Education in Nelson - 1842-2002


The Nelson Province played an important role in the history of New Zealand education. It was the first Province to initiate free public education, based on Matthew Campbell's secular school system, which became the model for the country. It had the first secondary school in New Zealand (Catholic) and the first secular secondary school, plus there is Wakefield School;  the oldest continuous public school in New Zealand.

A timeline

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Matthew CampbellPortrait of Matthew Campbell, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection, 69466/3
Click to enlarge

1842-1900 ; 1900-  


  • March 27 - the first private school in the Nelson settlement opens in a house made of toi toi, in December it moves to a specially built room in Tasman Street
  • September 12: The Nelson Branch of the British and Foreign School Society, with land and financial support from the Nelson Wakefield Company (forerunner of New Zealand Company), opens the first public school in Nelson, located in Bridge Street near the eel pond. The headmaster is William Moore. It closes following the Wairau Affray in June 1843.
  • October: The Nelson School Society under the leadership of Matthew Campbell establishes the Nelson Day school  [note - some sources say the School was established February 1844].    


  • January 1: Wakefield School is formally opened. Wakefield is the oldest continuous public school in New Zealand.
  • January 21: ‘Bishop's School' (Bishop Selwyn's Anglican School), a Church of England Elementary School is built in Nile Street, Nelson.


  • May 18: Spring Grove School is opened.
  • December 28th: A school opens in Brook Green (the original name for Stoke) Later to become Stoke School


  • February 16: The Nelson School Society opens Richmond School on the corner of Salisbury Road and Main Street, Richmond.



  • The first secondary school for boys in New Zealand opens in Nelson - a Marist (Catholic)  School run by Brother Moreau. Earlier in the year, Father Garin opens a Catholic boys "first" school.
    Father GarinFather Antoine Garin, circa 1870. Photographer unidentified, Alexander Turnbull Library,1/4016333F  Click to enlarge
  • The Nelson School Society opens "Hope School" in Waimea East and Spring Grove School.



  • July: The Nelson Education Act of 1856 is passed, based on Matthew Campbell's school system. The Act made the Nelson Province the first in New Zealand to have public schools at which no fees are charged - a Central Board is established to run them. The schools are to be funded through taxation and public revenue.
  • Nelson College opens in temporary premises in Manuka Street.
  • October 8th: Richmond Primary School opens. Attendance is compulsory for both girls and boys.


  • Richmond Primary School's present site is purchased for 50 pounds
  • A School opens in the home of Pastor Heine in Sarau. It later becomes Upper Moutere School
  • Motueka Primary School opens in Motueka (it's becomes Parklands School in 1956)
Appleby School Appleby School Playing fields. Image supplied by Katherine Richards
Click to enlarge


  • Schools are established in Appleby and Collingwood. Bridge Street School is handed over to the Central Board



  • Haven Road School made an independent school (formerly a branch of Bridge Street School, when it was also known as Saltwater Bridge School)
    Hampden Street SchoolHampden Street School - rebuilt after 1892 fire. The Nelson Provincial Museum
    Click to enlarge


  • St Marys School for Girls (Roman Catholic secondary school for girls) established 


  • East Takaka School is established. In Nelson a school is built at junction of Bridge and Tasman Streets (known as Bridge Street School, Town Boys or Tasman Street School)


  • New Zealand Education Act passed (modelled on the Nelson education system)



  • Toi Toi Valley school opens


  • A new Haven Road School built ( it became Nelson's largest school in the 1890's)


  • A new school for girls and junior boys is established in Brightwater and is called Brightwater School. Mrs Bryant is the Head Mistress.


  • Brook Street School opens (2 Brook Street)


  • February 2nd: Nelson College for Girls opens, with Kate Edger as Headmistress
    Kate EdgerKate Edger at Nelson College for Girls 1889, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection, part 179045/3
    Click to enlarge


  • October: A new school for boys is officially opened in Brightwater. Thomas Warnock is the first principal.


  • Brightwater School (for girls) closes and pupils move to the Boy's School which becomes the new  Brightwater School.

1892 - 1893

  • Hampden Street School, Bridge Street School and Nelson's new Central School are set alight by an arsonist. The arsonist is caught in March 1893 and later sentenced to four years hard labour.


  • Land purchased for Nelson Central boys school - now the current site of Nelson Central School


  • The Nelson School of Music is established. The new boys Central School is burned down. Johann Blecher is arrested for arson. August rebuilt boys Central School opened


  • Central School's lime trees are planted


  • Hardy Street Girls School closes


  • St Marys School for Girls renamed Sacred Heart College


  • Mixed education discussed; Boys Central remains for boys, Toi Toi for girls, Tasman Street and Brook Street are joined under one head and Hampden Street and Haven Road under another head.


