Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 44, September 2000


By Gordon Mathieson

The Circumstances that Led to its Establishment

The secondary education that most of us have come to accept as a birthright has been established nationally for well over 100 years. In our district the first High School was in 1880 at Thames. The next were at Waihi (1901) and then at Paeroa in 1902.

During those pioneering times, many were unable to attend secondary school, due to the difficulties of isolation and travel. Not until 1898 did the railway link Paeroa with Thames and provide the opportunity of travelling there.

Paeroa's first permanent public school - a primary facility only - opened in Wood Street in 1877. The few that did receive any secondary education in those days usually boarded at establishments in Auckland.

During the mid 1890s, Paeroa experienced a mini boom due to the expansion of gold mining at nearby Karangahake, Waikino, Waitekauri and Waihi. This was reflected in a sharp increase in the school roll (from 200 in 1893 to 300 by 1898), giving rise for the first time to the possibility of having a secondary facility at the Wood Street School.

The earliest reference I found regarding this was from a letter published in The Ohinemuri Gazette and Upper Thames Advertiser, local newspaper issue of 26 April, 1899, as reproduced here: -


"At the annual meeting of householders on Monday evening, Mr William Forrest raised the question of a seventh standard being taught in the Paeroa School. He said that in nearly every other public school in the province, a 7th standard was being taught. The Chairman of the outgoing committee - the Rev. W.H. Wilson - stated that a letter from Mr Forrest on the subject had been received at the last meeting of the committee and would be left for the new committee to deal with. Mr J.W. Shaw also defended the outgoing committee and said that had Mr Forrest written to the School Committee instead of the Education Board, the matter might have been attended to before.

Mr Forrest in reply, contended that the committee should not have waited for a letter to be written before taking the matter up. The 7th standard was taught in other schools and should be in Paeroa, to save parents the expense of sending their children to secondary schools in Auckland."

The matter was put to the vote, and amazingly was lost by five votes to four.

During 1901, the question of a high school class was raised again as it was felt that some pupils were being deprived of educational advancement. A more positive result occurred early in the following year, with the announcement that Paeroa School's desire to have a secondary facility was about to become a reality.

A Secondary Department is Established

The Education Board's official gazetting of the soon-to-be high school took place on 2 May, 1902. The Headmaster, Mr Frank Murphy, appointed in July 1901 following the untimely death of the school's second Head, Mr Walter Sullivan, no doubt was delighted at his school's new status as "Paeroa District High School". The first High School teacher appointed was Mr James Dromgool, B.Sc., and the date that Paeroa's first Secondary class commenced was 7 July, 1902.

Despite such a beginning, Mr Dromgool must have been horrified to find that his High School class of 20 was to share a room with a Standard 3 and 4 class. His letter outlining his concerns to the school's Headmaster is reproduced here:-

"Friday, July 18, 1902


I beg to forward you a statement of such requirements of the high school as I consider it to be of an urgent nature - the first is school accommodation. We are now situated in the Standard 3 and 4 room which is none too large to seat with comfort its own pupils. With an additional 20 high school pupils, there is barely room to move about in front of the class and no room whatever for an additional blackboard. Apart from the inconvenience caused by the congested state of the room which makes it impossible to move about among the pupils to overlook their work, the fact that oral lessons are being given continuously either to Standard 3 or to Standard 4 is a source of further discomfort. For the same reason it would be impossible to introduce practical lessons in science even if space permitted.

I must therefore ask you to present to the committee in as strong a light as possible the necessity for an additional room for the high school.

Yours faithfully,

James C. Dromgool, B.Sc.,

High School Master".

This situation was to continue for nine months when the completion in May 1903 of a separate junior's block, which still stands, allowed a redistribution of other classes within the main block. By the end of 1903 the high school roll had reached 42 pupils.

The earliest list of names of pupils available were for the attendance prizes for the 1905 school year - the secondary recipients being:-

Eric Corkill
Robert Munro
William McWatters
Charles Bray
Wilfred Casley
Roy Ellis
Reginald Medhurst
Edwin Edwards (later to become Mayor of Paeroa)
Parry Edwards
Gerald Shaw
Olive Sanderson
Georgia Pitkethley
Elsie Thorp

From the annual report of the Paeroa District High School Committee - 22 April 1906, the staffing situation of the High School is noted: ". . . at an early date, we had the misfortune to lose the services of Mr Dromgool under whose charge the High School class had been since the time of its inception. It was a considerable time before the vacancy was filled by Mr Brown and then only intermittently owing to the severe illness of that gentleman, until the appointment of Mr Meredith who has acted as relieving teacher since, backed up by Mr Gatland who was appointed extra assistant to the High School."

