Oamaru Grammar School (Former)

9 Severn Street, Oamaru

  • Oamaru Grammar School (Former).
    Copyright: North Otago Museum.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2287 Date Entered 2nd July 1982 Date of Effect 2nd July 1982


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Pt Sec 7 Blk XCV Town of Oamaru (RTs 3062 OT13A/153), Otago Land District, and the building known as Oamaru Grammar School (Former), thereon. (Refer to the extent map tabled at the Heritage List/ Rārangi Kōrero Committee meeting on 12 November 2015).

City/District Council

Waitaki District


Otago Region

Legal description

Pt Sec 7 Blk XCV Town of Oamaru (RTs 3062 OT13A/153), Otago Land District


The former Oamaru Grammar School, designed by Oamaru architect John Forrester in 1875, has social, historical and architectural significance. Its chaste design, reflecting perhaps the ‘disciplined scholastic environment’ of the time, recalls the developing importance of secondary education nineteenth century Otago.

Oamaru’s first school was the Greta Street School, built in 1862, which by 1870 had an average attendance of 170 pupils. A second school was established in 1874 (known as Oamaru North School), and a third in 1877, known as Oamaru South School.

Another school was needed to provide a bridge into the secondary school system. The title ‘Grammar School’ meant, according to historian K.C. McDonald that ‘senior pupils were given the opportunity to go on to secondary subjects.’ Architect Thomas Forrester designed the school. The stone mason was James Calder and the carpenter was E. Rowland.

Oamaru Grammar School opened on 4 October 1875. With classrooms full of children and a crowd of visitors, George Sumpter, the chair of the school committee struggled to make himself heard. Sumpter told the crowd that the building was a credit to the architect and all concerned, and how the airy classrooms would be conducive to ‘the health and happiness of those who would be scholars [there]. Mr Petrie, the Inspector of Schools, parised the building as ‘the best designed building for the purpose in the Province.’ Mr Fitzgerald, the Rector, said that he could already see the difference compared with the old school where students struggled with ‘listless eyes and dull heads over tasks that in better ventilated rooms would have been mastered easily and with pleasure.’

The school buildings, besides smaller rooms and lobbies, comprised two central teaching rooms of 44 feet by 18 feet, and four rooms (two at the front and two at the back) of 35 feet by 20 feet. Some 13,000 to 13,000 feet of stone was required to build the school.

After the establishment of Oamaru North School and Oamaru South School, Oamaru Grammar School became known as Oamaru District High School, with some 17 boy pupils. It continued to offer secondary education until 1887. With the establishment of Waitaki Boys’ High School in 1883, and Waitaki Girls’ High School in 1887, the building was no longer needed for a secondary school and was converted to a primary school, renamed Oamaru Middle School (being between Oamaru North School and Oamaru South School).

Oamaru Middle School continued to house a primary school in 1924. With the introduction of the Junior High School system in Oamaru in the mid-1920s, Waitaki Girls’ High School had insufficient space to house the Form 1 and 2 pupils, so Middle School became their home until the new block was built in 1928. After this time, the building was used for a variety of purposes, including temporary classrooms, and as a venue for night classes, as a home for the technical/manual classes for pupils from the surrounding country schools for Standards 5 and 5, and for in-service courses for teachers. At its centenary in 1975, it housed the Meldrum Special School for Intellectually Handicapped Children. Until the 19080s, the school was used for courses run by the Workers’ Education Authority, Otago University Extension and the North Otago Adult Education Committee. In 2000, Oamaru Hospital was integrated into the former Oamaru Grammar School. In 2015, Oamaru Grammar School remains part of the Oamaru Hospital.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Forrester, Thomas

Born in Glasgow and educated at the Glasgow School of Art, Thomas Forrester (1838-1907) emigrated to New Zealand in 1861 with some experience in building construction, particularly plasterwork.

Settling in Dunedin he worked under William Mason (1810-97) and William Henry Clayton (1823-77) and later Robert Arthur Lawson (1833-1902). In 1865 he superintended the Dunedin Exhibition and in 1870 was employed by the Otago Provincial Government to supervise borings for the Waitaki road and rail bridge.

In 1872 Forrester entered partnership with John Lemon (1828-90) in Oamaru. Forrester was responsible for most of the design work while Lemon administered the practice. Among their many designs were St Paul's Church (1875-76), the Harbour Board Offices (1876), Queen's (later Brydone) Hotel (1881), Waitaki Boys' High School (1883), The Courthouse (1883) and the Post Office (1883-84). They contributed greatly to Oamaru's nineteenth century character. On Lemon's death in 1890 the practice was taken over by Forrester's son, John Megget Forrester (1865-1965).

From 1870 Forrester became involved with the supervision of harbour works and some time after 1885 he became Engineer to the Oamaru Harbour Board. In this capacity he designed the repairs to the breakwater following storm damage in 1886 and later the Holmes Wharf. On his death in 1907 he was still in the employ of the Harbour Board.

Forrester is also believed to have prepared the first geological maps of New Zealand under the direction of Sir James Hector (1834-1907).

James Calder

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

E. Rowland

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1875 -

2000 -
Oamaru Grammar School integrated into facilities for Oamaru Hospital

Completion Date

10th September 2015

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

McDonald, 1962

K C McDonald, 'White Stone Country', Oamaru, 1962

North Otago Times

North Otago Times

North Otago Times, 5 Oct 1875, p. 2.

Cochran, 1997

Chris Cochran, “Middle School Severn Street, Oamaru: Conservation Report’, prepared for New Zealand Historic Places Trust, 8 September 1997

Other Information

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.

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Otago/Southland Office of Heritage New Zealand