Jo McGlashan – Iona College

Michael Fowler: Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for coming along tonight. My name is Michael Fowler and I didn’t go to Iona [laughter] College, but we did send my little sister along, so she’s the family representative. It’s great pleasure to welcome Jo McGlashan here tonight, and the floor’s yours, Jo.

Jo: Thank you … thank you, Michael. It’s lovely to see you all, and thank you for coming. Without further ado – Iona College celebrates its centenary in 2014, and part of the preparation for that is the compilation of a book as a record of those hundred years; probably a book plus, really, using today’s technology.

And so tonight we read Chapter One. Chapter One is called ‘The Kirk, The Laird and the Lady Principal’. This title tells us that there were three forces, three interests, three passions, all involved in the founding of Iona College. You all know of course that the word kirk is a Scottish word for church, and it pertains particularly to the Presbyterian Church represented here, by the Reverend Alexander Whyte, on the left. [Shows slide] The Laird is Mr Hugh Campbell, the founding donor of the land, who personally oversaw Iona’s beginnings in a Lord-like manner. We read that the formation of Iona’s gardens and lawns and paths became, in the deepest sense, the joy of his life; and I’m really proud tonight that his granddaughter is here. And of course the founding Principal, Miss Mary Isabel Fraser. So those are the three forces that are working.

The Presbyterian Church was a church of the reformation whose history can be traced through great names like Luther, Calvin, John Knox; and we know that from Scotland members of the established Presbyterian Church arrived in New Zealand in 1840 at Petone. The Free Church later came to the South Island to the Scottish settlements of Otago. So, what made Presbyterians, Presbyterians? Well they believed in democratic church government with the involvement of presbyters, or Elders. The Presbyterians were anti-papal and anti-bishop; they didn’t like that ‘coming down from the top stuff’, they liked it happening down here. [The] Presbyterian Church was a church of the book, and a church which believed in the importance of education. Many in the Presbyterian Churches were convinced that education without a religious context and foundation was of little value in the formation of character. Presbyterianism is frugal, no frills faith, hardworking and committed people. It’s of interest to us that the Union of the Free Church in the South Island … Otago and Southland … and the rest of the church, didn’t come together in New Zealand until 1901. So that date is important, and it’s in the decade after that union there were moves for the education of girls and, you know, education generally.

[Shows slides throughout] Now this man, the Reverend Alexander Whyte, look at that string of things under his name there, right? Graduate of the University of Glasgow in Arts, Science and the Divinity, he was a fellow of the Linane [audience member supplies inaudible pronunciation] – thank you … Society, which has to do with botanical classifications and all those sorts of things. He was a well educated man and he really deserves his own biography, and if Don Trask was here – he’s not here – he would be interested in telling us all about that. As we’ve said – widely educated, ordained; Whyte came from Scotland, and on his second visit to New Zealand in 1897 he was called to Minister at St Columba’s Church in Havelock North, and he was there from 1898 to 1910.

As early as 1900, Whyte proposed an overture to the General Assembly that a ladies college be established in Wellington, and it didn’t get past the Business Committee – don’t know why! In 1904 he proposed to the Hawke’s Bay Presbytery that a ladies college be established in Hawke’s Bay; now this was deemed as visionary, but was rejected. It’s important to realise that in his own parish, he … with the Anglican Canon at St Hill … he introduced daily religious instruction in the public school half an hour before roll call, bible study for the kids; such was his passion. So that’s Alexander Whyte.

These forces started to swim together. Enter Miss Fraser; Miss Mary Isabel Fraser deserves her own biography, and if you googled Miss Fraser you would find a succinct account of her life written for the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography by Judith Payne, also an old girl. Born in Dunedin in 1863, Isabel Fraser graduated from Otago University in 1887. She taught English at Otago Girls’ High School and was appointed Principal of Wanganui Girls’ College in 1894. She was a trailblazer in the field of education for young women. In 1901 Alexander Whyte and Mary Isabel Fraser met at a Presbyterian Conference in Wanganui, and Alexander Whyte saw in Miss Fraser a passion for education equalling his own Christian vision, and an administrative ability. So that’s the meeting.

