Karioi Native School

Powells Road, Karioi

  • Karioi Native School.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Rebecca O'Brien.
  • Karioi Native School.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Alison Dangerfield. Date: 2/11/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7590 Date Entered 14th April 2005


Extent of List Entry

Registration includes all of the land comprised in Section 5, Block X, Karioi Survey District, (as noted in New Zealand Gazette 1954, p.258), and the School, its fittings and fixtures, and the remaining living trees of the original eastern shelterbelt thereon.

City/District Council

Ruapehu District


Horizons (Manawatu-Wanganui) Region

Legal description

Sec 5 Blk X, Karioi SD, on ML1439, (NZ Gazette 1954, p.258), Wellington Land District

Location description

Karioi is approximately 20km west of Waiouru on SH49 and approximately 16km east of Ohakune. Heading North on SH49, turn left into Field's Track, take the next left (Powell's Road) where the yellow AA road sign indicates 'Domain', travel approximately 1km along this road and the School is on the left-hand side of the road, set back from the road at the top of a gentle rise.


Constructed in 1898, the Karioi Native School was part of a network of schools constructed throughout New Zealand under the provisions of the Native Schools Act 1867 and its subsequent amendments. Part of a series of measures introduced by the Government to assimilate and 'civilise' Maori, the schools were designed to encourage Maori to adopt European cultural practices.

Nine years after the Crown purchase of the Waimarino Block, the Inspector of Native Schools, James Pope, recorded that local iwi in Karioi, Ngati Rangi, were 'very anxious' that a school should be made available to their settlement. A suitable school site was surveyed in May 1897 and gazetted on 10 February 1898. The following year a single classroom school with a four room residence was designed by the Education Department and constructed by contractors Riggs & Fraser for £635.9.9.

The School was staffed by Miss Agnes Lillian Grant, a graduate of Canterbury University College. It opened in June 1898, with an initial roll of 20 children. Maori parents showed great interest in the School throughout the first decade of its operational life. Much of this was due to the work of Grant, who went to great lengths to involve the wider community in the life of the School.

By 1919, difficulty finding teachers for the School prompted the possibility of its transferral to the Wanganui Education Board. The transfer took place in 1928 and the School continued to function until 1940, when a falling roll forced its closure. Used as a community hall since the School's closure, the century old building remains as a focus for the community's history.

The earliest remaining example of its type in the Ruapehu district, the Karioi Native School is physically important as a representative example of the Native schools constructed throughout New Zealand between 1867 and 1969. The School is historically significant as a manifestation of early Pakeha attitudes towards Maori, and as a site in which early relations between the two cultures developed.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Native Schooling system was implemented between 1867 and 1969. By 1879, 57 schools had been established. At its peak, in the 1950s, there were 166 schools were in use, a number which had dwindled to 105 by 1969. The Karioi Native School, at Karioi, is the oldest remaining example of a purpose built Native school in the Ruapehu region.

Established in 1898, just over a decade after the Crown purchase of the Waimarino Block, in the Ruapehu region, the School also dates to the early years of Pakeha settlement in the region.

Designed by the Public Works Department, the school is a typical example of a Native school. It is in close to its original condition, and is in an excellent state of repair. Adding context to the site is the original shelterbelt, which was planted in 1898. Other buildings on the site, including the original residence, the pataka and the shelter shed, have since been lost.

From the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century, the Government presumed that Maori would benefit from assimilation into the British culture. The Government adopted policies that would facilitate the assimilation or 'civilisation' of Maori by encouraging them to abandon traditional Maori cultural values, customs and language in favour of those of the European. The Native School system was developed to achieve this end in acknowledgement that one of most effective assimilative tool is the education of the young. Maori embraced the opportunity to learn about European culture and schools were established at their request. As such the schools provide important insight into Maori / Pakeha relations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The history of the Karioi Native School sheds light on the practical implementation of this 'civilising' policy and its reception by local Maori. Like all schools, the Karioi Native School was staffed by a Pakeha teacher selected to serve as an example to his or her pupils. Agnes Lillian Grant, the School's first teacher, fostered an environment of 'mutual esteem and respect' between Maori and Pakeha in Karioi, and went beyond the bounds of duty to care for the children committed to her charge, even paying for improvements to the grounds from her own salary.

