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The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, October 1902

The Battle of the Sites

page 8

The Battle of the Sites.

The battle has been fought—and lost. That is to say, the Victoria College Council, after a struggle of more than three years, has been compelled to relinquish the idea of obtaining what it maintained was the best site for the College, and has begun the work of preparing for the building in another place. It is not proposed in this article to fight again the much-contested ground. If Mount Cook has been lost, Salamanca has been won, and we may even rejoice that, for present purposes. our Home on Salamanca road is quite as convenient as it would have been on Mount Cook. Having done all in its, power for posterity, the College Council may well make the best use of the fine site it has acquired. Our present object is to sketch the history of the negotiations which led to the acquisition of the site. It is hoped that this will serve to amuse some interest in the building preparations which are now in progress, and will stand in some sort as a record of events likely soon to be forgotten, but nevertheless of great interest and very lasting importance to all present and future students of Victoria College.

Wellington does not abound in sites suitable for University Buildings. The best possible sites had serious disadvantages, and most of those suggested seem to come under the class called by the "Times" "attenuated possibilities. During the struggle seven sites were seriously suggested—Mount Cook, the Museum, the Ministerial residence in Tinakori road, the Girls' High School, the Wellington College Reserve, Kelburne Park and the chosen Salamanca Hill. In addition, Mr J. Graham, M.H.R., proposed to locate Victoria College in Nelson, which evoked a counterblast from Palmerston North. An, anonymous newspaper correspondent proposed to evict Lord Ranfurly and seize upon Government House, a proposal which was stoutly resisted by the Hockey Club on behalf of its Patron.

The first public announcement of action, on the part of the College Council seems to have been made at a meeting held on 17th August, 1898, when, in reply to a question by Mr Hogg, the chairman (Mr Blair) said that he had seen the Minister of Education, and had made a. suggestion by which, for a yearly sum of, say, £900, the present Girls' High School page 9 could be obtained for the College, and the school placed on another site. "But," he added, "I have heard nothing further about it." On the 21st of the next month the chairman reported that the Council had visited various sites with the Premier, but had as yet received no letter from him on the subject. It appeared that Mount Cook was certainly the best site, and he would move "That the Council is of opinion that the best site in. Wellington for the Victoria University College is Mount Cook, and that the Government be respectfully urged to take the necessary steps to vest the Mount Cook Reserve, comprising thirteen acres, three roods, thirty-two perches, in the Council of the College as a site for the College buildings and grounds, such portion of the reserve as is not required for the College to be maintained as a public park, accessible to the public of Wellington, under regulations." At the same meeting Mr Graham said that he had seen the Premier, and had received a reply to the effect that the Government would consider the granting of a site. He believed Mr seddon proposed giving a part of Mount Cook.

During the next few days a deputation waited on the Minister of Education, and on the 19th October the Council received a reply through Mr J. Hutcheson, M.H.R., who had introduced the deputation, saying that it had J e en decided to ask the approval of the Legislature to a proposal of a site for the purpose. It continued: "The use of the Ministerial residence in. Tinakori road will be given to the College for such period as may be necessary to enable the College to provide buildings upon a new site." The Council seems to have concluded that it would be easier to get into Tinakori road than to get out of it again, and it was decided "not to press for a definite reply.

Between October, 1898, and April, 1899, no steps were taken beyond agitation, but on 11th April, on the motion of Sir Robert Stout, seconded by Mr J. Graham, M.H.R., the following resolution was carried :—(1) That in the opinion of this Council it is absolutely necessary for the success of the College that permanent buildings be at once provided. (2) That such buildings should, if possible, be centrally situated in the city of Wellington. (3) That the chairman be requested to communicate with the Government regarding buildings, and the propriety of at once vesting the Mount Cook prison site in the College.

In accordance with this resolution, the chairman waited on the Premier, who replied that "he would take an opportunity shortly of announcing his intentions." The chairman was page 10 accordingly authorised to organise a representative deputation to the Minister, "with the object of securing a suitable site and buildings."

By July, 1899, the Council, evidently tired of asking for a "suitable" site, decided to petition' Parliament and interview the Premier with a view to obtaining a particular site, and by the 16th August the petition had been presented and the Premier interviewed. The result was, at any rate, definite. The Premier refused to submit the matter to Parliament, and refused Mount Cook.