On 19 February 1906, Ronald Algie was appointed to practice teaching under the supervision of the headmaster. In his teaching of reading, spelling, writing and drawing to Standards 2, 3 and 4 pupils, he showed considerable ability and on 1 July he was appointed Pupil Teacher (ie where one starts on a four-year course of training to be a teacher), but about six weeks later the Board authorised his temporary employment as assistant master in the High School. He was, at the time, 18 years old. He later became a professor, a Member of Parliament and a Cabinet Minister. (See Journal No. 35, page 32.)

It must be noted that some of the pupils were travelling daily to Paeroa by train from Te Aroha where their high school was not built until 1908. Their withdrawal caused the roll to drop below 30 until local additions caused a rise during 1909 - 1910.

Fire and the Reconstruction

A major setback occurred with an early morning blaze which destroyed most of the school on 10 August, 1910. The exceptions were the 1903 Juniors' block and the classroom nearest Wood Street (built in 1896). The rest of the school was then accommodated in the adjacent Drill Hall. The inquiry following revealed a defective chimney to have been at fault.

It was announced in October 1910 that a replacement was to be of brick and from a list of tenders, John Davis who quoted £1598 was successful. Construction commenced in early 1911 and the new school opened on 23 August of that year.

Despite this disruption, attendance remained good and certificates for 1910 included:-

Ethel Casley
Edith Scott
Eunice Vincent
Muriel Casley
Mary Dean
Dorothy Lyes
Muriel King
Una Chamberlain
Gladys Adlam
Ernest Morgan
Alan Bray
Tom Crosbie

The High School roll reached 50 in 1911.

The High School's fortunes Wax and Wane

The question of a totally separate High School for the wider district was raised by the committee and presented to the Auckland Education Board with the following points in a letter dated 22 October, 1913:-

"1.Much better work can be done in a properly equipped high school with a well-selected staff than can be done in three separate District High Schools.

2.District High Schools work under difficulties and are cramped for room. No science rooms are provided and the syllabus is too extensive. One assistant is often required to teach several subjects.

3.In a properly established High School suitable rooms can be provided to teach different subjects.

4.Only a smattering of knowledge can be obtained from a District High School as a teacher has too many subjects to handle to be expert in any one course.

5.Paeroa is the natural centre for such a school and will be much more so in the near future, with large areas of land being opened for close settlement on the Hauraki Plains.

6.Presently approximately 100 pupils are available for such a school - namely Waihi 45; Paeroa 35; Te Aroha 9; Hikutaia 6; Waihou 5."

The letter was subsequently presented to the Minister of Education, and the following reply came back through the Assistant Inspector of Schools:-

"December 10, 1913

Dear Sir

I have the honour by direction of the Minister of Education to acknowledge receipt of your letter of October 22 last, forwarded for consideration by Mr Hugh Poland, MP, urging the establishment of an independent High School at Paeroa to serve the purpose of the various District High Schools in the area, and in reply to inform you that in view of the existence of a fully equipped High School at Thames which should be sufficient for a number of years to come, any action of the kind contemplated must be regarded as premature.

For your further information, may I point out that in the terms of Section 94 and 101 of the Education Act, any step that could at any time be taken would have to be at the insistence of the Education Board, on whose application or request alone would the Minister be empowered to act."

The above reply no doubt caused a great disappointment to those who were keen to see a High School at Paeroa. Staff turnover was high and the roll began to decline again and it lost its entitlement to a second assistant again - the previous time being in 1909. This was in May 1914.

The outbreak of World War I brought no relief to the staffing situation - primary or secondary, with the still declining roll down to 25 in 1918. Between 1915 - 1918 at least ten relieving teachers passed through. This procession of relievers was broken by the appointment of Miss Dorothy F Tregenna, who intended to be permanent. She loathed corporal punishment or the silly writing of "lines" - conduct points on the reports to parents ensured the highest standard of discipline. She gave the High School a motto of its own, the Latin phrase, LABOR OMNIA VINCIT ("Work conquers all"). This motto endured until 1957. She also instituted the first High School uniform and designed the school's badge (made of silver by Paeroa jeweller, Mr Harris), and introduced prefects. The first prefects appointed in 1919 were Jessie Marshall (Senior Prefect) and Florence Halligan (Junior Prefect). There was regret when she left at the end of 1919 to marry Mr Clive Swears.

