St Bathans' School Ruins

St Bathans

  • St Bathans’ School Ruins. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Shellie Evans . Taken By: Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl. Date: 1/08/2015.
  • St Bathans' School Ruins. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com .
    Copyright: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 20/02/2013.
  • St Bathans’ School Ruins. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Shellie Evans . Taken By: Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl. Date: 1/08/2015.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 3208 Date Entered 23rd June 2011

Locationopen/close

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Lot 1 DP 343888 (CT 180203) and Legal Road, Otago Land District and the structure known as St Bathans' School Ruins thereon. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Central Otago District

Region

Otago Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 343888 (CT 180203) and Legal Road, Otago Land District

Location description

The St Bathans’ School Ruins are located alongside unformed legal road off Cross Street in St Bathans.

Summaryopen/close

Where once some forty children tried to scrawl out their lessons using frozen ink in a cold classroom, there stand the ruins of St Bathans’ School. The stone building, built as a single room school with an addition added to accommodate junior pupils in the 1890s, saw generations of St Bathans children through their primary education until closure in the 1940s.

Having at first held classes in a church building, by 1874 the St Bathans’ community was pushing for a purpose built school. In August 1874 the St Bathans’ School Committee applied to the Otago Education Board for a £90 grant to aid in the construction of a stone school. The building was designed by the Otago Education Board architect John Somerville (1834-1905). Scottish born Somerville arrived in Dunedin in 1858, and began business as a carpenter and joiner, doing his own design work. He was appointed architect to the Otago Education Board by the Provincial Council, a position he held for until around 1900. The school buildings in Otago were designed by him and he supervised their construction. The contractor was Richard Wheeler. In April 1875 the new stone building, located on a rise behind the town, was opened, a ‘Grand Ball’ marking the occasion.

As gold mining declined, so did the population and the school roll. By the 1930s only the smaller room was needed as a schoolroom. The final blow came for the school building itself in 1943 when it was damaged during an earthquake. Teaching was transferred to the vacant two-storied post office, but in 1949 the school was finally closed and leased to the local pest destruction board. The ruins are now in private ownership.

The building originally consisted of a single roomed stone structure with lancet style windows (the traditional Gothic style). A second room was added later. This had gabled end walls, rectangular windows and a chimney and fireplace. The stonework appears to have been random rubble brought to course. The original schoolroom, at the north end of the ruins closest to the neighbouring St. Patrick’s church and cemetery is now in a very poor condition. Most of the stone has tumbled into the former structure, and some no doubt has been removed, although on the north elevation the wall remains standing to above the height of the windows, with the lancet design of the windows still evident. The walls of the second schoolroom remain standing to roof height, along with the chimney, with the rectangular windows intact.

The St Bathans’ School Ruins have significance illustrating the importance of education for the local community and is a reminder of history of this once bustling township. Attending school and being part of the education system is a universal experience for New Zealanders. The St Bathans’ School, built shortly after the establishment of free compulsory secular education under the 1877 Education Act, represents the experience of many New Zealanders in rural schools in small country towns, and its design reflects the teaching methods of the time. Additions made to the school over time reflect the changing fortunes of the community, and the school’s later closure is part of the history of the decline in rural populations, which saw the closure of a number of small schools, including others in Central Otago.

In 2011 a roofless ruin remains, providing locals and visitors alike with a poignant reminder of the once bustling gold mining town.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Education for small rural settlements was a central issue for nineteenth century New Zealand, and St Bathans’ School has historical significance as a representative example of the history of a nineteenth century school. Its history represents the story of the foundation of education in this small Otago settlement, both before and after the passing of the 1877 Education Act. The subsequent history of the school’s closure and its decay into a ruin reflects the decline of St Bathans from bustling gold mining town to a small settlement.

Archaeological Significance or Value:

The St Bathans’ School Ruins are the remains of the substantial structure built in the 1870s and have archaeological significance as a ruin. The place has potential to provide further information about the site through archaeological methods.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

Attending school and being part of the education system is a universal experience for New Zealanders. The St Bathans’ School, built shortly after the establishment of free compulsory secular education under the 1877 Education Act, represents the experience of many New Zealanders in rural schools in small country towns, and its design reflects the teaching methods of the time. Additions made to the school over time reflect the changing fortunes of the community, and the school’s later closure is part of the history of the decline in rural populations, which saw the closure of a number of small schools, including others in Central Otago.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, theplace:

The St Bathans’ School Ruins are identified as local attractions and included in tourist guides to the settlement as an important place. They can, therefore, be said to be held in esteem by the community.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:

The St Bathans’ School Ruins form part of the outstanding historical and cultural landscape of St Bathans. The small scattered settlement, with its cluster of buildings on the main street, set in the dramatic relic gold mining landscape is unique in New Zealand.

