School History 1878

Fitzherbert Terrace School - Marsden School

(photos of some items can be found in Marsden past and the School History Unit pictures - see the home page on the left)

Mary Anne Swainson[1], recently widowed, with five children under ten, opened a small school in 1878 at 20 Fitzherbert Terrace, in Thorndon to educate her own children, and those of her country friends.  She was closely involved in the planning and design of her school. This building no longer exists having been replaced by the motorway (a plaque to commemorate the original school was placed in Katherine Mansfield gardens in the school’s centenary year in 2003). So successful was Mrs Swainson’s school that soon she had to rent other houses in the street. There were small boarders and there were boys. Amongst her students she had the children of Harry Beauchamp,  including Kathleen (better known as Katherine Mansfield), the daughters of the Williams family of Hawkes Bay and the Taylor girls (friends of Charlotte Bronte).

Mrs Swainson died in 1897 and the school passed briefly into the hands her daughter Mary Swainson, and she sold the School to Miss Esther Mary Baber[2] in 1907.

Miss Baber had taught briefly at Fitzherbert Terrace School under Mrs Swainson, and had then opened a school of her own (Pipitea Street School). She had high ideals and was determined to offer a sound education to prepare young women to face the changing world of the twentieth century. She offered a parallel course of study to those who wanted to matriculate, and to those who didn’t.  

Miss Baber’s school grew. By 1920 her roll had risen from 47 to 193 and demands of running such a school persuaded Miss Baber to accept the offer of the Church of England to buy the School. In 1914 the Church had planned to commemorate the arrival of the Rev Samuel Marsden by investing some way in education. Regrettably the First World War intervened and their plans were put aside until after the war.  In 1919 the Diocese of Wellington were given 10 acres of land in Karori by the Riddiford brothers – Vivian, Eric and Daniel  (see the plaque at the bottom of the stairs outside the hall). Now the Church had the land they could follow through on their 1914 plan, and they purchased Miss Baber’s School and renamed it Samuel Marsden Collegiate School.

A Trust Board (pictures of the Chairmen/women of the Boards outside the Swainson room) was established to manage the School with Miss Baber as the Head mistress. Two buildings were planned – a hostel (with accommodation for 70 pupils) and a school block, both designed by Mr E.C.Luttrell of Christchurch. Whereas loans were raised for the buildings, the school family raised money for the grounds (including an orchard), the tennis courts and the playing fields. The buildings grew rapidly and so did the roll, so much so that in 1925, before the school was officially opened, girls were coming up from Thorndon by tram for lessons.

The school of red brick was opened by Sir Charles Ferguson in 1926 and before long girls - “green frogs” were part of the Karori community. The Marsden School buildings continued to grow on the site to cope with the new subjects offered and the new students - by then roll had grown to 299. An annexe put up in 1927 (as a temporary structure, it was still there in 1966), the Founders’ Hall was built,  a new storey  grew on the school block (1929/30), Mrs Cooper’s (residence re-named Innes House, now the Art Department) was bought in 1930 for the Lower School pupils, and was later used as a hostel for teachers from England, and a kidney-shaped swimming pool was built in 1933.  The Second World War slowed the building progress and instead trenches were dug on the Karori Road frontage in case of emergencies.  The Lower School was built in 1950.

Miss Baber was Principal until 1931 and remained on the School Board until 1956. As Headmistress she was followed by Miss Gladys Mayhew who was an internal appointment, being part of the science staff. Miss Mayhew (nicknamed “Merc” by her students) steered the school through the Depression and the war years. 

Many of the School clubs that had formed at the school in Thorndon flourished in Karori. The Tramping and Camera Clubs had new environs to discover, and the Science Club grew to such an extent that it was divided into groups - Bush, Seawater, Freshwater and Gardening, all of which had extensive new areas in which to practise their field work. A Guide Company was formed in 1928 – which became the Marsden, Company - 21st Wellington, Karori. Originally the group was set up to allow the Boarders to be involved in the Guide movement, but soon the day-girls joined as well. There were 6 patrols which were involved in traditional colour parades both at St Mary’s and St Paul’s. By 1932 local Karori girls wished to join the company, and the “Marsden” of the title was dropped and it became the Karori Company. In the 1960s another School Company was formed which saw the girls going out for weekend camps, and seeing the dawn in on Thinking Day[3] from the top of Johnson’s Hill (complete with hot coffee and “fairy bread”).

An integral part of the life of the School were the Boarders, and they probably had a major impact on Karori, and it on them. The Boarders turned out whether it was at the cenotaph for Anzac Day celebrations, entertaining and pouring tea at Homewood, or playing games as they formed a large percentage of the Schools’ sporting teams, and the did their bit to maintain the profits of the local Karori retail industry. To be in the fifth form and not allocated a bed on “Big Balc” – open to Wellington’s gales and “local nocturnal visitors” was to miss out on fun.  

