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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1934

Victoria College, . . .1899-1934

page 19

Victoria College, . . .1899-1934

I have been asked to contribute to the present number of The Spike a few recollections of the early days of Victoria University College—or Victoria College as it was then called.

The College was certainly started under considerable difficulties. The finances at the disposal of the College Council were limited, consisting mainly of an annual grant of £4,000—which for the first few years of the College was burdened with certain payments to six "Queen's Scholars" to be elected annually. These scholars were not students in attendance at the College but pupils in some secondary school in the College district. The land endowment for the College produced very little—though in the advertisement calling for applications of four Professors it was said to be, unless I am mistaken, an "adequate land endowment." The students' fees, though not entirely negligible, did not produce a great amount of money—partly owing to the number of students, which averaged about 130 during the first three years of the College—but also owing to their amount which, except in the case of English, was fixed at £1/11 6—there being a clause in the Act establishing the College to the effect that the fees charged should not be higher than the lowest fees charged in any of the other three Colleges. Still, owing to the careful management of the Council the funds sufficed for the operations of the College, which were much more limited than they are now.

The College had no buildings of its own but until a portion of the present building was erected enjoyed the hospitality of the Girls' High School in Thorndon for the Arts and Law classes, and of the Technical School for the classes in Science (Chemistry and Physics). In the Girls' School we had the use of three class rooms after five p.m. and of a smaller room at other hours, for I remember that I was conducting a Greek class between 9 and 10 a.m. when the most alarming earth-quake shock Wellington had experienced in my time occurred in 1904. There was considerable confusion in the school, but the Greek class remained where it was. With these three rooms we managed to get along though teaching went on without interruption from 5 to 9 p.m. There were at first no Library facilities whatever—though a start was made with a College Library before the College was transferred to Salamanca Road—and opportunities for social intercourse between the students were confined to the cloak rooms. There was certainly no common room of any kind.

At the same time, owing to the enthusiasm of the students, something of a College spirit developed almost immediately. The College has always owed a great debt to Mr. George Dixon—and it was owing to him and others that a Hockey Club was established—the first athletic organisation to be set up in the College. This explains why hockey not football has a place in the College Song. A Debating Society soon came into being, and met in the Girls' School on Saturday evenings when as a rule the building was not occupied. The first contest for the Plunket Medal was held in the hall of the school in the presence of the donor of the medal. Nor was it long before the first number of the Spike appeared. College dances soon became a regular element in the College life, and though not as numerous as they are now were perhaps just for that reason more looked forward to and engaged in with greater enthusiasm.

I believe that both Professors and students have every reason to look back with the greatest satisfaction to those early days of the College. There was a spirit of pioneering in all of us, difficulties were made light of, all worked harmoniously together, and a limited number of students led to a much closer contact between teachers and students and between the students themselves. I had come to Wellington after teaching in the large University of Glasgow—and was reminded of my old University of St. Andrews—the smallest of the four Scottish Universities and just for that reason the most patriotic. A glance at the rolls of my classes during the first two years of the College recalls to my mind a most creditable number of students who have since won distinction in various spheres of life in New Zealand. It would be invidious perhaps to specify individuals—suffice it to say that these names include a Judge of the Supreme Court, one of the leading barristers of New Zealand, a most important Civil Servant and the Mayor (for many years) of an important town in the North Island.

—J. Rankine Brown.