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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 1, Issue 5, December 1961


page Eight

Two factors that are sometimes overlooked in the discussion of early education were very early established—the Literary and Scientific Institution, the forerunner of the Nelson Institute, which, besides maintaining a stock of literature otherwise unobtainable by the many, was actually envisaged as a teaching body, and the Nelson Examiner, an organ for public discussion and dissemination of both news and knowledge (see opening number). Their influence was great.

The strong religious sense in the community had the effect of starting Sunday Schools among the poorer classes, a notable one being in Bolton Square (so named because it was squatted on by immigrants off the "Bolton"; it was characterised by rude huts of raupo and toi-toi). It is said that this Sunday School began as early as March 27, 1842.

Another noticeable effect is that there was in the community a definite feeling that religion and education should go hand in hand. We see this in the first elementary school started under the aegis of Capt. Wakefield in 1842, in Bishop Selwyn's Anglican Schools from 1842, in the Campbell Schools from 1844, in the Father Garin's schools from 1850 and in the secondary school started by the trustees of the Nelson Trust Funds. The Wesleyan Schools and the Lutheran ones may also be cited.

There has been much jumbling of early education history, e.g., confusion between Eelpond Schools, references to British and Foreign Schools Society, pre-arrival mention of Matthew Campbell.

If we confine ourselves to what we may call day school elementary education, we find in the diary of T. S. Thompson that in March, 1842. Capt. Wakefield, Richardson, Thompson. England, Domett and others were moving in the matter of providing schooling for the immigrants' children "who were running wild in the fern". There was a sequence of public and committee meetings, public subscriptions were raised, the Nelson Examiner lent its aid, and by September 12, 1842, a school was in being on Town Acre 20 (208 J.A.J.) in Bridge Street near the Eelpond. William Moore, who had stated publicly that he would like to start a school and to whom a requisition signed by 80 parents had been sent, on May 7, 1842, accepted the headmastership and the project seemed well afloat. There was a healthy quarterly report just before the Wairau episode and expansion seemed assured, but by December, 1843, Moore had resigned. No reason has been stated for this, but it is generally thought that the loss of so many of the country's leaders created confusion. Wakefield and England had both been trustees of the school. Tuckett, another trustee, was still alive but in the embarrassing position of being forced to pick up the threads of government. Whatever the cause, apparently the school was not reopened in 1844. We find in April, 1844, T. S. Ferrers, a Roman Catholic, opening a school in the building.

Bishop Selwyn was much concerned with the establishing of a system of education focussing on the central point of St. John's College. When he brought the Rev. C. L. Reay to Nelson in August, 1842, he arranged for the setting up of a small school, but when his plans were matured he visited Nelson again with a deacon trained for the purpose of supervising education, and established an elementary church school, open to the public, and a Grammar School with foundation scholars. This was the beginning of the Bishop's Schools, opening on January 21, 1844, under H. F. Butt.

Matthew Campbell arrived in the settlement on October 25, 1842. He found that a body of men known to history as the Nelson United Christians had developed a Sunday School started page Nineon March 27, 1842, and had erected a building called Ebenezer in Tasman Street near the Eelpond, which had been occupied by the Sunday School on October 21, 1842, just four days before his arrival, while arrangements were already made to open a day school on October 31, 1842.

Being of unusually strong religious convictions, with a dominant character and having, so one gathers from his friendship with Dr Renwick and Mr A. G. Jenkins, some erudition, Campbell seems soon to have allied himself with this movement and to have become superintendent of the Sunday and day schools. We do not know who actually did the secular teaching. In a few months the owners of the building, Ebenezer Chapel, used for religious services as well as Sunday School and day school, left the district and Campbell, business manager as well as superintendent of the schools, found himself paying rent for an unsuitable building. He and his friends were nonconformists and held strongly to the view that Sunday Schools and day schools be associated. They evidently did not approve of Moore's School, opened under the patronage of the gentry, nor of the Anglican system of Bishop Selwyn. At any rate, they formed themselves into a committee of management and set about working out their own ideas for the control of education in the settlement, with the result that the Nelson Schools Society was formed in February, 1844, and a brick school was built near the Eelpond in Bridge Street and opened April 7, 1844, the headmaster being Mr J. P. Robinson, later Superintendent of the Province. This was the beginning of the system sometimes known as Campbell's Schools. These schools in most cases opened first as Sunday Schools and developed associated day schools thereafter. Butchers, at p. 141 in his book, "Young New Zealand", says: "Until the day school was commenced in any given locality the children received secular as well as religious instruction at the Sunday School." I do not know what his authority was for the statement, though the following may be relevant. In the January, 1843. report of Moore's School Committee it says: "It is gratifying to know that there is another public school (i.e., Campbell's) connected with the Nelson United Christians where we believe a large number of children are taught.…. There are three Sunday Schools numerously attended which afford opportunity of learning to those whose parents cannot spare them through the week."

The Nelson School Society or Matthew Campbell system ran for 12 years. 1844–1855, and while it had its several limitations it was certainly a very praiseworthy one in that it offered the only opportunity to acquire an education that was available to the general run of the children of the settlement. The Bishop's School ran for the same period then went into recess (to reopen later. 1860).

From 1842 there were a few private schools sparsely attended.