Education in Marlborough


Marlborough's early schools faced a tough beginning. The first school was established by Nelson settlers but, after separation in 1859, Marlborough's education system suffered from a lack of money. Teachers were poorly paid (about £100/year) and few possessed certificates of training. School attendance could be irregular when pupils were needed at home or on the farm.1

Marlborough High School with pupils, 1903.Marlborough High School with pupils, 1903. Marlborough Historical Society – Marlborough Museum Archives Click to enlarge

Blenheim's first teacher, James White, initially appointed by the Nelson Education Council,  arrived in 1859. But his strong views that religion should also be taught at schools, did not agree with the new education system's sectarian views2 and he was asked to resign in 1861.3

It was not until July 1860, after Marlborough and Nelson separated, that the province's new superintendent, Mr. W. Adams, sought clarification about Nelson's future involvement in education. The reply from the Nelson Central Board of Education was that Nelson was  "now absolved and had no desire to continue with a subject which separation had freed (it) from."4

A special committee of school management was set up and the new Marlborough Provincial Council granted £300 for a teacher's salary, schoolbooks and to improve the school building.5

Blenheim Borough School 1897Blenheim Borough School 1897. Marlborough Historical Society – Marlborough Museum Archives. Click to enlarge

In 1861, Blenheim's first school was altered so students no longer had to walk through the teacher's living room. Schools were also opened in Picton, Renwick, Wairau Valley (where James White taught for many years) and Spring Creek in 1861.6

Taken in front of Blenheim School.J.A Manson driving one of Pike's traction engines in 1906. Off to a picnic in the Taylor Pass. Taken in front of Blenheim School. Marlborough Historical Society – Marlborough Museum Archives. Click to enlarge

Blenheim's  second schoolhouse, built when the first school became too small, burnt down in 1888.7   A brick ‘Borough' school was opened in 1890 and was to last 47 years.8  

Providing an education became increasingly financially difficult for the Provincial Council and local school committees until the Education Act of 1877  saw the establishment of a national Education Department and a system of free, compulsory education for everybody.9

By the end of 1875, there were 16 schools in the district and the first meeting of the Marlborough Education Board (amalgamated with the Wellington Education Board in 191510) was held in 1876.11  

While something resembling a high school was established in the Blenheim School from 1879, Marlborough did not get a stand-alone high school until 1900.12  The Marlborough High School Act saw the establishment of a co-ed school, built on six acres at the current location of Marlborough Boys' College.13  Dr. J. Innes was the first principal and remained in the position until 1922.14 

Marlborough College pupils pre 1933Marlborough College pupils pre 1933 Marlborough Historical Society – Marlborough Museum Archives. Click to enlarge

The Marlborough High School/Boys College was to have just six principals in its first 100 years.

In his first year, Dr. Innes taught all the students. He was described as being ‘short of stature, unimpressive in appearance....yet in the classroom he dominated his pupils in a way which had to be experienced to be understood.'15  By 1905, there were 110 pupils on the school roll and a staff of five.16

School trains for secondary students from Picton, and later Seddon, were introduced in 1905 to offer educational opportunities for rural folk.17 The Picton train ran until  the opening  of Queen Charlotte College  at the beginning of 1965.18

When there was concern that too many students were not going onto high school, an intermediate department for 11 and 12 year olds was established  as part of the Marlborough High School in 1927.19

Former Blenheim Borough School principal, Mr D. Sturrock opening the new borough school in 1937. Marlborough Historical Society – Marlborough Museum Archives. Click to enlarge

In the 1930s, the Labour Government agreed to finance half the cost of building a replacement for the rundown high school.  The new high school was completed and immediately commandeered in 1942, when it was converted to a military hospital for wartime personnel.20

By 1948, the expanding roll at Marlborough High School was becoming unmanageable. The Bohally Estate was acquired by the Crown in 1953 and Bohally Intermediate opened in February 1956.21   Ron Verity was appointed the first permanent Headmaster of the school, in 1957, and remained in that position until 1969.

After the war years, Blenheim School's roll hit a high of 669 pupils, but the new Redwoodtown, Whitney Street and Mayfield Schools took the strain off the original Borough school.22

By 1958, it was clear an additional secondary school was needed in Blenheim. A referendum was held and it was decided there would be two single sex schools.

Marlborough Girls College opened in February 1963 with a roll of 583 pupils and 23 staff.23 Miss Naomi Rickard was the school's first principal.24

More Marlborough Schools

In 1862, the number of children receiving education in the public schools of the Province was 120, or 5% of the population. The numbers were: Blenheim 47, Picton 32, Upper Spring Creek 7, Renwick 6 and Wairau Valley 18.25

  • The Rev Nicholson  was the prime mover behind the first Renwick School, and in 1861, Mr. W. Moore arrived to teach 16 students with great ‘zeal and efficiency.'
  • A one roomed, white pine school was opened on a prominent site above Tuamarina township in 1871.
  • Two Catholic schools - a boys' school and a girls' school opened in Blenheim in 1872, with the Sisters of Mercy taking charge of teaching from 1896.
  • A library, church and school were opened at Spring Creek  (then known as Marlboroughtown) in 1874.
  • Springlands' first public school was opened in November 1886, as the suburb developed along with the flax industry.
  • Havelock's  first public school was opened in 1862.
  • Whekenui School had a short life - 1951-1962.

