Historical Significance or Value
The Eketahuna School (Former) is significant for representing the desire of early settlers in Eketahuna for the education of the children of the community. It also reflects the growing population in the area. The building forms an important part of the streetscape on Bengston Street, and the design of the school is a typical school plan with local adaptations from its use as both a school and manual training centre.
Cultural Significance or Value:
As a school building, the Eketahuna School (Former) has cultural significance as a place of learning for early settlers in the town. This will have had a significant role in the lives of many of the inhabitants. Its continued use as a manual training centre, and later a museum, have served to place this building within the cultural centre of Eketahuna. The first Eketahuna School was built shortly after the establishment of the 1877 Education Act and the construction of the second school shows not only the population growth in this rural town, but also the effects of compulsory schooling on the number of children receiving education in the area.
Social Significance or Value:
The building was a place of social significance to many people during its time as a school, for teachers, pupils and parents in the community. In its role as a manual training centre the Eketahuna School (Former) will have been central to contributing to the technological and life skill sets of many children in Eketahuna. The subsequent closure of the school was not linked to a decline in population in the area, rather the school roll again outgrew the facilities available, and its continued use as a manual training centre shows adaptive reuse of a building which was valued by the community. Its continued use as the site for the local museum retains the building’s social connections as a public facility of education.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:
Eketahuna School (Former) is significant for reflecting the desire of a small rural community for the education of its inhabitants during the late nineteenth century. Built in response to the growing population in the area, the school is representative of not only this growth of population, but also the number of children who gained access to free secular education in New Zealand as a result of the 1877 Education Act. The emergency hospital that was set up in the building during the 1918 influenza epidemic reflects a community’s response to the threat of the epidemic.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:
The esteem that the place holds is evidenced through centenary celebrations and the publication of a booklet about both these celebrations and the history of the school and education in the town. The building continues to be a part of the Eketahuna community, and public esteem for it is shown through its adaptive reuse over time since it was built.
(f) The potential of the place for public education:
The School (Former) has potential for public education through its current role as the Eketahuna and Districts Early Settlers Museum, which draws visitors to the site. The school also remains part of a streetscape that includes the former teacher’s residence/first school, and can provide further knowledge of Eketahuna’s history through this. There is also an information panel on the building about its history.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:
The building sits within an attractive streetscape, with other historic buildings surrounding it, in particular number 14 Bengston Street which is directly connected with the School as its precursor. These wooden buildings have survived fire and significant earthquakes to remain standing virtually unchanged through their hundred years of life.
Summary of Significance or Values
This place was assessed against, and found to qualify under the following criteria: a, e, f, k.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.
The discovery and settlement of the Wairarapa and Tararua region is connected with several prominent figures of New Zealand’s history. Ancestral figures such as Hau-nui-a-nanaia, Kupe, Whatonga, Tara Ika and Toi have all been said to have connections with the region and are responsible for the naming of many of the Wairarapa’s features and places. It has been estimated that Rangitane settled in the region by about the sixteenth century. Marriage links with Rangitane saw a group of Ngati Kahungunu retreat to the Wairarapa in the subsequent century as the result of internal hapu conflict. The two groups cohabitated mostly in the south Wairarapa for a period, but then the Ngati Kahungunu newcomers negotiated several sections of land for themselves. This process was not seamless and instances of conflict continued between the two iwi over the centuries. The next significant period of change in the area was in the early nineteenth century with the progression south of Te Rauparaha and others. This ushered in an era when many different iwi, including Ngati Whatua, Ngati Awa, Ngati Toa, Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Tama, and Ngati Mutunga, made advances into the region and some Ngati Kahungunu hapu withdrew.
European incursion into the Wairarapa only began after the New Zealand Company’s Port Nicholson settlement was established. Based on the reports of the exploring and surveying parties that the company sent out, the southern Wairarapa became one of the first extensive tracts of land to be occupied by Europeans, although the Crown titles, negotiated by Donald McLean, were not obtained until 1853. However, it took substantially longer for settlement to progress beyond Masterton, which was linked to Wellington by road in 1859. Further increase was slow because the northern Wairarapa was heavily forested, as opposed to the south with its relatively clear and large grass plains. In particular the forest north of Mount Bruce was dense with rimu, tawa, matai, maire, kahikatea, and rata, and was known as Forty Mile Bush, which was within the larger Seventy Mile Bush, that also encompassed places such as Dannevirke and Norsewood. Maori referred to this forest as Te Tapere Nui o Whatonga (The great forest of Whatonga) and an abundance of birdlife resided there amongst giant ancient trees, some of which were large enough for groups of people to shelter within their trunks.
