Appleby School


Mist settles down on the vast field, early in the morning. It surrounds the buildings that are the focus of the site. Concrete steps rise up to classrooms where school bags hang in straight lines. Packed lunches sit ready and waiting for the eager mouths of the pupils. Mum made the usual lunch today, a salad sandwich  -  crunchy lettuce, tomato and carrot (all from the garden) as Mum would say. Only one hour to go until playtime. Playtime and lunchtime are always, whatever century, full of enjoyment. The bell rings and then the sound of children can be heard. Laughter mixed in with shouts, screams and chatter coming from all around the school. It is my last year at Appleby School and I have Mr. Mitchener as my teacher. The mown, green playing fields are where my classmates and I play. Fern, manuka, raupo and flax were once the main plants covering this area.

Appleby School playgroundAppleby School playground. Image supplied by Katherine Richards
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It is easy to understand how hard it must have been for the new settlers to develop this area into a school. They accepted that it was their responsibility to establish and support a school that would educate their children.

Appleby School is very much a focal point of the Appleby community. It started with the commitment and enthusiasm of the hardworking European settlers who first arrived in Nelson on the 1st of February 1842.1 The New Zealand Company, which was formed in London in 1839 and was intended to settle New Zealand and to create a "Britain of the South", only provided funding for colleges and universities. The settlers were required to raise their own funds for primary education.Matthew Campbell and leading citizens founded the Nelson School Society in 1843, and by 1850 the society had set up nine schools, including one in Appleby.3 This first school was the Waimea West Village School in the south of the district. However this school could not accommodate the northern citizens. In addition there were large distances between children's farm homes and the first Waimea West Village School (south division). Also, in 1876, the roads into and out of Appleby were muddy tracks. This made movement around the district difficult. This led the community to agree to establish another school at the northern end of the Appleby district.4  An early settler, Job Russ, gifted the land for the establishment of the school. Where the school is still located today.5 This second school was the Waimea West (north division); opened in 1859 and renamed ‘Appleby School' in 1881.6

Pupils at the new school had to walk to school. Harry Best a former pupil of Appleby School in the 1930's, wrote how everyday he walked three kilometres to school and then three kilometres back home. Occasionally a horse and cart, or even a motorised vehicle would offer him a lift, but that was a rare event.7 Today the school has a car park and a bus service to assist in the transportation of pupils to and from school.

Appleby School playing fieldsAppleby School Playing fields. Image supplied by Katherine Richards
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The Waimea river is today a favourite swimming place for the locals. It provides a refreshing dip in the hot summer months. In the mid 1800's this same river was significant for other reasons. As there were no bridges or reliable fords across this river, transportation between Nelson and Appleby was by boat. Cotterell's landing was at the end of what is now called Cotterell's Road (in the Waimea estuary) and it was here that a wharf allowed boats to load and unload cargo and passengers.8 The Waimea river isolated the settlers and made them become more self reliant. Only in 1868 was the first Waimea river bridge built9, connecting the west with the east. In an interview recorded with Pauline Jary (nee Thomas) she recalls her fears as a young child when crossing the bridge and seeing below the swirling waters of the river between the gaps in the planks.10 In 1949 the new concrete bridge was built11 -  which is still standing today.

Many former Appleby School pupils have fond memories of the school and, in particular, the annual Easter Monday picnic at Rabbit Island. Although this was not a school function, it nevertheless was the highlight of the year for most school children in the district and also for many of their parents.12 This regular social event helped form the locals into a community. The O'Connor's would take the school children on a horse and cart across to Rabbit Island. They usually crossed at low tide but Pauline Jary remembers crossing over to the Island at anytime, "The horses were very strong swimmers, with the cart floating with us sitting on hay bales."13 We travel further on our school trips today. Last year our camp was to Canvastown where we panned for gold, swam and took a day walk. We can go to Rabbit Island at anytime these days, as there is a bridge that connects it to the mainland.

At school we do handwriting every day. I don't enjoy it very much as you have to repeat words so many times. I remember the principal, Mr. McMicken, telling the school at assembly last week how we should enjoy handwriting and thank ourselves we are not having to write on slates. Pupils in the early days of the school would practice handwriting which was considered very important and a hard heavy belt came down on pupils who were not following the ‘immaculate script of the copybooks'.14 Today we use books and pads and would only get told off if we made a mistake.

