Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 1, Issue 5, October 1985
The Story of Newstead or Renwick House
The Story of Newstead or Renwick House
"Newstead", now known as Renwick House, is part of Central School. It can be approached either from Manuka Street (Trespassers will be Prosecuted) or from behind Central School building. Its story contains much of the history of Nelson for it is at least 130 years old and in that time it has been: (1) The home of W. F. Maiben (2) The birthplace of Nelson College 1856–61 (3) The home of Sir David Monro 1863–77 (4) The home of Dr Thomas Renwick 1877–79 and of his widow until 1939 (5) Part of Central School since 1939. Another prominent Nelsonian, Nathaniel Edwards rented it from 1861–62.
A simple two storey house was built on Town Acre 503 for Mr W. F. Maiben. In 1856 it was bought by the trustees of Nelson College and the first headmaster, Rev. J. C. Bagshaw and his wife were installed there, they provided board for one or two boys. Mr Bagshaw enrolled the first pupils on 7 April 1856 and attempted to teach them under very cramped conditions until the end of June. The next term started on 14 July in a building situated where the local radio station now stands. Meanwhile a new schoolroom complete with belfrey was built some distance behind the house and the boys moved into it early in November 1856. The total attendance that year was 42.
On 7 December 1859 the Governor, Colonel Gore-Browne laid the foundation stone of the College building on the present site, but it was not until 2 October 1861 that the move to the new building took place.
Doctor (later Sir) David Monro now comes upon the scene. He came to Nelson with the earliest settlers and built a house on his land at Waimea West. He named it Bearcroft (it was referred to as "Beerpot" by some of his bachelor cronies). He took his bride there in 1845. In 1858 with a growing family, they rented a large house in town from Alfred Fell (Sunnyside, later Warwick House). In May 1862 he bought the "Old College" for 1200 pounds from the Council of Governors. Before they moved in major alterations took place. The schoolroom was joined to the west of the house and the whole interior altered and refurbished. Large stables were built where the school had stood. The stables had four loose-boxes and provision for three vehicles and accommodation for the coachman. The belfrey from the schoolroom was mounted on top of the stables.
Why this was done no one knows but it certainly fooled many people for many years. In 1944 John Black, one of the first pupils at Nelson College, was in his hundredth year, the last survivor of the first pupils. He was taken to the building with the belfrey and declared that he had sat in that place. When the Centennial of the school was approaching there was a suggestion that the original schoolroom should be taken and re-erected in the College grounds and an architect was employed to draw up plans. By this time it was recognised that the original schoolroom was part of the main page 33building and many internal changes had been made. Fortunately the scheme was dropped. The two front gables of the house are obviously of different origin.
The Monros gave the name "Newstead" to the house. The entrance to the property was then from Alton Street and Monro planted the curving carriageway with attractive shrubs and trees as well as the area around the house. They lived there happily until Monro, now Sir David Monro, speaker of the House of Representatives, died in 1877. They had seven children, five boys and two girls. The eldest boys were among the first pupils at Nelson College and had lived with the Bagshaws for sometime. The younger of these died of tuberculosis when he was 21 while the two others died in infancy. The other boy, Charlie, was the famous C. J. Munro credited with introducing rugby football to New Zealand in 1870. (On the outskirts of Massey University, some of whose land was farmed by C. J. Monro, is a memorial plaque erected by the Manawatu Football Association).
After her husband's death Lady Monro sold the house to Dr Renwick. Like Monro he had been among the early settlers. In 1872 he had married his second wife Anne Smith, he was 54 and she 28 years old. He lived only two years in Renwick House and died there in 1879. Anne lived there until she died in 1937 aged 93, so the house became associated in people's minds not so much with Dr Thomas Renwick as with Mrs Anne Renwick. When she died the property was acquired by the Government and became part of Central School.
History of Nelson College by late Russell Palmer.
Further research by J. S. McKay.
Renwick by Elizabeth Airey.
Correspondence with late Wilfred Airey.
Thoroughly a Man of the World (biography of Sir David Monro) by R. E. Wright-Sinclair.
History of Nelson Central School by Maurice Gee.