Archerfield

 

 

 

 

Stella's education was delivered first by Maori Hill School

until Standard Six then by Archerfield School for girls.

Archerfield was one of several schools delivering secondary

education to girls in Dunedin. These included Otago Girls

High School (thought to be the oldest state secondary

school for girls in the southern hemisphere), Girton College,

and Columba College. These schools were closely linked.

Girton, Archerfield and Columba had sister college status.

Only Columba College remains but the links are kept by,

for example, one of the junior school classrooms being

named Archerfield.

 

The following is verbatim (with bracketed comment from

me) from David Murray, Assistant Archivist at Dunedin's

Hocken Library:

Some history from our records: 'Archerfield', in Lees Street,

was the home of Rev Dr Thomas Nisbet, minister of First

Church of Otago, and his wife Sarah. After the death of

Rev. Nisbet, his widow used their home to board pupils

from Girton College [Girton College itself was founded by

Caroline Freeman, the first woman to graduate from the

University of Otago. Interestingly for us, she had

migrated with her family from Halifax, West Yorkshire,

where most of David and Martha's children first landed as

they left Broughty Ferry in the mid 1880s].

 

In 1913, Mrs Nisbet decided to establish a private school at Archerfield. Initially intended to be a Presbyterian Girls School, the establishment of Columba College by the Presbyterian Church meant that Archerfield became a non-denominational school, although emphasis was placed on religious instruction. By September 1914 the School had three pupils, including Mary Truby King. Dr Truby King was a supporter of the school and designed the School's open-air classrooms. The curriculum was reportedly broader than that of the State schools including subjects such as First Aid, Nursing, the History of Art, Current Events and Swimming. The school closed in 1944 but the old building is still there (in private use)[below, 59 Lees Street, courtesy of Google Street Views].

 

 


 

The primary marketing feature in a 1938 advertisement inviting applications to the school is that both classrooms and sleeping balconies are open-air which, to someone whose memories of Dunedin's climate don't feature balminess, may or may not have seemed attractive to prospective students (possibly, to C21st sensibilities, may constitute child abuse). That said, many of Archerfield's alumni went on to outstanding careers on domestic and international stages so demonstrating the school's effectiveness in fulfilling its purpose: to prepare girls to take an efficient and gracious part in home life, professional life, and community life.  

 

Archerfield opened a branch in Queenstown in around 1940. It catered for the daughters of farming families who preferred their girls to board away from the dangers and temptations of a city. The Queenstown branch was named Tutuila. The building was originally Hulbert House, a name that was later reclaimed. Hulbert House is now a boutique hotel with a beguiling description of amenities ("your sleep experience is enhanced by plush bedding and the lightest of duvets covered with beautiful

white damask"; and a worm farm to assist with the provision of fresh and flavoursome food). In 1982, the amenities included a Tutuila restaurant but there is no mention of this on the hotel's 2016 website.

 

Then, suddenly, the school was no more. Staff were being recruited and appointed, and enrolments invited, for the 1943 school year but, in 1945, the "former girls school, Archerfield" was reported to be accommodating Dutch evacuees. Its last principal, Miss Marjorie Black, was reported to be supervising YWCA activities in Burma. [Mr Google reports a Marjorie Black in Perth, Western Australia in the early 1920s where she set up the state's women's netball association and was active in the YWCA; perhaps there were two Marjorie Black's in the YWCA or perhaps it was the same woman with a lifelong commitment to women's achievement.] Mrs Nisbet died at the beginning of 1943, in Brisbane. I don't know whether there is any connection between her death and the school closing. It may be that her remaining family sold the property and its function as an outstanding educational facility for Otago's girls went along with the sale.

 

 

© 2019 by Andrea Shoebridge. All rights reserved.