Today my teacher asked us to look up the word ‘community' in the dictionary and see what it means. It gave two meanings -  people living in one area, or a group with similar interests or origins. My teacher was telling us how important communities are. They bring families together and help each other. Appleby School helped create Appleby's community.

The School committee meetings were an important place for social gatherings. In 1971-1980 former pupil Brian Henry Ford was on the Appleby School committee and commented on how meetings "were good social times as well as for business.15 

Throughout a recession in the 1880's, Appleby landowners were noted for their generosity, sharing resources with their neighbours.16  Appleby School also became a centre for the district's social activities; dances and socials took place at the school and also club meetings, for example, that of the Appleby tennis club. The attendance of many generations of a number of key local families has further contributed to the commitment of the community to the school. N.L Challies, a former pupil recalls his family history with this school. "My grandfather attended this school, as did my father, myself, then my five children and now my grandchildren are privileged to be here."17

Many people say that Appleby School has not changed through the years. The school roll size has not fluctuated significantly. This year (2009) there are 116 pupils and forty years ago the roll was 110 pupils.18 However many things have changed, including the discipline structure. Former pupils recall discipline with the leather strap "administered mainly on us boys in front of the class"19.

Appleby School continues to retain its country atmosphere, where shoes are not worn, and sheep can be heard in the paddocks next door to the class rooms. Appleby School's good name will carry on through the generations, as will the fond memories we will take with us.

This essay was written as part of a Nelson College for Girls history assignment, 2009.

Updated: April 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. Best, H., (2006) Appleby Wellington, N.Z.: First Edition Ltd. p. 23.
  2. Best, pp 18,104
  3. Best, p. 104
  4. Best, p. 106.
  5. Pestel, J. (2009). A school finding its feet Breaking free from Waimea West School. Appleby, N.Z.:Unpublished book notes, p. 2.
  6. Best, p.106.
  7. Best, p. 166.
  8. Best, p. 101.
  9. Best, p. 44.
  10. Best, p. 44.
  11. Best, p. 45.
  12. O'Connor, M., (1959) Appleby School Nelson Centennial History 1859-1959, [Richmond, N.Z. : Appleby School Centennial Committee, 1959], p. 33.
  13. Jary, P. (date not available). My memories of Appleby SchooL Appleby, N.Z.: Unpublished book notes, Appleby Nelson, p. 2.
  14. Best, p.168.
  15. Ford, B. (2009). Notes from Brian Henry Ford re Appleby School. Appleby, N.Z.:Unpublished book notes, p. 2.
  16. Best, p. 34.
  17. Challies, N. (1984). Appleby School re reunion. Speech, Appleby Nelson, p. 4.
  18. O'Connor, p. 24.
  19. Ford, p. 1.

Want to find out more about the Appleby School ? View Further Sources here.

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  • Tony Hale has captured a lot of information about Appleby School, particularly former Head teacher Ken White. That includes videos of Ken White - a fantastic oral/visual history.

    Posted by Chris Shelling, 06/03/2019 4:20pm (5 years ago)

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Further sources - Appleby School





  • Batchelor, B. (date not available). My years at Appleby School. Unpublished book notes, Appleby Nelson
  • Challies, H. (2009). Hugh Challies pupil 1950-1957.  Unpublished book notes, Appleby Nelson
  • Ford, B. (2009). Notes from Brian Henry Ford re Appleby School. Unpublished book notes, Appleby Nelson.
  • Hale, T. (date not available). Extract from Tony's comprehensive account of his life as a boy in Appleby. Unpublished book notes, Appleby Nelson
  • Jary, P. (date not available). My memories of Appleby School. Unpublished book notes, Appleby Nelson. 
  • Pestel, J. (2009). A school finding its feet: Breaking free from Waimea West School. Unpublished book notes, Appleby Nelson.


  • Challies, N. (1984). Appleby School re reunion. Speech, Appleby Nelson.


  • Pestel, J. (Personal communication, July 16, 2009). Author of unpublished book on Appleby School, Appleby Nelson.
  • Richards, K. (Personal communication, July 15, 2009). Former Appleby School pupil 1998-2003, Appleby Nelson.

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