In our archives we have a copy of a letter Miss Fraser had written to the moderator of the Presbyterian Church, the Reverend Cameron, as early as March 1910, hinting at her offer to act as Principal should a Presbyterian school be established. Enter the Laird, Hugh Campbell Esquire, of Breadalbane. Hugh Campbell, of Scottish origins, emigrated to New Zealand in 1873 as a farm labourer. He established his own properties in Hawke’s Bay, and played a vital role in Iona’s origins. He had offered the Presbyterian Church a site of eight acres of Breadalbane. Originally this site was offered for building the Deaconess College, but the Church turned it down because any Deaconess College needed to be in Dunedin. [Chuckles]

What happens next takes us to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. We go to Dunedin, November 1911, and this Assembly is critical in Iona’s establishment. Among the business before the assembly was that offer of eight acres to the Church; but remember, this was supposed to be for a Deaconess College, but a lot of enthusiastic talking by Alexander Whyte made Hugh Campbell change his mind – he could have it for a girls’ school, as long as he got £1,000 set aside in the first year. And some of those people down there knew that Miss Fraser had written offering her services as Principal. Now, being Presbyterians, with these matters before it the Presbyterian Assembly set aside a Committee to consider the establishment of a Presbyterian Ladies Co[llege] – and I want you to look at this map. All right? We have the Convenor, the Reverend James Paterson who was from Wellington, and the Reverend Alexander Grant, a co-convenor from Dannevirke. Can you sort of sort out where they might be? If you go down to Invercargill to the Reverend R M Ryburn, we had five people from Dunedin – Cameron, Davies, White, Dixon and Belfour; of course they were all down in Dunedin. We have the Reverend Irwin from Christchurch; McKenzie from Christchurch; and another McKenzie from Nelson; we have from Wellington the Reverend Doctor J Gibb; and from Auckland, the Reverend Munro and the Reverend Jolly. And then those funny people in blue – they weren’t Ministers, they were Elders – Mr Gower from Dunedin, Mr Fitzgerald from Dunedin, Aitken from Wellington, Hugh Campbell, not the Laird, from Hastings and Mr Burr from Hastings. And so we had this Committee; fourteen Ministers and five Elders. And my point here is that this is a truly national body; it’s educated, qualified, and before them lies this decision – what do we do?

Now this Committee met, and they opened their meeting, of course, with readings from the Bible. The Shemah from Deuteronomy,

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might; and these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart and you shall teach them diligently to your children; and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise; and you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes; and you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates”

Also from the Epistle of Timothy – that’s all about learning about God’s ways, and here’s another little thing from Paul to Timothy:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith which dwelt first in your Grandmother and now I’m sure dwells in you; hence, I remind you to rekindle the gift that God is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and self control”

So these are like the focus; this is the … you know, the game plan for this Committee, and just to end it off with a couple of proverbs which I’m sure you’ll enjoy … when I find them …

A good wife, who can find? She is far more precious than jewels”

And just to cap it off:

Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised”

So that’s what they all read, this Committee of fourteen Ministers and five Elders; and the Committee then, having done that, prayed for divine blessing.

This Committee went about it’s business and agreed that the Presbyterian Church should have its own schools as other denominations did, and it accepted those two very generous offers; one from the Laird of the land in Havelock, and one from the Lady Principal who offered her services to the Church as we’ve said, without pay for five years. In the minutes of this meeting the Laird’s gift is described as ‘munificent’; munificent – extra, liberal, generous, awesome, just the best thing. And so this Committee went back to the Assembly and recommended that those things be accepted. Mr Cameron was directed to write to Miss Fraser; the Convenor’s were asked to arrange for the raising of money; Assembly closed, and they all went home to their parishes and presbyteries, and their activities were to raise awareness of this new school and raise funds.

