Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 33, September 1989

By Gordon Mathieson


Mr John Ritchie had the distinction of being the first educator in the Ohinemuri District, arriving here with the first gold seekers in 1875.

Mr Ritchie was born on March 25, 1831 in Ireland and was educated at a private school. In 1854 he was married to Miss Margaret Thompson and he gained his Teachers Certificate at Dublin. By 1859 he had become Chief Schoolmaster at Armagh, in which year he emigrated with his wife and family to New Zealand, landing at Auckland from the ship, "Nimrod" in 1860. He taught at the following locations:-

Waiuku 1860 - 1863

Kohanga Mission Station 1863 -1867

Thames (at a private school) 1868 - 1874

John Ritchie arrived at Paeroa in March 1875 and, having acquired a small building in Fraser Street, he opened a private school. His pioneering work did not end there though as, in 1876, he opened a part-time school at Mackaytown, whilst Mrs Ritchie continued teaching at Paeroain her husband's stead.

In 1877, with the passing of the Education Act, Mr Ritchie was given employment by the newly created Department of Education and a public school building was erected in Wood Street, costing one hundred and eightyfour pounds ($368). The single classroom, with attached porch, was opened in August 1877. Mr Ritchie remained the only teacher until 1882 when as assistant was appointed, Miss Anna Horgan, a daughter of Mr and Mrs G B Horgan - Mr Morgan was an early Headmaster of Hikutaia School.

The roll of Paeroa School showed a steady increase, reaching 90 by 1883, and necessitating the construction of a second classroom. In the same year a teacher's house was erected in Junction Road on land purchased from Mr Alfred Thorp.

Mrs Ritchie died on July 16 1884, aged 50 years. Mr Ritchie left Paeroa at the end of 1884, transferring to Rawene School, on the Hokianga Harbour (Northland) where he was Head Teacher from 1885 until 1887. He then returned to Ohinemuri, opening two more schools, Karangahake and Owharoa. The original Mackaytown School which Mr Ritchie had opened in 1876 was destroyed by fire in 1886.

John Ritchie retired in 1891. Their family of seven included:

Martha (Mrs J Shaw) 1858 - 1937

Minnie (Mrs Coleman)

Margaret (Mrs W J Ellis) 1866 - 1946


Tom 1861 - 1938


Frederick 1872 - 1931

Mr Ritchie lived with his daughter, Martha Shaw after his return to this area in 1887 until his death on 21 October 1901, aged 70 years.


Mr Sullivan was born in Liverpool, England in 1854, emigrating to New Zealand and settling initially in Thames in the late 1870's. His first association with Ohinemuri was from 1881 at Waitekauri, later teaching at Owharoa and Mackaytown.

Walter Sullivan became Headmaster of Paeroa School in 1885 and he was married to Miss Julia Bartle, a pupil-teacher, in 1886. Five children resulted from the marriage. The Sullivans resided at the Junction Road school house but some concern was expressed that the house was situated over a mile from the school. Added to that was the concern that the house was situated on low-lying land and floods were frequent in those days before stop banks were built. It was planned to acquire a section near to the school but during the process Mr Sullivan fell ill late in May 1901 with cerebral paralysis and he passed away during the early evening of Wednesday 5 June 1901, in his 47th year.

During Mr Sullivans term at Paeroa School the roll increased to over 300 and two more classrooms were erected, bringing the total to four.


Frank Murphy was born in Auckland but moved to Thames with his family, where his father was a police sergeant. He received his early education at Kauaeranga Boys School, later going to Auckland Teachers Training College.

His first teaching position was in 1886 at Tokatoka School on the Wairoa River, between Dargaville and Ruawai, Northland. This was followed by a spell at Thames and he then became the Head Teacher at Puriri School in 1893, when he was just 25 years of age. In 1895 a transfer took him to Mercury Bay School at Whitianga, as Head Teacher.

Following the untimely death of Paeroa School Headmaster, Walter Sullivan, Mr Murphy was successful in obtaining the Headmastership of that school, taking up his duties in 1901.

In April 1902 Paeroa School was authorised to have a secondary class - Standard 7 - and a name change to "Paeroa District High School" occurred. A separate infants block was completed in 1903 but the 3 earliest portions (1877, 1883 and 1889) of the school were destroyed in a spectacular fire in August 1910 The adjacent drill hall was fitted out for school until a replacement was completed in 1911.

In August 1912 Mr Murphy left the Paeroa District High School for Northcote School, where he was Headmaster until December 1916. His next, and final position, was as Headmaster of Parnell School from February 1917 until his retirement in March 1931, after 45 years in the teaching profession.

When the Paeroa High School Old Boys and Old Girls Association was formed in March 1933, it elected Mr Murphy as its Patron. The Association grew in popularity throughout the thirties but went into recess in 1940.

Mr Murphy passed away in January 1945 after a prolonged illness. He was in this 77th year and was survived by his wife, Mrs Katie Murphy.

[see also Journal 34: Headmasters of Paeroa District High School 1912-1957 - E]

[see also Journal 42: Updates on Previous Articles - E]