The Church of England Grammar School at Parnell 1854-1893

Some Historical Notes

In March 1854 a notice appeared in an Auckland newspaper calling for applications for students for the new Church of England Grammar School. It was a long-held aim of the Anglican Bishop of New Zealand, George Augustus Selwyn, to establish such a school in the then capital of the Colony. In early 1855 the Revd John Kinder, then at Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, was interviewed by Bishop Selwyn in England and was appointed as Headmaster. John Kinder, his mother and his sister Fanny arrived in Auckland on 17 October 1855. He had a B.A. in Mathematics and an M.A, both from Cambridge University.

When Kinder arrived he found no school building and had to hire Mr Keven’s house in Karangahape Road until the school building was erected in 1856 on the corner of Ayr Street and Parnell Road (then Manukau Road). In 1857 the Headmaster’s house was built and the Kinder family was able to move in. Selwyn employed his favourite architect, Frederick Thatcher, to design the stone two-storeyed structure, which cost £1404, a very large amount in those days. It was built by a Berkshire stonemason, Benjamin Strange, who was also responsible for constructing several other church buildings, including the old Deanery in St Stephen’s Avenue (cnr Brighton Road), and the Melanesian Mission buildings at Mission Bay, The stone (basalt) came from Mt Eden. The school buildings, also designed by Thatcher, were much less elaborate wooden structures.
From the outset the school was for boys only. John Kinder’s elder sister, Fanny, took a preparatory class for younger boys for some years in the Headmaster’s House. John Kinder himself taught many of the classes. His assistant masters included the well-known artist J.B.C. Hoyte, who taught drawing, and the politician and author, J.E. Gorst, who took Greek classes.

Most of the subjects taught seemed to have been along classical lines. Although John Kinder wrote little about his time as Headmaster, several of his pupils have recorded their impressions, including the Revd Frederick Spencer and Charles Lush, who attended the school between 1863-65 while living nearby at Ewelme Cottage, also in Ayr Street. Kinder is remembered as a strict but fair disciplinarian.

The Headmaster’s House would have been quite crowded at times. There would have been John and his wife Celia (daughter of Archdeacon A.N. Brown of Tauranga) whom he married in 1859, his mother Mrs Fanny Kinder, his sister Fanny and several boarding pupils. For a short time in 1871 the Grammar School even housed St John’s Theological College, which was going through a difficult time.

In July 1872, Kinder resigned to become Master of St John’s College, Tamaki. His seventeen-year tenure proved to be the longest in the history of the Church of England Grammar School. His successor was James Adams, originally from Ireland, educated at the University of London, who had been teaching at Dunedin schools prior to his appointment. Unlike Kinder, Adams was a trained teacher.

In 1869 a rival school was established in the form of the Auckland Grammar School. The Church of England Grammar School, or the Parnell Grammar School as it was often known, continued to draw its pupils from church, professional and business families. There were also Maori pupils. James Adams resigned in 1880 to become the first Headmaster of Thames High School. During this time the school had become more outward looking, playing sport with its new rival and moving more towards the study of science and less traditional subjects.

Two visiting teachers who hastened these trends were T.F. Cheeseman, later to become the curator of the Auckland Museum, and Kennet Watkins, the well-known Auckland artist. The four subsequent Headmasters were, like James Adams, all laymen. Mr A. de Lisle Hammond B.A. was next, and like his predecessor he accelerated the trend towards widening the curriculum. His professional approach can be seen in several reports about the progress of the school which he made to the St John’s College Trust Board, which controlled the Grammar School from 1859. He was followed by Mr H.T. Pycroft 1883-86, Mr Henry Percival 1886-91, and finally by Mr C.P. Newcombe 1891-93.

Newcombe was typical of educators who became involved with the increasing number of Auckland secondary schools from the 1880s onwards. In 1885 he was principal of the Domain Grammar School on the corner of Park and Grafton Roads. After the Church of England Grammar School closed in 1893 he was head of a private school in Syrnonds Street for some years.

In 1891 the Revd Percy Scott Smallfield, an assistant master at the Church of England Grammar School, was invited by Bishop Cowie to become Headmaster and proprietor of St John’s College School, Tamaki. This boarding and day school for boys prospered under its new headmaster, who incidentally was a past pupil of the Parnell Grammar School. By 1893 the school had almost 80 pupils and an energetic young staff including Messrs Graham Bruce and C.T. Major. It was perhaps inevitable that the Parnell Grammar School would close and it did so later that year, bringing to an end almost 40 years of existence. A large number of pupils went to the Tamaki school, one immediate result being that the strong Parnell tradition of a cadet corps was continued in the newer institution.

In December 1927, Old boys of the Church of England Grammar School held a reunion at King’s College, and their request to become members of the King’s College Old Boys Association was granted. At the same time it was thought fitting that a boarding house at King’s should be named in memory of the Parnell school and accordingly, Middlemore became Parnell House in 1928. Sir James Coates gave $1,000 to found a classics scholarship in honour of the first Headmaster of the Church of England Grammar School, the Revd Dr John Kinder.

The final chapter in the history of the Grammar School was written when the endowments accumulated by the School made possible the purchase in 1930 of land for King’s College by the St John’s College Trust Board.

As probably the first structured grammar school in Auckland, the Church of England Grammar School occupies an important place in the educational history of the city. Many prominent early families sent their sons to the school, including names such as Beale, Buckland, Coates, Grace, Kempthorne, Kissling, Lush, Maunsell, Purchas and Wynyard. The teachers included names such as Cheeseman, Kennet Watkins, J.B.C. Hoyte and Gorst. Most importantly, the accumulated funds of the school enabled the tradition of Anglican education to be continued at King’s College.

The Grammar School buildings were demolished in 1924 and some of the principal beams and windows were used in the Anglican Church at Huapai, which has since been destroyed by fire.

It is believed that some timber does survive in a shed adjoining Ewelme Cottage. John Kinder took several early photographs of the Grammar school and these can be seen at Kinder House, the name now given to the Headmaster’s House, opened to the public in 1982 as a gallery showing photographs, paintings and other Kinder memorabilia.

The above notes were compiled by Ian Thwaites. Not to be copied without the permission of the Kinder House Society.