Reminiscences Early Days.
How time flies! Fifty years ago!, A long time in the eyes of Youth: a short time to those the years of whose lives are nearing or have passed the allotted three score years and ten: nothing in the sight of Him to whom a thousand years are but as yesterday when it is past and as a watch in the night !
Have the present generation any idea of what Dunedin was like fifty years ago? Possibly less than fifty of the present scholars know of the exceeding hard and rough conditions of life and surroundings of Dunedin and the now favourite suburb of Roslyn, where our School is so favourably situated; so the Jubilee Committee have arranged, as part or the Jubilee celebrations, for a lantern exhibition of the early days of the settlement of Dunedin, and of those who were our masters and teachers.
It is, almost impossible to conceive what things were like in the days of the early settlers here, but it is in the memory of some of our fathers who are still alive and who were privileged to take some part in the formation of the first schools of this district. There are but few with us to-day of these early pioneers, but of those mentioned in, the official list of early committeemen who were associated with this and Wakari School tbere is one â€” Mr. John Gillies â€” hale and hearty, and of a ripe old age. He was one of the first residents of Roslyn, settling here in 1861. He can recall vividly many of the trials and difficulties of the early efforts to secure and maintain schools. His son and daughters were pupils of this School, and are taking an active part in the Jubilee functions. The son of Mr. John Gillies, Jun., is at present a scholar.
Enquiries regarding past days, reveal the fact that there are at least ten ex-pupils alive, and in the locality to-day who attended the first schoolsâ€”namely, Mr. Thomas Hill, Mr. D. Y. Millar, Mr. James Dick, Mr. W. Quiver, Mr. D. Todd. Mr. James Barr, Mr. Greig Wedderspoon, Mrs. Louis Wraight. and the Sonntag Brothers, while the first name alphabetically on the roll available of the Linden School (the earlier rolls are missing) is that of Mr. James Armstrong. He will be taking part in the Ex-pupils’ Reunion on the occasion of the Jubilee.
Our photos of early groups of staff and scholars will, awaken many happy memories of the past. We have endeavoured to secure photos of first year scholars, with Mr. Anderson, teacher, but they are not available. Our best thanks are due to all who have kindly lent us their treasured photos for reproduction.
The Official Record gives the year when steps were taken to secure the new school as 1869. That was prior to Roslyn being formed into a borough, which took place in the year 1877. Previous to that the districts were controlled as Roslyn, Kaikorai, and Halfway Bush Road Boards. These were eventually merged and formed into one borough, the main thoroughfares being then, as now, down the Valley to Green Island, and over Wakari to North Taieri.
The centre of the small hill population in those days was Upper Roslyn (Ross Street way); where lived the Kilgours (the first Mayor of Roslyn), the Beggs, Chisholms, Duncans, Gullies, and others, who contributed no little part, in the civic. And school. life of Roslyn. Settlement also centred round Halfway Bush, where settled the Hoods. and Hepburns (Mr. Geo. Hepburn being Chairman, of Wakari School Committee). The earliest house known in Wakari was that of the old fern-tree cottage built in 1849 by one John, Borton (70 years ago.), one year after the arrival of the emigrant ship “John Wycliffe.” This later became “Hood Hall,” being the home of the Hoods, who were associated with the founding of the Kaikorai Presbyterian Church in 1868. This old house renovated and with its new addition, is the home of Mrs. Alex. Thomson, and for old time sake the original, house is preserved. It was built from fern trees growing in the surrounding bush. In those days the bush covered the whole face of the land right down to the harbour’s edge, as an evidence of which we have preserved for us that most beautiful ‘Piece of landscape’ the 600 acres of lovely native hush which encircles our beautiful city, and marks the dividing line between city and hill suburbs.
The first school (at Wakari), under the old Provincial Government, was held in the little building opposite Bunting’s store, and opened in 1858. This building is now known as the Church of the Good Shepherd, (Here for many years Mr. Kelk has conducted a Sunday School for the Church of England.) As the district grew a new school was built, and known as Wakari School, whence came to the new Linden School our beloved “Dominie” McLauchlan, who had been head-master there. In the early days of school life at Linden there was bush almost everywhere. It was full of rare and delicate ferns and mosses tangled with supplejacks and grass-sticks (how the pupils sought after them for making canes and walking-sticks!) and vocal with the songs of tuis, kakas, and pigeons, parrakeets, and native robins, and many other birds never seen near the settlements to-day were then abundant. There were no sparrows, blackbirds, thrushes, or starlings, these being introduced, no rabbits in the open ground, no trout in the streams, only eels and crayfish; gorse, broom, and elderberry, and other plants now classed as noxious weeds were unknown outside of hedges and gardens. The roads were few and primitive. Where they crossed swampy ground or where the traffic was at all heavy they were metalled. Elsewhere they were mostly unmade, and except in the main streets they were frequently all but impassable for many months of the year. The houses of the settlers were mostly two and four-roomed, and of a very plain style. Few people had kitchen ranges or grates, or even cold water laid on. The water came from the roof to a barrel, or from a near-by creek or well, and the cooking was done over the open wood fire, and the baking in camp-ovens.
