which the act made in liable. But the absurd system was falling: there were already scholarships to take children from primary to secondary schools and from secondary schools to the university colleges. They could be multiplied without burdening any particular college.

Government had need to show some mercy. The Council in page 112 1905 made out a table of its regular income. Statutory grants £4200, ‘specialization’ grant £1500, rent from endowments £32 12s 6d—such was the simple tale; and from this it immediately lost £1100 in scholarship payments. It produced a comparative table: the other colleges all had larger incomes; Auckland paid nothing in scholarships, Canterbury £135, Otago nothing. There were fees—an estimate of £930—but fees were uncertain things, generally on the rise with the number of students, but never able to catch up on expenses, and always liable to fluctuate with a fall in that number, such as came in 1913. The inequity was all too glaring. The revised system of 1903, incorporated in a consolidated Victoria College Act of 1905, was itself virtually abolished by the Queen's Scholarships Act, 1906, which provided for payment of the scholarships by the government, simultaneously withdrawing the extra grant of £200; and finally wiped away by an amendment to the Education Act passed in 1907. Seddon was dead, and democracy, it was clear, could be better served in other ways. The unhappy experiment was over. Among the hopeful infants who had headed the examination lists were a future chief justice, a minister of education, one of the ablest of New Zealand civil servants, a leader in advocacy, and a number of distinguished school-teachers; but of the total fewer than half seem ever to have got a degree, and there is nothing to show that those eminent ones would not have attained eminence otherwise.

Student numbers rose from 254 in 1905, the year before the building was opened, to 350 in that great year, and to 547 by 1912. By then the famous specialization grant had been quite swallowed, not only in new chairs, but by the assistance which every professor needed. It has been seen at what rates the newer professors were started—£500 seems to have been the dividing line beneath which the worthiest of men must be classed as a lecturer. In 1911 income from the en- page 113 downment6 reached £74 7s. Private beneficence still lagged. In 1903 the merchant Jacob Joseph had bequeathed £3000 to found two scholarships, which were wisely devoted to post-graduate work; in that year too, the Wellington Literary and Debating Societies Union, also dying, made the college its residuary legatee, and its £100 was the foundation of the Debating Society's Union prize. Subscriptions to the building fund had been pushed up to £1825; £255 had been provided for scientific apparatus; £417 17s 6d for the Library (including a bequest of £300 in 1907 from Mr Donald Manson); for Kirk's Biological Observing Station, £9. With college finance in this position, it is not surprising that when in 1908 (a year when professors were asking for teaching help) a newspaper agitation arose for extension lectures in the vacations in secondary schools, the Council accepted the very strong advice of the Professiorial Board against the proposal— not that the arguments from educational principle were not in themselves overwhelming. Nor is it surprising that the demand arose for increased fees—and in 1912, at last with government permission, the guinea and a half became three guineas, and a general college fee was added of 10s 6d, half of which was to go to the Library.