Large numbers of Paeroa pupils were attending Thames High School by train and it was not until 1920 that any inroads were made into solving this problem.

The Roaring Twenties

Plans to extend the main school building by three rooms were made in early 1921. A lesson in inflation is apparent here when it is remembered that just ten years earlier, the whole four-room building cost £1598. The three-room extension was £4400.

Much of the credit for re-establishing the importance of Paeroa High School must go to the Headmaster of the era, Mr G H Taylor (1920 - 1931) and to the appointment of several outstanding teachers, Mr Frank Wilks, Miss Winnie Sutton, Mr Edgar Preston and Miss Hazel Taylor. A rapid rise in the High School roll reflects this, eg. 1921 - 32; 1925 - 44; 1928 - 63; 1929 - 73.

The 1929 roll number entitled the High School to a third teacher - Mr Fred Cassidy being appointed.

The Depression and Disruption again

In spite of the Great Depression starting in 1930, the High School roll continued to rise to an all-time high of 85 in 1932, but beneath this, the primary roll's larger rise was causing overcrowding problems that would affect the whole school within a few years. During the first two months of 1933, all three High School teachers left and one was not replaced as the Depression hit hard. The question of solving the overcrowding problem was asked in 1935.

The district's new local Member of Parliament, Mr James Thorn, made representations to the Minister of Education, Mr Peter Fraser, for some action on the above. On 5 March, 1936, three officials from the Auckland Education Board (Messrs T Wells, D Dunlop and A B Miller) visited Paeroa to discuss ways of solving the overcrowding. Mr Fraser visited Paeroa himself exactly one year later - 5 March, 1937 - the official party consisting of Mr and Mrs Fraser, Mr N T Lambourne (Director of Education), and Mr D W Dunlop (Secretary of the Auckland Education Board). They were met at the Paeroa Borough Council Chambers by Mr William Marshall (Mayor) and Councillors Edwin Edwards, R B Dunlop, Howard Hare and William Ward, plus Canon Weadon (Paeroa District High School Committee Chairman), John Bartlett (Secretary), James Thorn (Member of Parliament) and Joe Walmsley (Paeroa District High School Committee member). From there, the group went to the school, met the Headmaster, Mr Day, and then proceeded to inspect five potential sites for a future High School facility.

The Education Board made its decision to choose a site on Te Aroha Road in August 1937 but there was a delay in obtaining the title to the land. By now the overcrowding was at crisis point. The 22 July, 1938 Hauraki Plains Gazette had the following:-


Relief from the overcrowding at Paeroa District High School has been obtained through the use of the Centenary Hall which is now accommodating 69 senior pupils. The congestion at the school has been the cause of complaint over two years, culminating in vigorous complaints to the Auckland Education Board by the Paeroa District High School Committee."

A Separate Secondary Department achieved

During March 1940 the Auckland Education Board received the go-ahead to advertise for the tenders for the construction of a new five -classroom building as the new Secondary Department of Paeroa District High School. Lee Brothers, Builders were successful in quoting £9000 for the new school, consisting of:-

Two staff rooms

Children's cloak room

Science Laboratory, with attached prep room (included would be five island benches with sinks, gas from cylinders and running water)

A Commercial Crafts/Art Room


Three general classrooms

and two shelter sheds plus a large concreted assembly area.

This was to be very generously provided facility indeed, when it is considered what had passed earlier. After two years (since June 1938) languishing in the Centenary Hall, with just a curtain for division, the new school must have seemed like paradise. Construction continued through the middle of the year, until its completion in early September. It was ready for occupation on Monday, 23 September, 1940. Paeroa was most fortunate at this time as World War II was intensifying, resulting in a re-allocation of funds towards the War.

Official Opening of the Secondary Block

The official opening ceremony of the new High School building took place on Wednesday, November 20, 1940 - the official party consisting of:

The Hon. Mr H.G.R. Mason (Minister of Education)

Mr James Thorn (Member of Parliament)

Mr A. Burns (Member of the Auckland Education Board)

Mr David Dunlop (Secretary of the Auckland Education Board)

Mr William Marshall (Mayor of Paeroa)

Mr John Bartlett (Paeroa District High School Committee Chairman)

Mr Arthur Day (Headmaster).

