Nelson College

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Nelson College
67 Waimea Road


New Zealand
Coordinates41°17′8″S 173°16′36″E / 41.28556°S 173.27667°E / -41.28556; 173.27667Coordinates: 41°17′8″S 173°16′36″E / 41.28556°S 173.27667°E / -41.28556; 173.27667
TypeState secondary, day and boarding
MottoLatin: Pietas Probitas et Sapientia
(Loyalty, honesty and wisdom)
Established7 April 1856; 166 years ago (1856-04-07)
Sister schoolNelson College for Girls
Ministry of Education Institution no.294
HeadmasterRichard Dykes
School roll922[1] (March 2022)
  • Barnicoat
  • Chaytor
  • Domett
  • Kahurangi
  • Monro
  • Robinson
  • Rutherford
Colour(s)Navy and light blue   
Socio-economic decile7

Nelson College is the oldest state secondary school in New Zealand.[2] It is an all-boys school in the City of Nelson that teaches from years 9 to 13. In addition, it runs a private preparatory school for year 7 and 8 boys. The school also has places for boarders, who live in two boarding houses adjacent to the main school buildings on the same campus.

It was a Nelson College old boy, Charles Monro, who was instrumental in introducing the game of rugby into New Zealand.[3][4]


The school opened with eight students on 7 April 1856 in premises in Trafalgar Square, Nelson, but shortly thereafter moved to a site in Manuka Street. In 1861, the school moved again to its current site in Waimea Road. The Deed of Foundation was signed in 1857 and set out the curriculum to be followed by the College. It included English language and literature, one or more modern languages, geography, mathematics, classics, history, drawing, music and such other branches of science as the Council of Governors should determine.[5] The Deed stated that the purpose of the school was the "advancement of religion and morality, and the promotion of useful knowledge, by offering to the youth of the Province general education of a superior character."

In 1858, the General Assembly passed the Nelson College Act, which confirmed the status of the school. There were nine initial trustees, including Charles Elliott, David Monro, John Barnicoat, Charles Bigg Wither, William Wells, and Alfred Domett.[6] In that same year, Alfred Fell gifted the common seal, containing the college's badge and motto, "Pietas, Probitas et Sapientia" (Loyalty, honesty and wisdom).[5] A team from Nelson College took part in the first game of rugby played in New Zealand, against the Nelson Rugby Football Club on 14 May 1870 at what is now known as the Botanic Reserve, Nelson, and, in 1876, the first inter-College rugby match in New Zealand was played between Nelson College and Wellington College.[5]

The damaged tower of the main building at Nelson College following the 1929 Murchison earthquake

On 7 December 1904, the College was almost completely destroyed by fire. The main building, designed by William Beatson, was said to be a "miniature of Eton," the architect being an old Etonian.[7] In 1926, Nelson College was invited to join the annual rugby tournament between Christ's College, Wanganui Collegiate School and Wellington College, known as the "Quadrangular".[5] In the 1929 Murchison earthquake, the main building of the College was once again severely damaged, although only two boys were injured.[5]

In 2011, Nelson College became the first all-boys college in New Zealand to form a gay-straight alliance support group.[8] The alliance operated from its own room. In 2017, the group was re-formed, after a failed attempt in 2015.

In 2019, long-serving and retiring headmaster Gary O'Shea claimed that the school needed more girls to stay up-to-date.[9]

House system[edit]

The College has a house system with, as of 16 May 2019, six different houses that compete across a range of sporting codes including cross country running and swimming together with varied cultural activities:

  • Barnicoat-Rutherford Combined (White & Black)
  • Chaytor (Red)
  • Domett (Green)
  • Monro (Blue)
  • Robinson (Orange)
  • Kahurangi (Yellow)

The two boarding houses, Rutherford and Barnicoat, recently underwent a five-year refurbishment.[10] A third boarding house, Fell, was closed to boarders at the end of 2018, and is now available for lease, predominantly to sports and community groups.

Notable staff[edit]


Since its foundation in 1856, Nelson College has had 21 Headmasters. The following is a complete list:[11][12]

Name Term
1 John Charles Bagshaw 1856–1858
2 George Heppel 1859–1861
3 Reginald Broughton 1862
4 John Danforth Greenwood 1863–1865
5 Charles Lendrick MacLean 1866–1868
6 Frank Churchill Simmons 1868–1876
7 John Chapman Andrew 1876–1886
8 William Justice Ford 1886–1888
9 John William Joynt 1889–1898
10 William Still Littlejohn 1899–1903
11 Harry Lewis Fowler 1904–1921
12 Charles Harrington Broad 1922–1933
13 Herbert Victor Searle 1933–1956
14 Basil Henry Wakelin 1957–1969
15 E.J. "Doug" Brewster 1970–1981
16 Barry Beckingsale 1981–1985
17 Tony Cooper 1985–1988
18 Gary Bowler 1988–1995
19 Salvi Gargiulo 1995–2006
20 Gary O'Shea 2006–2020
21 Richard Dykes 2020–present

Notable alumni[edit]


  1. ^ "New Zealand Schools Directory". New Zealand Ministry of Education. Retrieved 23 April 2022.
  2. ^ "First state secondary school opens". New Zealand History. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 9 December 2016. Retrieved 4 June 2020.
  3. ^ "1870s". New Zealand Rugby Museum. Retrieved 30 June 2018.
  4. ^ "New Zealand's First Game of Rugby". Retrieved 30 June 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e L.R. Palmer, "A Short History of Nelson College". In: "Nelson College Old Boys' Register 1856–1981" (5th edn.)
  6. ^ "Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Nelson Trust Funds, for the Year Ending 21st December, 1857". The Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle. Vol. XVII, no. 3. 9 January 1858. p. 2. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  7. ^ "The Evening Post", 8 December 1904
  8. ^ Roberts, Adam (6 April 2011). "Boys' college backs gay, straight students". The Nelson Mail. Retrieved 28 October 2011.
  9. ^ More girls needed in boys school, outgoing headmaster says
  10. ^ Jones, Katy (1 November 2018). "New lease of life for old boarding house". Nelson Mail. Retrieved 4 June 2020.
  11. ^ Nelson College Old Boys' Register, 1856–2006, 6th edition (CD-ROM).
  12. ^ "O'Shea for head". The Press. 5 July 2006. p. 4.
  13. ^ "Dr. Wallaston". The Week. Brisbane, Queensland. 18 February 1912. p. 13.