Eketahuna, originally named Mellemskov (heart of the forest) by the Scandanavian settlers who founded the town, was in the southern part of Forty Mile Bush. The Scandinavian (and German) migration to the Southern Wairarapa had been made possible through Julius Vogel’s (1835-1899) 1870 Immigration and Public Works Act. In 1871 the government began especially recruiting Scandinavians to come to New Zealand, because they were generally thought to have superior forest clearing skills and as having a greater tolerance to cold harsh climates. As such, Scandinavians were seen as particularly useful for work on the early phases of railway and road construction, and were contracted to build roads and fell the forest surrounding the area. The majority of the first settlers to Eketahuna were Swedish, and arrived on the Forfarshire in Wellington on 4 March 1873. The new arrivals had a period of rest in Wellington, then travelled over the Rimutaka hills to a camp at Kopuaranga. This was their place of residence for seven months, as Eketahuna was yet to be surveyed. In the first two years after moving there the settlers did not have to pay for their land, ‘but in that time were expected to have erected a cottage, felled bush and grassed or put in crops on an area not less than five acres’. Eketahuna grew quickly and was linked with Wellington when the railway reached the town on the 8th of April 1889, and the town became a borough in 1907.
While fires in the region were commonplace during the turn of the century, in 1908 there was a devastating fire in the district surrounding Eketahuna, caused by the particularly dry summer of 1907-8. Fires began in the middle of January that could have been contained save a heavy wind that developed and fanned fires in the district. Eketahuna was not the only town to suffer, with some reports stating that the whole district was ablaze by the 21st of January. Fires continued until the end of the month. While the fire had a major impact on the built heritage of the towns in the district, it also had a major impact on their futures and economy. Timber production, which prior to this was the district’s main source of income, fell into decline and after the fire pastoral farming became the main occupation there. Similarly, there have been several earthquakes felt in the region, none more so than the 1942 Wairarapa earthquake. First damaged in the June 24 1942 earthquake, Eketahuna suffered further in the 2 August aftershock, and it has been reported there was more damage during this quake than in the original. The Eketahuna school survived unscathed through these disasters.
Education in New Zealand was revolutionised by the 1877 Education Act which established free, compulsory schooling for children until standard six (about age 12, or year eight in current terms). In practice attendance was hampered by requirements of children in rural districts to help with farming practices such as haymaking, however until this Act was established education was spasmodic and favoured the wealthy. Along with providing for free education for all children, the Education Act set up a three tiered system of administration of schools which was divided between the Department of Education, twelve education boards and school committees which were elected from members of the community by ballot and were responsible for the general management of schools.
Shortly after the establishment of the Education Act, in October 1878 a school opened in Eketahuna in a small cottage at 14 Bengston Street. This was a four roomed cottage with the front two rooms used as a classroom, and the others as the residence for the teacher. 23 students were first enrolled, and reports state that none of them spoke English. Instruction therefore first centred around teaching the children English, who then passed on their knowledge to their parents. The number of children enrolled soon surpassed the size of the cottage and shortly after, in 1884, another school was built next door at 16 Bengston Street. This is the school building that is the subject of this report. By 1897 the roll numbered 172 pupils, and this second school eventually proved to be not large enough for the requirements of the town. Eight years of campaigning for a new school finally met with success, and after a third school was built in December 1912, 16 Bengston Street was converted to a manual training centre in 1913, where children were taught cookery and woodwork. In 1928 the school that had been built to replace 16 Bengston Street burnt down, and some of the children were sent back to the old school to continue their education while another school was built.
The school has connections with prominent members of the early settlement of Eketahuna and Wellington. Thomas Turnbull (1824 – 1907) was the Wellington Education Board architect at the time the school was built, therefore it is likely that he was the architect of the original plans for the building. The first inspector to visit the school was the man who later became Premier and Chief Justice, Sir Robert Stout (1844-1930). This was important as he was the first government official to visit the school.
