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The Spike Golden Jubilee Number May 1949

In Retrospect

page 63

In Retrospect


The invitation to write a message for the Jubilee number of The Spike gives me the opportunity to express a thing that has for years been present in my mind. It is the realisation of the great help that I have always received from students whether they were taking my subject or not. The friendliness and confidence they have always shown, the freedom with which many of them have discussed their problems have constituted much of the pleasure of life and to the students of those many years I express my gratitude.

Mutual understanding between teachers and students marked the College from its earliest days. The four foundation professors on their arrival from overseas were awaited by a body of men and women eager to enter upon a university career. A considerable proportion of them were somewhat older than first year students usually are and not a few had high ideals and the purpose to carry them into effect. Professors and students founded a College in which academic aim and lofty purposes were to go hand-in-hand. So successful were they that it can be truly said that there has not been a year from the foundation of the College until now in which many men and women of cultured intellect and noble purpose have not gone forth from the doors of the College to take their fitting place in the world.

In its first half-century the College has made healthy and vigorous growth and it can offer many advantages to the student of today. Its buildings, although already outgrown, are such as men can work in: its library is well-ordered, and is growing rapidly: there is a keen and devoted staff": there are many scholarships and other benefactions founded by men of wealth and goodwill: and, above and beyond, there is a tradition of earnest purpose. In the world's fight for freedom its men and women have played a very gallant part. Let the students of today and of the days that follow be but true to this tradition and the College will become as great and noble as any seat of learning ever has been.

H. B. Kirk,

Professor of Biology 1903-1944.

Tauranga, 2 April, 1948


Some things stand out very clearly in my memory of seven years at Victoria College: years which were of quite exceptional interest in the history of the College, and of great importance in my own life.

I came to the College in its tenth year (1908), which was rather more significantly, I think—the third year of its occupancy of its own home on the Kelburn "Old Clay Patch." I was the first of the second generation of professors; and certainly the first who could look quite objectively at the College-in-being, and yet know it, in a very real sense, from its earliest years.

I had come from experience—in Scotland and England—of two of the ancient British Universities, to what was then one of the youngest and smallest of such institutions; and my most vivid impression is of pristine freshness and loveliness in the corporate personal life of the College ("lovely and pleasant in their lives")—which is comparable, in my memory, only to the glory of the virgin bush, as I first saw it at Ohakune (when the Main Trunk Line went through, in 1908), and in South Island "hikes" of sorts, with Easterfield, down the Buffer and as far as the Franz Josef Glacier and the Waiho River on the wonderland West Coast of the South Island.

If that reads like hyperbole of exaggeration, my answer is that it describes something that has remained part of my own life: a unique experience in half-a-century of university life in four different countries, and an oft-told tale of my later years. If an explanation of the phenomenon is sought, it is to be found in quite exceptional leadership of the student bodies and the happy relationship of the student leaders with their professorial seniors. The men were round about my own age: part-time students, with stretched-out courses—or recent graduates, employed in the city, who were fired by intense enthusiasm about having a college of their own and keen to make of it all they wanted it to be. They had with them women of the same calibre (if not of quite the same age!) and of immense capacity for unselfish service of the page 64 common good; and they were bringing on a younger generation in the tradition they had shaped. (One of the quondam "colts" is now the honoured and distinguished Chancellor of the University.) They took me into their "charmed circle," and—often with great glee—taught me much about the College I could not otherwise have known.

The quality of it all was conspicuous in the tone and spirit of the College social functions—as of a happy and well-bred family: in particular, the College "Carnivals"—something of which has been captured and preserved in the verse of The Old Clay Patch (of which I have subscribers' copies, but also one—specially bound—presented to me by V.U.C.S.A. in 1914. The two Editors were—and I hope still are—my very dear friends.) Very vivid in my memory is the last (I think) of these I saw: of which the framework was South Polar exploration. In one scene, a well-known Wellington dental graduate, operating in primitive fashion on the hair of a humble member of the "crew," was challenged by him with the agonized cry—"Are you cuttin' my hair or drorin' my teeth?"—quite up to London Punch standard!

I remained long enough in Wellington to see this "morning glory" begin to "fade into the light of common day" (inevitably, I suppose). But its influence on myself—in my subsequent task of steering the course of a college, within a great University in a sister Dominion—could hardly be exaggerated; and something of that same influence remains, I gather, as an inner glow in the continuing life of Victoria College.

