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The Ladies College of Remuera

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

THE LADIES COLLEGE OF REMUERA By Rebecca Crossan 

During the late 19th and early 20th century, a number of small, private schools were established in New Zealand. Most of these schools did not survive for very long, due to financial or other, pressures. One of the more successful schools was the Ladies College of Remuera, established in 1880. This exclusive finishing school for young women survived for over fifty years, through the First World War and depression, until it closed, in 1934. In these early schools, a fundamental ingredient for survival and success was the character and ability, of the schools headmistress. Over its life, the college had two headmistresses, Mrs Catherine Law and Mrs. Moore-Jones. Both women had the efficiency, talent, character and charm, to ensure the success of the college. 

Mrs. Catherine Law was from Glasgow originally, had three children and was widowed in her early twenties. While teaching in Glasgow, Mrs. Law heard of a position in New Zealand, though her sister, who already resided there. Upon hearing this, she and her family moved to New Zealand, where Mrs Law applied for and obtained ht position, headmistress of the Ladies College of Remuera. Under Mrs Law, the school soon prospered and in 1883, she was able to build a large house in Portland Road. The college left their original premises in Brighton Road (now Basset Road) and relocated to the new premises. Eleven years later, in 1894, Mrs. Law resigned from her position, leasing the property to Mrs Sara-Ann Moore-Jones, who became the new headmistress.  

Mrs Moore-Jones was a tall, dignified woman from Malvern, in Worcestershire. She was well educated, having studied at the Ladies College in Cheltenham, the Model Practising School, and the School of Art in South Kensington. In 1884, Mrs. Moore-Jones arrived in New Zealand, with an invalid husband and ten children. She taught at a number of schools in the Auckland area, prior to joining the Ladies College, in 1894. The college soon grew in size and popularity, under the instruction of Mrs Moore-Jones. 

In 1900, the college relocated for a second time to a property located off Remuera Road. The new premises were a magnificent stone house, built on the model of a medieval castle. At the time, this building was known as ‘Cleveland House’ but it is remembered as ‘The Remuera Castle’. The building was surrounded by seven acres of property, which included tennis courts, a large vegetable garden and hothouse, and a paddock for the two cows, horses and ponies in residence. There was a large lawn out the front, used for playtime, outdoor sketching, and performing pieces from Shakespeare (Macdonald, W. April 1987). The subjects offered at the Ladies College do not seem exceptionally different, from what is offered today. The variety of subjects is quite surprising and included English, Mathematics, Science, Bookkeeping, Latin, French, History, Drawing, Painting, Needlework, Woodwork, Elocution, Music and Singing. 

While these subjects do not seem very different, the lessons themselves and the curriculum as a whole, was. Given that young ladies of the time were not expected to be academically clever, the academic subjects such as, science and mathematics, were of less importance. Language, Art and Music were subjects of greater importance. In these areas, Mrs Moore-Jones attempted to obtain the best tuition possible. For instance, one of the art teachers was the well-known Gallipoli painter, Horace Moore-Jones. 

In the area of music, students were given the opportunity to learn a number of instruments and there was a school orchestra, which they could join. Tests and exams, as we know them, did not exist. Students were given the opportunity to sit public exams, but it was not an important aspect of the college and not something Mrs Moore-Jones particularly valued. Education at the college appears to have focused on the development of personal qualities, rather than academic ability. 

Mrs Jones was brought up in mid-Victorian society and in keeping with this, she educated and trained the girls to become, refined young ladies with the ability to walk and stand well, curtsy gracefully, behave with correct social etiquette and decorum, maintain modesty and show respect.