From 1926 until the 1980s the Boarders worshipped every Sunday at St Mary’s. At quarter to seven a green crocodile would appear out of the gloom, cross the road and take up position on one side of the Church. They swelled the congregation, listened quietly, if not attentively and probably did not add much to the collection. By the mid 1980s the numbers in the Boarding House had begun to decline, and more use was made of the School Chapel. 

The links with St Mary’s were not only as a congregation.  In the 1930s before the Founders’ Hall was complete, gym lessons were held in the Parish Hall, until recently the School dances were held there also, the Vicar took on duties as School Chaplain (and taught Divinity lessons), girls sang in the Church choir and senior girls took Sunday School.  Today regular services for the girls are scheduled at St Mary’s throughout the year  and on the last day of the school year the Lower School have their traditional Toy Service when the children brings toys (both new, and “pre-loved”) to be blessed and given to charity. 

Parish fairs were a source of finance for the Parish and food for the Boarders. There is lovely description in Tosti Murray’s  History of the School, describing the 1930 Parish Bazaar…

“There was a mighty wind and behold Marsden rushed the sweet stall. A host of green locusts and all was desolate.” [4]

While Sundays were for church-going (amongst other things) Saturdays were when the Boarders got into “the village” (Marsden Village). In the 1950s and 60s  Saturday walks were the order of the day and regardless of weather untidy lines of girls struggled up Johnson’s Hill, Wrights Hill, down to the cemetery, to the Botanical Gardens, Otari, Karori Park or just down to Benburn  Park. On the way back they queued tidily outside Mr Mac’sdairy to spend their 6d (now 162)on lollies.  

By the beginning of the sixties the school roll had increased and the buildings and equipment were inadequate to meet the needs of the growing school and curriculum. 

Various options were looked at before major planning, and fundraising commenced in 1966 to build the Southern Teaching Wing which included classrooms, science laboratories and practical rooms for homecraft and clothing. At the same time a new boarding wing, Clere House, was opened which included the Baber Memorial Chapel.

The Wahine Storm of 1968 , brought its own problems to Marsden. The copper dome which had stood on the roof above the main door way was blown down. Later in the same year a good Wellington “shake” rendered the Founder’s Hall an earthquake risk. 

Another major fundraising project was soon required to build a new hall which would also include a new library and music complex. 

Over the following years the buildings on the site grew – the gymnasium in 1970; the hall and music complex in 1975, the Lower School was extended in 1987, the Gymnasium refitted and the Intermediate area refurbished with a large activities room in 1989 In 1994, the Athfield designed Senior School and new Library joined the two main building together with a brick colonnade, and the Boarding House closed.  The Lower School was replaced in 1999, after a fire destroyed the partly demolished buildings,  the Science Laboratories were renewed and extended in 2000, and the Will Chapman[5] Green – an all weather Astroturf, was opened on the Marsden Avenue boundary of the school and the hall refurbished in 2003.

In 2000 the new Science laboratories were opened, and in 2003 the Auditorium was refurbished which included fitting comfortable bench and individual seating.

In 2008 Mrs Eadie retired and Ms Jenny Williams was appointed the new Principal. The new Sports Complex was opened in 2008.

In 2005 the Board bought Whitby Independent School, a small school in the outer environs of Wellington city. The school was co-ed and had 24 pupils in years 9 and 10. Marsden Whitby has now grown to a Year 7-13 co-ed school. The school is managed by the same Board that admisiters the school on the Karori site; the curriculum is planned and delivered by the Marsden Whitby staff under the direction of Heads of Department in Karori; the pastoral care and co-curricular activities are the responsibility of the Director of Whitby and her staff. A new classroom block was built in 2008 and a new gymnasium will be opened in 2010.



[1] Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Wellington, Bridget Williams Books/Dept of Internal Affairs, 1993. Vol 2.  pp 492-3

[2] Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Wellington, Auckland University Press/ Dept of Internal Affairs, 1996. Vol 3. pp 25-6

[3] Thinking Day was established in 1926  by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girls Scouts with the aim that it should be a special day on which Girl Guides and Girl Scouts through out the world should think of each other with love and friendship. February 22 was chosen as Thinking Day as it was the joint birthday of the movement’s Founder, Lord Baden Powell, and his wife Olave, who was the World Chief Guide.

[4] Murray, Tosti. Marsden . The History of a New Zealand School for Girls. Wellington, Marsden School Old Girls Association, 1967. pp155

[5] Member and Treasurer of the Karori Historical Society