Summary of Significance or Values

This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, e and k.

Conclusion

It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.

Linksopen/close

Construction Professionalsopen/close

Somerville, John

Carpenter for Criterion Hotel in Oamaru, completed 1877.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Maori Settlement

Maori had settlements in Central Otago, associated with early occupation. Six were known on Lake Hawea (Te Taweha o Hawea, Mahaea, O tu Purupuru, Turihuka, Te Taumanu o Taki and Pakituhi) and one near Cromwell (Wairere). The moa-rich area was known for camps where moa were butchered and cooked (for example there were large sites in the Hawksburn and Happy Valley areas, as well as the Nevis Valley), and there were quarries used for stone tools in the region of Tiger Hills and Mount Benger. The swampy plains in the Maniototo provided eels and other food resources. Though Maori are known to have joined the gold rushes, little is known about their participation in the rush at St Bathans. There are no recorded Maori archaeological sites in St Bathans.

Goldfields Towns

The history of gold mining in Central Otago began with Gabriel Read’s discovery of gold in Gabriel’s Gully, near present-day Lawrence, in 1861. Gold was quickly discovered in other parts of the region, including places such as Arrowtown and Queenstown, and in 1863, at St Bathans, leading to the birth of the town. First known as Dunstan Creek, the name was changed to St Bathans in 1866, after St Bathans in the islands of Iona in Scotland, famous from the time of early Christians. At the height of the rush, the population in the area numbered around 2,000, with thirteen hotels catering to local demands during the 1860s.

There were an estimated 78 goldfields in Central Otago, boom towns sprung up to service the gold diggings, and disappeared just as quickly as the gold returns for the itinerant miners. Little remains of these places. Historian John Angus writes ‘[w]hen the miners decamped so too did the commercial section of many of the early towns. This pattern was repeated many times, often at remote locations in Central Otago. But some settlements remained, undergoing a sort of metamorphosis to become service centres for the subsequent stages of more stable mining.’

Education in St Bathans

With the growing settled population came families, and with families the need for education. The educational scheme imagined by Otago’s Free Church colonists aimed at providing a public school in every parish, from which there would be access to high school and university. Though very little progress had been made by the foundation of the Education Board by the Provincial Government in 1856, education in Otago was growing steadily. In settled districts with a population of forty or more ‘main’ schools were established, and ‘side’ schools were provided whether the future of the settlement was less certain.

By the 1870s the population of St Bathans was relatively stable, and with the settled population came families and the need to provide for the education of local children. The first public school (which also served as a church) opened on the main street in 1866, on the site of the later teacher’s residence. In 1872, the school inspector described it as ‘large and tolerably suitable.’

The Right Rev. Dr. Moran, Bishop of Dunedin, visiting St Bathans in 1872 was concerned about the lack of education of Catholic youngsters. Given the apparent lack of provision of education by parents, recommended the establishment of a Catholic school. Members of the Catholic community raised money by subscription for the school which was held in a combined church/school building. When this building was blown down in 1877 a school was erected on a new site.

The New School

By 1874 the St Bathans’ community was pushing for a new school building. In August of that year the St Bathans’ School Committee applied to the Otago Education Board for a £90 grant to aid in the construction of a stone school building.

Education was a priority for central government too. The Education Act 1877 provided for free, secular, and compulsory education for all children aged between seven and thirteen, establishing schools for New Zealand children, and the administrative structure for education. The Department of Education was responsible for distributing grant funding to education boards. Twelve education boards (made up of nine members elected by school committees) defined school districts within their areas, and established and maintained schools within their districts. School committees were elected by a ballot of local householders, and had management of educational matters in their area.

As the population in Otago became more settled so the Otago Education Board had a building programme for schools. In May 1879 school buildings were nearing completion at Taieri Ferry, Taieri Beach, Circle Hill, Stirling, Tuapeka Mouth, Moa Flat, Cromwell, St Bathans, Kyeburn, Sandymount, Highcliff and St Leonards. Records show that the building programme was based around some standard designs with variations according to local circumstances where necessary. The form of the building reflected the teaching methods, where children were ‘often taught in relays in order to accommodate as many as possible in the small space available.’