Tell us more about your school, and if your school doesn't feature in this story or list, email us and tell us when your school was founded.

2010 (updated 2022)

Sources used in this story

  1. McIntosh, A. D. (1977) Marlborough: a provincial history, Christchurch: Capper Press.[1977] , p.341  
  2. McIntosh, pp.337-339
  3. Hale, A. M. (1937) Jubilee of the Blenheim Borough School, 1859-1937, Blenheim, N.Z.
  4. Hale, A. M.
  5. McIntosh, p.339
  6. ‘Progress of Education', The Marlborough Express Provincial Centennial Supplement (1959), p.40
  7. Hale, A. M.
  8. Finnie, J. [1984] Tales of the Blenheim Borough School, 1859-1984: John Finnie takes an informal look at people, places and events from the history of the Blenheim Borough School's 125 years, Blenheim, N.Z.: The School, p.7
  9. McIntosh, p.342
  10. McIntosh, p.347
  11. Marlborough Express supplement
  12. McIntosh, p.345
  13. The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Nelson, Marlborough & Westland Provincial Districts] Marlborough Provincial District - The Marlborough Land District (published 1906), p 329.
  14. Marlborough Express supplement 
  15. Kerr, L. (Ed.) (c2000) The gold and the blue, 1900-2000: Marlborough High School 1900 to Marlborough Colleges 2000, Blenheim [N.Z.]: The Committee, p.46
  16. The Cyclopedia, p.329
  17. Kerr, pp.74,75
  18. Kerr, p.206
  19. Kerr, p.55
  20. Kerr, p.70
  21. Kerr, p.106
  22. Finnie, p.21
  23. Kerr, p.112
  24. Kerr, p.193
  25. Congdon, E. (1961) A century of education in Havelock. Centennial Committee, p.3

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  • I attended the Blenheim Borough School 1952 - 1960. Do you have you photos or information on the teachers to talk to my grandchildren about. Any friends out there that knew of me please contact.

    Posted by Christine Faye Blake nee Christine Faye Knight, 04/06/2015 4:00pm (8 years ago)

  • Dear Sir/Madam,
    Do you know where I can find out who, or what, the Mills' and Ford's Road, Grovetown, Blenheim, was named after? One of my forebears was Hannah(nee Mills)who married Charles Ford, and they settled in the Blenheim/Nelson area, arriving in New Zealand 1841-42 from Gloucestershire, England.
    I would appreciate any assistance you can give me.
    Anthony Mills

    Posted by Anthony Mills, 25/05/2015 2:35pm (9 years ago)

  • I'm researching the GREIG family of Nelson, in particular Thomas Greig, born in Edinburgh Scotland in 1810 and arrived in Nelson NZ with his family aboard the 'Sir Alan McNabb' August 1855. However any information on any of the GREIG people of the South Island of NZ would be gratefully Paul F Greig in Brisbane Australia via email;

    Posted by Paul Greig, 28/11/2014 1:49pm (9 years ago)

  • Any one have history on ODONNELL.TAYLOR or GREIG Families connected to WAIKAWA 3B in the mid 1800s. Great grand daughter doing research. Regards Yvonne Santos

    Posted by Yvonne Santos, ()

  • Would like to find out where to get school roll info for Clarence School circa 1920's & 30's.
    Ed. We have searched the Archives New Zealand website and contacted Marlborough Museum with no result. Our best suggestion is to contact Kaikoura Museum at

    Posted by Lynda Giles, ()

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Further sources - Education in Marlborough




  School magazines [ held Marlborough District Library]

  • Faces of Rai: school magazine (2004)  [Rai Valley, N.Z.] :[Rai Valley Area School].
  • Marlburian (1969, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2008)  Blenheim, N.Z.: Marlborough Boys College.
  • Queen Charlotte College, school magazine (1997, 1998, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008)  [Picton] :[Queen Charlotte College].
  • Te Rama (the Torch), October 1924: the official organ of the Blenheim School, Marlborough, N.Z. (1924) Blenheim, N.Z. : Blenheim School Committee
  • Te Wai Rau: the magazine of Marlborough Girls' College  (1981, 1990, 1992, 1995) Blenheim N.Z.: Marlborough Girls' College 


  • Tribute: an inspirational journey through 40 years of QCC (2006) [DVD] Picton, N.Z.: All-Psyched-Up Productions & Consultancy Ltd. [Marlborough District Library]

Web Resources