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Victoria University College an Essay towards a History

VII — The Twenties

page 181

The Twenties

But even as men used the hopeful Shelleyan phrase, the bright hope faded. It was used a good deal in the earliest twenties, when three empires had gone like wrecks in a dissolving dream, and the intoxicating vision of Education, as the maker of all things new, stood before the eyes of youth and age alike. So optimistic was mankind, in that brief day. Mr H. G. Wells wrote his history, and there at the end of it was Life, standing upon the earth as upon a footstool, stretching out its realm amid the stars. If some of the other prophets were less ecstatic, they could all somehow be assimilated; for faith and scepticism, Wells and Gilbert Murray and Bertrand Russell and J. B. Bury, the League of Nations and the Russian Revolution and the New Psychology, somehow everything seemed capable of being sorted into a general plan, if only human beings would consent to be tolerant, and progresssive, and liberal, and rational, if only they would think about social reform and abandon secret diplomacy, and read Areopagitica and Mr Russell on Free Thought and Official Propaganda. But it could not last; people, in New Zealand as elsewhere, would not do these obvious things. The student was afflicted by persons, even among his fellow students, who page 182 betrayed a strange reluctance to be interested in everything, and to wish to reform everything, to try everything in the light of reason and convict most of it. When these unfortunate and exasperating persons were sceptical, they were sceptical the wrong way round. They had, most of them, never heard of Bertrand Russell; and when they were told about him, they generally concluded that he should be in goal. In spite of the wreck of empires, in spite of Education, and of the New Psychology, and of the New History, and of the Obvious manifestations of the reasonable mind, it became apparent that a new world was not going to be born.

So the 1920's present themselves as an interesting decade in the history of the college, years that were certainly educative for a great many students, and which had their excitements; years that were important for the physical growth of the institution and set it on an altogether larger basis; but years that were in some ways rather unhappy. For once again the college came into conflict with the community. It was not now the Council which stood on a lonely peak and defied the forces of unreason—the Council appears as a rather embarrassed body, anxious to conciliate, itself the scene of argument, of close divisions, and much discussion in committee; it was the students who fought a guerrilla struggle with all sorts of critics outside, from Ministers of the Crown to churches and chambers of commerce and that odd small excitable rather secret body for the defence of the status quo, the New Zealand Welfare League. But unrest, struggle, criticism and counter-criticism were inevitable in the world just then. The consequences of the war, and of the peace, political, economic and social, were all-pervading. There was a series of minor depresssions to embarrass the government and to lead to cuts in university grants, to wage-cuts and to strikes; it was impossible not to be interested in Bolshevism, and impossible for the Respectable not to fear it—not (apparently) to see it creeping page 183 under doors and in at key-holes, the enemy of the Empire and the Sunday-school, the corrupter of the trade-union and the University. Those awful shadows, Lenin and Trotsky, loomed up at every despiteful criticism of the Arbitration Court; they stood behind Mr Peter Fraser on the platform of the Debating Society. And was the Empire indeed crumbling, under onslaughts within as well as without, as rash constitutional expermentalists from other Dominions probed it here and pushed it there? Did the New Zealand of which William Ferguson Massey was Prime Minister want a British Commonwealth of Nations? Could the government in which the Hon. C. J. Parr was Minister of Education look with approval on the intellect tual explorations of any student body? When the proceedings at Versailles were the object of so much criticism and those at Moscow of so much admiration could a minister not be alarmed? Could a government refrain from censoring books and pamphlets? And who now, a generation later, remembers or has heard of that sinister volume Red Europe? Alas for mutability! the day may come when the same question will be asked of the Hon. C. J. Parr.


The new wing to the north went slowly up, with its memorial stone to the dead (mortalitate relicta immortalitate induti vivunt), its provision for great-windowed library and women's common room and new tea-room for Mrs Brook; and while it was still being raised came the ‘delightful and almost incredible’ tidings that the government had granted £20,000 for a new southern wing as well, with special accommodation for physics. Now at last something was to be seen on the scale originally envisaged by Easterfield. But by the time the foundations for this large mass were being laid1 Easterfield had been gone for a year and more. There had been a certain swing in page 184 his interests, and after twenty years of his chair he was beginning to have a sense of frustration. He had given the college, he seems to have felt, what he had it in him to give, and this feeling that his period of usefulness was over, coming with his concern for agricultural research made it easy for him to accept the offer from the newly-founded Cawthron Institute to become its Director, in 1920. The chemistry chair was offered to, and accepted by, P. W. Robertson, the tall and brilliant experimenter of the earliest years, who had been to Oxford and Burma and London, and added aesthetics to his science, and become enamoured of the practice of English prose; and under Robertson of the wide interests and the gentle smile chemistry went on to the end of the first fifty years. Easterfield became the college's first professor emeritus.

