Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 34, September 1990


Netherton School and District marked its first 100 years with a weekend of celebrations attended by over 600 former pupils and residents. The celebrations started with a get-together on Friday evening, 2 March 1990. This was attended by around 450 people.

The official welcome took place on Saturday morning and the school bell was rung by Jubilee Committee member, Mrs Eileen Foster, as the official party took the dais. The Official Party comprised the Jubilee Committee chairman Les Smith and Mrs Smith; chairman of the Board of Trustees David Firth; Hauraki District Mayor Basil Morrison and Mrs Morrison; Maramarua MP Bill Birch and Mrs Birch; District Councillor John Poulter and Mrs Poulter; School Principal Dave McShane and Mrs McShane, and former Principal and guest speaker, Mr C.W. Malcolm and Mrs Malcolm, a former pupil.(Betty Schofield)

Chairman of the Jubilee Committee, Les Smith, welcomed the large gathering, saying that past and present residents of the district could be proud of their achievement in developing the Netherton District. He expressed sincere thanks to the many who had assisted the committee organising the weekend. Mr Smith then called on the gathering to stand in silence as a mark of respect for the late Flo Sarjant who had been a prominent resident of the district and who had passed away a few days earlier. It had been planned to have her cut the Centennial cake.

The chairman of the Netherton School's Board of Trustees, David Firth, said the organisers had received tremendous support. He spoke of the development of the school buildings and grounds and paid tribute to the former school committee.

Maramarua MP Bill Birch, himself a former pupil, congratulated the committee organising the celebrations. "When I attended the school in 1942 I never thought for one moment I would be Member for Parliament and addressing the school centenary celebrations," he said. Mr Birch recalled his experiences in those early days - going to school barefooted, catching the horse and taking the milk to the factory by cart, "and those huge eels that we caught at the factory outlet." He recalled some of the early teachers of the school and made special mention of headmaster Will Malcolm. He said the past 100 years had been exciting years with the development of the district and school, the roads and drainage.

Hauraki District Mayor Basil Morrison extended best wishes to the Jubilee Committee and those attending for a great weekend's celebrations. Mr Morrison spoke of the recent changes in the local government structure for the district. He paid tribute to the former Hauraki Plains County Council in its forward thinking in developing its county, including the Netherton area and to those early settlers who turned the swamp and bush into the rich farming area of the Netherton district.

Former Headmaster Will Malcolm then addressed the gathering. His address is printed below.

With the official speeches over the Netherton school pupils entertained with song, skipping and gymnastics, before they placed a time capsule in the ground at the foot of the flagpole. The capsule will later be pulled from its container to allow a copy of the jubilee magazine, newspaper cuttings and photos of the weekend to be placed in it before it is finally sealed. Two skydivers trailing coloured smoke opened the afternoon proceedings. This was followed by decade photographs. Finally a long day in the hot sun came to a close with the cutting of the magnificent jubilee cake by Evelyn Heappey (Mrs Harvey), the oldest pupil present, and the youngest, Courtney Drent.

Saturday night the celebrations centred on the Paeroa racecourse where over 600 attended a jubilee dance with a continuous supper. Old memories were revived as the gathering socialised until the small hours of Sunday morning.

The thanksgiving service on Sunday was conducted by Ken Firth, followed by a tree planting ceremony. Two native trees were planted by Wally Mudgway and Ken Firth, the two oldest members of the jubilee committee, assisted by two of the youngest pupils, Joshua Firth and Robert Stowe. Then came the farewell "cuppa", and the weekend's celebrations started to wind down.


The history of Netherton goes back to the pre-European Maori who first used the river and named the area Te Kopuru. On 20 November, 1769, Captain James Cook, leaving the "Endeavour" in the Firth of Thames, proceeded up river with pinnace and long boat and landed close to Netherton where he measured one of the huge kahikatea trees that formed the dense forest on the river's banks. This tree "girted 19 feet 8 inches 6 feet above the ground" and measured 89 feet to the first branch, so that he "judged that there was 356 solid feet of timber in this tree, clear of the branches".

It was on the evening of 17 June [corrected as per "Notes" in Journal 35 - E], 1820 that Rev Samuel Marsden passed Netherton to land at Raupa Pa where the Waihou and the Ohinemuri Rivers join. In the 1880s Netherton's first settler, Mr Samuel Chalton arrived and commenced to carve his farm from the bush on the river bank upstream from where the cheese factory later stood. Constituting the first post office to which mail bags were thrown from the passing steamers, he found confusion with the Te Kopuru north of Auckland. Accordingly he changed the name to Netherton, the home from which he had come in England.