The Library was a part of the college for which everyone had a tenderness. Everyone indeed knew Carlyle's remark about the ‘true university’, and a collection of good books was much page 114 more readily appreciable than the experimental apparatus of Professor Easterfield and Mr Hunter, which might be regarded as esoteric. Mr Charles Wilson, the General Assembly librarian, remained a member of the Council, and though Mr Wilson tended to get at loggerheads, not very forgivingly, with the Professorial Board, he was quite willing to give his advice in this department. Mr Wilson even had a feeling that, in spite of the statutory powers of the Board, he should run the Library himself. The professors had started off, on their arrival, by suggesting that the Council should ask a number of leading British publishers to present books to the new college—which plan itself suggests that the professors were young as well as Scotch. The publishers did not oblige. It was found necessary to buy books, and gradually they were bought. Some certainly, were given—the remains of the old Provincial Council library, and, through professors and lecturers, runs of one or two scientific periodicals. Stout presented his own overflow. The first infant catalogue and the first library regulations were made in 1900, a year when the Board wrote to the Council, unsuccessfully, asking that funds should be placed at its disposal for book purchases. The Council said it had no funds; but next year Maclaurin and Brown went as a deputation, the Council set up a library committee, and granted £100. In the beginning the Girls' High School cupboards gave accommodation enough, then shelves in a room were necessary; the borrower helped himself and wrote his name in a book, the librarian was the registrar. When the college migrated there was a room ready— that on the first floor over the front door, with the oriel window and the coloured glass; here, in the long vacation, Powles and Kirk and von Zedlitz, with the students Mary Barkas and W. B. Quick, and Mr Thompson from the General Assembly library, arranged and indexed. Indeed the Library was growing: those who ‘saw the quantity of literature to be disposed page 115 of’, said Spike, ‘might almost have despaired of the task of evolving order out of such a chaos’. Order was evolved; another student, H. D. Skinner, was appointed ‘assistant custodian of books’; the Council agreed to great £200 a year for new purchases. Then came the Manson bequest. Mr Manson was a Palmerston North man, wealthy and retired. For some reason, perhaps as a fellow Scot, he asked the perfect stranger, Mackenzie, to act as one of his executors. Mackenzie naturally thought of the Library and Manson agreed to provide £300, though it appears as the college's bad luck not to have got a large slice of thirty or forty thousand pounds, the residue of the estate.7 Mackenzie took a long while to get over this misfortune; but at least the gift to the Library carried with it a government subsidy, and the Council was able to make the sum up to £1000. This, in the days of cheap books, was something to build on. In July 1910 the Council, with 7000 volumes now on the shelves, decided that the time had come for a librarian other than the registrar or a student, and appointed (temporarily at first) the Rev. B. H. Ward.

Horace Ward was one of those invaluable men whose lives are marred by their gift for making enemies. Humour, it seemed, had been drained out of him. He was not of the modern breed of librarians, technicians trained in a rigorous school of ‘processing’; and he would have recoiled from the fresh-faced young women in coloured overalls, junior assistants of our present day, like a Desert Father confronted with the vision of Aphrodite. He was out of place, he should have been in the eighteenth century. Always old, always unsmiling, with grey moustache and grey hair fringing the famous black page 116 skull-cap, garbed clerically in black and heavy with asthma, he had the virtue that he reversed books. He loved them with a jealous love. His Library was a temple in which the light-hearted, the conscienceless, came with fearful risk. Not for him the agreeable camaraderie of the decade that had gone. Did Skinner really ‘eat his dinner’ in the midst of the mighty dead, or was the rhyme merely irresistible? Horace Ward would have gone to the stake rather than suffer that desecration. Rules to him were rules—his mind was logical: then woe afflict the student who broke that holy silence. And suspicion to him was conviction: how many unfortunates, indignantly stifling the protest that was useless, were put to the door on circumstantial evidence; how many eyes looked up in the abstraction of thought, to see those other eyes, hung with the wintry brows, gazing implacably back upon them; how many innocent hearts have quailed to hear that loud and painful breathing coming nearer, behind them! The written rules one knew—one took a fair risk in breaking them; but the unwritten rules were known only to One, and there men trod the precipice's brink. Perched at his raised desk, he surveyed the realm he had made his own: Quietness hung upon the air, and he returned to his Greek Testament. Quips and satire came thick his way. Mutterings of rebellion were never absent. Yet it would be wrong to see in Ward only the ungenial foe of freedom. He made the Library a place that could be worked in, if one were not too nervous. His books were well enough classified, and his card catalogue, written up in the careful round hand, was adequate to its day. He introduced many a student to the elements of order. His gruffness was the sign not of a deliberate hatred but of his disease. Inarticulately— though it is a thing hard to realize—he yearned over students, so difficult to know, so raucous in their scorn, so graceless and callow in their attitude to the values that he held; sometimes, infrequently, as he was saying a farewell or responding to a page 117 sign of understanding, a queer, because unexpected, phrase of sentiment would break through. It was the principles that were implacable. He was, in the end, a simple man; his poet was Wordsworth.