These early twenties were full of professorial change. There should have been one restoration; von Zedlitz should have come back. French teaching had been carried on during the war by Mrs McPhail, a devoted little woman; but after her death it was plain the chair must be filled. A new chorus went up from the most irresponsible bodies all over the country, from certain branches of the Returned Soldier's Association, from school committees and town boards and education boards and borough councils: their protests came to the college Council in shoals—von Zedlitz must no be re-appointed.2 For this hysterical and contemptible outburst there was not even the excuse of a war; but the Council had changed, some of the strong men had gone, and they had not been replaced by strength. It seemed safer to bow down before the demands of the Philistines; the motion to re-appoint was lost. There perhaps lay the real tragedy of the famous case; but it was not Von's tragedy, it was the petty tragedy of men who feared page 185 to do a just thing. Then came to the college—or rather blew in like a storm that had gathered strength all the way from Western Australia, bursting open doors and rattling windows and sending weaker students scurrying like pale leaves before the blast—Edwin J. Boyd Wilson, the black-haired the enthusiastic, the man who worked like forty devils and expected others to do the same. Boyd Wilson was a New Zealander who had taken his first both at Canterbury and at Cambridge, who had taught Belgian young ladies at Antwerp and Australians at Sydney and Perth, and whose superabundant and terrifying energies boiled over in every outdoor activity known to man. He made his students speak French, he instructed them in continental wit, he acted in plays with them; he poured a steady stream of them into the Cercle Française down town; he came in the end almost to regard the senior scholarship in French as his department's property; he built, he gardened, he slew deer and goats and fish, he had been a passionate footballer, the Tararuas were his second home. It was with Boyd Wilson that the college Tamping Club came into existence. In the bush, some timid scholars felt, it was possible to regard him with less fear than in the lecture room. In the bush he became invaluable. He was another, distinct, variety in the extraordinary assemblage of character the college had not ceased to accumulate.

In 1920 the Macarthy chair of economics was finally set up, and Murphy, of the mocking ready tongue and the careful lecturing technique, was promoted to fill it. As long as he was there, the successful joke would not be annually repeated; as long as he was there, the community could be assured that students would not be encouraged to become socialists. Under the University Amendment Act of 1919, raising the monetary grants to the colleges, the government had earmarked a sum for a chair of education (for it too was affected by that current in the air), and J. S. Tennant, the lecturer and Training College page 186 principal, was elevated. Tennant's calibre was considerable— with both literary and biological interests, he was a really well-read man, and could quote Holy Writ to advantage. In courtesy he was second only to Kirk. He was followed in 1927 by W. H. Gould, who was to hold the chair for twenty years— Gould the optimistic, the liberal, the lover of his fellows and of his profession as a teacher, the planner of improvements. No great scholar was Gould, but a simple unpretentious man who always rose to the measure of any task he was given to do; who had begun his professional life as a pupil-teacher, and had worked important and revolutionary changes as a Director of Education in Tonga; who, as Training College principal, was a standing challenge to the authoritarianism then rampant in education, and as professor one whose eager and honourable service to the college was rewarded by a full measure of affection. And how enthusiastically ingenious he was at his vacation boat-building in his beloved Marlborough Sounds! Chairs of geology and history were founded in 1921. To the one was appointed Cotton, busy putting the finishing touches to his Geomorphology of New Zealand, the work which was to carry his name beyond the seas, the first of an impressive series of studies; to the other Wilson—the genial ‘F.P.’—now with his subject at last released from the danger of mere subordination in a school of economics and commerce. Marsden, who had lectured breezily and well, in 1922 astonished his colleagues by being appointed to the Education Department as assistant-director, and was followed in the chair by D.C.H. Florance, a Canterbury man who had worked in Rutherford's laboratory and taught at Hong Kong. In 1924 G. S. Peren was appointed professor of agriculture. Agriculture? Agriculture, like education and economic and history, was in those post-war years in the air. Government and farmers were struggling with problems of marketing, the economic foundations of farming were revealing some instability, there page 187 was a vast need of fundamental research, there was not a real school of agriculture in the country. Sir Walter Buchanan of the Wairarapa, whose voice in 1897 had denounced Seddon's Victoria College Bill as an abortion, in 1923 presented £10,000 to found a chair. It was another of those generous gifts which left the college where it was, for Salamanca Road was no place for a farm, and a school of agriculture could not be based merely on a chair; so that when, almost simultaneously, Auckland was also endowed with a chair of agriculture, the two colleges, with less dissent than generally accompanied the foundation of a ‘special school’ of the University, pooled their resources in the Massey Agricultural College to which Peren went as principal. At the end of the decade, to conclude these professorial notations, Garrow resigned his chair, to be succeeded for a short span by H. H. Cornish.

Professorial comings and goings are not the only ones that a faithful and exhaustive chronicler should now record. It was in the twenties that individual departments at last, and none too soon, began to expand by the acquisition of ‘full-time lectures,’ as distinct from the ‘assistants’ which professors had so far had to help them with their junior work, with corrections of exercises and the like. Now there arrived the first of those men who were personalities in their own right, who became, some of them, as much part of the college and its fructifying life as most professors, men who were to contribute in time a large totality of scholarship and labour and independent thought. Some moved elsewhere, as professors of lecturers, some remained as lectures, mainstays of their work, or succeeded to chairs in the college. They were a new sort, some of these men, also; mostly returned postgraduate travelling scholars, if they were New Zealanders, trained in research in arts as well as in science, full of London and Paris and modernity. Others had traveled in war. To A. D. Monro, who came to chemistry in 1921, students and page 188 staff have owed much; Ivan Sutherland was an immensely stimulating influence for thirteen years in philosophy; John Elliott was a first-rate teacher in classics. These may stand for their brethren. But they cannot stand also for another class that may be nameless indicidually, the ‘student-assistants’ who began to be appointed for the session's work, new graduates mainly, squires to the professorial knights, young fellows bursting with zeal and self-confidence, quite prepared, if they were given a chance, to run their own departments or, indeed, the whole college. In this lowly home-grown manner started more than one academic career that was to come to greater note with advancing time. Let the memory of their youth live, if it live at all, in the minds of those whose essays they marked.