The other main feature of my memories of Victoria University College is less happy, but no less significant. It began with the shock of realizing all that was involved in the examination system of the University of New Zealand, at that time. (If I had looked into this carefully before applying for the Chair of Mathematics, I would probably not have proceeded with my application.) My experience had been of examinations utterly subordinate in university education; and it was quite impossible for me to take any other view; so I was a rebel against that system right from the start—and almost at once in the firing line of the conflict (provoked into self-defence).

Professor Laby joined us in 1909—firing his first shots at the system, quite characteristically, in a Press interview in Sydney on his way out. (He was Australian, and knew the situation.) Soon after his arrival he and Professors von Zedlitz and Hunter were planning the campaign of concerted action. We launched out University Reform Association in 1910, with strong public support, and with seven members of the Professorial Board (including its Chairman, that year Professor Kirk) on the working committee (about half its number); Professor Hunter was Hon. Secretary; Professor Easterfield, Hon. Treasurer. It was all-important that Professor Hunter—himself a product of the system—was the most active member of the Association. I became identified with the originating three in a kind of "spearhead" stormtroops, having developed (rather to my own surprise) some capacity for the art of Press controversy.

The eventual triumphant success of the Reform movement stands out clearly in Beaglehole's Historical Study of the University of New Zealand, and in the subsequent leading role of Professor Hunter in both the College and the University. What is not there on record, is the intensive education it meant for ourselves in the true "idea of a university" and in the working out of that idea. That, and the experience of being Chairman of the Professorial Board in my last two and a half years (I "acted" for Professor Hunter in the second half of 1912, and handled the "reformers'" end of the business for the unique Professorial Conference in November of that year), proved to be quite ideal training, for what I did not know then was to be my main life's work—of University education and administration. (Some years later, it was an immense satisfaction to write, at Professor Hunter's request, a review of the Report of the 1925 Royal Commission on the University, which recommended most of the reforms we had battled for.)

In the work of my own Chair: our supply, at that time, of students adequately grounded in Mathematics was far too meagre; but the experience of having to teach (unaided in the actual teaching) over a very wide range of pure and applied mathematics (fortunately not all required in the same year!) was invaluable to me in the investigations of groundwork, in which I am specially interested. I am at present writing up work which was begun in those days—so that Victoria University College is an integral part of my life, in that very real sense also.

But there was not then, in Wellington, sufficient opportunity for either Professor Laby or myself to do the work for which we were, respectively, specially suited; and we were fortunate that such opportunity did, in fact, open up for us elsewhere. It is perhaps significant that the friendship and collaboration we began in Wellington deepened and strengthened till he died in 1946, and that this meant more to each of us than our several relationships of the kind with many other men. The closeness of our partnership came to be taken as a matter of course in Melbourne; and it was fully shared in by our wives, who came both from Wellington families. One competent academic observer made the comment that we had rounded off our service to the Reform movement by our departure from the scene of action at just the right moment!

One of my last duties, as Chairman of the Professorial Board, was to make arrangements (on Reform lines) for the appointment of my successor in the Chair of Mathematics; and the event proved that that, at least, had been well page 65 done. The widely-known, and highly regarded, work of the late Professor Sommerville added much lustre to the name of Victoria College.

I may perhaps be permitted to add that we ourselves have, in recent years, a new bond with V.U.C. in the marriage of one of our daughters to a graduate of the College (Henry Abraham).

To the College, and all old friends and colleagues, we send cordial greetings, and warmest felicitations, on this auspicious occasion.

D. K. Picken

Professor of Mathematics in Victoria University College, 1908-14; Master of Ormond College, University of Melbourne, 1915-43.


I have to thank the Principal of Victoria College for this opportunity of communicating (per medium of The Spike) with old students and to assure them of my continued interest in them and their work. May they all go forward to enlighten the minds, strengthen the bodies, and cheer the spirits of a clientele well worthy of their best efforts.

The period ending in the Jubilee of Victoria College has been a vitally important one for the teaching profession. At the beginning of the century the University had little to offer the teacher beyond the cultural subjects of the ordinary degree Course. While the doctor and the lawyer had special professional schools the teacher had to be content with Mental and Moral Philosophy, the only subject that directly touched the fundamentals of his Trade.

It is true that one of the accepted text books was Sully's "Outlines of Psychology with special reference to Education." (1884). In his preface the author says "If the teacher approaches the subject of Mental Science with the supposition that it is going to open up to him a short and easy road to his professional qualifications he will be disappointed." He was disappointed because the course was too narrow and the treatment too academic. A great improvement was ensured by the later addition "Experimental Psychology" which was introduced first in Victoria College.