The Library spread: law to the room on the right, science to the left—from these secluded caverns came most of the conversation, the muffled laugh; there were bays on each side of the door; somehow the periodicals of the New Zealand Institute were brought in also; on the whole, as time went on, the little rooms came to house a useful working collection, better than any other college library in the country.


The old clay patch became a nest of singing birds. Spike and capping programmes carried the burden of their devotion and their wit. The Lady of the Hill was addressed in tones of a hushed reverence.

Lo! By thy snowy breast I swear,
And by thy dawnward gaze,
That thou art pure as thou art fair,
Nor canst thou suffer bonds to wear…

Some of her appurtenances received less reverential celebration. There were those amazing ventilators, now swept from the roof-line:

We are really quite the latest, most attractive, up-to-datest
Thing in modern ventilators.
There are many potent factors, why intelligent contractors,
And the Council Board have backed us;
For we're neat and ornamental, and our style is Oriental,
And the noise we make is gentle;
But we're really not prepared to, no we certainly don't care to
Condescend to let the air through.8

page 118

The Roman Horace was adapted to Antipodean needs:

Come, Chloe, tell me, pray,
By all the gods, why you with too fond wooing
Young Strephon lead astray
To his undoing.…

Why is he never seen
A footballer at Miramar, together
With wearers of the green
Chasing the leather?

Warned by the look of the world, and perhaps by Lady, and smiled on by the Defence Department, in 1909 seventy-eight students enlisted in an Officer's Training Corps—‘the latest form assumed by the military epidemic at Victoria College’, sourly commented Spike. But a new Inaugural Ode was obviously necessary:

Rejoice, Imperial Mother! Let the breeze
Of hope renewed dispel your dread alarms:.…

Kirk, von Zedlitz and Esterfield, animated by public spirit, joined up and attended the first camp. Kirk, who was carrying out experiments on the restoration of heart-beat after stoppage, and working on dogs,9 was an obvious target.

But soft! From high Olympus Jove descends
Deserts the Board of gods and here unbends:
His hands still with Cerberean gore,
He scents a nobler game—the dogs of war.
Beside him strides, with features grimly set,
Hung down in front his trusty bayonet,
That foreign god, von Zedlitz.… [et cetera]

There was general enthusiasm over the delightfulness of existence as it was at Victoria:

page 119

Do you want to know the finest life that's ever to be had?
Go to Coll, my lads, go to Coll.
Do you want to live the life of a jolly undergrad?
Go to Coll, my lads, go to Coll.

There were those noble verses which hymned Mr James Brook, caretaker and janitor (appointed 1906, out of 105 applicants; £100 and cottage, successful applicant to supply own cleaning materials and tools for gardening)—James Brook, lately from Devon, not very big in stature, who was the lord of the entrance hall and served the college with an utter devotion

Beneath thy portals see him stand!
Victoria! Victoria!
Embodiment of thy command,
Victoria! Victoria!
His lofty brow by breezes fanned—
A clasp of keys is in his hand.…

Almighty Brook doth wind, and lo!
Thy glorious clocks correctly go,
With rhythmic march nor fast, nor slow,
Victoria! Victoria!

With all this wealth of words, flippant and more serious (indeed, at times a most desperate seriousness) it was little wonder that in 1910 an anthology could be published, The old Clay Patch, which holds, as it were, the distillation of all the youth, and high spirits, and high ideals of that first formative period. Some imitation-Kipling is inevitable, with a good deal of ‘poetic diction’, but the little book has both mind and music in it, a touch of Spring.


