Wellington College (New Zealand)

From Academic Kids

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Lumen accipe et imperti

Wellington College (in full, The Wellington College and Grammar School, sometimes just Coll) is a state school for boys located next to Government House and the Basin Reserve in Wellington, New Zealand. Having a history from 1853, it is a day school for boys aged 13 (Form 3 or Year 9) to 18 (Form 7 or Year 13)2. Wellington College was also a boarding school, until the College’s sole boarding house, Firth House, was demolished in 1981, but now there are plans to reestablish the school as both a day and boarding school.

Wellington College was noted for producing exceptionally high numbers of scholars to the former colleges of the University of New Zealand and in modern times this is continued by the very good NZ Universities Scholarships and Bursaries Examination results achieved by students at Wellington.

Wellington College is famous for its alumni, producing four Governors-General of New Zealand, 9 Rhodes Scholars and over 40 All Blacks. Only Eton College has produced more Governors-General of New Zealand.

The Visitor to the Wellington College is the Governor-General of New Zealand.



Wellington College was founded originally as the Wellington Grammar School in 1853 under a Deed of Endowment granted by the then Governor Sir George Grey.

The original site of the Grammar School was on Wellington Terrace, near the present Wellington Motorway, where instruction began in 1867. The Wellington College Act 1872 established a second administration under a new Board of Governors. On October 17 1874 the school opened for instruction at its present site next to Government House. It is situate on c. 25 ha of land 3 on Mount Victoria however only 12 ha are utilised, and the remaining land is mostly hilly forest.

The Grammar School became an affiliated College to the University of New Zealand in 1872, becoming Wellington College. Of note is that the famous New Zealand geologist and botanist Thomas Kirk was Professor in Natural Sciences at Wellington College from 1874 until 1880. This is one of the few Professorships awarded by the College though there are still Fellowships.

In 1912 the school founded the Gifford Observatory, thanks to the efforts of the astronomer Charles Gifford who was a popular science teacher of the school at the time. The observatory was first established on land that is now occupied by Wellington East Girls' College. In 1926 the observatory was moved to its current site, in the town belt above Wellington College, behind Government House.

Tenuous relations exist with Wellington College, Berkshire. Possibly the most famous example was during World War II when Wellington College NZ converted its playing fields into a small farm and sent food over to Wellington College, Berkshire.

The use of public school slang has mostly died out in recent years, though students will understand the phrases if used, and administration of "tests" to new boys about terminology and the layout of the school by prefects is now an unpopular practice. Until recently, the practice of "pocketting" - ripping off the shirt pockets of new students - was a strong tradition. This was put to an end when a uniform change was made, where the uniform shirts usually worn by junior boys no longer had front pockets.

Notable Old Wellingtonians

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Window depicting Saint George in the Memorial Hall

Rugby football at Wellington College

Wellington College has been one of the most important schools in the development of rugby football in the World.

The first inter-school rugby match in the world, according to Australasian historian Spiro Zavos, was between Wellington College and Nelson College in 1870 at the Basin Reserve. The game went to Wellington 14–nil.

Another historical development is the notion of "advantage" in rugby football. This appears to have been developed by Joseph Firth (later Head Master) when he was participating in a Wellington College game in 1892: when someone had "knocked on" the ball, Firth allowed the game to continue, shouting "advantage". An IRB decision later allowed the rule. It is generally agreed that Firth was the College's greatest Head Master, and was commemorated by having a boarding house named after him.

The Quadrangular Rugby Football Tournament between Wellington College, Nelson College, Christ's College, and the Wanganui Collegiate School is the oldest continuing organised rugby tournament in New Zealand. A historical accident means that by tradition halves in Quad games are 5 minutes shorter than in normal rugby (35 instead of 40 minutes).


ZAVOS S How to watch a game of rugby (Awa Press, Wellington, N.Z, 2004)

Recent administrative matters

The New Zealand Government has made many administrative changes to the school.

Two other Wellington secondary schools, Rongotai College near the airport and Wellington Girls' High School (now College) in Thorndon, have in the past been governed by the Governors of the Wellington College. They have since been made independent of the College, but maintain a connection through the use of a common crest and motto.

Successive National administrations from the 1960s to the 1980s have made some of the most controversial suggestions to the school including a take-over by the Wellington High School and coeducation. These administrations have also been largely successful in demolishing the majority of the Neo-Gothic, Neo-Classical and Georgian Revival buildings on the Wellington College estate (most significant, the Old and West Schools), replacing them with pre-designed "standard state school" blocks. As a result a few extant buildings are placed under historical protection. The school has recently announced plans to reconstruct some of the buildings.

The Labour administration in 2003 imposed a "zone" on the College. Some of the roughly 1,400 boys currently educated at the College come from the "zone". Boys living within the zone now have automatic right of entry into the College. This is in contrast with the conservative enrolment scheme in place before the reform, including entry by examination, bursary/scholarship (usually for talented athletes), free place or by having a father or grandfather who attended the College. Don Brash specifically used Wellington College as an example of the failure of Labour's school zone system.

Generally the School has been a politically prominent school and has been one of the most public targets for Government educational policy along with the Auckland Grammar School. Wellington College and Auckland Grammar are generally accepted as being some of the most prestigious schools in New Zealand.

As of July 2003, the current Head Master of the College is R.J. (Roger) Moses who succeeded H.G. (Harvey) Rees-Thomas in 1995.

External links

1. The arms are derived from two principal sources: The crest and motto are from the seal of the College Governors, and the shield is derived from Freyberg (Or, on a chief Sable, four mullets of the field).

2. What is known as the "Upper Sixth Form" in the UK used to be given that name (or just "Sixth Form" - eg at Otago Boys' High School in the 1950s) in New Zealand but is now generally known as "Form 7" or "Year 13" in New Zealand, where the former "Lower Sixth Form" is therefore now just "Form 6" or "Year 12". Otherwise, New Zealand usually follows the English system.

3. These figures are from casual observations of the City Council maps which line the Mt Victoria summit, as of November 2004. The maps indicate that the hilly area above the Mt Victoria tunnel up to Alexandra Rd (the top of the hill) belong to the College, however for all intents and purposes it is a public area (Town Belt).


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