Local iwi perceived the school as a taonga. When it was first opened in 1898, Maori were described as being 'very anxious to have a school presented to their settlement'. In its first decade of operation, official inspections constantly commented on the 'great interest' shown by Maori in the School and its work. Later teachers recorded how parents on the surrounding marae would hold impromptu examinations of the School pupils to check that its progress was on track. While this progress faltered later on due to the high turnover of teachers and fluctuating School roll later on, the School continued to serve as an 'exemplary' and 'highly satisfactory' educational facility until its closure in 1940.

As with many frontier and settler communities, the school formed one of the bases on which social networks were constructed and thus the former Karioi Native School is socially and culturally significant. Maori and Pakeha of the Karioi area were educated side-by-side in this School throughout its history, and their parents worked side-by-side at places of work, such as the sawmills. Its social and cultural role in the Karioi community was reinforced by its position as the settlement's first 'lending library' and maintains strong links with this role in its current use as a community function centre. Utilised by the community since its closure by the then Wanganui Education Board in 1940, the building has been the venue for significant social events in the community's history - birthdays, wedding anniversaries and community dances have all been held in the building.

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

The Karioi Native School is the oldest remaining example of a purpose built Native school in the Ruapehu region. It is representative of the schools constructed throughout New Zealand under the provisions of the Native Schools Act 1867 and its subsequent amendments. As one of the notable colonial buildings in Karioi, it provides insight into the Pakeha development of Maori educational facilities and the early interaction of Maori and Pakeha in the community. Although somewhat altered from its original configuration, the shape of the former combined classroom and teacher's residence is still discernible. The building also remains on its original site and is surrounded by its original shelterbelt.

(b)The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

As a 'native school' the Karioi Native School is associated with the assimilative policies of the New Zealand government from the mid nineteenth to mid twentieth century. Initiated by members of a Maori community who formed the school committee, the schools were staffed by Pakeha teachers who were intended to lead the pupils by example into 'more civilised' customs. As such the schools provide important insight into Maori / Pakeha relations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

(d) The importance of the place to tangata whenua:

Throughout its history the Karioi Native School has been of importance to tangata whenua Ngati Rangi. It was constructed at the request of Ngati Rangi in 1898 and was attended by their children for 42 years. Since its inception, Ngati Rangi adopted the School as their own, showing great interest in the School's progress and even requesting that their name be incorporated onto the School's flag. Although no longer used as a school, many of the resident community have a direct connection to the School and are working to preserve its history and physical fabric.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Public Works Department

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Public Works Department

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Merson, H, of Raetihi for Riggs & Fraser of Mangaweka

H Merson, of Raetihi for Riggs & Fraser of Mangaweka

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

In 2001 historian James Belich noted that 'to people who could conceive of no higher state than Britishness, making it available to Natives seemed an act of enlightened generosity'. Following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the British Colonial Office and the settler government formulated policy that would facilitate the 'civilising' of Maori by encouraging them to abandon traditional Maori cultural values, customs and language in favour of those of the European. Schooling was perceived as the one of the most effective means of implementing this 'civilising' or assimilation agenda. When Maori and Pakeha clashed over sovereignty and resources during the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s, Maori deserted the mission schools, which had encouraged assimilation through education. In their place, the Government established the Native schools system.

In 1867, the Native Schools Act was passed. It was intended to 'bring an untutored but intelligent and high-spirited people into line with our civilisation, and to do this, to a large extent, by instructing them in the use of our language, and by placing in Maori settlements European school buildings, and European families to serve as teachers and especially as exemplars of a new and more desirable mode of life'.

The Act provided for the establishment of village schools for Maori in which the Pakeha teachers would, 'through personal example'...'exercise a beneficial influence on adults as well as children'. While Pakeha could attend the schools, the focus remained on the education of Maori. Typically staffed by a husband and wife, the schools could be 'initiated by members of a Maori community forming a committee and requesting the school' if they were involved in 'supplying the land, half the cost of the buildings and a quarter of the Teacher's salary'. Maori were eager to engage with European things and thoughts, and by 1879, there were 57 schools in operation. That same year, the Department of Education appointed James Henry Pope (1837-1913) as the first Organising Inspector of Native Schools. Pope drafted the 1880 Native Schools Code that established a more systematic basis for the operation of the schools through measures such as the standardisation of the syllabus and the conditions under which teachers were appointed.