When Picken arrived he was much struck, as an impartial observer, by the corporate life of the college—something the nature and intensity of which he had experienced nowhere else. The enthusiasm of the first years was settling into a habit. page 120 Though no more very few, the band of brothers and sisters were on the whole happy. It is arguable indeed that about that time student numbers had reached what is the ideal for a college—as distinct from a university—something round about four hundred. Relations could be lively and vivid; people could know one another, or know about one another, enough to ensure a sort of freemasonry of spirit; a college joke had a discernible flavour, a college quip had an appreciable point. Yet individuals were not thrown too much together; failings could be familiar without being too brutally remarked upon. There was, it may be said, the Greek polis translated into academic terms. The morning freshness had not yet worn off. The college was still one college, and not a number of ‘colleges’. Some of the founders still hung on, with advice that was not, it appears, resented, though it might be laughed at—as when de la Mare objected to raffles at bazaars. That is not to argue that everybody was the perfect students and the perfect companion; Spike, as a regular feature, deplores the person who will not live the full life; it mourns near-lost souls who were interested only in examinations, whose ideal was the degree, or who played—last desperate failing— for outside clubs in one team or another, even sometimes against their own college. If there were those who yearned after an infinity of ‘drawn-out discussions over the dying embers’, there were many who did not; if there were some who had to do everything, there were others content with doing nothing. But the aggregate was enough to impress Picken, straight from Glasgow and Cambridge, and Picken was a young man whose own standards were high.

New clubs were founded, the first an Athletic Club, in 1904, with the expressed purpose of securing ‘the worthy and adequate representation of Victoria College’ at Easter Tournaments (the Tournament in 1905 was to be at Wellington). It held meetings at which light relief was provided by three- page 121 legged and thread-the-needle races; from 1909 it arranged inter-faculty sports, which began with the triumph of Arts and Science over Law. The Glee Club was revived (it never died for long) in 1904, and again, with F.P. Wilson to conduct it, in 1907. Yearly it would sally out to give entertainment at the Mission to Seamen and, traveling by drag or motor lorry, at the mental hospital at Porirua. There was even a short-lived Orchestral Society. In 1907 also came the Cricket Club, doubted as an impossibility, and hailed as an extraordinary phenomenon: ‘We sometimes ponder with grave misgivings over the future of our Cricket Club. It differs so radically from the rest of our clubs.… It wins matches.’ Tennis, football, and hockey were all fields of disaster just then—expect for the Ladies. ‘At last’, it was announced in the 1908, ‘the pride for the Victorious Kiwis has been humbled in the dust’—owing largely to the prowess of Miss McIntosh, Miss Johnston, Miss Tavendale, and Miss Reeve-and by 1910 the ladies could announce The winning of the championship for the third time. But in that year the men's Hockey Club also won the championship and held something to talk about, and the first fifteen had won a match or two. ‘Ladies’ was a term that was beginning to be frowned on; it was the Women's Fencing Club that began its brief existence in 1910, the Women's Debating Club that started the cultivation of a separate oratory in 1911.10 From the Rifle Club of 1908 (Spike again; ‘We have clubs already languishing for support, and our duty is plain; we have the page 122 Athletic Shield to retain, and the Football, Hockey, Tennis, and Cricket championships yet to win.’) came the Officers' Training Corps of 1909, under Captain Beere; Swimming and Boxing clubs, in spite of Spike, came in 1910. In 1906 the Graduates' Association entered on the first of its appearances.

The older societies continued to flourish. It was in 1905 that Lord Plunket, a good friend of the college, endowed the Plunket Medal contest fort oratory, to foster an art which had, at the beginning of the twentieth century, already passed its apogee. No matter, the Debating Society was strong for oratory, and the first medal was presented by the donor, on a platform covered with ‘academic personnel and costume’, to E.J. Fitzgibbon, who had celebrated the life of Daniel O'Connell. Pitt, Napoleon, Sir George Grey, Joan of Arc—the ‘historical characters’ began their formidable careers almost as members of Victoria College; the only one who seems out of place, who has never been adopted, is the rather lonely figure of Sir Peter de la Mare, ‘first Speaker of the House of Commons’. For some years the award was made by ballot of the audience; from 1911 judges were called on. The Debating Society, already with its Union prize for the best debater of the year, might consider itself well provided for. It encouraged its ladies, or women, gallantly, on its own platform or on theirs; notwithstanding which it experienced a curious feeling when; in 1913, Marjory Nicholls, the gifted and radiant one, carried off the Plunket Medal.

