Victoria University College an Essay towards a History
I — Foundation
The university of new zealand is an institution on which men have recorded their sentiments from time to time with fury, loathing, and despair; but never with the passion of love. It is not in the nature of administrative machines, indeed, to bring forth the softer human feelings, and the University, through all its troubled career, has remained a machine—functioning with less or greater efficiency, but essentially a machine for the distribution of paper, the paper on which the examined write, for none but examiners to read. True, it has also distributed money, though less money than paper; but in neither case has its ministry been rewarded with that free movement of the heart, that perdurable warmth which men and women feel for the nursing mother. Alma mater is no phrase for so large and remote an entity. The life of the mind, nevertheless, in our country has had its parents, its nurses, its fostering care; its expansion has been not unaccompanied by a just and attentive emotion. That emotion, unfelt for the University, has been bestowed upon the bodies known abstractly as the ‘constituent colleges’. What they constitute has always, since the phrase was enshrined in an act of parliament, been uncertain; as in the larger spheres of page 2 the British Commonwealth within which they have grown, the ever-proliferating facts have refused to be amenable to the constitutional theory. Nor has a Chancellor been the equivalent of the Crown, gathering up all loyalties in a semi-mystical devotion. ‘Constituent’ has too often been a synonym for ‘dissident’.
Meanwhile the ordinary citizen of this academic empire, the simple-minded and sentimental student, has, without worrying about the theoretical, the complex relations of Boards and Committees and Sub-committees and Senate, given his affecttions to his own college. There he has had his real friends and enemies, there the objects of his admiration or contempt; there he has been hero or sublime ass or merely average sensual man; there he has learnt the elements of scholarship, tasted the heady delights of the independent intellect, played the fool and wrestled with his soul, assailed authority, proclaimed fundamental truths and undying convictions, experienced love and jealousy and the limitless sarcasms of Fate and the hollowness of all human endeavour, discovered the fascination of beer and bawdy and poetry and philosophy and science; there he has been revolutionary and Tory, romantic and realist; has been Keats and Shelley and Freud and Newton, voyaging on seas of thought alone and often enough thumping down on inconvenient and indestructible rocks, there he has engaged in a most free discussion, there he has denied God and challenged, the heavens to fall, there he has pursued holiness with a humble and contrite heart; and there he has merely gone for a degree. There, in all these manifestation, He has been also she. He and She have been the life of the mind, He and She, with a number of professors and lectures sometimes admired, sometimes deemed of inconsiderable value, have been the Colleges. They, or some of them, have seen the Colleges as temples of Minerva; they have made the Colleges, so their critics have frequently said, sinks page 3 of sedition and dens of iniquity. They have gone from the Colleges to die in battle; and they have returned to the Colleges to convert them into uneasy simulacra of an uneasy world. These Colleges, indeed, regarded by the public of New Zealand sometimes with a faint awe as ‘the University’, more often perhaps with amusement or irritation, have been a fairly accurate reflection of the civilization of our country— a civilization disturbed by the ancient tradition of learning, but moulding, inevitably, all institutions to its own needs and with its own eccentricities; a civilization affected, too, in some measure, by the retaliation, the counteraction of the thought and the standards which the Colleges, with a varying degree of disinterested stubbornness, have managed to maintain. New Zealand has had four of these Colleges; and it is to the first fifty years of the latest-founded of them that this essay is addressed.
The latest-founded: there were those who did not in the beginning think highly of Wellington's chances of higher education. Sir William Fox, that eminent colonist, speaking as Premier on the first university bill of 1870, affirmed that parliament was setting up in Dunedin a real university: ‘we may have’ he added, ‘hereafter, others of the same class established in Auckland, in Canterbury, and even in Wellington—if poor Wellington should ever rise to such a height of prosperity as to entitle it to have a university of its own, or even rise beyond mere elementary teaching’.