The move to have Education made a definite University subject was naturally opposed on the grounds that the already strained finances of the Colleges could not reasonably bear the added cost. Mr George Hogben, who was then Inspector General of Schools, arranged for the Education Department to finance the scheme—the Principals of the four Training Colleges were appointed lecturers in Education, a syllabus arranged, and the new subject started in 1910. Later provision was made for a "Diploma of Education" on lines somewhat more technical than those of the Pass course. This arrangement, however, proved quite unsatisfactory owing to the double work entailed and the large number of students. (Victoria College had 300 in the Educational class). In 1924 the Education Department again generously provided the funds and four Professors of Education were appointed and the Principals of the Training Colleges relieved of the University work.

So far "Education" had been confined to the "Pass" stage, but, having now attained full recognition for M.A. and Honours, much discussion arose as to the scope and limits of such a course entailing, as it did, alleged overlapping with old established subjects. Professor Sully had contended that an elementary knowledge of Psychology was the only pre-requisite to his course. If Education is a preparation for life it must touch on all its aspects and in turn be itself modified by them. Biology, Psychology, Sociology, Ethics, Art and History should therefore all play their part—the emphasis placed on such being determined largely by the outlook of the teacher. Critics did, and still may, dub this Education syllabus a Farrago. Such it might be, were it not dominated by the silver thread of its purpose—the understanding of the development of a human life through its environment, heredity, needs, aspirations and possibilities. The teaching profession in New Zealand is indeed fortunate in having the opportunities offered by such a syllabus, supplemented as it is by the assistance provided by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research and its local Institutes. It is to be hoped that our teachers will avail themselves more of the help of this Council. Are we merely preaching a counsel of perfection? Many contend that the University has little to do with the training of the teacher, but surely of all professions, his is the one that should not be confined to the narrow limits of a purely technical institution! University life provides one in which the student rubs shoulders with the keenest minds in all professions. Both church and school may suffer grievously from a narrow outlook. This fact, I presume, accounts for the recent appointment of a barrister as head of Rugby school. University training is a means, not an end, and when the graduate goes out to his life's work, the school should naturally become his laboratory and his pupils material for intimate study and understanding. How many lives have page 66 been wasted through lack of that understanding on the part of parents, teachers and employers! We rightly place much of this responsibility on the teacher because he has been trained for the purpose of preventing this wastage. "Democratic Government postulates citizens, enlightened, free, honest and patriotic" (Amiel)—if that postulate fails in any respect such Government becomes a dangerous farce. Our country rightly looks to the teaching professions to prepare such citizens—the most effective bulwark in a torn and bewildered world.

J. S. Tennant

Professor of Education, 1920-1926


From the rustic quiet of a country town I look back on the bustling earnest life of my Alma Mater with considerable nostalgia, but realise that such an institution is essentially one for youth.

The thousands of students who have passed through Victoria University College in the past fifty years have amply justified the establishment of what was considered in the late nineteenth century to be a luxury scarcely justified at the time, but the Cinderella of the University Colleges has produced scholars, scientists, lawyers, and administrators who have more than held their own in the promotion of culture in the British Commonwealth.

To me the most vivid memory of the College is that of the opening days of the session for the year—with hundreds of eager young students ready to take large helpings of what an American writer many years ago described as the one thing in the world which you can take without anyone else being the poorer—education. In that phrase he struck the keynote of what appears to me to be the essential of life—no one can receive education without radiating that education to his fellows. We must put more into life than we take out of it, otherwise the nation will be bankrupt. Service to the community must go hand in hand with individual ambition—the highest ambition must be the community welfare.

This seems to be contrary to the ideas that are very widespread at the present time; the dominant idea of a large section of the community which makes the New Zealand nation, seems to be to take as much out of the pool and give as little back as possible.

If in a football team there are some who do not give of their best, the team must lose unless the remainder do more than their share. So it is in the nation. Unless we can develop the idea of doing our best, not for ourselves alone, but for the nation, the next generation will be poorer than the present; we shall be living on capital. This must be one of the most important missions of the University—to preach and practise the doctrine, "Give your best; don't be afraid that someone may make a little extra profit out of your extra effort."

A good fanner loves his land, and his aim is to see his farm constantly improving as a result of his work; at the end of his life his pride is that his farm is better as a result of what he had put into it. So it should be with the nation; we are all farmers, and our farm is our country. At the end of life—and life is short—let us ask ourselves the question: is New Zealand any better off for our having lived? If the answer is positive, we can close our eyes in peace.

F. P. Wilson

Professor of History 1921-1934 Levin