But let not the memory of two other men, who in those years passed from college eyes, be cavalierly dismissed. James Southcombe Brook, he of the clasp of keys and glorious clocks, died in 1926. Few men had loved the college as he had, and its grief was real. Nevertheless a Brook still reigned, his son W. S. Brook, the college carpenter and indispensable one— ‘Young Brook’ or ‘Bill Brook,’ out of earshot; ‘the Finger-snapper,’ if Homer could have given him an epithet; for never did man have hall and corridors better under command than did Young Brooke, and that snap of the fingers at 10 past 5 was as mandatory as a machine-gun.3 Two years later died the only person connected with the college, perhaps, for whom Old Brookie had a real distaste, the one he called, with a kind of pitying impatience, ‘the Reverend Gentleman’—Horace Ward. Mr Ward had never treated Mr Brook with a proper respect. Poor Ward's asthma and the years had told on him heavily; black-coated and frail, he had to seek for help, when days were windy, to cross the road to his nearby house on Kelburn Parade, close to that other so different house, the page 189 scene of jollity and hospitality, Mackenzie's; and he died not long after he retired, in 1928. To the Library came one who wished to make it great, Harold Miller, a college Rhodes scholar, a very different personality from Horace Ward. Trained in economic and philosophy and history (with, some of his colleagues considered, a rather sinister learning towards theology), and with an argumentative bent that made him difficult to deter from the consequences of any principle he had adopted, he settled in and began to build. He built to some purpose, the emissary of the Carnegie Corporation of New York was impressed, Mr Miller went to the United States to see what was done there; and as the Library in the next twenty years swallowed professors' rooms and lecture rooms, and stackroom followed packed stackroom, as Carnegie music collection succeeded Carnegie art collection, as bequest after bequest was assimilated, and Ward's carefully-written catalogue was swamped by cards from the Library of Congress, something rose before which the workers who had set on the shelves in the little room with the oriel window the Library of 1906, of which they were so proud, might well have paused in awe. Yet, at the end of the twenty years, it all seemed no more than a good beginning, and those who were most closely concerned with the Library were talking of the next step, a separate library building.


All that is worthy of record, but the centre of interest now rests, really, with the student body. For three years, said Spike of September 1921, we had thought we were working back to normal, to the standard of university life that existed before the war. There had been tournaments and capping carnivals and as many meetings and dances as the Professorial Board would suffer. But we had not struggled back to the pre-War standard; we lived in a different era.—This was true; one page 190 of the evidences was the doubling of student numbers, as the editor pointed out, the disappearance of the ‘corporate whole.’ Another of the evidences was the bewildering character of the post-war world itself, a conditioning factor of college life to which reference has already been made. In this different era it availed pre-war hens little to cluck indignantly after post-war chickens. But there was a great deal of clucking. One many pass briefly over the great public controversy whether students should be allowed to play tennis on their own tennis-courts on Sundays—how peculiarly remote seems that ‘Sunday tennis’ rage, with its letters from church-goers, its protests from Sunday-school organizations, its denials and compromises, and the final victory of tennis in 1923! Certainly a social revolution was in progress.4 It cannot be said that students were more irreligious than the society they lived in, the Christian Union had lost nothing in fervency, and certainly there was among students who thought for themselves at all no inconsiderable interest in religions as a human characteristic. The Free Discussions Club had an animated Christian Union fringe; and what may perhaps be described in later jargon as the college intelligentsia was found of dividing its Sunday evenings among the churches—particularly the Unitarian Church in Vivian page 191 Street, flourishing for a brief period under the sardonic eloquence of the Rev. Wyndham Heathcote, and St John's, where the Rev. Dr Gibb boomed and thundered. But it was not religion, or the absence of religion, that was now to cause so much trouble, it was something to which society in the twentieth century devoted a great deal more discussion, it was politics.

A period of strain in the affairs of the world will always make vocal those persons who set store on a ritual of ‘loyalty,’ on the outward observances of oaths of allegiance for school-teachers and regular saluting of the flag for school-children; and such persons will always shudder at criticism, however tentative, of the social order under which they live. In the early twenties such strain was, as we have noted, one of the consequences of the war; political or social criticism was in our country to be equated with communism, and from the young it was not to be tolerated. But to be young was often, happily, to be critical. This obvious truth did not, unhappily, strike the post-war, Minister of Education, Mr Parr, as one of perennial validity, and with the full approval of a large number of farmers and local bodies, he set out to eliminate it from the scheme of things in New Zealand. To a politician of this temperament the college provided an ample amount of scandal —the Debating Society alone was an offence of the rankest description; but curiously enough, though the Minister had been becoming very restive, it was the Teachers' Training College that stimulated his first really grand outburst. In August 1921 a student of that college was convicted in the Magistrate's Court of ‘selling literature encouraging violence and lawlessness,’ and was fined £10. A number of her fellow-students, and a number of Victoria students were present in the court, and some contributed to a collection taken up outside to pay the fine. The Minister thereupon, it seems, lost all sense of proportion and all sense of the decencies of administrative be- page 192 haviour. He found willing enough supporters. The chairman of the Education Board forthwith conducted an enquiry into the polities of the Training College and the young woman was dismissed. Not only was she a member of the ‘Wellington Socialist Society’ but also a B.A. of Victoria College. The connection seemed complete. The Minister wrote to the Council, demanding an enquiry into the antecedents of young woman herself, into the teaching at the college, and into a number of societies said to be permeated with ‘undesirable influences’—to wit, the Debating Society, the Heretics' Club, and the Free Discussions Club. The college was somewhat taken aback. There were members of the Council, however, who showed distress that any student should lean towards communism, and it was decided to hold an enquiry. Would the Minister, as official Visitor, join with the chairman in conducting it? The Minister would not, though prepared to hold an enquiry himself; but in the meantime, to ensure (possibly) that there would be a sufficiency of condemnation, made a public statement which, complained the chairman, had been ‘very detrimental to the reputation of the college’. The Minister's charges had been so reckless that the Professorial Board, in justice to itself, also demanded investigation, while the Students' Association asked to be represented at any enquiry that was held.