And so 1912 became a very vital year. One of those people who really got into 1912 – he wrote things in the ‘Outlook’, you know, and … oh, he was just so passionate. This is what he said:

If you believe in the Presbyterian Church, you believe that it has the noblest traditions and modes of thought in life, to be found on Earth. We believe that a Presbyterian education is the best preparation ever devised for the formation of character, for the service of God, and the help of man. We believe in the Bible and the confession of faith, and the parity of presbyters, and in the directory for public worship. We believe that the shorter catechism will endure ‘til Christ comes back again to perfect all our education, and make us know even as we are also known; as we believe, so may we also do. The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will rise and build.”

Pretty, pretty passionate, wasn’t he? And so we move on. They all went home you know, making their parishes and presbyteries aware of what was going on.

And going onto the next Assembly which met at St John’s in Wellington in November 1912. In that year, further land had been donated by Mr Mason Chambers, so now we not only had eight acres, we had twelve. We had three important decisions made at the second Assembly – the name would be, not PLC, but Iona; could well have been Presbyterian Ladies College. And there’s a little bit of historical debate over who suggested that the name should be Iona. I’ve always read that it was Miss Fraser’s idea that the school be called Iona, because it’s in the Parish of Saint Columba, and of course Iona was the island from which Saint Columba did all his work. But recently Don Trask gave me some notes from Alexander Whyte’s son, and there it said to me, “Oh no. No, no – this decision was made in the Manse”. So I’ve been given a little bit more reading here, to see actually where this suggestion came from. So, that was a very important decision, the naming of the school; and the next two decisions that were important at that next Assembly, were that the badge should be the Celtic Cross, and that the motto should be “Love, Joy and Peace”, from Galatians 5:21: ‘The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace etcetera’.

Also at that second Assembly Rush and James, the architects, had sort of sent in a sketch plan. Miss Fraser had suggested that anything that was planned should be “capable of easy extension; comely and comfortable but not extravagant, would be my ideal.” The building was estimated to cost about £10,000.

Now Miss Fraser met the Committee and she spoke to them – can you imagine this woman, this great mass of black-suited men, and she speaks to them like this: she says, “Reverend Moderator, Fathers and Brethren: it is not a very orthodox Headmistress to whom you have entrusted the affairs of that school which our imagination already sees rising in the Havelock hills. The advisability of ventilating my ideas before this Assembly is therefore apparent. My education and creed: First, I believe that our girls are our most important national asset, for upon them depends the future of home life, and therefore the destiny of our people. Second, I believe that a girl’s education should be planed with a view to her probable future destiny as a homemaker. Third, I believe in a whole girl – body, mind and spirit, and in providing her with an environment where these have leave to develop according to the nature God has given her.”

She went on, and I won’t read it all … sort of outlining the importance of an education designed for girls that was quite specific from education for boys. And she ends up, “We are to aim at quality rather than quantity; at sincerity rather than show; at securing the expression of the best in a girl’s own nature, rather than giving her the impression of any predetermined mould; at preparation of life, rather than for examination. Nevertheless we will not despise examination tests for suitable girls for whom a thorough course of latin and mathematics will be provided.” So much for the training to be given for mind and body, whittled down to: “Higher things; we shall depend on the guiding spirit of God speaking through the daily reverent duty of his Word. Iona College, which takes its name from the island home of St Columba; did it share in giving our beloved land women whose bodies are free with the freedom of health; whose minds are free from all littleness, and whose souls are free with those fruits of the spirit against which there is no law”. So, she wowed them, all right? She did. She told them in no uncertain terms that this is what she had in mind.