It is necessary to recur to the University of New Zealand, that odd (though by no means uniquely odd) institution. For our college was founded as part of a System, it had to fight vigorously for independent life, and its fighting was a main factor in wrecking this System. Its motto, indeed, over one period of its existence might well have been, not the dignified Latin page 4 truism to which it has tried to bear witness, but that more belligerent and Voltairean exhortation, ‘Ecrasez l'infâme!’ The University, after much scuffling and a certain measure of backstairs intrigue, was set up under an act of parliament of 1874, on the ruins of another act of parliament of 1870, as a body for the prescription of courses of study and for the management of examinations. It had a Chancellor and a Senate, but it had no students, no teachers, no library, no habitation, and very little money. It came into being almost at the end of the period of provincial government, when provincial jealousies were never more exacerbated, and the wicked fairies who presided over its shaping (one can hardly say birth) were provincialism and the nineteenth century University of London. Provincialism was indubitably there, but was shoved, rather ineffectually, into the background; but the University of London, with her sinister gifts, was clothed in shining garments and brought forward as a reigning queen and an exemplar. The University of London was even, in some sort, identified in function with the University of Oxford. It was a triumph—the triumph of what was called the English System over the Scottish System; the triumph of Canterbury over Otago.
In plain words, what happened was this; the province of Otago, rich and, in comparison with the North Island, well-populated, and with considerable educational ambitions, had determined to set up a university which it was confident would serve the whole country. Against this pretension the men of Canterbury, with allies elsewhere in New Zealand, firmly set themselves. No one province, they argued, should have the monopoly of university education, and in modern days and under colonial conditions what was needed was diffusion and not concentration of culture. How could the poor student of Auckland come to Dunedin for a term of years, and if he could (argued some) what moral dangers page 5 would he not undergo in the dubious streets of that metropolis! A university need not itself indulge in teaching; indeed for it to do so was against the spirit of English institutions. Subordinate bodies should teach. Had not the rival claims, in London, of the godless Jeremy Bentham's foundation and of the Anglican King's College been resolved by the setting up of a university which should act as an examining body to them both, with an open invitation to all who could not get into Oxford or Cambridge to come and be examined also? And was not teaching in Oxford and Cambridge a matter for those colleges whence so many eminent colonists had come? Let culture therefore be diffused. Let institutions all over New Zealand, of respectable standing, where Latin and mathematics and geology could be taught, become ‘affiliated’ to the University, and let their students be examined by the University and be eligible for its scholarships; and let deserving individuals be exempted from attendance at any institution whatsoever and be likewise examined. And, to be certain that examinations were pure and above reproach, let the examiners be not colonists, but men of that formidable learning and passionless probity which went with attachment to the universities of England.
So it was done. The men of Canterbury produced an institution all ready to be affiliated. Overborne Dunedin at last consented to affiliation with the University of New Zealand, on condition of retaining the honourable title of its own University of Otago; and from the more northern parts of the country a variety of secondary schools also applied to become affiliated institutions. Why not? They had teachers, they had hopeful pupils, and the University was prepared to send examination papers far and wide. Of course the system thus inaugurated broke down: broke down so disastrously and completely that a royal commission was appointed as early as 1878 to scrutinize the wreck. One must not, however, page 6 deposit too much scorn upon its architects. They had comprehensible ideal. They thought they were shaping a structure which would meet the needs of a particular colony in a new world; they were opposed to education as the perquisite of a class; they were confident that culture could be diffused by a proper mechanism; they were quite sincerely determined to compensate their distance from the centres of civilization by their insistence on a ‘high standard’ for their degrees. They saw no reason, indeed, why New Zealand itself should not, with a university, become a centre of civilization; and to confuse culture, examinations, and degrees with such deadly illogic was perhaps not unnatural in that mechanical age. But it was not inevitable, as the Royal Commission made quite plain. University education, maintained that Commission, could only be carried on in universities or in bodies closely approximating in nature to them; the existing system of affiliation should be abolished and new colleges founded in Wellington and Auckland parallel to those in the South Island, with sites, buildings and endowments provided by the government; the University should be governed mainly by representtatives of the colleges, and examinations should be conducted by those who taught in the colleges. And, added that excellent Reports, ‘Our desire is that each college may acquire a marked individuality, such as to demand recognition in the form of the examinations, and to secure for it a special reputation, which may at some future day be the foundation of its success as a separate and independent University’.1
Like the pregnant words of so many other royal commissions, these gave birth to nothing beyond further words. Proposals of this nature involved the expenditure of money, and New Zealand was about to plunge into the greatest slump it had yet experienced. When, therefore, in 1882 a bill was pushed through parliament founding an Auckland University page 7 College and providing a statutory grant of £4000 a year the government was clear that it had done enough for the North Island. There was to be no change of system, only its extension—except that in five years more the affiliation of secondary schools was at an end.