Though the Council was rather nettled by Mr Parr's policy of verdict-first-trial-afterwards, the chairman did his work manfully. The communist, a thoughtful, gentle and conscientious young person, was not in 1921 a student. She had been indoctrinated with her savage views by neither Professor Murphy nor Professor Hunter. She had belonged to neither the Debating Society nor the Free Discussions Club. In her time at college she had disseminated neither her literature nor her views. Of course, there were students who owned copies of the ‘banned books’—about that they were quite candid; when was page 193 it not a point of honour to read a banned book? Perhaps something sinister could be found about ‘undesirable influences' in the clubs. That too was difficult; it was difficult to find corruption in the Heretics' Club, which had perished seven years before; really the chairman could see nothing objectionable about the record of the Free Discussions Club; and really it was difficult to see that the Debating Society had done anything definitely wrong. Its practice of inviting’ leading Socialists' to debate was said to give these gentlemen (Mr Parr's political opponents) ‘an unusually favorable opportunity of expressing extreme views and sometimes views bordering on revolution’; but in this very year 1921 the Society had begun to invite politicians of the other parties to its platform.5 In fact, concluded the chairman, there was no reason to believe that any student was other than a loyal British subject, and he touched on the War Record. The Council accepted his report; in regard to the most bitterly assailed of college institutions it passed the emotion that ‘as long as they keep within the law the students should be free to select the subjects and control the procedure of their own debates’; and as far away as Christchurch newspapers carried the headline, ‘Victoria College Asserts Its Innocence’.

By that time, to assert innocence was idle. If one cared to believe that the college was a hotbed of sedition, one believed it. Mr Parr, that precipitate and unwise man, was not deterred by evidence, and his political associates year by year gave utterance to their horror. His odd successor as Minister of Education, the Hon. R.A. Wright (who had also strong views on Sunday tennis) had been particularly violent. It cannot be said that the offending students were oppressed by a feeling of disgrace. Spike, which was all for greater intellectual integrity and widespread denunciation (‘The social condition page 194 of Wellington, if we only realized it, is ghastly’), and the editorials of which gave by copious quotation a pretty accurate index of the editor's current and dangerous reading—Spike lampooned the Minister with vigour, joy, and a proud sense of public duty.6 The Debating Society had one set-back that hardly discouraged it. Since Lord Plunket's day the Governor had been the Patron of the Society; but in 1922 Lord Jellicoe was unwilling. Mr Parr had landed him in a difficult situation. The Governor-General could have no polities. He sent for a copy of the syllabus; His Excellency, wrote his secretary, ‘does not feel he can accept the position, as the subjects chosen for debate include some with which he does not think he can properly associate himself’.7 The Society decided to do without a patron, and went on to some years of the most spirited and crowded meetings it ever had. ‘Thanks to profound intelligence of some of the chosen representatives of this young democracy,’ ran its notes in 1922, ‘the Society's activities are now appreciated from the North Cape to Stewart Island. Such a splendid advertisement seldom falls to the lot of any Society and the gratitude of our members knows no bounds. The real point at issue was as to whether a group of politicians may page 195 with impunity set up a dummy, and have him, under the shield of privilege, defame certain of his fellowmen. Such tactics may be good politics with elections near at hand, but we would have these politicians know that while we pity their failure we despise and detest them. It would be wearisome to make further comment; suffice it to say that it is high time every intelligent being in the community awoke to the deplorable level to which politics have sunk in this country, and came to realize the truly terrible fact that less than one per cent of the men who go through the New Zealand University enter politics. Surely this is a damning indictment of present-day education and citizenship.’

With these sentiments, the Society proceeded to do its best to redeem present-day education. Audiences were large and enthusiastic. Visitors' debates were jammed full. Should there be a referendum before the country entered a war? Should the peace treaty be abrogated? Should the Great Powers intervene in the internal affairs of China? Saturday night followed Saturday night and the officers rubbed their hands. This was almost like Oxford. Debates were held in the vacation. Students crushed in, the public streamed up to the Gym. In 1923, to answer the criticism that motions were carried by visitors from outside, two votes were inaugurated, one of students, the other of the whole audience. In 1924 part of the syllabus was left blank to provide for particularly topical subjects. The newspapers reported the debates in detail (except that evening which declared in favour of the railwaymen's strike for higher wages; ‘we feel glad that our representatives in the Joynt Challenge Scroll [contest]—Messrs. P. Martin Smith and R. M. Campbell—expressed our opinions of the Press in no hesitating manner’.) Theological subjects were excluded by the constitution. How interesting to see what could be done with religion! thought one party; a perceptive secretary saw a way; against a storm of opposition the proviso was page 196 carried: ‘This shall not preclude the committee from selecting social subjects even though they have theological implications'; and the path was open to discuss whether social progress was more retarded than assisted by the Christian religion. Then, at the end of July 1924, came the great attack. A guarantee was needed for a proposed tour of a debating team from Oxford. The outraged Tories of the college wished to bar Sedition—or if it could not be barred, to force it exclusively on to Oxford. They worked diligently and with speed; the formal membership of Society rose in a week from 65 to 300; but in a packed meeting the regular members were able to get a very short amendment substituted for a very long motion’, leaving approval of subjects to the executive of Students' Association. It was enough for the Tories. They supplied a report of the meeting to the newspapers, announcing that the subjects presented for debate, and the general conduct of the Society of late years, were so repugnant to the vast majority of students that they had decided to depose the committee. The college had suffered a decline in public estimation, it behoved students to make clear that they were loyal, Spike, appearing at that very moment, carried a letter on free speech (appealing, as usual in these crises, to Milton), and traversing some inaccuracies of the opposition statement; another special general meeting was held in a fever of excitement, jammed and gasping; the eloquence was tremendous; a motion of no-confidence was defeated—for, 76, against, 113. And yet the accomplished gentlemen from Oxford, when they came in 1925, were no anti-climax, the Town Hall was taken by storm. Another English Universities team came in 1926, then a one-man American team; Auckland and Victoria exchanged visits, and by 1929 a Victoria College team was touring the United States and Canada.