In 1895, eight years after the Crown purchase of the Waimarino Block, the Education Department reported that land at Karioi would be available for a school house, and that there were 'about 39 children Maori - and some Europeans' in the area. In February the following year, the Organising Inspector of Native Schools, James Pope, visited the township to view prospective school sites. He commented in his subsequent report that 'the Natives welcomed me with the usual ceremonies and appeared very anxious to have a school presented to their settlement'. In accordance with the Act, Maori offered a site of three acres (1.2 hectares) for the school to the Crown. Pope noted that a larger area would be required, but reported that the site was 'of fair quality, and is perhaps, as good as is obtainable in the district'. Pope's report, dated 24 February 1896, includes a description (and sketch) of the terrain, climate and resident population areas. However, when the surveyor, Charles Adnam Mountfort (1854-1941) visited the area in May 1897, the person from the local iwi meant to assist him in identifying the area in question was not there. Mountfort chose and marked out 10 acres (4 hectares) of land he believed suitable and visited one of the local pa and inform them of what he had done. The land, Part Rangiwaea No.3 Block, ML1439, was gazetted on 10 February 1898.

The contract for the school for the building was drawn up and approved on 22 April 1897. The plan was for a single room classroom 10 foot by 14 foot (3.05 metres by 4.27 metres), with a four-room residence, a 'long-drop', and a 400-gallon (1514 litre) water tank. The contract to build the school was won by the firm Riggs & Fraser of Mangaweka on 18 October that same year. They were to be paid £635.9.9 upon its completion.

On 28 February 1898, on the understanding that she was chaperoned by her aunt, the teacher, Miss Agnes Lillian Grant, was appointed. A recent graduate of Canterbury University College, Miss Grant had received her initial teacher training at the Hukarere Native School, Napier. She received further training while awaiting the completion of the building at Karioi at the Pipiriki Native School, under the guidance of the headmaster Albert Wilson.

The one-classroom school at Karioi was operational by June 1898 and opened with an initial roll of 20 children. Maori parents showed great interest in the School - so much so that on 5 September 1898 Miss Grant wrote to the Department asking whether it was 'a good thing' to have the parents sitting in on the classes when there was so little space available.

By March 1899 Miss Grant and her chaperone had identified several problems with the buildings and promptly set about remedying them. Their improvements included a well, which would ensure a continuous, clean water supply; a rat-proof pataka to enable bulk buying of produce; and the construction of a scullery, and bathroom, which would allow them 'to give the children a practical demonstration in what cleanliness means'. Miss Grant then sent the receipts to the Education Department - a break with the normal procedures, which earned her a rebuke from the Secretary for Education. Despite this, Miss Grant was refunded the full cost of the well, but only half of the cost of the storehouse, and nothing for the bathroom/scullery. The Secretary for Education, Mr H. G. Hogben, stated 'I am particularly to impress upon you that in future you must not consider yourself entitled to make any claim upon the Government for expenditure incurred without having previously obtained authority'. Despite this, a shelterbelt of trees, including natives and exotics, was planted that same year in an attempt to shelter the buildings from the prevailing winds, and in 1901 a further bedroom and sitting room were added at Grant's own expense. The correspondence files from the period indicate there was a further proposal for the addition of a verandah and another bedroom made in 1903 but a layout plan of the school and residence, drawn in 1910, shows that these additions were not made.

The Karioi Native School received its first official inspection on 21 March 1899. There were 32 pupils enrolled, including three Europeans. James Pope, Inspector of Native Schools noted that 'the Natives are showing great interest in the school and its work, and the teachers are in various ways doing their very best to help the Natives - We have in fact mutual esteem and respect'. From July, the function of the building was expanded when, in response to a public petition, a public lending library was established at the School. The School continued to receive good reports from the Inspector, and in 1901 it was noted that the School was unique in that 'in no instance other than this, as far as I am aware, do the teachers seem anxious to take upon themselves a very large measure of responsibility for the general condition of the children committed to their charge'.