By that time a figure of large importance for our study had come into the foreground of the scene, a scene which he was not infrequently to dominate. This was the recently knighted Sir Robert Stout. Stout, the philosophical radical in his early forties, the Shetland pupil-teacher and Otago law-lecturer, the swayer of juries and the intermittent able politician, the infidel and prohibitionist, the acute, kind-hearted and exasperating apostle of reason, had as Attorney-General provided the impulse to set up the Royal Commission of 1878. In the following year he had himself made some trenchant criticisms of the University, and suggested that colleges, as they were founded, should specialize in their functions. In 1884 he joined the Senate, and began that immediate experience of University administration which in twenty years made him so formidable a figure for those who differed from him in policy. In 1886, Premier and Minister of Education, he made a statement of opinion which was important in itself and which had repercussions a generation later. New Zealand, he held, had not the means to establish a ‘comprehensive’ university, even if research were ignored. But four colleges, on the basis of an arts course, might (he recurred to his suggestion of 1879) specialize. Dunedin already had a school of medicine. Canterbury might devote itself to agriculture and, when the Midland Railway opened up ‘the vast mineral deposits of the Middle Island’, a school of mines. Auckland was ‘a place peculiarly suited for maritime pursuits’: there navigation, astronomy and engineering should be taken in page 8 hand, and there also research might be pursued into the languages and ethnology of the Pacific islands. These were three existing colleges. And Wellington? ‘I do not think it necessary’ said Stout, ‘that much expense should be incurred in starting a college at Wellington. All that need be aimed at, at first, would be part of the arts course.’ But (though this might seem rather meanly inadequate) he had a larger hope. ‘So far as Wellington is concerned, it is the seat of Parliament and the seat of the Court of Appeal. This city might be prominent for its special attention to jurisprudence, to law, to political science, to history.… Wellington has, also, in the able Director of the Museum and his assistants, scientific men whose services could be utilized for the teaching of the geology and natural history of New Zealand.’2 The first part of this programme was a vision that was never entirely lost; the second part, the short cut to science teaching, was a matter on which there was a divergent view—for Dr James Hector, ‘the able Director of the Museum’, was also the Director of the Geological Survey, head of the New Zealand Institute, and Chancellor of the University, and was to be excused when he argued, as in due course he did, that his time was already pretty fully take up.
The pioneer did not stop there. On 6 May 1887, Stout moved the second reading of a Wellington University College Bill, which was debated at length four days later. The pattern of debate became a familiar one.3 The college was to serve Wellington, Hawke's Bay and Taranaki. Institutions of higher education, argued Stout, were required for the sake of the page 9 poor, not the rich, for the poor man's son could not go to Otago; teachers needed education; evening classes would provide a noble opportunity, ‘You will have men working during the day, clerks in offices perhaps, perhaps mechanics, going to the evening classes, and thereby obtaining a university education.’ To oppose the bestowal of university education, if possible free, was to do a most anti-democratic, illiberal thing, the worst thing for the progress of the colony. True, the colony was hard-up; but it could afford a grant of £1500 a year for seven years, an endowment of 14,000 acres at Nukumaru in Taranaki (set aside under an act of 1874 as a university reserve) and one acre in Museum Street (including the Museum and its moneys); while ‘the able scientific men that we have here shall do teaching work for six months of the year’. He was sure that Dr Hector, who was to become Warden of the college, would be only too glad. If anybody argued that the government was being over-generous with land endowments, there was one adequate replay. ‘As to the value of the land, the land is of such a poor character that we have not been able to let it at all. Nobody would take it and pay the rates on it. In fact, we do not expect that any revenue more than will perhaps pay the rates on the land will be got, the land is of such poor quality.’