And the Governor-General came back to the fold. Sir Charles Fergusson succeeded Lord Jellicoe. It was decided in 1925 page 197 to reinstate the office of patron and to elect His Excellency subject to his written assent ‘obtained within a reasonable time’. His Excellency scrutinized the syllabus, and accepted with pleasure. Two years later a philosophical note appeared in Spike. Parliament, by general agreement, had just passed the War Disabilities Removal Act, 1927, to bring to an end the civil penalties placed upon conscientious objectors after the war. In 1923 the Debating Society, at a visitors' debate led by two M.P.'s on each side, with others in the audience, had condemned the disfranchisement of these persons. It was looked upon as the most important debate of the year; the gymnasium, somehow, was ‘filled beyond its capacity’; ‘a certain section of public opinion indeignantly charged the Debating Society and the University with treasonable motives, and openly seditious utterances’. Now parliament had followed the Society. Was not that vindication? Then, later in 1927, the Society underwent a sudden slump, that lasted a year or two. It could not forever exist on the peak of things. But it recovered well enough.

The Free Discussions Club, though its light did not blaze from the North Cape to Stewart Island, nevertheless experienced its own golden age. It filled pages of Spike with the accounts of its long grappling with Truth. Every year Hunter opened the season with denunciation of some branch of obscurantism, a Hunter more and more indignant as the evening wore on; the modern press and democracy, Anglo-Catholicism, the part of Woman in Modern Progress, academic slavery in America (what a furore was caused by Upton Sinclair's The Goose Step)—all were pulled to pieces. How redolent of character is the subject of Mackenzie's address, ‘Ireland: the Despair of Rational Religion and the Empire’! what confusion Father Gilbert carried into the ranks when he came to discuss the Roman Index and Freedom of Thought, and proved that there was no real freedom save within the Church! For page 198 Free Discussion too had its visitors: Dr Gibb on Disarmament, and Mr Walter Nash on Unemployment, and Mr A. P. Harper of the Welfare League on the Revolutionary Movement in Great Britain, and Harry Holland, who ‘laboured valorously to wreck our patriotism,’ and Elsdon Best, whose discussion of Maori and Christian Mythology was so electrifying that the club published it. The club had its own struggle with reaction. In 1922, the year of Chanak, when Mr Massey promised Mr Lloyd George help for another war, when some of a new generation of students rushed to Buckle Street to enlist, and Mr Wilford proclaimed ‘My country, right or wrong,’ the final meeting was devoted to The Recent Crisis and its Moral. Dr Gibb and Mr Nash came; Dr Gibb and Mr Nash were shouted down by the loyalists, who also released, not very efficiently, stink-bombs; the loyalists removed the meeting to the Gym and there once again proclaimed the Patriotism of Victoria College. But that was exceptional. More characteristic, even if unusually intensive, was the opening of the 1925 season, the successive evenings devoted to the ‘copec’ reports on Christianity and the contemporary problems of peace and war. Fifty ministers of religion were invited, and two or three came. The organizers were highly satisfied with their week's orgy, ‘one of the most stimulating series of meetings the Club has ever had, both for variety and intensity of discussion.’ Perhaps their conclusion is hardly to be wondered at: ‘the general impression … seemed to be that Christianity had seen its best days.’ After all, it was the Christian Union (which about this time became the Student Christian Movement) which based its discussions on the premise that Christianity was an adventure.