The specifications for the changes to the school to convert it to a manual training centre date to 1913. One large dividing wall between the two classrooms was removed at that time, as were two chimneys. One of the wings was converted to teach cooking, while the other section was used for woodwork. A somewhat incongruous toilet block was added to the northern elevation in the 1970s.
The school also has connections with important parts of New Zealand’s history. During 1918 the school was used as a temporary hospital during the influenza epidemic. The 1918 influenza epidemic was New Zealand’s deadliest epidemic. While nationally more people died during the epidemic than in World War One, there was not a high mortality rate in Eketahuna.
The school jubilee was held in 1979, with many ex pupils attending the school for the celebrations. A centennial publication was written about both this school and the earlier one at 14 Bengston Street, and there are photos of this event at the museum.
The school continued in its use as a manual training centre until 1979 when these services were transferred to the later built school. Since 1982-3, 16 Bengston Street has been used as the Eketahuna and Districts Early Settlers Museum and is open to the public over weekends through a volunteer service, showing the importance of the school building and current museum to members of the public. The building was re-roofed in 1988/9 using both volunteers and professionals, again showing the importance of the building to the community.
The Eketahuna School (Former) is set one street back from Main Street in Eketahuna, and approximately 50 metres from the corner of Bengston Street. The surrounding street is residential, with the next door house being the original school and schoolteacher’s residence, meaning that these two buildings make up an important part of the streetscape. There is another historic cottage on the same side of the street, approximately 100 metres further along the road. The entrance to the school is through a gate, with a picket fence surrounding the school. The building, constructed from totara and rimu, consists of two gable wings with a small lobby at the entrance way, and a building which makes up the central classroom of the school between these two wings. There are decorative rounded additions around the windows and entrance door of the building. The main windows are eight-paned sash windows, while there are also two smaller sash windows in the entrance lobby, one of which has a different window addition from the other windows on the exterior, being square instead of rounded. There is an information panel with a history of the building on the left of the entrance door, and the toilet block addition is to the immediate east of this door. There is a large section of land at the rear of the school. From the rear elevation the eastern wing of the building projects further than the western and central sections of the school.
The door in the western entrance leads to a small lobby with two small windows. This then leads to the main room of the former school. This room has had a dividing wall between the two original classrooms removed, making it one large room. This wall was removed when the school was converted to a manual training centre in 1913, as were two chimneys. The room has seven sets of sash windows with eight panes of glass each. The interior tongue and groove walls and roof of the schoolroom are painted, with bare floors, although there is a large portion of tartan linoleum in the centre of the room.
There are two doors in the northern wall of this room. One gives access to the modern toilet block, through a small lobby. The other door opens on to a corridor leading from the main classroom to the second school room, and a small room which is currently used as an office. There is also access through the western end of the corridor to a store room/smaller corridor which runs down the length of the classrooms, and has an access door to the back section of the building. There is also another door which leads to the eastern wing of the building. This wing is a large room with eight sets of windows. There is a space for a fireplace which has been removed.
While the chattels at the museum are not included in this registration, it is worth noting that this building houses a collection of ephemera relating to the early settlement of Eketahuna and the surrounding district.
1988 - 1989
School converted to a manual training centre; dividing wall and chimneys removed
Toilet block added to front façade
Timber, corrugated iron, glass, concrete
24th November 2010
Report Written By
A. G. Bagnall, Wairarapa; An Historical Excursion, Trentham, 1976
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1908
Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 6, Taranaki, Hawke's Bay, Wellington, 1908
An Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Government Printer, Wellington, 1966
V.A Burr, Mosquitoes and Sawdust: A history of Scandinavians in early Palmerston North and surrounding districts, Palmerston North, 1995
I., Adcock, A Goodly Heritage: Eketahuna and districts 100 years, 1873-1973, Eketahuna, 1973
B, McFadgen, Archaeology of the Wellington Conservancy: Wairarapa. A study in Tectonic Archaeology. Department of Conservation, Wellington, 2003
Grant, I.F., North of the Waingawa: The Masterton Borough and County Councils, 1877-1989, Masterton, 1995
P. Best, Eketahuna: Stories from small town New Zealand, Publishing Press Ltd, Auckland. 2001
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Central Region office.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.