This frankly proclaimed parsimony was much praised by Mr Edward Wakefield. ‘I believe we shall get professors in Wellington’, said he, ‘and very good professors too, who can give a good education either as a labour of love or for a very small remuneration indeed; and the best earnest of that is that the Caledonian Society has already established university classes without any public assistance whatever, and that English, mathematics and Latin lectures are at this moment being given, supported solely by the fees of the students, as at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and, I suppose, originally at Oxford and Cambridge. That is why I am anxious to see this bill page 10 passed, because I believe it is a direct departure from the lavish expenditure that has been incurred on other occasions.’
The lavish expenditure which the unfortunate country had incurred on behalf of university education was one of the principal sticks with which Stout's opposers beat the bill: the cost of education was becoming so outrageous that Parliament would soon be unable to find the money for the annual vote; the Auckland College was a public injustice perpetrated on the taxpayer; there were plenty of colleges already— ‘abundant facilities’, in fact. Furthermore, primary education was being ignored—there was great deal of reiteration there. But the bill got through the House. It went to the Legislative Council, where the Elder Statesmen gave it short shrift. To the arguments already advanced was added one that put on later a certain ferocity. The proposal for a land endowment, said the Hon. Henry Scotland, was a proposal to rob Taranaki. The Nukumaru reserve had been set aside by legislation for university education within that province and nowhere else. Mr Scotland, indeed, very much doubted the utility of university colleges. They were, it appears, like Stout, doing no good to religion. ‘You get out men from England at £600 a year, and ignorant people think we are getting first-rate scholars. Nothing of the kind. We are getting third-rate men, their heads filled with Darwin and Huxley, Clifford and Tindall[sic], who are only fit to instil infidel principles into the youth of the colony.’ This denunciation of dangerous thoughts, as an argument against the bill, was hardly needed. The Council's feelings were summed up by the Hon. Morgan S. Grace, himself one of the founders of the University. ‘As to the question of expense,’ he said, ‘I do honestly think that we have not got any more money to expend on high-class education in this colony.’ The bill was thrown out.
It was seven years before Stout tried again. For most of page 11 that time he had been out of parliament, but in 1893 he came back as a member for Wellington City. By then the Great Slump was over, and the country, solidly based on refrigeration, had begun to experience a prosperity hitherto unknown. Seddon was in the saddle; the Liberal party, in all the effulgence of its youth, was engaged lustily in the reforms that made its name; 1894 was its legislative annus mirabilis. It was not however interested in educational reform; Reeves, the Minister of Education, was also Minister of Labour, and it was to labour legislation that he gave his time and his intellect. One intellectual in parliament was enough for Seddon; Stout the Liberal, who had some claim on grounds of experience to lead the party, came back in opposition—opposition rather to Seddon than to the Liberal programme—and he could not hope for government backing to any bill of his. In the meantime the demand for university education in Wellington had been growing. The population of the ‘Middle District’—the old provinces of Taranaki, Hawke's Bay, Wellington, Nelson, Marlborough and Westland—recovering from the setbacks of war and depression, now exceeded that of Auckland, equalled Canterbury, was approaching Otago; it contributed more candidates to the university entrance examination than any other part of the country; it had as many candidates for university degrees, as extra-mural students, as Auckland had. It had many more teachers, whose need of higher education was apparent. The Wellington Education Board, in 1887, recommended the abolition of its Normal School, and the use of the funds thereby released in the founding of a chair of psychology and education in Stout's Wellington University College. University graduates in Convocation reiterated their earnest conviction of the necessity for a central college, and a Graduates' Association even talked of arranging lectures itself. The University Senate's resolution on the subject became annual. In 1889 it looked for a moment as if the govern- page 12 ment might move, for it consulted the Chancellor over possible alternation of Stout's not very satisfactory bill. Hector did not like the bill, with its Geological Survey-Museum-maid-of-all-work basis, and much preferred the terms of the Auckland University College Act; but nothing was done. The Senate in 1894 prepared a Memorandum Respecting the Establishment of a University College at Wellington, assembling all the formidable figures, and a deputation that was ‘large and representative’ went before the Minister of Education. It was in vain. People ‘wrote to the paper’. More deputations waited upon the government, to receive fair words. The cause became live enough for Stout and his colleague, H. D. Bell, to use it on the hustings. Wellington had got beyond the stage