It would be a mistake, nevertheless, to imagine that the college did nothing but revolve the destinies of humanity. On the page 199 superficial social plane, there was an occasional skirmish between the sexes. In 1920 the ‘flapper’ came to college. ‘These young girls’, One of the Old School informed Spike, ‘have neither the maturity of mind nor the sobriety of conduct that is becoming to a University student. Surely it is not too much to ask of women students that when they attend lectures they put up their hair’. Four years later Sorrowing Graduate was irked by this new fashion of hair worn down; Justitia replied that she had once seen a boy on the college premises in shorts, and that the late secretary of the Tramping Club had even gone into the Library looking like a boy scout; then in 1925 it was complained that women were wearing hats to lectures. The young women continued to scandalize the Old and Sorrowful as they thought fit. It was in 1925, too, that the annual general meeting of the Students' Association decided—in the sacred cause of ‘college spirit’—that undergraduates should wear gowns. For hard materialist reasons the Professorial Board refused to countenance the proposal. The Middle Ages were not to whisper their enchantments here. Apart from arguments over fashion, there was activity enough. All through the decade students, ‘loyal’ or ‘seditious’, attended their nightly lectures, rushing in between to Mrs Brook's tea-room for much-criticized refreshment-until the vexed old lady died, two years after her husband, and the experiments in management began which ended with the taking over of the institution by the Students' Association. All through the decade they worked and took degrees, and won scholarships of various sorts, and did their bits of research and wrote theses with such goodwill that even Debates and Free Discussions come to seem, sometimes, merely minor works of supererogation. They continued the Easter struggle. They kept on celebrating capping, now and again in a fierce frenzy of controversy—controversy with the Professorial Board, over the ceremony and the procession, controversy among themselves, over the extrava- page 200 ganza. Their Executive, periodically, was worried to distraction. They kept on starting clubs, and clubs kept on dying, and being revived. They kept on criticizing the University, and following their elders in demanding reform. In the middle of it all came three events, in successive years, which both summarized the past and gave hope for the future; the Silver Jubilee, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the college's founding, in 1924; the Royal Commission on the University, of 1925; and the Weir bequest for a student hostel, of 1926.

What made the year 1921 so fertile of club association? Probably the first fierce post-war devotion to formal studies had spent itself, that making up for lost time from which the college so much took its pattern, and the student was drawing breath. He was expending it too, as we have seen; and now came a Mathematical and Physical Society, a Dramatic Club (which professed to find histrionic talent imperceptible to the more jaundiced critics), the Haeremai Club, and the Tramping Club. In the Haeremai Club gathered those choice spirits who thought that it was sometimes good for men to be alone, sometimes good for them to riot in procession or in the gods at Fuller's Theatre. It was in 1921, too, that college football began one of its great periods of fame, when, though Official Persons might frown upon the unquiet mind of the institution, citizens flocked to Athletic Park to gaze with rapture at the team, and small boys brooded ecstatically upon the existence of George Aitken, chevalier sans peur et sans reproche; for George Aitken was not merely captain of the college first fifteen, but also skipper of the All Blacks, the men who fought the Springboks. There was to be nothing like this till 1928 and 1929, when the team won the senior championship. Must one turn from that blaze to chronicle the death of the Women's Club or its rebirth, the Social Service Club which began in 1924, the short-lived Historical Society of 1925, the Glee Club revived in that year as a Musical Society? Yet the Social page 201 Service Club did good and unpretentious work over a period of years; it was a club that grew this time much more from radical social criticism than from Christian philanthropy, and it began by making some study of the causes of the poverty and insanity that gave it so much concern. At least it was a mode of immediate expression for, once more, that social conscience which could otherwise but expend itself in criticism or in aid to the more remote activities of European Student Relief. But of all the clubs of that day, the one most touched with morning was the Tramping Club. The first Sunday afternoon excursions faded into insignificance beside the first September week-end expedition to the Orongorongo, when fifty students straggled over to that watery magnificent valley, and a less number arrived at the top of Mount Matthews; and that gentle walk itself became nothing in comparison with snow-clad or tempest-smitten Tararuas, the exploration of lost spurs and brown-running stony rivers. Cold words cannot register that glory. There were cold words, such as those on a Labour Day week-end: ‘Some fifty miles of walking … over every type of country-road, bush-track, trackless bush, and river-bed.… two crossings of the Rimutakas; the first, by Matthews Saddle, … interesting enough, but not to be compared with the second traverse, made by map and compass near Bau-Bau trig. Ours was probably the first party since the early surveyors to cross these bushy ridges; certainly, no woman had gone through there before.’ But the college women went, in their ‘gym-frills’, or, dresses relegated to swags, in stout and well-tried bloomers. How was the elegance of the Tararua Club despised! There were tough days that became legendary with the participants: the descents of the long ridge from Alpha to Renata and to the Waiotauru stream, the mist and the rain and the supple-jack, eight miles in a twelve-hour day; crawling against the wind at Palliser Bay; the start at two in the morning, the first steep pull after breakfast. But oh the page 202 stars at two in the morning the deeps of the bush, the sun in the river-valleys, the sweep of the eye from the hill-tops. Fathers might uneasily feel the weight of swags, but they were repulsed with contempt. Mothers might hesitate—it was a generation ago; but it was all right, Professor Boyd Wilson was to be the chaperon; their daughters tramped. Then came the Christmas trips, to the Urewera (‘Them girl are eroes’ said the store-keeper at Ruatoke), to the Waimakariri; and then, the mountains having been tasted, to how many other peaks. In later days the club took to skis; but nails and crampons were all the founders aspired to; the first ice-axe was handled almost with awe, with a religious joy. The poets went tramping, and trampers became poets; for a while Spike was redolent of manuka and wet fern and the sun on hot hills. No one, unfortunately, kept statistics of rivers crossed, or of the billies of tea that Boyd Wilson boiled.