For nearly a year a guerilla warfare was maintained and no decisive engagement took place. In July, IAA), the Council had a conference with members of Parliament representing the middle district with a view to enlisting their sympathy and support towards obtaining Mount Cook, "or in default of that some other suitable site for a University College." On the 15th August a letter was received from the Premier practically admitting that lie had the question "steadily in view." A few days afterwards in Parliament the Premier made an attack upon the College Council, accusing it "of gross neglect of duty," and having "done absolutely nothing except to bring the professors here under false pretences." He concluded by again refusing Mount Cook to the College, and announcing that "if the Council would not accept what was offered he would have to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire whether Palmerston. North, Nelson or Blenheim, or some other place could be utilised for the purpose."

In March, 1901, the question of the site assumed another phase. During the first years of the agitation, as will be seen, the efforts of the Council were concentrated on Mount Cook. It was now certain that under the present administration Mount Cook was impossible. In some quarters it was maintained that the first few years of the life of the College were of continually diminishing importance, and that it would pay the Council to wait. Apparently, however, the uncertainty of that position weighing with the other considerations, determined the Council to look for present opportunities, and from this point attention appears to have been directed towards Kelburne Park. About this time the title of the Wellington College governors to the reserve which had been suggested as a site for Victoria College was confirmed by tile Court of Appeal in the case Jackson v. Wellington College governors, and the attitude of the Governors naturally rendered this site as impossible at Mount Cook. Thus there seemed only one present solution, and public attention was drawn to it by Mr C. Pharazyn, who offered £1000 to the College if it chose a site page 11 in the vicinity of Kelburne Park. Now, Wellington is not over-stocked with public reserves, and the City Council could not see its way to part with Kelburne Park itself. On the 26th of June, 1901, however, at a meeting of the Council, the chairman, Mr Blair, in reply to a question, said that a suitable site contiguous to Kelburne Park could probably be obtained for the College. tie believed, that the ground was under the control of the City Council, and the College could offer an absolute equivalent, so that the citizens would be in no way prejudiced. A committee was set up to report, and the first step taken towards obtaining what is destined to be our home. On the 17th July the committee brought down its report recommending the Salamanca road site as the best available, and after discussion, the Council adopted the report. The committee was authorised to take steps towards givng effect to its recommendations.

The first immediate result was a memorial from the Professorial Board urging the City Council and the College Council to unite with the object of giving the College Kelburne Park. The memorial tried to show that the objections to Kelburne held equally well against Salamanca road, that there was no insuperable legal or moral 'difficulty in the ranting of Kelburne, which was a far better site for University purposes.

On 16th October the Site committee reported that it had. obtained from the City Council the offer of two alternative sites. The first offer was that of a piece of land on Salamanca road containing five acres, three roods, 17 perches on the following conditions : (1) That land. of equal value within the city be vested in the Corporation as a public reserve; (2) that the exchange be carried into legal effect and the College buildings commenced within five years. The other offer had been obtained in deference to the wishes of the Professorial Board as expressed in their memorial. It consisted of two and a half acres at the northern end of Kelburne Park, with the condition that the. Council of Victoria College reclaim and form additional land, so that the total level land available for public recreation purposes be not less than six acres. The committee thought that arrangements could be made with the Wellington College governors for the transfer of part of their reserve to the City Council in exchange for the Salamanca road site, and that a small piece of land adjoining the site belonging to the Hospital Trustees might also be acquired. The committee recommended the acceptance of the first offer, and a motion to that effect was carried. Early in November "The Victoria College Site and Wellington College and Girls' High School and Hospital Trust Empowering Act" was passed, giving page 12 power for an exchange of land between the Corporation and the trustees of Wellington College. Negotiations between the institutions concerned were protracted until February, 1902, and when a deadlock seemed to be imminent a solution was found in the transfer to the City Council of a strip of the Wellington College endowment in Willis street in exchange for the Salamanca road, which then passed into the hands of Victoria College.

Thus, after a struggle of three and a half years, Victoria College found an abiding place. There can be no reasonable doubt that the College Council has throughout been actuated by a high sense of the importance of the work entrusted to it, and has kept steadily before it the best interests of the College. Their work has been aided by the professors and by many friends of the institution, whilst the students in their own modest way did what they could.

All, however, is not done. The building is yet to make. It is yet to be decided whether Victoria College shall have a home worthy the great institution it is to be, worthy the Empire City in which it is, worthy of a Government which professes to love the cause of education, and worthy of that great cause itself. Until this is decided, students, professors and citizens will stand shoulder to shoulder in the name of that cause which is of as vital importance to the meanest member of the community as to the wealthiest ruler of the State.