where scientific primers, penny readings, the odd lecture, and the itinerant elocutionist, could satisfy its demand for the meat of the mind: got beyond the stage, too, where the man who wished for a formal university degree could be content, failing the relative wealth necessary to take him to one of the existing colleges, with solitary application to a text-book as an ‘exempted’ student. Canterbury had Wellington names on its books, but that was a mockery of education. Professor Macmillan Brown's notes on English, purchasable at a price, would get anybody through an examination, but that was a mockery of education also. When the able Congregationalist minister, W. A. Evans, came to Wellington in 1893, and began his ‘Forward Movement’—a sort of combination of broadly evangelical religion, philanthropy and adult education—he canalized in its Literary Society some at least of the energies that were impatiently waiting for more formal grapplings with learning; and the discussions which there proceeded on George Eliot and Ruskin and Browning, with Stout and Dr Findlay and A. R. Atkinson and Mrs Evans (that Kate Milligan Edger who was the first woman graduate of the British Empire) whipping up the interest, stimulated page 13 intellectual excitement as much as the social conscience in young men and women whose ambitions were all too effectually thwarted. (The Caledonian Society's classes in English, mathematics and Latin seem to have died.) Evans himself was a leader in the demand for something greater. If you want a university nothing else, really, is much use.
Wellington, it appears, did in fact want as well as need a college. There was a awful spectacle of the Gaol, that large red-brick mock castle on ‘Mount Cook’. ‘Goal or no gaol, that is the question,’ said Evans's Citizen, in its first number. ‘For years past, practically without protest, the citizens of Wellington have been watching the gradual growth of this horrible eyesore, and are only now beginning to wake up to the fact that they are likely to have planted right in the middle of their city, not only the ugliest structure that is to be found between the Bluff and the North Cape, but one of the most infamous hotbeds of criminality on this side of the Equator. .… If the site of the Athenian Acropolis was deemed worthy of a temple, it is not less true that the noblest site in this city should be saved from the ignominy of a goal. The movement now on foot for securing the site for the foundation of a university for the higher education of the youth of the Colony should secure the warmest sympathy of every citizen.’4 That Gaol was an insult and a challenge. Nevertheless one looks in vain for any effective independent action—action, that is, which did not have as its immediate end a bill in parliament and a grant from parliament. The city itself as a corporate body was never stirred; those men of means who lived in the city or the province were never visited by the ambition to be Founding Fathers. Neither in 1840, when the earliest settlers landed at Port Nicholson, nor thereafter, did they fancy themselves as leaders in education, or education as a first principle in colonization. The New Zealand Company's first settlement page 14 was a strictly utilitarian affair, on the narrowest possible interpretation of that misunderstood adjective. Stout, the passionate believer in the uses of learning, was a utilitarian of a different sort, and he, as a colonist, started life in Otago, Wellington might be the seat of the colonial legislature and of the Court of Appeal. Its soul was not the soul of statesmanship or of law, but of commerce. True, as a settlement it began badly, bedevilled by the Company's inadequacies and deceits. What Fox made of its prospects, as late as 1870, has been already seen. It had to struggle for life, and it might be forgiven, in its young decades, for taking a limited view of the necessities of life. First things first: yes, but who among those merchants and mechanics and country folk was there to put the classics and chemistry among first thing? They built their churches, and found the spirit well enough provided for. They were, many of them, puritans—but not seventeenth century Puritans. They could do without a Harvard. Their province had no gold-fields not easily accessible farm-lands, lying ready to the plough. Port statistics had an obvious fascination that the Muses had not. How then should Wellington's townsmen, left to themselves, found a university? The habit of civic generosity was a habit they failed to acquire. One must not draw a distinction, however, that does not exist. Neither of the two southern colleges arose from individual benevolence; they were provincial foundations, endowed from provincial lands. Auckland was a government foundation, endowed from government lands—though the endowment was an exiguous one. But at least Otago men, Canterbury men, Auckland men had provided the impulse; displayed, some of them, a civilized scale of values. The scale of values in Wellington, if on close examination found to be arranged in no very different order, still did not seem entirely civilized. The Gaol was built —though by the government it is true, not by the citizens. Yet, as the nineties moved on, and the city entered its second page 15 half-century, its demands for a university institution of its own became a serious demand—serious enough, as we have seen, to be made use of in an election.