Fighting doubt (or so it implied) and quoting Tennyson from time to time.11 the Christian Union went on its way, with a great support in Picken, with its Bible class studies and its studies on Missions in china, its aid from the scholarly Rev. T. h. Sprott and the magnificent Rev. Dr Gibb, and (some- page 123 thing new) its learned discourses on Sunday mornings in the Sydney Street Schoolroom on the Psalms and the Prophets by Miss Maud England, that unwearied bluestocking who was the chief intellect among the women of Wellington. Annual Conferences gave stamina for the year. But the Christian Union was beginning to find a social mission, its books tended to show the impact of the age; and in 1912 it gave birth to a University Christian Social Service League, which went down to Te Aro, the women to run a club for girls in Tory Street, the men to take charge of the educational and religious work at the Boy's Institute. It was a useful experience. The enterprise seems slightly to have wounded the non-religious reformers, who objected to the ‘strict religious test’ imposed on workers (they had to make the declaration, ‘I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ’). But the non—religious found scope for tTheir minds—in the Heretics' Club; and they thoroughly enjoyed themselves. If the Christian Union had Picken, they had von Zedlitz and Hunter and Mackenzie and Laby, they even had sir Robert Stout for patron, and they found Picken quite prepared to put the case for Christianity to them. ‘There is something exhilarating in talking about “-isms”’, rejoiced Spike (it was the eager Miss Nicholls writing); they would found a great tradition of freedom and ‘go gallivanting down the Avenues of Posterity’ (the phrase was Von's). The club was formed ‘to promote free and open discussion on problems of religion, philosophy and art’, -isms had as yet acquired no weary or sinister taint, and the way was clear. It was, so it said, at once a protest and a proclamation. It protested against those who sought to obstruct all research and investigation, it proclaimed a doctrine of freedom of thought and speech for all. Protesting and proclaiming, and certainly exhilarated, it went on to examine the divinity of Christ and theosophy and the Higher Criticism and the university lecture system and the exemption of church lands from taxation. Ethics, held Mac- page 124 kenzie, was a necessity, religion was a luxury; Hunter upheld compulsory civil marriage, Stout upheld agnosticism and ancient China. And then, to universal astonishment, came the Rev. B. Horace Ward, to uphold Religious Belief in a most Singular manner. ‘Indeed, the lecture was marked by a complete absence of bigotry and intolerance, and was expressive of sentiments so much in accord with the views of the Heretics present, that one remarked, after the lecture, “If this orthodoxy, we shall have to change our name”’. Not often did Ward, in his painful progress, win such approval.

There was the more general, and certainly less intellectual, meeting of mind in the Men's Common Room Club that was inaugurated in 1909—though this too may have had its origin in protest. ‘Perhaps’, we read, ‘it is partly the woimen's fault that such a club has proved necessary; women at college are too apt to demand perfect equality, and at the same time to expect exemption from criticism, expect in that polite form which is nothing more nor less than flattery disguised. Such a state is nothing more nor less than flattery disguished. Such a state of things can hardly continue without doing harm all round.’ So the resentful, the scandalized, male retired into his lair; women, it appears (Rule 25: it was forty years ago) were not admitted into the gym after 5 p.m. The club sang songs and smoked, and one abandoned spirit introduced cards. Rule 9 forbade smoking. The Students' Association requested its alteration; the council discussed the matter and referred it back to the Executive to know if alteration was the wish of the general body of students, Mr Wilson had personal consultations with the President; smoking was allowed. ‘Very few students who smoke come to any good’, said Sir Robert; and he was dealt with in one of the best of capping songs.

Farewell my pipe, for we must part,
The Chancellor has said it.…

And now I Know why Von and Brown
And all those other jokers,
page 125 Are such disgrace to cap and gown,
It's just because they're smokers.