When there were nine inhabited houses at Netherton and fifteen children of school age, in March 1889, Messrs William Moore and John Adamson applied for a public school. But even before this, they had erected a building 12 feet by 14 feet where eight children were being taught by a private tutor who received one shilling per head per week and free board.

The Auckland Education Board sent Inspector Mr Fidler to report which he did on 24 May 1889 after he had inspected Karangahake School. He reported that he had spent nearly two hours "bawling (unsuccessfully) to try to make the punt keeper, Mr McKee, hear me and ferry me over. After a disagreeable adventure scrambling in the bush. I thought I had done enough on that Queen's Birthday."

In December 1889 Inspector Mr Goodwin visited Netherton and recommended that a school should be opened in the building mentioned above, the event to take place in May 1890. But a hold up was caused by the Turua School Committee, whose territory surprisingly included Netherton. They declared they had no funds "to make good any portion of the teacher's salary". They also objected to the appointment of a woman teacher though a Miss Lamb was willing to accept.

The 12 foot by 14 foot building having been removed to a site on the Old Paeroa-Netherton Road, Mr A J C Hall opened Netherton's first public school on 1 July 1890, a hundred years ago this year (1990). As for the Turua Committee's objection to a woman teacher, after less than two years Mr Hall was succeeded by Miss Sophia Wilson who remained there as sole teacher from 1891 until 1907, fifteen years, a highly efficient teacher, respected and beloved by her pupils. The original school had been burnt down within nine days of its opening. Its replacement was soon in need of extensive improvements which were carried out in 1893.

In January 1898, Netherton became a School District in its own right, sensibly separated from Turua, and elected its first School Committee. Following local agitation for better school facilities, a new one-roomed school was opened on the present site, being ready for occupation in March 1901. In 1916 a second room was added and in 1921 a third.

Earlier Journals have contained articles with maps and diagrams illustrating Netherton's progress over the years. Readers are referred to:

Journal No 3 page 33 Old identities [see Journal 3: Early Days at Netherton - E]

Journal No 13 page 10 by Graham Watton [see Journal 13: Cook's Historic Landing at Netherton - E]

Journal No 13 page 42 with locality map C W Malcolm [see Journal 13: History of Netherton School - E]

Journal No 17 page 31 by Flo Sarjant [see Journal 17: Early Days in Netherton - E]

Journal No 28 page 24 and 27 by Charles Townshend [see Journal 28: Old Netherton - E]

Journal No 29 page 12 with photographs of school and grounds plan [see Journal 29: Netherton School - E]

Journal No 29 page 13 by C W Malcolm


This is the speech delivered by Mr C W Malcolm, B A, Dip Tch, Headmaster of Netherton School from November 1937 to September 1945, to the school and district centenary celebrations. Mr Malcolm also contributed the summary of Netherton's history related on the previous page.

I came here to Netherton as head teacher 52 years ago. I found a roll of 80 children, one teacher, a building now no longer in existence, a paddock for a playground, the basic equipment of desks for the pupils, blackboards and chalk for the teachers - no doubt the norm for country schools half a century ago.

But I found also something for which I must pay tribute to those teachers who were here in the half century before me. They had established a tradition of learning, of discipline, of reliability, of pride of achievement that had been handed down to following generations, and they had done it without any of the amenities we have in such profusion in our schools today. Netherton today owes a debt to its first four teachers.

On July 1, 1890, Alfred Hall opened the first public school on Old Netherton Road and taught there for two years. He was followed by Miss Sophia Wilson, sole teacher for 15 years.

Edward McKay was next for eight years and Thomas Dominic Rice was head teacher here for 15 years, less his years served overseas in the First World War.

The pupils they taught became the parents of later generations to whom they passed on the traditions they had absorbed - pride in their school, effort to do well, loyalty and support for it that we see today.

The late Lord Cobham, when Governor General of New Zealand, in one of his remarkable speeches, declared: "One of the strange things about school is this: you only begin to realise what you owe to your school long after you have left it."