In July 1894 there was a long debate over a new bill introduced by Stout, the Middle District of New Zealand University College Bill. It was passed by both houses. Unfortunately, as a private member's bill, it could not provide for the expenditure of money, and the government, which did not oppose it, when it was passed did hardly more than ignore it. The balance of debate in the House of Representatives was much as it had been in 1887, with Taranaki members embattled in defence of their lands as if they were the Ark of the Convenant. They wanted, asserted the blithe Dr Newman of Wellington Suburbs, to filch an area of 10,000 acres and erect a model cheese-factory on it. Stout, asserted the member for New Plymouth in return, would pawn the colony for high-class education; his colleague for Egmont besought the House to consider the state of our primary education, and the outlying districts, and the folly of making towns attractive at the expense of the country. Endowments should go to model schools, ‘where the sons and daughters of farmers might receive technical instruction in the manufacture of butter and cheese, in housekeeping, et cetera, all of which would add to the general prosperity of New Zealand, and the comfort and happiness of the people.’ The ‘six miles through mud’ which country children had a tramp to get to school became a sort a leit motiv in the discussion; the House had no right to grant one shilling for anything but primary education, concluded one member. There were, however, more useful contributions to debate, such as that of Earnshaw of Dunedin, who thought that the gaol, ‘that disgrace to Wellington’, should be pulled down and a university building erected on the site. Earnshaw wanted an absolutely free secondary and university system: ‘I see no logical stopping-place between page 16 a free primary school and a university school of research’. There were other places than Wellington mentioned, as having a superior claim to a university—such as Masterton (the member for Masterton, in his plea for democracy, could not resist a blow at ‘lawyers, clergymen, and others, who prey on the earnings of honest men’); and John McKenzie, the Minister for Lands, who suggested Blenheim or Picton, disposed with contempt both of the bill and of the capital city. The bill he would not oppose—it was just waste paper; but he warned the House that it was also the thin end of the wedge, and that ‘these people’ would be coming along for money. ‘These people’?–these magnates, these wealthy merchants, wealthy solicitors and professional men of every description; ‘they keep their hands tremendously tight in their pockets if they are asked to do anything in the way of education.… In fact, I think, for the interest of the Colony of New Zealand, Wellington should not be represented in this House at all.’ This was a surprising extension to the argument, and as it came from a minister of the Crown, left the bill's supporters in no manner of doubt as to its practical effect. It might be a democratic measure, it might be for the advantage of the ‘poor man’, as Stout argued; but the government's mind did not work that way.
Certain members of the governing body were appointed, but no money was produced; and two years later the University Senate, on Stout's motion, threw away too respectful words and in desperation ‘again reiterated’ its opinion that it was the duty of the government to provide an endowment. In this year 1896 the cause seemed not much further forward than it was a decade earlier.
When, therefore, at the end of the year next following—the precise date was 9 December 1897—John Richard Seddon page 17 himself brought forward a motion with the words, ‘I do not think there will be any question as to the necessity for the establishment of a University College here in Wellington,’ Stout, and those who had striven with him, would have deserved pardon for some raising of the eyebrows. But they were used to Seddon. There was more surprise when McKenzie seconded this motion; which was for the second reading of ‘An Act to promote Higher Education by the Establishment of a College at Wellington in Commemoration of the Sixtieth year of the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria’.