St Bathans’ School was designed by the Otago Education Board architect John Somerville (1834-1905). Scottish born Somerville arrived in Dunedin in 1858, and began business as a carpenter and joiner, doing his own design work. He was appointed architect to the Otago Education Board by the Provincial Council, a position he held for until around 1900. The school buildings in Otago were designed by him and he supervised their construction. The contractor was Richard Wheeler.

In April 1875 the new stone building, located on a rise behind the town, was opened, a ‘Grand Ball’ marking the occasion.

During the 1890s the School Inspector was continually complaining about the irregular attendance of pupils whose parents ‘treated these duties too lightly.’ The Inspector had also complained about dances being held in the building, and in November 1891 the committee resolved that the school should not be ‘let for any entertainments or any other purposes except school work’. The School was also used for public meetings.

Although the Inspector was concerned about irregular attendance, by 1895 the roll had increased to the point where the committee requested an assistant teacher and an addition to the single roomed school. This room for the infant school was completed in the same year.

Only three years later, articles in the Mt Ida Chronicle continued to berate parents for the irregular attendance of their children, and the lower roll numbers meant that the second teacher was likely to be lost. In 1899, the paper reported that ‘nearly every child from 6 years old and upward’ was irregular in their attendance, absent trapping rabbits for payment from the Rabbit Board.

In February 1900, the Mt Ida Chronicle reported that the St. Bathans Catholic School was closed, while the public school was ‘still poorly attended’. In the same year, the paper reported that the committee considered the public school ‘unfit for human habitation during winter months’. The open fireplace was useless, and ink froze in the inkwells on the desks. Huge snowfalls piled up beside the school, and many children could not get there, so, for several years there was a six week mid winter break. Later heating methods seem to have improved with a hot stove in the schoolroom with a high overhead pipe that heated the room, but the ink still froze overnight.

By the 1930s only the smaller room was needed as a schoolroom, with the roll only up to about thirty. The larger room was still useful, for playing cricket and hockey and other physical activities as well as serving as a small theatre. By the early 1940s the roll had dropped further, to fewer than twenty pupils. The final blow came for the school building itself in 1943 when it was damaged during an earthquake. Teaching was transferred to the vacant two-storied post office, but in 1949 the school was finally closed when the roll numbers were reduced to seven. After the closure, St Bathans’ children travelled to Cambrians to attend school.

After Closure

In 1951 the old school buildings and land was leased to the Dunstan Rabbit Board, and four years later the lease was transferred to the Downs Rabbit Board. Twenty years later the name of the leasee was changed to the Hawkdun Pest Destruction Board. In 1979 the current owner obtained a freehold title to the ruins of the former school, and the land has been subdivided.

In 2011 the St Bathans’ School Ruins remain a picturesque memorial to the children of this once bustling gold mining town. The School Ruins are identified as local attraction and are included on a walking tour by the local promotions groups.

Physical Description

The building originally consisted of a single roomed stone structure with lancet style windows (the traditional Gothic style). A second room was added about twenty years later. This had gabled end walls, rectangular windows and a chimney and fireplace. The stonework appears to have been random rubble brought to course. The original schoolroom, at the north end of the ruins closest to the neighbouring St. Patrick’s church and cemetery is now in a very poor condition. Most of the stone has tumbled into the former structure, and some no doubt has been removed, although on the north elevation the wall remains standing to above the height of the windows, with the lancet design of the windows still evident. The walls of the second schoolroom remain standing to roof height, along with the chimney, with the rectangular windows intact.

According to a former pupil (Rebe Mee), the infants’ room was divided from the senior room by a porch that was the entrance and also served as a cloak room. This porch and entrance way is still standing. The senior room was much larger than the infants’ room, and pupils sat at long desks with an inkwell for each pupil.

Construction Dates

Addition
1895 -
Infant room added

Other
1943 -
Building damaged in an earthquake, school moved to the vacant post office

Other
1949 -
St. Bathans’ School closed

Original Construction
1875 -
School building opened (single room)

Construction Details

Stone

Completion Date

3rd May 2011

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Cowan, 1948

Janet. C. Cowan, Down the Years in the Maniototo: A Survey of the Early History of Maniototo County and Naseby Borough, Otago Centennial Historical Publications, Whitcombe and Tombs, Dunedin, 1948

Mayhew, 1949

W.R. Mayhew, Tuapeka: The Land and Its People: A Social History of the Borough of Lawrence and its Surrounding Districts, Otago Centennial Historical Publications, Dunedin, 1949

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Otago/Southland Area 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.