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The Jubilee History of Nelson: From 1842 to 1892.

The Nelson School Society

The Nelson School Society.

The origin of the Nelson School Society was this:—

The first private school in the settlement was commenced in a private house on the 27th March, 1842, by a number of Christians, who, on their arrival at Nelson, united in the erection of a chapel or school-room in Taxman-street, which was opened on the 4th December, 1842; and the school being removed there, was attended by 120 children, under the superintendence of Mr. Matthew Campbell.

In the course of a few months, the proprietors removing into the suburban districts, let the building to the superintendent of the school; but in consequence of the high rent, and the unfinished state in which it remained, it was deemed expedient, either to purchase and put the building into repair, or to proceed with the erection of a new school; accordingly an offer was made to the proprietors, which they declined. A Committee of Management was then formed, a treasurer and secretary appointed, and application made to the Board appointed by the Government for the appropriation of the public reserves, for a grant of land on which to erect a Sunday and day school, for the education of the children of all classes and denominations. Five trustees were appointed, viz., Messrs. Matthew Campbell, Wm. Hildreth, Thos. J. Thompson, A. G. Jenkins, and Dr. Renwick. The grant was made by the Board, and confirmed by the Governor; and the deed was received in March, 1847.

On the 21st February, 1844 the foundation stone of the school was laid by Mr. William Fox (now Sir "William Fox, K.C.M.G.), and on Easter Sunday, April 7, 1843, the new school was opened. The number of Sunday scholars was about 150, and of day scholars about 70. A library for the use of teachers and children was also established, of books presented for the purpose by various friends. The expenses of the building and appurtenances amounted to £176 9s. 5d.

The following branch schools were opened under the auspices of this Society:—Wakefield, on the 8th October, 1843; Spring Grove, on the 18th May, 1845; Stoke, on the 28th December, 1845; Waimea West, on the 1st January, 1846; Richmond, 16th February, 1846; Wailisa East, 22nd March, 1848; Riwaka, 23rd November, 1848. In 1848 the number of children attending the public schools was 422. Schools were subsequently established at Clifton Terrace, Hope, Appleby, and Motupipi.

The members of the first General Committee of the Society were: Messrs. M. Campbell, W. Hildreth, Wm. Stanton, Thos. page 157J. Thompson, Samuel Kealley, John McArtney, Wm. Gardner, and John P. Robinson. The first Treasurer was Mr. Matthew Campbell, and the first Secretary Mr. W. M. Stanton. The Society dates its regular establishment from Easter, 1844 (videReport for 1853). By 1857 the day schools of the Society had practically ceased to exist, having been merged in the general Provincial system. The Society, however, still exists in connection with Sunday schools.

The Nelson School Society's rules provided that the course of instruction in the day schools should include reading, writing, arithmetic and needlework. That the schools should be open to the children of parents of all religious denominations, and that the sacred Scriptures in the authorised version, or extracts therefrom, should be read and taught daily. No Cathechism or peculiar religious tenets to be taught in the schools, but every child enjoined to regularly attend the place of worship preferred by its parents.

If the institution began in a modest and feeble manner, a numbers increased, and the settlers spread themselves in agricultural pursuits in all directions; the addition of branch schools became necessary, and the establishment of these was prosecuted with great vigour from year to year, and with very limited means. The Nelson School Society did good work for the children of the early settlers. From its foundation, to the day of his death, Mr. Matthew Campbell was conspicuous by his endeavours in promoting the objects of the Society—his services were repeatedly acknowledged at its general meetings—and so identified had his name become with the opening of the schools, that we find in the returns sent in annually by the Collectors of •Statistics, entries of this kind, "One of Campbell's Schools opened in this district." A monument over Mr. Campbell's remains, in the Nelson general cemetery, was erected in recognition of his philanthropic services in the cause of Education.

The following extremely interesting account of the Annual School Examinations and Feast, was written early in 1850 by Mr., now Sir F. Dillon Bell, K.C.M.G, who was at the time Resident Agent for the New Zealand Company:—

"One of the most gratifying facts connected with education in this settlement is the very warm interest which is taken in it by all classes. It has been the practise for some years to have Annual Public Examinations of the various scholars, and these have always been looked forward to with anxious anticipation by ihe children, in which their parents and friends have joined. But the most interesting of these examinations took place on the 26th December last, on which occasion the scholars from all the schools in the various Districts (including the Episcopalian, Wesleyan, and other denominations, as well as non-Sectarian) page 158were, for the first time, assembled together in the large booth belonging to the Kelson School Society, in Bridge street.

"From early morning lines of crowded carts came down the Waimea Road, covered with green boughs and flowers, and each carrying a distinguishing flag; and it seemed, indeed, as if every cart in the settlement had been engaged in the service, which was almost literally the fact. As they passed along, a dozen or more in line at once, filled with young children, singing gaily in chorus, many a finer sight in the world, would have given less pleasure. In the middle of the day, when they had all arrived, the children assembled on the green, and formed into a procession to the booth, which had been fitted with an amphitheatre of benches one above the other, and most tastefully decorated with flags, inscriptions, and flowers: the letters in some of the inscriptions being made with cherries, which delighted the little folks as they passed and saw the treat that was designed for them.

"Nearly all the adult population of the town was assembled at the booth, and as everybody, including the children, had on Sunday clothes,' and appeared beut on being gay and merry, the scene looked more like one of the delightful fetes in France, than one of the sedate English rejoicings.

"One thing struck me particularly in the crowd: the improved appearance of the labouring class. At the time of the great distress in 1844 and 1845, when many families lived almost wholly on potatoes, and not a great abundance of them, for more than twelve months, the rural population, especially the women and children, looked wretched, pinched, and haggard; they showed in their faces the grievous scarcity which befell them upon the Company's suspension. Now there was, indeed, an alteration; hardly one of the large number present seeming otherwise than, well-to-do in the world, and the children in particular healthy and robust.

"I was honoured by being called upon to preside over the assembly and examination; and during a couple of hours of questioning in various branches of elementary knowledge by the clergymen of the place, by Mr. Jollie and other gentlemen, and by myself, the children acquitted themselves, on the whole, excellently well. They were afterwards addressed by several gentlemen with words of advice and praise. The girls were on this half of the benches, and the boys on that, and as their favourites among the speakers ceased speaking, upwards of a thousand little hands would applaud with all their might. A great number of songs were sung by them in chorus, keeping time, and time surprisingly, considering that they had learnt the songs at different and far distant times and places; and now and then thay all waved their hands together backwards and forwards, so that the effect was greatly heightened.

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'After the examination was concluded, they were regaled with a substantial meal and with fruit, which was most gladly contributed by all who had any and were asked for it.

"In no other settlement in New Zealand could such a scene have taken place at the end of 1849; so pleasing, so hopeful, and encouraging."