In 1904 Miss Grant and her chaperone left Pipiriki, and were replaced by a Mrs Baigent. Typically, teaching personnel found the isolated conditions and harsh climate at Karioi difficult, and there was a very high turnover of staff at the School during the early twentieth century. Letters of resignation tendered by teachers during this period often contained references to their own ill health, or the ill-health of their spouses or families. Yet the School continued to receive good reports from Inspectors, and enrolments remained steady throughout this period, although there were reports that some parents were failing to send their children to School.

In 1919 the Education Board failed to find a replacement teacher for the first time, which prompted the closure of the School for a number of months. As a result, European residents began petitioning for a change of status of the School, claiming that 'several teachers would be willing to go there if it were a Board School'. They requested that the School be brought under the auspices of the Wanganui Education Board and that the children be taught under the rules and regulations of the European schools. European residents at that time had 13 children of school age able to attend the School and, with the imminent opening of a nearby sawmill, it appeared likely that more would soon enter the area. A public meeting was held and local iwi were consulted. Iwi agreed '...to the transfer on condition it is a combined school for Europeans and Natives, and that the school is never shifted from its present site'. Despite this, the formal transfer did not occur immediately. The School was reopened the following year and attendance reached an all-time high. The formal transfer of the Karioi Native School to the Wanganui Education Board took place in 1928.

Although another classroom was added and opened in October 1930, the Depression meant that many families moved out of the area in search of work. While some families were attracted to the area by new forestry operations, the School's roll fluctuated considerably during this period. When the nearby Ohakune School expanded, the Education Department began drawing up plans to consolidate the two schools, and close the Karioi building. The last day of operation for Karioi School was officially 19 May 1940, 29 years prior to the repeal of the Native Schools system first implemented in 1867. The 47 former pupils of the Kaori Native School were transported to Ohakune by bus each day.

Following the closure of the School the community petitioned the Education Board for permission to continue using the school buildings for community events. The Education Board insisted that the residence be shifted to Ohakune School for the use of the Senior Teacher. This work was carried out in about 1943. The former classrooms were converted for use as a community hall, and it continues to serve in this capacity. Some alterations have since been made to the interior layout. The building is valued and treasured by the Karioi community. It is in excellent condition and continues to be used and maintained.

Physical Description

Timber-framed 'Otumauru' style combined schoolroom / residence with timber weatherboards and a corrugated iron roof . The original building contained a schoolroom plus a 4-room residence (2 bedrooms, kitchen and sitting-room). In 1899 a bathroom and scullery were added. A timber framed, corrugated iron covered shelter shed was built in 1899. In 1901 a further bedroom and sitting room were added. A second classroom was added in 1930. In about 1943 the six-room residence was removed.

The residual building has large quad-pane double-hung sash windows and bi-pane fanlights facing north, with a covered entranceway at the western end, a structure added on the eastern end and a further lean-to on the southern side, an elevated water tank and a brick tri-faced exterior chimney. The brick tri-faced chimney, once in the midst of the building complex was exposed when the residence was removed circa 1943. The weatherboards are presently painted cream with dark green window facings, deep red doors and the roof is unpainted. Most internal walls have been removed.

The shelterbelt trees are significant in this area, in which so many of the trees were milled for housing and industry. The trees in the shelterbelt, originally planted by Miss Grant (the first Head teacher) are now over a hundred years old. They are majestic examples of the type of plantings undertaken in recent areas of settlement in the late nineteenth century.

Notable Features

Registration includes all of the land comprised in Section 5, Block X, Karioi Survey District, (as noted in New Zealand Gazette 1954, p.258), and the School, its fittings and fixtures, and the remaining living trees of the original eastern shelterbelt thereon.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1897 - 1898

1940 -
School closed.

Construction Details

Timber frame, weatherboard cladding, corrugated iron roof.

Completion Date

21st September 2004

Report Written By

Rebecca O'Brien

Information Sources

Simon, 1998

J. Simon, (ed), Nga Kura Maori: the Native Schools System, 1867-1969, Auckland, 1998

Simon, 2001

J. Simon and L. Smith, (eds.), A Civilising Mission? Perceptions and representations of the New Zealand Native School System, Auckland, 2001

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Central Region Office

The public can freely access the grounds of the former Karioi Native School. It is now part of the Domain. The Karioi Domain Board controls the use of the venue.

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.