At that meeting more members were added to the General Committee but more importantly an Executive Committee was formed. And this [refers to slide showing map] looks a bit different now, because you can see we’ve got one from the South, couple from Wellington, and most of the Elders come from Hawkes Bay. We’ve got Reverend Asher now from St Paul’s, Reverend Ramsay, Reverend Waugh from Havelock/Hastings, and Elders from Hawkes Bay District. So their job was to do all the practical work, you know – did all the decisions about the drainage and all that sort of stuff. And this Committee met every month, and we have the minutes in this fabulous book, ‘Presbyterian Ladies College’, so that must have been set up before the name of Iona was chosen. And here it is, all in wonderful longhand. So if you want to know anything about the first ten years of Iona College, come and see me and I’ll find you [chuckle] what it says. This Committee worked also on raising money through subscriptions in order to fund this new College, and again in the archives we have a fabulous record of individual donations, and you know, names in longhand. And there’s also a list of donors published in the ‘Outlook’, in 1913.

For the record, the Executive sought tenders now for the building, and for you people who are interested in building and carpentering and all that sort of stuff, there were six tenders. Smith and Smith’s was the lowest tender at £11,763, and it was accepted by the Committee in March, 1913. So all that’s going on … all that is going on.

So we’re going to fast forward now from November 1912 to May 13th 1913, the day on which the Foundation Stone of Iona College was laid. And our main source for this is a very comprehensive report in the Hawke’s Bay Herald – or the Hastings Standard or whatever it was in 1913 – it was amazing. And so I want you to imagine, there’s this bare hill in the Havelock North and the old Te Mata in the back there, and these pipers and – do you know a thousand people assembled here on that day. [Shows slide] That doubled the population of Havelock North. It was a huge day, and people came from the North Island – all Presbyteries and that were invited – I’m not sure how many came from the South Island, but a thousand people were there. It was a lovely day. They had a little ceremony and they sang the hymn: [Sings]

‘All people that on Earth do dwell …’

We could sing it, but we won’t I think. But you can imagine a thousand people on these hills here, singing that. Yes! Wonderful! And then the Reverend Waugh from Saint Columbas – he read this reading. He said:

“For we are God’s fellow workers, you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me like a skilled master builder, I laid the foundation and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it, for no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ”.

Then several speeches; and then the Laird and Mr Chambers actually laid the Foundation Stone – and I really can’t ever work this photograph out, [shows slide] but down here somewhere there’s the Foundation Stone, and we’ll get Railene [Mabin, archivist] to explain it later. And on that Foundation Stone – we have a trowel in the foyer of that laying of the Foundation Stone – and on that Foundation Stone is the proverb: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ Miss Fraser was not at the ceremony; she was in England to recruit staff and equipment for Iona, and that’s another whole story. That’s another whole chapter on its own.

We do a little fast forward to opening day, and now this is building the building. Remember Smith and Smith the builders? [Shows slides] and this looks a bit like a box Brownie photograph, but you get the idea of what the building is looking like, and the big wall, and we can notice that … recognise that, can’t we? Construction in 1913.

And so we fast forward to opening day, February 24th, 1914. Iona College was officially opened by the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable William Massey – you can sort of see him up there waving his hands. The day wasn’t nearly as fine as that of the Foundation Stone ceremony; about a hundred people gathered for lunch under a marquee and were joined later in the afternoon by another six hundred or so. Speeches were made from the balcony as you can see out from the Matron’s office, and the crowd gathered beneath. Do you know what hymn they sang? [Sings] ‘All people that on Earth do dwell’ …

Now Mr Massey apparently – I read somewhere he had a very harsh voice and he had a homespun appearance [chuckles] – it’s true! I read that in the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. [Laughter] And he said this: “Iona is a credit to all concerned and I hope it will become one of the most important education establishments in the Dominion. Great credit is due to Mr Campbell and Mr Chambers and Miss Fraser. The name chosen for the college is most appropriate. I hope it will be as powerful an influence for good in the ‘Britain of the south’ as Iona on ‘Britain of the north’ has been. I formally declare Iona College open, and I hope and believe it will experience many years of prosperity.” The Chairman Reverend Patterson presented gold keys to the Prime Minister and Mr Campbell and Mr Chambers.

