Bishops School Nelson


Bishop's School had its beginnings with Bishop Augustus Selwyn. As the Anglican Bishop of New Zealand, he planned to establish church schools in every main town. Christ Church School opened on this site in 1844 and closed in 1854. It reopened as the Bishop's School in 1860 under Bishop Edmund Hobhouse. Largely rebuilt in 1881, the school closed in 1895. Restored by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in 1975/76, it operates now as an educational museum.

Bishops's School, Nelson, [ca 1915]. Nelson Provincial Museum. FN Jones Collection
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"While on the subject of schools, we must not omit to mention, that it is in contemplation to erect a freeschool in connexion with the church. The plan of a spacious brick building, one hundred feet long, was submitted to the Bishop on his recent visit here."1

Bishop Selwyn's intention to have a church school in Nelson took shape when building plans were submitted to him in January 1844. A 40 foot by 20 foot brick building, was completed on this site later that year. The plans had been for a larger school which was never completed. Building costs of £248 were met by subscription and a church grant. Known as Christ Church School, its initial roll of 60 boys and girls had risen to 100 by 1848. The headmaster, Rev HF Butt, was responsible for education in the Nelson Diocese. Growing popularity of the secular Nelson School Society schools and a lack of funding saw the school close in 1854.


The Anglican church began another Nelson school venture in 1860. Bishop Edmund Hobhouse was providing education for children at his establishment in The Wood. The teacher, TA Bowden, suggested using the former schoolroom to solve overcrowding problems. After repairs, it reopened in September 1860 as the Bishop's School. A wooden room was added at the front in 1863. The schoolroom was effectively rebuilt in 1881, with a wing across its street frontage. The new building was of timber, although original bricks were used in the porch and west wall. The interior features elegant arched roof beams. Bishop's School closed in December 1895, but the building had many subsequent uses. For a time it housed the Diocesan Library and then a private school and kindergarten. Later it was used for Sunday school classes and scout and guide meetings. In 1923 a Sunday school building was moved from Shelbourne Street and joined to the eastern wall. The Marsden House property was sold to to the Day family, Funeral Directors, in 1973.

Bishops's School interior.  Nelson City Council
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The educational system planned by Bishop Selwyn had two branches; elementary and grammar. Christ Church School began with two branches, but the grammar school was in abeyance by 1848 through lack of a teacher. Open to children from all denominations, its curriculum included the principles of the Christian religion as taught by the Church of England.

Bishop's School was for boys and had the aim of imparting a sound English and commercial education. Latin, Greek and French were optional, and drawing lessons were available as an extra subject. The Drawing Master was Edwin Harris, whose painting features on this panel. Bishop's School flourished under Bishop Suter, with boarding facilities at the home of long-time headmaster, JH Harkness. The fees charged meant that pupils were from better-off families in the community. The only labourer's son to attend was on a choir scholarship. Bishop Suter's lessening involvement with the school through illness was matched by a declining roll, and it closed in 1895.


The building is owned by the Day family, who also own Mardsen House next door, but it is administered and maintained by Heritage New Zealand, which undertook extensive restoration work in 1975/76. The front wing and other additions were removed, and a window was relocated to the south wall. The Trust registered Bishop's School as a Category II historic place in 1982. Today Bishop's School provides a Victorian classroom experience for children through the Museum Education Service of Tasman Bays Heritage Trust.

This information was written for a Nelson City Council Heritage Panel, 2008

updated May 2021


Sources used in this story

  1. Bishops School (1844, January 24), Nelson Examiner

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Further sources - Bishops School Nelson


  • Barclay, A. (2008) Snippets of history. Nelson, N.Z.: Marsden House [held Nelson Public Libraries]
  • Bishop's School, Nelson (n.d.) New Zealand Historic Places Trust booklet.
  • Lundy, D. J. (1963). Development of the Nelson Provincial school system 1842-1878. Unpublished masters thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
  • Nelson Education Board. (1956) Historical Booklet 1856-1956. Nelson, New Zealand: Nelson Education Board, p.3.
  • Street, I.E. (1932) A history of education in the Nelson Province, 1842-1877. Thesis. Christchurch, New Zealand: Canterbury University College. 



Held at Nelson Provincial Museum:

  • Bishop's School. (1860-1894). Admission roll. qMS BIS
  • Bishop's School. (1855-1911). Collection. AG 373 

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