To come to the domestic problems of the students is to leave romance. The Students' Association, after long years of struggle, in 1924 at last managed to lay the basis of sound finance though the introduction of a special fee—which, not unnaturally, in course of time rose.8 All clubs were now to be formally affiliated to the Association, and, instead of charging each its separate membership fee, would receive a grant for its purposes from the general fund thus compulsorily contributed to; in return, every student was to have the right of membership in every club by simply applying to join. There was even greater difficulty in solving the major problem of Capping. Its members were hard to control. When the Haere-mai Club turned out in force the Executive was helpless. One year the ceremony might be subdued, the next pandemonium; page 203 arrangements with the Board were always breaking down. When Brown was Vice-Chancellor he was a much-afflicted man; for in the Town Hall his voice was inaudible, his address on academic ideals was liable to be swallowed up after four minutes in John Brown's Body, and when he threatened to close the proceedings the tormentors would sing For He's a Jolly Good Fellow. In 1927 the Council experimented (once only) with a capping ceremony in the Library, in 1928 there was no ceremony at all. Yet, argued Spike, could anybody deny that the Victoria capping proceedings were the most ority, on Board or Council, could only pity the martyrdom, and wonder at the endurance, of the other centres, and carry on the struggle. From time to time the procession was banned; from time to time the much-tried restaurant proprietors of Wellington refused to have the Undergraduates' Supper within their doors. Yet what memories cling round the sites of those departed firms, the Marble Bar and Gamble and Creed!—the cheerful noise, the home-thrusts between graduates and undergraduates, the professional witticisms, the crocodile march (‘Early in the morning, We went to London, To see all the puff-puffs, Standing in a row!’), the last vociferous sentimental chorus of Absent Friends. The extravaganzas of that period, too, had a chequered history. Women now came into them, at first to dance and then to take speaking parts. By 1923 the Students' Association found it was relying altogether too much On extravaganza profits for the financing of its yearly activities —which might be said therefore to depend on the availability of the Opera House; and the twin demands arose for the student levy and for an extravaganza of the early type, ‘more in touch with college life’. The latter demand issued in the prolonged and frightful struggle of the following year: should the extravaganza be produced by ‘an outside dancing master,’ or should it be, however lamely done, an entirely domestic page 204 arrangement? Difficulties accumulated; from 1925 to 1928 there was no extravaganza: and the successful revival of burlesque of 1929 was at the Town Hall on an almost bare stage. But whatever happened, the Capping Ball was a success. The Town Hall was taken. A thousand streamers passed from central chandelier to gallery, a mile of lycopodium hung round the walls, half the flags of the world were gathered into service. The gentlemen dashed hither and thither with their programmes with the fancy lettering and the little pencils hanging from them; the supper was reported promising; the decorations were admired; the gentlemen flicked their patent-leather shoes and pulled on their white cotton gloves; the ladies gave a last touch to the hair, the strap, the bodice; the orchestra struck up Destiny, and the waltz was on. And the Lancers: up and down that shining floor charged the enthusiastic cannoning youth; faster and faster swung the circle, with the laughing ladies off their feet, breathless and staggering as the figure ended; midnight passed into morning, it was the last waltz, the dead-beat piano, fiddle and cornet were summoning up their final energies, it was Destiny again, longing, romance, intoxication; and then it was Auld Lang Syne and the walk home.


There were other balls. Not least wonderful was the Tournament-Jubilee Ball of 1924, which concluded those athletic and sentimental celebrations. Tournament and Jubilee were a happy coincidence, and there was much organization. A special number of Spike appeared, cram-full of affectionate reminiscences which went back to 1899, another Ode, and (how could it be otherwise?) an articled on Freedom of Speech. It was Sir Robert Stout who unveiled that large expanse of stained glass, not altogether fitting for a library, the memorial to the men of the college who had died in the war, their names en- page 205 graved on the brass plates; unveiled it on Good Friday, April 18, the exact and symbolic anniversary of the first lecture. And it was the unveiling which the Ode celebrated. There had to be an Ode. But perhaps it was not quite so confident an Ode as that which had saluted the Foundation Stone of 1904. Too many men had died. The worship of Pallas was difficult.

‘Dear hill if many visions, false or true’— room had to be made for mistakes. There was much to do, a hard and infinite task, before the world was ‘swept of knave and fool’; wisdom, more to be desired than gold, was to be cherished even as it was desired.

You gaze upon the stars and on the sea—
Be mindful of the trust you bear, O hill!

There was a luncheon, tremendously followed by eloquence and toasts, beginning with Sir Francis Bell, and rising to a climax for the students of the twenties with Mr Martin Smith, ‘who maintained in the face of all the world and its officialdom, the right of a University to free thought and free speech’. There was a famous concert for the old-timers. There was a church service in which, somehow, the Free Discussions Club and other rationalists got mixed up, marching in procession from the Town Hall to St Paul's in academic garb, led by Brown and—it must be told—the Hon. C. J. Parr. And Spike, recording all this, began to look forward to twenty-five years more and a real celebration, a substantial jubilee, a fiftieth anniversary.