The proceedings were opened by Mr Bartlett who introduced the visitors and announced the order of speakers. Mr Burns spoke first, congratulating the Committee on the fine appearance of the new building. The second speaker was Mr Marshall who stated that, as Mayor, he was pleased that the new building was completed and in use - a facility that the whole district could be proud of after so many years of inadequate accommodation. Mr Thorn followed, then finally Mr Mason officially declared the new school building open.

The Headmaster, Mr Day, then asked the assembled public to show their appreciation to Mr Mason and called for three cheers. Following the opening, a buffet was served in the science laboratory, to which all were invited.

With the new school in use, the roll showed a steady increase, reaching 90 in early 1942. A planned addition to the already spacious building was considered about this time. Mr Mason, the Minister of Education who officially opened the school, revisit Paeroa on 28 July, 1942 and agreed upon an expansion of two more rooms to meet the projected future roll increases. Lee Brothers again won the tender to add two classrooms and two storerooms to the existing building in 1944. These were completed in November 1944 and the Manual Training School in Miller Avenue was moved to Te Aroha Road also, during December 1944, consolidating the buildings onto the one site. (See article "The Paeroa Manual Training School, Parts 1 and 2 in Journals 40 and 41.)

Consolidation and the end of the District High era

Despite being located separately from the Wood Street School, the High School still came under the control of that school's Headmaster. The roll passed 100 in early 1945 and there were now five staff members. After the War, in order that those ex-pupils who had lost their lives were not forgotten, a ceremony of tree planting in their memory was undertaken by Rotary Club members during August 1946. The Hauraki Plains Gazette of Friday 20 September, 1946 carried the following article:-


The trees planted at Paeroa High School last month in memory of those ex-pupils who laid down their lives during the Second World War, were dedicated in a ceremony performed by Archdeacon W.G.H. Weadon, at the school yesterday.

Addressing those present, Mr C.C. Webb (Committee Chairman), said that the meeting was to honour those former pupils of Paeroa District High School who had given their lives on active service in World War II. The ultimate object was that a tree should be planted for every pupil of the school who had given his or her life.

His Worship the Mayor of Paeroa - Mr Edwin Edwards - said that he was proud to be able to say that men and women of Paeroa District High School were amongst those who had answered the call to aid Britain so readily and that they were amongst those who fought to save their country and to free the world. The grove should be a living memorial of those pupils to whom honour is being paid. It was the duty of the Headmasters of the school to keep alive the significance of the trees.

The Headmaster, Mr Ruscoe, in his address stated that he was proud of the pupils who had served in the War and that the school would always remember those for whom the trees were planted. Throughout the Service, a Guard of Honour of High School cadets stood with arms reversed."

World War II Honoured

Commemorated in Grove of Trees September 1946

Bradley, Hugh


Brocket, Jock


Capill, Victor James

25. 5.41


Carrick, Lennard Thaxter

15. 7.42


Campbell, James Henry TeRangi


Cheale, James William

17. 8.44


Cridge, Alfred

3. 3.43


Fitzgerald, R


Fulton, William


Hirawani, Charles


Innis, Marie


Irwin, L


Jaspers, Edward


Knap, Ron


Lamb, Robert

28. 4.43


Lanfear, Henry Charles


Lanfear, Wilfred John


McNeil, Mervyn


Mitchell, Gordon


Parker, Wilfred G (Rev'd.)



Parry, Joseph Stewart

29. 9.41


Rush, John Howard

28. 4.43


Sanderson, Dougal


Talboys, Stewart


Taylor, Mervyn J


The curriculum was widened in the late 1940s, providing for two more staff and the appearance of "Form 6" for a fourth year of secondary education was in 1950, as the roll reached 130.

Also, in 1950, the first double-prefabricated building was moved onto the site of the present Gymnasium to accommodate Form 1 and 2 pupils. It must be mentioned here that during the years 1940 - 1956, Paeroa District High School Secondary Department was a Form 1 - 5 school (Form 6 included from 1950). The 1950s saw a doubling of the roll, eg:-

1950 F3 - 62; F4 - 38; F5 - 32; F6 - 3 Total 135

1955 F3 - 91; F4 - 64; F5 - 33; F6 - 5 Total 193

1957 F3 - 98; F4 - 74; F5 - 60; F6 - 14; Total 246

A number of Secondary Departments were in the process of changing to full Secondary status at this time, viz. Waihi College 1954, Te Aroha College 1957 and Hauraki Plains College (formerly Ngatea District High School) 1963. The Education Board approved the establishment of Paeroa College in a memorandum dates 8 July 1957, to take effect from 1958, received from Mr E C Morgan, the South Auckland Education Board local representative.

