Erskine College (Former)

25-31 Avon Street, Melbourne Road and Mace Street, Island Bay, WELLINGTON

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The collection of buildings now commonly known as Erskine College were built in Island Bay as a Catholic girls' boarding school founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart (Sacré Coeur). The religious of the Sacré Coeur followed the principles instituted by St Madeleine-Sophie Barat, a French nun who founded the Society in 1800 as a response to the quelling of religion after the French Revolution. The Society of the Sacré Coeur, who make the education of girls their focus, subsequently instituted convents throughout the world. The Convent of the Sacred Heart at Island Bay was the second of four girls' schools the Society would establish in New Zealand. Constructed in 1905-6, the school was set up by Sisters who had come from overseas at the invitation of Archbishop Redwood, who was keen to have a Sacred Heart secondary school for girls in his diocese. The imposing four-storey Gothic brick and reinforced concrete building was designed by noted architect John Sydney Swan, who was just then emerging from his partnership with Frederick de Jersey Clere, and was the earliest in a series of major commissions for the Catholic Church for which Swan would become well known. The building was ready for its first pupils at the start of 1907, and the roll steadily increased over the years. Students received an education characterised by a focus on religion and character, interwoven with the French culture of its founders. In the late 1960s, confusion with Sacred Heart College in Lower Hutt led to the name of the Island Bay complex being changed to Erskine College, in honour of former Superior General of the Society Mother Janet Erskine Stuart, who had visited the school in 1914 and planted a Norfolk pine in the grounds, which still grows today. As the roll increased over the years, so did the facilities of the school. The original main convent building has been added to numerous times in its history, firstly in 1916. A gymnasium and two accommodation wings were other major additions. One of the most significant additions, and certainly the most celebrated, was the Chapel of the Sacred Heart, built adjoining the main convent building in 1929-30. The chapel, again designed by John Sydney Swan, is a masterpiece of French Gothic architecture. The restrained exterior treatment belies an interior which features an exquisite marble altar, and leadlighting and statuary from Germany amongst other treasures. By the time of its closure in 1985, nearly 3000 girls had been educated at the college. A reunion of alumnae in 1998 was attended by 800 former pupils, many of whom expressed their strong emotional attachment to the Erskine site. After its closure the school buildings were used variously by many creative and performing arts groups and as a venue for high profile events such as the International Festival of the Arts. This trend of usage was continued for over 12 years by the tenancy of The Learning Connexion, a creative arts college which until recently utilised the entire complex except the Chapel. The Chapel was refurbished in 2003 and is now regularly used in conjunction with the redeveloped function rooms as a popular venue for weddings, funerals and other ceremonies, as well as a valued space for the performance of choral and instrumental music recitals. Erskine College (Former) is of outstanding heritage significance. As a now-rare physical testament to the work of the Society of the Sacred Heart in New Zealand, the place tells a story of the development of Catholic education in this country and is associated with numerous significant historical figures, as well as being a place of worship, spiritual retreat and celebration for generations of pupils and Sacré Coeur religious. The subject of huge community esteem, the place is held in extremely high regard by former alumnae, members of the Catholic community, local Island Bay residents, heritage professionals and other interested parties. The high social value of the place is most strongly demonstrated by the extensive campaign to protect the entire site, which was spearheaded by the formation of the Save Erskine College Trust in 1992 and its official approval as New Zealand's first non-government heritage protection authority. The main convent building, Chapel of the Sacred Heart and associated additions are also of special architectural, cultural, technological and aesthetic significance. The Chapel in particular is regarded as the finest Gothic interior in New Zealand, and its elegant proportions an offer exceptional acoustic quality which has seen many notable musical performances.

Erskine College (Former) viewed from the western side of the valley in Island Bay | Alison Dangerfield | 09/03/2009 | NZ Historic Places Trust
west elevation of the convent building, with the gymnasium block visible to the left of the image | Alison Dangerfield | 01/02/2009 | NZ Historic Places Trust
Chapel of the Sacred Heart looking east towards main altar | Alison Dangerfield | 01/02/2009 | NZ Historic Places Trust



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 1


Private/No Public Access

List Number


Date Entered

8th August 2009

Date of Effect

8th August 2009

City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lots 57-58, Lots 61-66, Lot 81, Lot 721 DP 170 (RT WN35A/667); Lots 59-60 DP 170 (RT WN36/125); Lots 55-56 DP 170 (RT WN36/171), and Pt Lot 70 DP 170, Sec 1 SO 18273 (RT WN417/180), Wellington Land District and all of the buildings and structures known as Erskine College (Former) and their fittings and fixtures, including the main convent building, the Chapel of the Sacred Heart, and all of the grounds including the Reverend Mother's Garden, Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto and the terraced lawn, and notable trees. The following chattels are also included in the registration: all moveable contents of the Chapel of the Sacred Heart (including statuary, pedestals, altars and altar furniture, vestment furniture in sacristy, pews and pedal organ in choir loft) and in the convent building: the remains of the dormitory enclosure (T3) and wardrobe cubicles in hallways as well as plaques naming the rooms. The Coen and Lisieux buildings, St Anthony's and the gymnasium and other additions and extensions to the main convent building are also within the boundary of the registration although they are considered to be of limited significance. (Refer to map of extent in Appendix 1 of the review report for further information).

Legal description

Lots 57-58, Lots 61-66, Lot 81, Lot 721 DP 170 (RT WN35A/667); Lots 59-60 DP 170 (RT WN36/125); Lots 55-56 DP 170 (RT WN36/171), and Pt Lot 70 DP 170, Sec 1 SO 18273 (RT WN417/180), Wellington Land District.

Location Description

The Erskine College complex and grounds are situated on a sizeable urban block of land bordered on three sides by Melbourne Road, Avon and Mace streets, with a residential subdivision to the east between the property and Volga Street.

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