  • The site of Salisbury School in Richmond is used as a boy's school - and used continuously for children with special needs for the next century


  • Reduction in number of Nelson schools to two: Nelson Boys Central (encompassing Brook Street and Tasman Street) and Nelson Girls Central (encompassing Haven Road and Hampden Street)


  • Nelson Central Girls opened in Shelbourne Street
  • Tahuna (initially Tatahi) School, opens as a side school to Stoke. it becomes independent in 1913 and is renamed Tahunanui School in 1922.




  • Richmond Special School for Girls (later Salisbury School for Girls) opens on Salisbury Road Richmond.



Auckland Point School 1967Auckland Point School, Nelson PhotoNews 84(14), October 1967
Click to enlarge
  • Auckland Point School opens - Haven Road School site sold to City Council
  • Nelson Central Boys School is renamed Nelson Central School with the admittance of girls. The newly constituted school is made up of a main building in Nile Street and two separately located side schools - Brook Street School for Standards one and two and Tasman Street School for infants.


  • The present Upper Moutere School is built. The original classroom is towed by traction engine to the current site. It is thought to be the oldest classroom still in use in New Zealand.
  • June 17: The Nelson College clock tower is destroyed and other school buildings are damaged during the Murchison earthquake


  • New Central Street school building opened.



  • Brook Street School closes as a school.


  • Nelson first free kindergarten was established in a public hall at Nelson South in October .










  • November 28th: Henley School opens. Its name is decided by public vote, following a "name the school" competition. Henley was the name given to the area by one of the early settlers who came from Henley on Thames, England.




  • Sacred Heart College renamed Redwood College


Sewing hatsNelson Technical College [predecessor of Polytechnic], sewing hats, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Kingsford Collection, 118111/6Click to enlarge
  • Nelson Polytechnic established as a separate institution (was part of Nelson College for a period)


  •  Tasman Street School for infants is relocated to Nelson Central School


  • The first Kohanga Reo is established in Nelson
  • Redwood College closes


  • Kohanga Reo at Te Awhina Marae, Motueka opens


  • Te Pouahi, the bi-lingual Maori/English language unit which began in Nelson Central School


  • January 27: Saint Paul's Catholic Primary School opens on Salisbury Road, Richmond.


  • February 23: Garin College in Champion Road, Stoke is blessed and officially opened. The college is named after Nelson's first Parish Priest who established schools in his time.
  • July: Motueka Rudolf Steiner School (Primary school) opens


  •  Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Tuia Te Matangi opens in Richmond.

Timeline originally drafted 2002 for the Nelson Provincial Museum and published on the Prow March 2010  with additions

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Comment on this story

Post your comment


  • Another book for your list is
    Scrimgeour, Enid (1973) Pakawau School Centenary. Pakawau School Centennial Committee.
    (It also includes pieces on the Puponga & Rakopi Schools)

    Posted by Denise James, 29/08/2019 2:38pm (2 years ago)

  • Interesting to have this record of Nelson schools. I went to school in Appleby, Bainham & Collingwood, and played sports with Rockville and Mangarakua schools. There were some excellent teachers that worked at these remote schools. Aorere and another school at the Devils Boots were closed by the time we got there. I presume they are not listed, as are many other country schools in the Nelson area, because they are now closed? They are part of our history. Later I taught in the Nelson Education Board area - a great Education Board.

    Posted by Brian Baker, 12/01/2018 7:52pm (3 years ago)

  • Why is Tasman Street School not given a mention? I started there in 1946. I think it must be the school now called Matai School. It was a dear little school with very good teachers and it deserves to be remembered as Tasman Street School. My maiden name was McMahon. Ed. We will rectify this

    Posted by Patricia Perry, 11/04/2014 9:47am (7 years ago)

  • Hello In 1965 and 1966 I was a pupil at Sacred Hear College on Manuka Street. I was intrigued that your website and the links do not mention this name. I know it was not always named as such and in became Redwood College but I wondered why it has been omitted. For the time line of St Josephs School, thre is a picture of the significant old Wooden convent but a considerable gap is present in a darker shade of grey when something might have been included about this school. When I was there I recall that there was also a boy's home run by the nuns too. I've studied the Nelson system when I studied the history of education in NZ and it is indeed a very interesting feature of education in NZ. I enjoyed reading your website. Kate Edgar I recall was given noteworthiness at Christchurch Girls' high School when I was there in 1965 beofore going to boarding school in Nelson was an Albertlander (intentional settlement of Non-conformists at Port Albert, Auckland). I am a descendent of Albertlanders and we've just celebrated the 150th anniversay and part of that was given to the Edgar family.

    Posted by Robyn Lewis, ()

  • I too was at Sacred Heart College in Nelson and was a boarder there in 1966.

    Posted by Gail Owens, ()

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Further sources - Education in Nelson - 1842-2002



Specific schools  




  • Year 13 Computer Studies students. (2005).Motueka High School golden jubilee : slide shows, 1955-1960, 1961-1970, 1971-1980, 1981-1990, 1991-2005 . Motueka, New Zealand: Motueka High School. [held Tasman District Library]

Web Resources

Links to school sites are in text.