Demands for University Reform had never ceased. Within the college students would burst into rage from time to time over examination methods, and Spike would denounce the System with all the fire of 1911. More effectually, outside the college, the Victoria and Canterbury reformers were carrying on their struggle through the Board of Studies that had been set up in page 206 1914. They were determined not merely to do away with English examination, but to re-shape the bachelor's degree, to convert the old ‘six-subject’ degree, in its general effect so ludicrous, to the modern ‘nine-unit’ degree; and they were determined to reform administration. Even the re-shaping of the degree, however, met with strenuous resistance, and as early as 1919 the Board of Studies resolved in favour of four separates universities. Stout's relinquishment of the chancellorship in 1923 merely set another die-hard in his place, in Macmillan Brown. In 1924 Auckland, exasperated over the Senate's conduct of matters concerning the ‘special schools’, demanded separation. Hunter felt the time had come for a clean break. ‘The Senate is no longer a body that can deal effectively and honestly with the problems of university education in New Zealand’, he wrote. ‘These are centered in the colleges, and the sooner these teaching institutions are freed from the incubus of the University of New Zealand the better it will be for university education and for the higher training of the youth of this Dominion.9 Mr Parr was an Auckland man, and quite willing to shine as a reformer when Auckland demanded it, and indeed all the colleges except Otago now wanted a royal commission. Mr Parr promised one, and it was appointed, at last, in April 1925. Sir Harry Reichel and Mr Frank Tate recommended everything the Reformers had fought for, except the splitting of the University. In one respect they went farther—they recommended student representation on college councils. The long struggle, it seemed, was not to be uncrowned with victory. Even the Free Discussions Club had its reward. The club had written to the Commission, asking that its report should emphasize the necessity of freedom for university teachers, and ‘the freedom of students to interest themselves in all questions of what sort page 207 soever, whether academic in the narrow sense, or of contemporary political or social importance’. The Commission was sympathetic, its report was satisfactory on these points; it proclaimed that students should have unfettered control of their non-academic life. There was jubilation. When the president of the Student's Association, R.M. Campbell, went down to the Senate meeting in 1926 and persuaded the Senate to approve of undergraduate representation on college councils, there was almost stupefaction. Were the foundations of the world to moves? But that particular constitutional reform was not to come to college for twelve more years, not till the Statutes Amendment Act of 1938. The government gave the University as much reform as it thought fit in the University Act of 1926, and men settled down to see what they could do with the muddle.

Meanwhile all agitation for improvement within seemed to come at last, infallibly, to the necessity of a residential college. whether it was the decay in knowledge of the old capping songs, or the reluctance of large numbers of students to remain late at night discussing the cosmos, or the unsatisfactory nature of human relations, or the general impossibility of welding eight hundred students, the majority of whom were part-time, into one corporate whole, the remedy seemed to be a residential college—or at least a hostel. The Council agreed, everybody agreed. There was an architect's and engineer's report on the available college land, all ifs and buts. The gymnasium and the tennis courts might go; still, the exchange would be worth while. Then, quite suddenly, there was a suggestion that the college might acquire the Martin Kennedy estate, across the Kelburn tramway line; the government would make a grant of £5000, the Council began to negotiate with the Hospital Board for a clear title; and Spike called on students to do their part in raising funds. At that moment died Mr William Weir, bequeathing the college between seventy and page 208 eighty thousand pounds for the provision and maintenance of a hostel for men. Weir was a friend of Stout. And Stout had done his work well. It was astonishing, staggering. Under the University Act of 1914 a government subsidy was payable, pound for pound. A hundred and fifty thousand pounds! It was more than staggering, it was incredible. Incredible it turned out to be. The Martin Kennedy site was acquired, the architects drew up the plans. And the government amended the University Act to limit its subsidy on any bequest to £25,000. Well, even that meant £100,000. How wonderful it was; would not the domestic critics now be confounded?–would not ‘college spirit’ flower as never before? Was not one problem a step nearer solution?

1 The architects for these two wings were Messrs Swan and Lawrence.

2 An Auckland newspaper, the Star, had the effrontery to state that his re-appointment would be unanimously opposed by the country's returned soldiers; and when one of these, de la Mare of the college, protested, refused to publish his letter

3 Young Brookie himself died in 1943—the end of a short but notable dynasty.

4 This Sunday tennis controversy is worth chronological summary, as a short chapter in the social history of New Zealand. In 1913 the Tennis Club reported to the college Council, hopefully, that Sunday play had been forbidden by the Professorial Board. The Council took no action. In 1914 the club appealed against the ruling of the Board, which the Council upheld, a minority of three dissenting. In 1919 the club again approached the Council, this time with the Board's support; but repeal of the previous decision was lost on the chairman's casting vote. In 1922 the Council agreed to allow Sunday tennis, but only between the hours of 8 to 10 a.m. and 2 to 6 p.m.—the argument being that that would leave an hour both morning and evening for players to get ready for church, or that, if they did not go to church, the eyes of church-goers would not be afflicted with them; and not at all in the Summer Recess— the argument here is obscure. In 1923 this prohibition of vacation play was removed. And some time later the limit of hours also went. These later decisions do not appear to have been followed by any local Deluge, at least of unusual proportions.

5 The first debate with the ‘Socialist Party’ had been held as long ago as 1903—after 1904 the practices seems to have lapsed till 1914.

6 There was a squib, entitled A Vision of Judgment, which in this connection enjoyed some passing celebrity. The leader of the Labour party, Harry Holland, wishing to have the Vision, wrote to the editor, for ‘a couple of copies of your bright little paper’, The horrified editor, who regarded Spike as an Organ of Opinion, could only reply with noble dignity that his ‘bright little paper’ was already sold out but would no doubt be obtainable in the General Assembly Library.

7 Specimens of the subjects may be here given: That the New Zealand University should exist for the purpose of general culture and not for the purpose of providing a specialized training for an industrial or commercial or a professional career; That insistence upon external symbols of loyalty retards rather than assists true patriotism (one for Parr); That the New Zealand Labour party is fitted to govern (lost by one vote); That the present parliamentary system of government in New Zealand should be abolished (carried); That only by the adoption of Socialism can the highest form of intellectual freedom be attained (annual debate with the S.D.P.—Messrs Fraser and Brindle); That the right of action in English law for Breach of Promise should be abolished; etc.

8 The absurdity of the Seddonian regulations for government control of the college could not be better illustrated than by the fact that, until the Victoria College Amendment Act, 1923, set the Council free to fix college fees without government consent, this fee was blocked by the Education Department.

9 Special Schools: Attitude of the University Senate’, in The Spike, September 1924, p. 15.