The sexes, undismayed by misogyny, continued to co-op erate. There were Picnics and socials, competitions and concerts and Tournament. The Ladies' Hockey Club had wonderful picnics, proceeding to Tawa Flat or Trentham in a stately line of drags, in beautiful weather, with Easterfield and Joynt as chaperons, and Mr and Mrs Brook on the commissariat wagon (Mrs Brook ran the college tea room) with their binoculars; there was the moonlight drive home, or there was the moonlight return from the harbour excuriosion on the Durchess, when Tournament was held in Wellington, and everybody queued up for the waterchute at Day's Bay. There was the baby show that Kirk almost won with a photograph of himself, aged three, playing with a pet frog. It was said that the professors were becoming rather restive at the strain of social life. Certainly at the end of 1910 they had under serious cogitation ‘the best method of securing from the students a greater amount of serious work during the First Term’—a problem with which those particular professors were not the last to grapple. Not that academic attainment was ignored: paeans arose when P. W. Robertson got the first of the college's Rhodes scholarships in 105, paeans when Allan MacDougall got the second, in 1909. ‘I suppose there are still many’, records one who has been quoted already, ‘who remember the Dougall could interpret and partially understand the English lectures of those days—the Rhodes Scholarship was virtually his from that moment.’ Admiration for such achievements was almost sentimental, Robertson was ‘Robertson of Ours’; but it was the Edwardian age, it was the youth of things, the sense of glory came with a novel and intoxicating delight. Below these heights, there was always work done, and some of it was meritorious.

page 126

There were also the glories of Tournament. The Tennis Shield was won in 1907, the Athletic Shield, at last, in 1908 and again in 1912; from 1906, for a number of years, the Joynt Scroll came to Victoria almost with monotony. And there was Capping.


Capping was an institution that began sedately, and rapidly lost all sign of the sedate. Some wag found suitable lines in King John: ‘The yearly course that brings this day about shall never see it but a holiday—a wicked day, and not a holy day’; and his fellows proceeded to make it wicked, according to the standards of the time. In the first decade of the century the University itself, and not the college, managed the graduation ceremony proper, and in 1903 Stout became Chancellor. A strong belief existed among students that this function, as a matter of university tradition, should have a strong injection of foolery: it should be as witty and noisy as possible, and if not witty, at least noisy. It is indeed difficult to listen to an afternoon course of solemn eloquence, particularly on a day of celebration, with high spirits in the air, and high jinks com ing off in the evening. Such was the sentiment in all four colleges, and according speakers were heckled and rattles were swung, and periodically the chorus was raised, ‘How long, O Lord, how long?’ It was not unnatural that a feud should arise between the wicked ones and the Chancellor, and that as early as 1905 the threat should be issued that unless Diploma Day proceedings were more orderly the public conferring of degrees would be discontinued. In 1907, as an experiment, the speeches were received in dead silence, which made oration falter even more: in 1909 there was ‘really bad behaviour’; in 1910 the students registered their protest against the Chancellor's attitude by listening to him for a quarter of an hour and then leaving in a body (unperturbed, he thanked them for their page 127 courtesy in giving up their seats to the general public). In 1912, with an internationally distinguished visitor on the platform, Lord Bryce, there was calm; but the following year the quarrel grew immedicable. The Chancellor had had trouble in Auckland and, against the advice of the Council, insisted on a formal conferring of Auckland degrees at Wellington. At 3 p.m. on June 26 the Concert Chamber was packed full, except the gallery where the undergraduates should have sat, which was empty and, on the Chancellor's orders, locked. Stout made his usual speech on University education. The University registrar rose to read the Auckland names, and the gallery began to fill with students, both men and women, who, having politely acquiesced in Stout's wish to be let alone, were now ready to cheer the graduates. They had come silently up the fire-escape and through the window, bearing a great placard, Silence; there was hardly a sound to be heard. Stout. either losing for once his excellent temper, or making what he considered the only possible tactical move, suddenly put an end to the proceedings and marched off the stage. He would, he said, deliver the diplomas in privacy in the Council Room. All but two12 of the graduates refused to receive them. Controversy was excited; the Chancellor remained determined: at the next meeting of Senate the university ceremony was abolished and function thrown over to the colleges. For Victoria, that notable soldier Sir Ian Hamilton spoke (such was irony) on Discipline: and there was a ‘conversazione’ which pleased everybody.