Communication with the outside world was mostly by sailing ships, and answers to letters could not be expected in much less than six months, and, the rate of postage per letter was sixpence! Communication by land was equally slow, it was largely on foot or on horseback, for there were very few roads.
It was amid hard and trying circumstances such as these that our fathers and grandfathers lived and worked, and brought up large families and educated them under difficulties exceeding great.
What a difference fifty years have made in the lives and habits of most of the people! In those days railways. tramways, electric light, telephones, bicycles, motor-cars, asphalt roads, and many other things considered essential or “up to date “, were unknown, many of them had not even been thought of. In those good hard old, days men and women were perforce of circumstances more self-dependent and reliant than is the case to-day, when a paternal Government does so much to relieve excessive distress or disaster and compensation for many a loss.
To gain entrance to Roslyn in those times it was necessary for horse and vehicle traffic to call a halt at the corner of City Road, where once stood the old toll-bar and the Public House. Here the toll fees were collected for the upkeep of the roads. The City Saleyards were situated at the back of Laurenson’s present shop, but with residential settlement were later moved out to Burnside. The present row of shops, from Laurenson’s down to Mrs. White’s present shop, were at one time all upon a bank, and it was necessary to climb steps to enter them. The big building known as “Conway’s Hotel”, which was eventually burnt down, stood next to the present Fire Brigade Station. For very many years no cable cars climbed the hill, the principal mode of locomotion being drays or shanks’ pony, until there appeared for hire Scott’s two-horse cab twice daily; fare 1/- per head. In time came the opening of the Roslyn cable car to the Town Belt, the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. Fatal accidents followed its initial stages, but soon the difficulties were overcome, and now we have its extension to the Kaikorai Valley and Maori Hill. Some twenty years ago its healthy rival the Kaikorai line appeared, and established a direct service to the Valley.
All impetus was given to the settlement of Roslyn by the opening of the Roslyn Woollen and Worsted Mills at Kaikorai in 1879. This materially helped in the course of time towards the need of a larger and more commodious school than previously existed in the district. The original schools were under the old Provincial Government, but the present one was established under the Education Board of Otago. The boys and girls who attended the schools in the early sixties and seventies experienced a great deal more of the hardships and severity of life than any of the present-day pupils. The weather conditions were more severe then than now. The presence of so much bush and water kept the place cold and wet, and boys and girls had often to grease their boots to keep out the wet, and keep them soft to enable them to get them over their chilblains. “Maori-heads” were common in the marshy grounds, and it was a source of joy to the boys to jump from one to another on their way to and from school. Asphalt footways and school grounds were then unknown; there was little coddling and nursing of pupils then. Measles and mumps and toothache were rife enough in those days, and to get back to school as soon as possible was the rule of the day. Mothers had also frequent recourse to the use of the little comb to keep the “little varmin” well under, for somehow or other those “early settlers” visited the boys and girls! How time changes! Today the Government school inspectors give the scholars an overhaul and the health inspectors keep the parents tip to the mark, and say how long the scholar shall be isolated and the house and school disinfected. But after all health is the most important thing in life. In our day we attended to cleanliness by attaching a rag to a piece of string and tying it to our slate which we carried home daily. The girls, being more careful, provided a sponge and a medicine bottle of water; but today, except for war conditions, slates were fast going out of use, a liberal, if not in some cases a wasteful supply of paper being resorted to apparently a small item, but where there were many bairns considerably adding to the cost of living.
