Salisbury history highlights

In 1850, William McRae, his wife and three children arrived in Nelson from County Clare, Ireland. He took up land in the present day Salisbury Road and built a new homestead, and grounds, modelled on his Irish homestead. Many of the remaining trees now have heritage status. William later moved to North Canterbury and his son ran the homestead until his death in 1904.

The property was sold to the Crown and used as a home for boys until the establishment of a special school “for boys of feeble mind” in South Canterbury. The demand for a similar school for girls saw the establishment, in 1916, of the Richmond Special School for Girls of Feeble Mind on the McRae homestead site.

Two large dormitory buildings, called Cottage One and Cottage Two, were built to house the girls.

By 1917, the school was established, with two teachers and a roll of fifty. The large homestead was used for all purposes - domestic, educational and recreational. In addition to the basic English and mathematics curriculum at the school, life revolved around timetabled activities designed to build character and keep the variety of girls good and busy. These included housework, laundry, sewing, knitting and outside occupation such as gardening.

In 1925, the new kitchen/dining room and recreation room were built. The girls had all their meals there and were able to gather for dances on Saturday night and to view silent films.

In 1930, 3 additional classrooms were built with another being built in 1935 and the first staffroom in 1937.

In 1947, Miss Katherine McRae (no relation to the original land-owning family) became Headmistress. Her time was marked by an appreciation of the girls as individuals. This was almost a revolutionary idea. She gave attention to the girls’ differing capacities and emphasised the need for curriculum to respond to these. Greater involvement with the community was also beginning to be encouraged.

The learners’ swimming pool was built in 1949.

By 1951, the school had a roll of around 65 and a residential and teaching staff of 19 of whom only three where trained teachers. During the 1950’s Maori had started attending in significant numbers.

The old homestead which had had no maintenance done on it in 25 years was demolished in the late 50’s.

By 1960, community-school relationships were getting established. The annual garden parties provided a somewhat formal opportunity for visitors to have a look at the school. Local shops did business with the school and Rotary & Jaycee clubs organised good fun activities at the school. Local businesses took girls for work experience on a regular basis. Girls participated in local sports fixtures and music festivals.

The school was also a largely self-sufficient unit growing all its own vegetables and doing all sewing, laundry, hairdressing and repairs on site.

Throughout the late 1950s and the 1960s, the proportion of Maori at the school increased significantly. At a time when there was very little awareness of Maori culture in Nelson, the Salisbury culture group, established by Maria Hippolite became a very important part of the school’s identity. And in the pre-powhiri era, they played an important role in the community as well. This dimension has been a very significant aspect of life at Salisbury.

1963 saw the arrival of Nora Hurley as Principal of the Richmond Special School for Girls, which name was changed to Salisbury Girls School the following year. She set high standards for the girls and the teaching staff. She tackled the Department of Education head on over operational resourcing and by the time she left 17 ½ years later the school had been practically rebuilt.

Records state 3 houses were built along the driveway as teaching staff accommodation in 1965.

In 1967 approval was given for a new hostel (now called Hurley) and a new staff block to accommodate 14 staff members. These were completed in 1969.

In 1968 approval was given to an additional classroom, an arts and craft room, toilet cloakroom, new storage space, laundry, gym, central heating in classrooms, a new administration block and alterations to the recreation and dining rooms.

By the end of the decade the campus was radically improved. The facilities development was timely, since the roll jumped from approximately 50 in 1969 to 80 in 1970, half of whom were Maori.

Maria Robinson (nee Hippolite) began at Richmond Special School as a housemistress, rising through the ranks to become Assistant Principal from 1968-70. After her marriage in 1970, she went to Papua New Guinea, but returned in 1974, again becoming Assistant Principal by the end of the decade. In 1985, she took over as Acting Principal and became Principal in 1987. She remained in that role until her retirement in 1999. Maria spent the best part of four decades at Salisbury and may have had more influence on the school than any other single person in its history. She stamped a people first brand on the school, which was later translated into, the whanau O Salisbury.




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