To accommodate the ever increasing roll, the Form 1 and 2 pupils were returned to the Wood Street School and to the new primary school, Miller Avenue School.

To cap off the end of an era, Paeroa District High School won the Coulter Cup for rugby supremacy in the Thames Valley in 1957. (This cup was given by Mr Robert Coulter of Te Aroha in 1938 for Secondary Schools' Rugby.) Paeroa won it on only one other occasion - 1952, during the District High School era.It had been fifty five and a half years since the first High School facility appeared - now as 1957 ended, a new era was about to begin.


This is the title accorded the annual school magazine. First published in 1949 and originally printed by the Hauraki Plains Gazette, "The Ohinemuri" has endured to the present as the magazine of Paeroa College.



1902 - 05


John BROWN (Rel.)



Edward W SHANAHAN (Rel.)







1906 - 11


Ronald M ALGIE

1906 - 08


Miss Norah I GIBBONS

1909 - 10


Miss Margaret CRAIG

1911 - 13


Miss Ethel TOOMAN

1911 - 12


Miss Alice E MINCHIN

1912 - 13


Miss Olive M CLARK

1913 - 15


Frederick S HUDSON

1913 - 14



1914 - 15



1915 - 16}


(absent for W.W. 1 Service)

1921 - 24}


John Aldous CLINCH

1916 - 17


Miss Dorothy F TREGENNA

1918 - 19








John Julian CORNES



Miss Winnie SUTTON

1921 - 24





Miss Hazel E TAYLOR

1925 - 29


Frederick L CASS1DY

1929 - 33


Miss Madeline LEITCH

1930 - 33


Edward A HART (Rel.)



James William Alexander BUCHAN



Miss Stella Emily BAIRD

1933 - 42


Lincoln J SMITH

1934 – 35





1936 - 38


John Jorgens JENSEN

1938 - 42}


(absent for W.W. II Service)

1946 - 64}


Miss Margaret M GALLAGHER




1942 - 47



1942 - 44








Reginald Hugh GREENSLADE

1945 – 49


Mrs Gwenyth Audrey FULTON

1947 - 55


Waller Holland FLEMING

1948 - 56


Arthur Ellis KINSELLA

1949 - 54





William Watt RITCHIE

1949 - 74


Humphrey Rex HEWARD

1949 - 57



1950 - 61











Stanley K NIELD



Mrs C Shelagh PEACOCKE

1955 - 61


Maurice Gough GEE

1955 - 56



1955 - 58








R Graham REID

1956 - 60



1956 - 63



1957 - 73





Miss Phyllis M SHEARER

1957 - 60






1877 - 84




1885 - 1901

5. 6.01



1901 - 12



David Walter DUNLOP

1912- 16

6. 3.42


Robert James HAMILTON




George Harry TAYLOR




Arthur Edward DAY

1932 - 44



George Martin RUSCOE

1945 - 48

10. 4.76


George Henry GUBBINS

1949 - 57



(See articles "Early Headmasters of Paeroa School 1875 - 1912", Journal 33 - 1989, pages 6 - 8 [see Journal 33: Early Headmasters Paeroa School (1875-1912) - E] and "Heads of Paeroa District High School 1912 - 57", Journal 34 - 1990, pages 20 - 23 [see Journal 34: Headmasters of Paeroa District High School 1912-1957 - E], also Journal 40, page 8 "Obituary of Miss Stella Baird" [Journal 40: Stella Emily Baird - E].)

Paeroa District High School 1921


The Secondary Department occupied the room between the two doorways. At the extreme left, there shows the corner of a single classroom - this was erected in 1917 for use as a Science Room. Shortly after this photograph was taken, extensive alterations and additions to the main school building took place.

Paeroa District High School 1902 - 1957
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 44, September 2000
Paeroa District High School 1921
Paeroa District High School Secondary Department


Built by Lee Bros. Builders, this 5-classroom building was the first on the site. It was extended by two more rooms in 1944 to become the present "B" Block at Paeroa College. The lorry at left has the words 'N H Alexander - Plumbers' along the side. The tile roof was replaced with iron in 1983 and the window frames with aluminium at the same time.

Paeroa District High School 1902 - 1957
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 44, September 2000
Paeroa District High School Secondary Department