Topic: School Days in Hamilton

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The Development of Schooling in Hamilton

The earliest European school in Hamilton was set up for the benefit of the militia, but was discontinued by the government in 1867. After the disestablishment of the militia school, two private educational academies were opened and both ran as private businesses on the East side of the Waikato River. “Education did not attract the same level of interest as hotels, flourmills bank buildings or township roads. However, there was no doubt that the leading citizens desired the establishment of educational facilities” (Gibbons, 1977, p. 80).

The first public school to be set up in Hamilton (including a school committee) was Hamilton West Primary School in 1869. Functioning classes began at Hamilton West Primary School in 1870. Meanwhile, in Hamilton East  a very basic school was set up with “six maps, one desk, and a frame for the blackboard” (Gibbons, 1977, p.80).

Hamilton West School, 1907

By the late 1870s the two schools moved premises to accommodate the growth in Hamilton’s population. The move also meant playgrounds and gardens could be included within the school grounds. In 1883, Hamilton East Primary School added a secondary school department and Hamilton’s first District High School was established. However, due to the lack of pupils Hamilton District High School closed its doors in 1888. “Support for the school had been largely rhetorical. Those residents who believed in secondary education sent their children to schools in Auckland or elsewhere. The rest were very satisfied with the opportunities for elementary schooling” (Gibbons, 1977, p.81-82).

As the population in Hamilton continued to grow so too did the need for more schools. Frankton Primary School was opened in 1911, along with four more state primary schools, one new church primary school, and the reestablishment of a private primary school opened soon thereafter. “Householders in the Whitiora area were seeking a school as early as 1914. It was clear that people of the north-western area could not be served by Hamilton West which was some distance from many northern homes and which was already jam-packed full of children... Likewise Hamilton East school was too far for infants to travel from Claudelands...” (Gibbons, 1977, p.163). As a result, Fairfield Primary School was opened in 1919, Hillcrest Primary in 1923, Melville Primary (originally established as a side school of Hamilton West Primary School) in 1924, and Forrest Lake Primary School in 1926.

Fairfield Primary School, 1921

Te Rapa Primary School

Hillcrest Primary School - Opening of the new swimming baths, 1926 

In 1910 Hamilton High School opened for classes (on the current site of Hamilton Girls High School), and during the growth period of the 1920s the Hamilton Technical College (Anglesea, Tristram and Collingwood Streets vicinity) opened for students in 1924.

Hamilton High School, c.1929

Hamilton High School, c.1920s-1930s

Hamilton High School remained a small, exclusive academic institute, Principal Mr E. Wilson wanted the school to focus on “bookish education without having to add vocational classes to fulfil local demands” (Gibbons, 1977, p.164). The Technical College fulfilled the vocational needs of Hamilton students, with classes including needlework, cooking, domestic economy, woodwork, bookkeeping, and basic engineering. “In many ways Hamilton residents were much more enthusiastic about the technical college than the ordinary (for want of a better word) high school. Most adult Hamiltonians up to the 1920s had received little or no secondary education.... Though many professed to believe in the virtues of education, they usually preferred practical instruction for quite specific skills and careers” (Gibbons, 1977, p.164).

Hamilton Technical College


Several people have spoken about their school days in Hamilton as part of Hamilton City Libraries Oral History Programme. Below are links to some sound recordings where residents talk about their memories of school:

OH0031 Trevor Terry - Whitiora School and Hamilton High School

OH0306 Isobel Kerr - Hillcrest School

OH0297 Teresa O'Reilly - Sacred Heart Girls' College

OH0287 Warwick Johnson - Hillcrest School

Educational Institutes in Hamilton

State Primary Schools - Year First Used - Year Closed
Aberdeen - 1976
Bankwood - 1966
Berkley Normal - 1971
Deanwell - 1973
Fairfield Intermediate - 1963
Fairfield Primary - 1919
Fifth Avenue - 1956
Forest Lake - 1926
Frankton - 1911
Glenview - 1964
Hamilton East - 1872 (1877)
Hamilton West c.1870 (1943)
Hillcrest (Normal) - 1923
Hukanui - 1971
Insoll Avenue - 1962
Knighton (Normal) - 1957
Maeroa Intermediate - 1954
Melville Intermediate - 1964
Melville Primary - 1924
Nawton - 1960
Peachgrove (Normal) Intermediate - 1957
Pukete - 1970
Rhodes Street - 1959
Richmond Park - 1959 - recently closed
Silverdale Road (Normal) - 1964
Te Rapa - 1905
Vardon - 1956
Whitiora - 1919
Woodstock - 1954
(Where the school has been established on one or more sites, the date of the establishment of the present site of the school is in italics and brackets).

State Secondary Schools - Year First Used - Year Closed
Fairfield College - 1957
Fraser High School - 1968 (1970)
Hamilton Boys’ High School - 1955
Hamilton District High School - 1883 - 1888
Hamilton Girls’ High School - 1955
Hamilton High School - 1910 - 1954 (became Hamilton Girls' High School and Hamilton Boys' High School in 1955)
Hamilton Technical College - 1924 - 1968 (became Fraser High School in 1968)
Hamilton West District High School - 1903 - 1910
Hillcrest High School - 1972
Melville High School - 1965
Waikato High School (An earlier name for Hamilton High School)
(Where the school has been established on one or more sites, the date of the establishment of the present site of the school is in italics and brackets).

Private Schools - Year First Used - Year Closed
Marist Brothers - 1922
Sacred Heart - 1946
St Columba’s. Frankton - 1925
St John’s College - 1961 (1962)
St Joseph’s, Fairfield - 1950
St Mary’s, Hamilton East - 1884
St Peter Chanel, Te Rapa - 1955
St Pius X, Melville - 1956
Church College of New Zealand - 1958 - recently closed
St Paul’s Collegiate - 1959
Southwell - 1911 (1920)
Waikato Diocesan School for Girls - 1928 (1930)

Tertiary Institutions - Year First Used - Year Closed
Hamilton Teacher’s College - 1960 (1964)
Waikato Branch of the University College of Auckland -1960 - 1964
University of Waikato - 1965
Waikato Technical Institute - 1968

(Table from Gibbons, 1977, p.345-346)


Gibbons, P. (1977). Astride the River: a history of Hamilton. Christchurch: Whitcoulls for the Hamilton City Council.

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School Days in Hamilton by Rachel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License