Memory recalls many other changes and contrasts. As an evidence of how things change, once upon a time the boys lined up for plain drill as a preliminary to volunteering. This in time gave place to School Cadet Corps, while immediately outside of school days the Territorial system calls up the youth. Old-time gymnastics were carried out under the supervision of Mr. J. C. Smith in the old school-room. In the evenings when we marched together singing “Where are the Boys of the Old Brigade?” These have now given place to Swedish drill, which is participated in by both boys and girls, and proves more conducive to an all-round physical development. Early schooldays provided but sparse playgrounds, and not of a very high order; but the settlement was not so close then, consequently the boys and girls found ample space for their sports in such places as the, Town Belt, at City Road Corner, near the spot where Skey’s Observatory stood for many years. Here in a big pond among the flaxes we sailed our “home-made” boats. Findlay’s paddocks through which the Kaikorai car now runs just before it reaches Highgate was one of the near-by favourite spots where many a snow fort was built and many a happy snow-fight indulged in, to say nothing of slides and sledges and stilt walks. Kemnitz’s Bush in Littlebourne, with its waterfall; the old Public Pound (where boys learned to smoke), near the one-time Roslyn Volunteer Fire Brigade Station who does not remember of the advent of the first fire engine (called the `Pridie of Roslyn’), and the happy band of ex-pupils and others who formed the original Brigade, and manned the levers.and pumped with might and main practising for fires, for did not our copy-books teach us that “Fire is a good servant, but a bad master.” Those were the days when there was no high-pressure water supply, a friendly tank, creek, or water-hole being resorted, to; but “where there’s a will there’s a way.” Chapman’s paddock (now Dunottar) was an amateur football field, and many a local picnic was held there. The Kaikorai football field was then undreamt of; it came into existence through the settlement growing around closing up the other playing areas. Fraser’s Dam (now Kaikorai Baths) and Lambert’s Creek and paddocks (near by the Roslyn Tram Power Station) were also favourite places for sport. The City Corporation is now preparing a play-field between School Street and, Taieri Road, facing Nairn Street, and here the future scholars will gather for many a romp and pleasant game. The present roomy asphalted school-ground provides fine opportunity for the recreation of scholars during school hours. The scholars of 40 ago can remember how about 3.30 almost daily there appeared on the school ground the old “Dominie” with outstretched hand and whistle and the command to leave the school grounds and make for home and lessons, which the scholars reluctantly did. As the boys at the High School had their favourite “pop” shop, so among the, scholars of Kaikorai there were their favourites. The earliest scholars used to frequent the shop of the dear old lady (Mrs. Ross), at the corner of City Road. Bye and bye there came a new shop (Tom White’s) up on the bank (now Goodley’s), and this became the spot for the younger scholars (and how children still love to go to a new shop !). Here we regaled ourselves with lolly-flags (six for a penny) and liquorice bought from our meagre allowance of cash, often earned by running messages for local tradespeople, while others ran the “Star” or “Globe” or “Herald” or “Times” or delivered milk. How “Scotty” Webster added to our funds when he started his little boot-repairirg shop and scheelacked” or, glued patches on our boots. and gave us “bawbees” for messages. Mrs. Barchams (the eccentric lady), whose first shop was next to Webster’s, and later at the corner of Tay Street (now Tyne Street). The pupils, of more modern times again have the opportunity and joy of buying at Mrs. White’s, the nearest lolly shop to the School. How these incidents awaken pleasant memories of early school days!.
The favourite local book-shops were “Old Millar’s,” “Bentham’s” (once Barcham’s), and later Mrs. Todd’s, then Don’s and Wedderspoon’s. There was also a big rush to the city to Braithwaite’s, who usually decoyed trade by giving a pencil with the books. The day is fast approaching when private trade in school stationery will pass into the hands of the Government and the books be distributed by the Education Board at cost price to the scholars.
Evening classes were carried on at Kaikorai School for some time under one William Bannerman and others, but eventually these were superseded by the Technical Schools in Moray Place, the early steps to the now famous “King Edward Technical College,” when so many of our present-day scholars acquit themselves creditably.
The annual school examinations were always looked forward to with fear and trembling. The very mention of the inspectors was enough to make many of us quake and fear. Of course, we had our favourite inspectors. Lots of boys and most of the girls dearly loved and hoped to have Inspector Taylor: they felt sure they would pass if he was the examiner. Of Mr. Petrie we were all afraid, he seemed so stern. Later came Mr. Goyen, Mr. Bossence, and Mr. Richardson, and- others; but we were finished with school days then. With what rejoicing and happy heart we rushed home to tell the good news that we had “passed”! How we looked forward year by year to the completion of our blue certificate (stiffcat), showing how each year we had “won through.”
Many a good”hiding” was administered to laggard youths by “Dominie” McLauchlan. His cane often made its impression, and had the desired, effect. With the coming of the new head-master, Mr. Allnutt (designated “Mutts”), the mode of punishment was somewhat altered. The rule of home govern- ment was more in evidence. Laziness, carelessness, errors were rewarded with a free use of the “taws,’ which were concealed in his coat-tail pocket, and were applied to the accompaniment of words such as these–” Well, it’s entirely your own fault; I must punish you”â€”and we usually retired feeling if not wiser very much sadderâ€”and sorer. No doubt he had learned the truth, “He that spareth the rod spoileth the child.” In addition to the rod of correction applied by physical force, we had the moral side attended to by the institution of Bible lessons by the teachers during school hours, as well as lessons by visiting ministersâ€”the Rev. R. R. Al. Sutherland (Presbyterian) and Rev. A. Kirkham (St. John’s, Anglican), In those days we certainly were made aware of the teaching of the -New Testament, and the writer can well remember having learned by heart the names of the early Apostles and the story of the “Prodigal Son.” This religious education was eventually ruled out by the Government, and some years later School Bible Classes were undertaken by Mr. Duncan Wright (the veteran City Missionary), who is ever a great favourite with the children. Mr. Wright testifies to the order and excellence of the Kaikorai Class, and pays a tribute to the staff for their assistance. It would be hard to find another more beloved and revered name among the scholars of Dunedin City than that of Ir. Duncan, Wright.
(Original Article by Alan Gilchrist)