Five years ago I interviewed a 103-year-old lady, a Mrs Spencer, a pupil of this school in 1895, 95 years ago; she was then Lucy Fisher. I showed her an old photograph of the school with its teacher and pupils, hoping she could identify some of them. Putting on her glasses, she at once exclaimed, "Oh, there's dear Miss Wilson" - the teacher, so long remembered. They vied for the privilege of cleaning the boots she wore through the Netherton mud on her daily way to school.

And now I must say something I can say only at Netherton: I found here, pupils, girls and boys, showing a marked maturity, a dependability, a keenness, a readiness to accept responsibility, quite superior to anything I found in any larger school.

This is not my opinion alone: I quote one sentence, from the November 17, 1943 report which the inspectors submitted to the Auckland Education Board and the Netherton School Committee.

"The scholars are given a large share in the management and control of the school and the state of the buildings and grounds as well as the behaviour and deportment of the scholars are eloquent comment on the success of the scheme."

Today, the whole community is involved in celebrating 100 years. Fifty years ago the pupils themselves organised and celebrated the golden jubilee of the school which went unnoticed by the community.

The Auckland Education Board, at my request, had provided us with a complete history of the school for our local studies and from this we learned that July 1, 1940, would be the 50th anniversary.

To children, 50 years is a lifetime and they thought it ought to be celebrated. They prepared for the day, the flag was raised, the school assembled and addressed by senior pupils, the morning was devoted to a sports tournament and the afternoon to a concert in the local hall, and the head of the organisation was a girl pupil, Doone Poland. She deserves to be remembered.

Not to be outdone, the senior pupils in 1944 decided to celebrate on a somewhat grander scale, the 54th anniversary. Led by Master Ken Firth, a pilgrimage on bicycles was made to the river-bank, upstream from the factory where the first settler, Samuel Chalton, had established his residence, changing the name of the district from Te Kopuru to Netherton, the home from which he had emigrated in England.

Near here, Messrs Moore and Adamson, early settlers, had built a 12 foot by 14 foot building as a first and private school for the district. Here appropriate speeches were made by selected pupils.

From here to the site of the first school on theOld Netherton Road the pupils moved. Finally, at the school, the celebrations concluded with a full scale banquet with a complete toast list and appropriate speeches.

What the pupil speakers said is all recorded in the columns of the Paeroa Gazette because of the high quality of the celebration. They were Ken Firth, Colin Fisher, William Doran, Charles Farndon, Geraldine Fisher, Dawn Simpson, Dorothy Fisher, Margery Firth and Bruce Townshend.

In 50 years I haven't forgotten them. I could name a score of others of like quality. Some became civic leaders, one a Member of Parliament, another Paeroa's public relations officer, one a Rhodes Scholar. The girls, as well as the boys, distinguished themselves in sport and other avenues. Ten years ago one of them became my wife.

One last reminiscence: The school in my time had three rooms. The middle room was the original school on the present site. It was my classroom where, for 4 years, I taught 40 pupils. It was known as the "Black Hole of Calcutta" because it was cold and gloomy. And here I pay a special tribute to the Auckland Education Board. In 1941, though it meant giving us four classrooms when we were entitled to only three, they built us a modern infant room, the nucleus of today's extended block. It included the previously absent facilities for the teachers and modern furniture for the infants - those fortunate infants taught by that incomparable infant teacher, Miss Betsey Penney (Mrs Johnson); I never had her equal!

Cutting the cake

Cutting the cake: Evelyn Harvey (nee Heappy) oldest ex-pupil present and the latest entrant to the school. Courtney Drent. (Gazette Photo)

Netherton School and District Centennial
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 34, September 1990
Cutting the cake

The new block enabled us to transform the really undeservedly named "Black Hole of Calcutta" into our "assembly hall" suitably furnished by the Education Board as an "all purpose room".

It was the Auckland Education Board that enabled us, for a locally raised £80 ($160), to build a swimming bath which served for 43 years. The same Board put down a large sealed area that was so much needed to replace the rough grassy area. A basketball court was set down, enabling the girls for four years to win the Goldfields Shield against all the large schools in the Thames Valley.

What the Auckland Education Board did, and no doubt the Hamilton Board, (so disastrously and with lack of wisdom abolished by this Government,) together with the work of splendid school committees, enthusiastically supported by the parents and district, has been responsible for the great progress we see here today.

I congratulate Netherton. I wish you every continued success.