More uniformly satisfactory was what came to be called the ‘Carnival’. When everybody knew everybody, and the number of graduates was small, it was possible to write songs celebrating their foibles, the professors, the college, the Coun- page 128 cil, incidents of college life, all with considerable success. Everybody knew Gilbert and Sullivan by heart, and parodies of sort were easy. There were enough popular tunes, cheerful or lachrymose, to fill any gaps. Starting, therefore, with concerts of miscellaneous songs, hakas, pianoforte-pieces and recitations, with a ‘farce’ in the late Victorian manner for the second half of the evening, the revelers went on to develop the ‘extravanganza’—or rather a number of different sorts of extravaganza; for no attempt to stabilize permanently the pattern of that combination of buffoonery any satire has ever been successful. Time was always short, but the early combinations of tableaux and songs, directed on some central theme,13 and bound together by a ‘run-through chorus’, were very successful. In a small hall, the Sydney Street Schoolroom or later the Concert Chamber, with everyone in the know, the atmosphere of he intimate revue could be captured, for the interested public as well as for students. Kirk and his dogs were perennially amusing; or, when Shackleton was so much in the news, Kirk could be sent to the South Pole with Brook as his faithful servitor. Or there was the famous episode, the Cause célèbre, of Brook's cow. Brook kept a calf, or cow, which was pastured on the hill, behind the college, and the cow dying, it was buried on the hill, with plenty of lime. But this was within the city boundaries, and therefore illegal, and Brook was haled before the Magistrate's Court. The college appeared in force, Richmond took the defence, Kirk paid the fine of 7s and the law-abiding Brook, much cast down by the feeling of disgrace,14 was duly comforted. And then the satanic page 129 three, Eichelbaum, de la Mare, and Seaforth Mackenzie, sprang forward, and in The Golden Calf disposed of the cow and butchered Brook anew.

They took her darkly at dead of night;
Their lantern dim a-flutter,
And they placed her discreetly out of sight
In the holy ground (which was scarcely right),
And sadly they thought in the pale moonlight
Of the vanished milk and butter.


All flesh is grass and rank it grows
Where Brookie's cow apart reposes.

Somehow by the end the moral was dragged round to the asseveration that whatever a sordid world may say, wisdom is more than gold, and upon the hoarse-throated moralists the curtain fell. This was eminently satisfactory, expect for unhappy Brook. It was not an art-form which could be endlessly utilized, partly because of the natural boredom of humanity at a recipe too often repeated, partly because heaven does not send regularly either so lustrous a theme or the comic poets to profit by it, and partly because the size of the college, as it grew, was to nullify the appositeness of academic wit. The general ‘idea’ of an extravaganza might be no larger, but page 130 inevitably its particular applications grew more public and less private, the political succeeded the domestic. The truly ‘college’ extravaganza was a brief flowering, born of a spring that could never be repeated.

In 1910 the first capping procession burst upon a pleased city. The old post Office Square was thronged. This was an aspect of wisdom which the moilers after gold were well-inclined to tolerate. ‘Sweep on, you fat greasy citizens!’ the idealist might cry from the heights; but he went down and mixed with them.

1 Mr William Weir the timber-merchant said he hoped to do something later. Mr Jacob Joseph said he would put money into scholarship but not into bricks and mortar. Mrs. Sarah Anne Rhodes gave Easterfield £25 for his own department and expressed her ‘intention of doing something later’, –Letter from Easterfield to Sir Thomas Hunter, 9 July 1948.