Iona College opened with sixty-two pupils; forty-eight borders and fourteen day girls. Their ages ranged from ten and a half to over eighteen. It fascinates me that five borders came from the South Island; I think one girl came from Invercargill; and Forbes Cameron who came from Invercargill was the first Head Girl of Iona College. It fascinates me also that the records of all these people are kept in our archives and are given in a huge book, so if you’ve got an aunt or an uncle or a grandparent, you want to know what they did in Year 12 or something, come and see me and I’ll look it up for you. It’s all there; it is wonderful. So there we are – Iona College February, 1914.

So, that’s really Chapter 1 – I mean that’s pretotype, Chapter 1. What do you do with that, you see? Do we do it on a DVD and give it to Stu and send it round the website, or do you actually write a book? One of the debates before us at the moment, is you know – how big a book do we want to write? You know – how much can you put in it that people will want to read and pay for? And so the Council of Iona has a few things to decide.

Chapter 2 is about Miss Fraser’s years, 1914 to ‘21 – the way the school was; the staff, the pupils and the curriculum. I’d just like to acknowledge the histories that we have: Judith Payne has written a short history of Iona, and that’s in our archives; Mr Whyte’s son has written a history of Iona and that’s in our archives; and Jennifer Main of course, her book was … well her chronicle … was of the seventy-five years. So I’m going to stop now because I’m getting a wee bit hoarse, but I’m really happy to talk with you about any of that stuff.

Michael: Is [are] there any questions for Jo? Katrina?

Katrina: How many teachers were there for those sixty-two pupils?

Jo: Something like ten, twelve, and Matron and a caretaker yeah. Five of those teachers were actually imported from England, too. Miss Fraser brought them back, and the music teacher came from Prague; the Phys Ed teacher came from Scotland, so again, they were imported. I think it was just one or two people like the cook and everything that came from New Zealand. [Chuckles]

Question: Did they pay fees?

Jo: Yes they did … they did, and if you wanted to know what they paid we can look it up – I really don’t know what the cost was, yeah.

Question: The opening was about the time of the beginning of the First World War. Did the War have any affect or influence on [the] number of girls attending, or financial support for the school?

Jo: I can’t really answer about the financial support, but it didn’t seem to affect the numbers because the numbers actually grew quite quickly in the first couple of years.

Question: How could Miss Fraser afford to work for five years without recompense?

Jo: Munificent people don’t need money. [Chuckles] And she had everything found didn’t she? I mean you know, she wouldn’t have to pay for her breakfast or her … that sort of stuff. I mean she probably had a good salary at Wanganui. I don’t know what her father did, but … yeah.

Question: How old was she when she took over as principal?

Jo: She would be fifty, fifty-one at Iona. Yes, I was fascinated about that myself, ‘cause I thought ‘well, she finished at Wanganui; she probably needed a new lease of life’, or something you know – a new challenge. Yes, yes.

Michael: Jo, of real interest to me ‘cause we’ve got some other building projects on at the moment – did Smith and Smith come within budget? [Laughter]

Jo: I’d have to look that up. [Chuckle]

Michael: Can we quote history to the current ..?

Jo: Yes. [Chuckle]

Question: Did the £10,000 come out of the Church funds?

Jo:  I don’t particularly understand all this, but people donated money; there were subscriptions; money was raised; [?] were raised . I think … like can you not tell me Railene? I think it was largely individual subscriptions rather than from Church funds.

Comment: In Hawke’s Bay a lot of people gave.

Jo:  Yes. Yes, and you know, Mr Munro in Auckland – he said, you know, “We’ve got to help as well here”. And the Auckland Presbytery – he was quite you know, passionate about getting their support financially, yes.

Question: How long did they have boys at the school? You said there were some boys amongst the first ones?

Jo:  Sorry – no, no. Sorry, day girls. Borders and day girls.

