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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1934

Old Victoria College

page 23

Old Victoria College

Once upon a time—so, I am told, fairy tales begin—there lived in a small country town a young man. To him there came news that in a few months there was to be opened in a certain town known as Wellington a palace in which all the jewels of learning of the past and present were to be housed, and glimpses of the future given. Fired with hope, he packed up his scanty belongings and set out upon the path that led to that palace. Awe stricken, reverent, and hopeful he took his place amongst the first visitors who were admitted to that palace. He was not disappointed, for though that palace had a rather dingy outward appearance, and was still more dingy within, the jewels that were shown to him attracted him so that he saw only the glitter.

In such a manner might I describe my reactions, as one of the original students of Victoria University College. We met in the Girls' High School in Pipitea St., after the younger people had finished their day's work. We were few in number; a little over a hundred all told, the average age of the students being a few years higher than the average age at present, for most of us had had no earlier opportunity of joining a University College. We were enthusiastic; our professors, Rankine Brown, Mackenzie, Easterfield and Maclaurin, were young men, perhaps ten or fifteen years older than the average student. Two of them we still have with us, and need no eulogy. Professor Easterfield was a man with a world-wide reputation as a chemist, and in addition was a great "miler"—I forget his record, but I fancy he could do the mile in minutes. I had most to do in my course with R. C. Maclaurin who dealt in mathematics, pure and applied, jurisprudence and constitutional history, for I enjoyed mathematics as much as some people enjoy crossword puzzles, and I read the subject as far as geometrical optics and spherical astronomy—then discovered that perhaps I was not sufficiently a mathematical wizard to obtain honours, and switched over to political science, as it was then called—a jumble of history, economics, and jurisprudence. But I do not intend to write an autobiography—I would be far too dull; I shall only say that from that day in April, 1899, just over thirty-five years ago, I have been proud to have been continuously connected with Victoria College, as student, lecturer, professor and college councillor.

To the present student it would, I am afraid, be boring to attempt to read a dissertation on the stalwarts who were their academic ancestors; for if the average student life be placed at four years, nearly nine generations have passed since those days. Some of our present students are the sons and daughters of those who were young in 1899, and who, even now, would resent being called old, for Victoria College breathes youth into those who belong to it. Those of us who heard that noble eulogy of our foundation professors pronounced by A. H. Johnstone, K.C., will get some idea of the spirit of Victoria—if an institution so young can have a tradition, that tradition is of service, so generously given by its students at all times. G. F. Dixon was first in giving service — a great organizer to whom Victoria is deeply indebted. There were others, too many to mention all, but a few may be recalled—F. D. Thompson, F. A. de la Mare, H. P. Richmond, H. H. Ostler, W. Gillanders, J. Prendeville, Misses Mary Blair, Margaret Ross and F. G. Roberts.

We had this great advantage over present-day students, that since we were so few in numbers, we all knew the members of the staff and one another personally. On one occasion the professors gave a dance to the students—a happy function which I can still visualise, with professors and students mingling in happy waltz or lancers (it was ten years or more before "jazz" was introduced).

I can recall clearly the inauguration of the Students' Association and the Debating Society—and of course the Tennis Club was formed shortly after the College opened. We played on the old Parliamentary courts just below Hill Street—it was the social club of the College.

Capping Carnivals were somewhat different from the modern ones, though the Procession was an early feature; one of the most striking "stunts" in the procession was a huge crocodile with an unorthodox number of legs. The extravaganza was not evolved until Victoria had emerged from infancy—a concert and dance in the Sydney Street Schoolroom always wound up that day of joy.

page 24

Spike began its brilliant career in 1902 with H. H. Ostler as editor (I trust His Honour will forgive me, but we were fellow students, and a poetical (?) student wrote in a "capping" song:

Then Ostler quite forgot that he was bald;
He jumped into his jersey and he called,
If the game goes on much longer
I am surely getting stronger,
(I'll overlook the fact that I am bald!")

"I have the spike" was a current expression in 1902—an expression which perhaps requires interpretation in modern times, but it served to suggest a title for the College magazine.

We had a college, but no home, and the government of the day did not seem anxious to provide one; it insisted that first of all a site must be agreed on. Hence in student processions of about 1900 onwards the banner displaying the appeal "We have eyes, but no site" was prominent; but in 1904 the foundation stone of the present building was laid on "The Old Clay Patch" at Salamanca. The building then erected was calculated to be adequate for three hundred students, which the experts of the times estimated would be the maximum number attending the College! That number was exceeded in the first year—1906-and soon additions were required.

I have confined myself to the days of infancy; when we acquired a home of our own we took on a new importance. Till the erection of the new building the citizens of Wellington knew that a University College existed in Wellington only by the eccentricities of Capping Day. Many of them to-day probably have only a hazy idea that there is some institution up Kelburn way which harbours a few Radicals. But the distinctions which our graduates have earned and the prominent places occupied by so many of them—more than half the judicial bench is filled by our men—is a sufficient answer. I have sufficient faith in the present generation to feel that though the future belongs to them, it is safe with them, and say "good-bye" to my alma mater with the wish:

O Victoria, sempiterna

Sit tibi felicitas!

F. P. Wilson.