What had caused this unpredictable interest in higher education on the part of the Premier? In the absence of intimate records, the lack of which is so often exasperating to the historian in our country, one is driven to guesswork. It could hardly have been a belated attention to the recommendations of the Royal Commission of 1879; it could hardly have been heed of the complaints of the University Senate; it was hardly attention to Stout, on the Senate or in the House, for Stout in the House was a thorn in the Seddonian flesh, before long to be plucked out and placed on the Supreme Court bench as Chief Justice. The explanation, it seems, must be sought, at least partly, in Seddon's own academic career. The earlier months of 1897 he had spent, like other colonial premiers, assisting at the Diamond Jubilee of his Queen. It had been an expansive time, and the older universities had done their part. Upon Seddon himself the University of Cambridge had conferred the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa. It is likely that a tinge of academic romance descended upon the imperial romantic; for the returned to New Zealand ‘much struck with… the advantages of higher education’, determined to plant a university college in the capital, but a university college of a particular sort—a college uniquely the creation of the Seddonian Liberal state. He had even, it seems, for this purpose made an unwilling convert of his Minister page 18 of Lands. McKenzie could not agree that education was of more value to New Zealand than were roads and bridges, than the colonization of the country itself. Also, ‘It requires something more than higher education to brace a man up to go through life successfully in this country’. But he was not, he maintained, opposed to university education.
The new institution was to be—apart from its commemorative intent (‘I think it would be a grand thing in this the Jubilee year if we could establish this Victoria College’, said the Premier)–first of all, a ‘popular’ one, a college for the sons and daughters of poor men. It was to be marked by the creation of what were called Queen's Scholarships, awarded annually on the results of a special examination to primary school children who needed such help. (How ‘need’ was to be determined became a matter of argument.) The Queen's Scholar must not be older than 14; must go to a secondary school and matriculate not later than two years and three months after the scholarship was awarded, and ‘forthwith thereafter … attend[s] the College lectures and diligently prosecute[s] his studies to the satisfaction of the Professorial Board’–exempt from all lecture fees. Two years at the secondary school and three at Victoria College were to produce the educated man. All college fees were to be subject to government approval, lest they be so high as to keep out the poor. There was to be a ‘radical change’ in another direction. Sinister interests were to be debarred from the administration of the college by the composition of its Council, which, apart from three government appointees, was to be elected by a bewildering variety of constituencies—by members of the legislature resident in or representing the university district, by the college graduates (when their number reached thirty, and till then by graduates of any British or colonial university resident in the district), by school committees, by school teachers; even the Professorial Board was to have one repre- page 19 sentative (though on no account was a professor or lecturer to be deemed eligible). Was not this democracy? The Professorial Board, of which all professors and lecturers were to be members, was to fix the course of studies (something already done for it effectually by the University Senate), to deal with student discipline, to manage the library, to give instructions to college servants as to the performance of their duties—in all things subject to the control of the Council; but the Board might from time to time offer such suggestions for the consideration of the Council as it thought advisable in the interests of the college. No professor was to be appointed for a longer term than five years. It was quite plain that the professors, on inadequate tenure, fettered administratively by the Council, and academically by the Senate, would find it hard to kick up their heels.
But the Council itself was to be under control. It was to administer an annual grant of £4000. Out of this were to come the Queen's Scholarships—£20 for scholars living at home, £40 for those who had to leave home—which would in five years, at the rate of half a dozen scholarships, thus be consuming probably a quarter of the college income. It was not be allowed to administer at all the land grant of 4000 acres in Taranaki set aside as endowment. That was to be done by the government. McKenzie did not like the way college councils administered their land. He did not like land endowments at all.
The way in which Seddon put through his bill is an excellent study in his parliamentary method. He had a good majority conversing in the lobby, and felt no need to be tender to his bitterly-complaining critics. The bill had been treated with not unjustifiable severity by the Statutes Revision Committee (which included Stout). They had done away with the Queen's Scholarships, and with control of fees by government, and with election to the Council by school com- page 20 mittees, for which they had substituted education boards; they had provided for increased graduate representation. ‘Who ought to direct a university college?’ asked Stout. ‘It ought to be men who know something about university education.’ But in vain, all night, the waves beat against that Rock. The Premier moved straight from second reading to committee, calling in his majority to vote whenever needed (‘Stick to the bill!’), put everything except school committees back that the Statutes Revision Committee had taken out, and took out what they had put in; proceeded to a third reading of mutual recrimination; and then pushed another bill through committee, amid further indignation, before he let the weary House adjourn. He professed to be shocked at the attitude of his opponents. ‘Look at the ingratitude of Sir Robert Stout and the honourable member for Wellington Suburbs [Mr Charles Wilson]. Here we have had honourable members stopping in this Chamber till four o'clock to put a Bill through for Wellington, and the thanks they get is to be confronted with the statement that they do not know what they are doing, and what has transpired is simply disgusting.’