Question:   Were any old girls who … really significant achievements that you can think of, off the top of your head, sort of through the years?

Jo:  You’ve got a few sitting next to you here. [Chuckles] I don’t want to take that flippantly; that’d be really hard to answer that, you know, in a moment. Sandra Edge maybe … the netballer; there’s a long list – it would be wrong to do it off the top of my head.

Question: So originally the idea was to skill girls for working in the home or whatever, but a lot of them would have gone on to good educational qualifications?

Jo: Absolutely.

Question: So … university degrees?

Jo: Oh, absolutely. You know, as life changed, and as the world changed; and as girls got more and more into that stuff, you know, the school has changed as well, and I don’t think now we could say that they’re training women to be housewifes; I don’t think we can say that now. But they, you know, are learning to be strong; nice; [chuckle] helpful; competent, resourceful people.

Michael: So how did the roll progress from sixty-two when it originally opened, through the years, to whatever level it is now?

Jo: Yep – again, during the next couple of years it went up to … let me get this right … something like eighty, ninety, and another wing was added, a science block was added, and some cubicles were put over the top of it. I believe you just get up, you know, the figures accurately, to be accurate; but it did progress. When I was there in 1960s the school roll was a hundred and twenty full time borders; now the school roll is two hundred and fifty – help me Morag – half and half borders?

Morag: No – one hundred day girls, and that’s the maximum.

Jo: One hundred day girls maximum, and the rest are borders. Thank you.

Question: Was there any boys’ school that would’ve sort of teamed up with the Iona girls? And were they encouraged to have social life as Presbyterians?

Jo: Not until much later when Lindisfarne was … in the 19 … what, 1950’s?

Comment: ‘53.

Jo: Be a bit hard I think, in 19 … I mean I can’t imagine someone coming to school in 1913 from Invercargill. Be a bit hard to sort of … [Chuckle]

Michael: Chinese gooseberries ...

Jo: Oh, the chinese gooseberry – I forgot about that, yeah. Miss Fraser had a sister, Katie, who was a missionary in China, and when she sort of needed a break from Wanganui Girls’ sometime in 1903, she visited Katie in China and came back with chinese gooseberry seeds in her hand. Now, if you look up the Zespri website you’ll read all about this. I think it has perhaps more to do with Wanganui College than it has to do with us, although I have read a reminiscence of one of the early girls at Iona who remembered some of these plants in the grounds up there, so … but she certainly was that sort of person. Thank you – yes, I forgot about the chinese gooseberry. [Chuckle]

Comment: Jo, you should touch on Margaret Blythe as well …

Jo: Margaret Blythe? Why should I do that, Steve?

Steve: Well, she’s a fantastic person.

Jo: Okay – perhaps we can tell them that’s one of our graduates; Margaret Blythe’s cousin is with us tonight. Did you know that?

Steve: No.

Jo: No, well there you are. [Chuckle]

I think I’ve run out; I just am very happy to share that with you. Any old girls – have we got any ideas for the hundred-year celebrations? Please tell someone because the Council is having to plan things for our centennial in 2014. Okay, Michael?

Michael: Excellent.

Jo: Thank you.

Michael: Thank you, Jo, that was most interesting. I love the word munificent; and I’ve often heard about the Presbyterian work ethic …

Jo: Yes.

Michael: and you can really see it here, can’t you?

Jo: One of the interesting things is, when the school got started – you know, the kids actually cooked all their meals. You know, one class a day or something would do it for … might’ve been three or four weeks – I mean they would prepare all the food and cook the meals – as well as lessons. And they had bible study every morning and every night, you know. But that’s Chapter 2.

Michael: So, I’d like you to please join with me in thanking Jo. [Applause]

Jo: Thank you Michael.

Original digital file


Additional information

Landmarks Talk 12/10/2010

Accession number


Do you know something about this record?

Please note we cannot verify the accuracy of any information posted by the community.

Supporters and sponsors

We sincerely thank the following businesses and organisations for their support.