2 When Adamson came to New Zealand he worked out a plan for a Law School which would take ten bursars from each province, and to which would be appointed specialist teachers.

3 But his lectures too apparently had their longueurs:

‘Garrow I knew, and Law of divers sorts
I studied once, and I have played at Orts
And Crosses, and by many subtle shifts
Have whiled away the lagging hour of Torts’

Spike, 1912.

4 ‘once in Melbourne’, wrote kirk, ‘he invited me to accompany him to try to impress on the Federal Minister of Defence the necessity for Australin having her own navy. He put the case exceedingly well.’

5 The Queen's Scholarships Act, 1903.

6 The 4000 acres, ‘more or less’, in fact worked out at less—a bare 3965. There was another endowment, of upwards of 10,000 acres, reserved for higher education in Taranaki—the acres which had been the subject of argument in the debates over Stout's bills. In equity this endowment should have gone to the college set up to serve Taranaki, as part of the Middle District: in fact it was held back, and under the Taranaki Scholarships Act, 1905, the income was devoted exclusively to scholarships for Taranaki youth, tenable at any university college in New Zealand. See Appendix I.

7 The residuary legatees were half a dozen little schools in Scotland, to which Manson left his money for scholarships. But when the residue was calculated, it appeared that scholarships could be provided for all the pupils of all these schools several times over. There was further talk, and a codicil was drawn up, very much to the advantage of Victoria College—and Manson suddenly died, leaving the document unsigned.

8 These ventilators were one of the less successful inventions of Sir Truby King. They had motors to extract the used air. As the poet infers, they did not work: but they also made so much noise in a wind that it was impossible for anybody in the college to work either.

9 There is almost a whole saga about Kirk and a dog, possibly fabulous, that was alleged to belong to cotton. It began with a newspaper advertisement for a lost dog, over Cotton's initials, and with that stimulus the wits did easily let go.

10 10

‘We carefully called ourselves “women”,
And felt proud of our name,
But still were referred to as “ladies”,
A title we never did claim:
For we thought of its misapplications—
“Charladies”, drunk ladies, and such.
So please will you call us just women?
You see, we'd prefer it so much.’

‘A plea for the V.C.W.D.S.’, Spike, 1911. The unregenerate referred to them as ‘the girls.’

11 11

‘He fought his doubts and gathered strength,
He would not make his judgment blind,
He faced the specters of the mind
And laid them.…’

12 12One of them was in a difficult position, being the son of one of Stout's brother-judges; the other was alleged to be ‘not quite right in the head’.

13 13e.g, ‘worship’ in The Golden calf (1907); ‘defence’ in The Bended Bow (1910).

14 14Doyle v. Brook. James Doyle was the Inspector of Nuisances. The legal principle illustrated was Ignorantia juris non excusat. There is another cow story which never quite got into the saga. Professor Mackenzie, while still living at Karori, kept cows, one of which wandered in the road and was impounded—or so it was alleged. Mackenzie was sentenced to a fine of B or forty-eight hours imprisonment. This man of principle, considering the case inadequately heard and himself a victim of justice, steadfastly refused to pay. In due course a police constable came up to the college to collect. ‘But you won't go to goal, Sir, just for six shillings’ pleaded the constable. ‘Of course he will,’ asserted the exuberant Hunter, who had hastened to be in attendance, won't you, Mackenzie?' Mackenzie said he would. ‘But you don't want to be seen walking down town with me!’ Mackenzie was prepared to walk any way he liked, with him, in front of him, or behind him. So off went the professor and the unhappy policeman together, leaving the gleeful Hunter behind. Unfortunately at the back door they met Maurice Richmond. ‘Where on earth are you going, Mackenzie?’‘To goal’, said the college Hampden. Richmond, horrifled, dug in his pocket and fetched out the 6s. Hunter never forgave him. Mackenzie also was annoyed, for he had planned to send from his cell to the magistrate to demand the solace of a bottle of whisky.—Brook's cow was the progeny of the animal involved in this case.