There had, naturally enough, been some discussion of the finance of the college. Seddon himself, in monumental ignorance of the subject, had proposed ten scholarships a year (in the end the number was made six); but to his critics he had replied that ‘if we find the college is popular’, there would be further moneys granted. And there was that reserve of 4000 acres: the government was going to look after it, road it and make it pay a good rent. This meant expenditure of a large sum of money—‘all to help them’—and he referred again to the ingratitude of Sir Robert Stout and the honourable member for Wellington Suburbs. One must concede that the reserve, in its pristine state, was not very highly thought of by anybody. ‘If there was a block of land of the most broken character’, said Mr Buchanan from the Waira- page 21 rapa, dealing with John McKenzie, ‘without roads, and of the poorest possible description, covered with bush, it was straightway made an education reserve.’ Anyhow, it was argued, professors were much cheaper than they used to be, and that would save money; and as for a building to house the college, there was the Gaol—the Premier and his colleagues were seriously considering whether that could not be put to a better purpose. ‘I … hope, Sir,’ McKenzie had roundly declared, ‘that for the next twenty years we shall hear no more about universities.’ The bill went to the Legislative Council.
Ten years ago the Elder Statesmen had thrown out Stout's first bill. They did not feel happy about this one, but it was not a bill that could be thrown out. They listened to the able and scholarly Bowen on the need for independence from political influence, they listened to the Hon. William Campbell Walker, the not very able Minister of Education, on the cheapness of professors (… ‘at the present time you can get just as good men for about half what the older colleges paid in the first instance’); and they decided to make one or two amendments. They threw the Queen's Scholarships open to competition from the whole country, rather then from the local university district, and they provided that the Council of the college, and not the Inspector-General of Schools, should prescribe the manner of examination. Seddon was angry. This was no way for a Legislative Council to behave. The matter was one of privilege—the bill was not far removed from a money bill—and rather than compromise the rights of the House he would slay the bill at once. Innocent slaughter, however, was prevented. There were those who pointed out, not very kindly, that the Premier was prone to define privilege to suit himself; but he was persuaded to appoint managers. The managers let the Council have its way over the examination; and as for eligibility for the scholarships, it was agreed page 22 that geography should be no bar, as long as the scholars conducted their studies ‘at a secondary school or its equivalent, within the said provincial district’; and that, agree Seddon, was as good as putting the clause back as it was before.
The bill became an act. It repealed the still-born act of 1894. The Sixtieth Year of the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria was Commemorated. Such commemoration was no doubt better than the extraordinary crop of statues that were at that moment appearing all over the British Empire, in the most improbable places. And what then? On this short-titled Victoria College Act, 1897, what body corporate would grow, to what height and in what direction, with what peculiarities of nature and what variety of experience, what original impulse and what fashion of maturity? In 1897 not Stout, not Seddon, not politician nor university senator could say. Lesser men had registered their contradictory opinions. The bill, said Buchanan, was a scandalous pretence, an abortion of a bill. With more mounting eloquence, the stoutly Seddonian Mr Hogg, member for Masterton, had expounded his vision of the future: ‘All I say is this: that it will be the most popular college in the colony, and, if it is lower in status, it should stand higher in public opinion than the other colleges. As regards the financial difficulties that are apprehended, I have not the slightest doubt they will vanish before the prosperity that will follow a popular institution.’ At that moment Mr Hogg and Mr Buchanan might just as well have tossed for it.
1 A. to J. 1879, H–1, p. x.
2 New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, Vol. 54 (1886), pp. 603–4.
3 I do not give detailed references to the debates over the foundation of the college. They will be found, adequately indexed, in N.Z.P.D., Vols. 57 (1887), 84 (1894), and 100 (1897). The text of the acts passed will be found in Statutes of New Zealand for the relevant years. See also the documentation of my University of New Zealand (New Zealand Council for Educational Research, 1937), pp. 145–53.
4 The Citizen, vol. I, No. 1 (October 1895), pp. 82–3.