For the first few years after the arrival of the Europeans at Ngamotu education (in the minds of most) did not count for much. Children at the age of seven, when 'reason dawned' , were plunged by their parents-by necessity-into the adult world, with little concern for youngsters' feelings or problems. The process of growing up was generally regarded as a steady and imperceptible evolution with no recognition of adoles- cent storms and stress. The founders of the New Zealand Company, however, were not unmindful of the necessity for education. An official instruction to surgeon-superintendents on all their ships said: 'As it is very desirable to keep the minds of immigrants beneficially employed you are to use your best endeavours to promote the instruction of both adults and children as circumstances will permit.' 1 Some attempt was made to implement these instructions. During the voyage of the Timandra eight days after leaving Plymouth on October 20, 1841, a committee was set up to superintend a school 'and despite a certain amount of opposition from a section of the immigrants a school was opened eight days later with eight passengers assisting.'? On the Blenheim, which arrived the following February, William Shell was authorised to act as headmaster and assistant to the surgeon, Dr Samuel Norway. Shell's wife was the ship's matron. School books were supplied, but 'with the children biting them and picking them to bits,'? little use was made of them.
Such classes were not continued after arrival at Ngamotu, although 'a claim has been made that on November 1, 1841, Thomas Woolcombe gave instructions to Captain Liardet that a suitable section should be appropriated by the company as a site for a school or mechanics' institute ... to be held in trust by trustees chosen from the "operative class". '4 Nothing apparently came of this instruction and the company relied on churches to further education. But the churches themselves had little money and so the settlement's schooling was left to the concern and initiative of a few private teachers. These included Mrs Frances Newland (wife of the town's first jailer John Newland), Mrs Edwin Harris, Mrs Samuel Popham-King, Dr and Mrs J. H. Horn and W. P . Mutch, most of whom conducted classes in their homes. Mrs Newland was in charge of the first Anglican school, built in 1844 by William Bolland, deacon-in-charge of the parish, to a design by his friend, architect Frederick Thatcher. Bishop Selwyn offered free education from his own pocket to a number of children of poor parents equal to the number of fee-paying pupils on the roll. The school continued to serve a small number of children for several years on lines laid down by Selwyn. In 1847 Governor Grey's Education Ordinance provided for a system of fee-charging denominational schools to be subsidised by the Govern-ment, and in New Plymouth the Wesleyan Missionary Society opened a boarding school at Ngamotu. Named the Grey Institute, in honour of the Governor, its aim was to provide instruction mainly for Maori boys superintended by Henry Hanson Turton, the Wesleyan missionary. By 1854, Turton's report revealed that in addition to Maori youths, 20 girls were boarding there under the guidance of Mrs Turton. The institute was taken over by John Whiteley in 1857, but looming war clouds forced its closure. In June 1863 the Grey Institute buildings were hired by the Government to house 'friendly natives' and two years later classes for Maori adult, boy and girl boarders began there and continued until Whiteley's murder in 1869. The institute did not survive. A report in 1874 by the Civil Commissioner, Robert Parris, said adult Maoris were totally indifferent to the education of their children. The institute buildings were sold for removal, and the nearby Mission House became a Maori minister's parsonage.> This was subsequently used as a boarding establishment for Maori girls and administered by the Rangiatea Methodist Maori College Trust Board established in the 1940s, until a separate house was built for this purpose near Spotswood College in the late 1950s. The sole survivor of the Wesleyan Missionary Society's Grey Institute is the Mission House, in which a caretaker lives. It is held by the Grey Institute Trust of the Methodist Church. Church schools of various denominations served the settlement well for several years, but inter-church rivalry hindered progress. By the end of 1851 a group of settlers on their own initiative, no doubt to counter church domination, obtained a small section and ordered 'apparatus' for the purpose of illustrating lectures. The following year evening meetings were being held in the newly-formed Taranaki Mechanics' Institute (in Charles Beardsworth's house). Lectures were given on such a wide variety of subjects as the philosophy of Aristotle, astronomy, mineralogy, engineering and Shakespeare' s play of Others .6 Lecturers included J. C. Richmond, F. U. Gledhill, Alexander King, and the Rev. H. Groube.
The same year Peter Macomish was teaching at his 'Taranaki Educational Institute' and Beardsworth was conducting his Patawa House School for older boys (at a fee of $2.50 a quarter) which was regarded as 'a leading scholastic institution.' This was later taken over by M. W. Gray in 1853 when Beardsworth opened a school in Robe Street. The Taranaki Herald commented on July 12, 1854, that 'there were five educational establishments under Grey Institute. The total receiving education out of a European population of 2000 souls does not exceed 180, some of which are the native race.' The New Plymouth Provincial Council at its inaugural meeting in September, 1853, recorded that 'concern with Maori affairs and funds, and uncertainty as to the jurisdiction and powers of both central and local bodies, resulted in a continuous policy oflaisez faire in educational matters."? The schools of this period had to support themselves on fees they charged their pupils (usually 5c per pupil a week). Their premises were primitive whares or the front room of the teacher's house. Equipment consisted mainly of slates and slate pencils. Paper was a highly-prized commodity and, if it was used, pen nibs were polished at the end of the day in order to preserve them. Generally all equipment was the responsibility of the parent. Annual reports reveal that several teachers did not remain in the profession very long. There was a general awareness of the need for some public system of education, but the lack of money and the need to use children as free labour overshadowed most other considerations. It was not until 1856-no doubt stirred by the prospect of an election-that the Provincial Council began to display an interest in the need for improvement. It appointed a Provincial Education Commission. Its 16 recommendations managed a compromise or partnership between denominational and secular interests and proposed the estab- lishment of a central board for administrative purposes. It recommended the foundation of a grammar school in New Plymouth, as well as primary and infant schools in town and rural areas. Any hopes for progress from these proposals were dashed by the flare-up of hostilities between Maori and Pakeha, and plans for a public education system were shelved. The town continued to rely on private and church schools.
By the mid-1860s times were becoming more settled. The refugees had returned from Nelson and although private schools still flourished, pressure from the settlers introduced a scheme of assistance for parents who could not afford fees, by a subsidy of up to 5Oc a pupil a quarter. For this privilege schools were required to submit to inspection 'at any time during school hours. '8 Robert H. Eyton, a forthright man, was the first New Plymouth inspector. His first report revealed very low standards of educational achievement caused, in his opinion, by lack of teacher-training and irregularity of attendance by children. To complete the vicious circle the poor results of children's work failed to give parents any desire to avail themselves of the benefits of education for their children, such as it was. Eyton concluded: 'The only feasible remedy is to levy a general education rate to stir up the popular interest in education which is essential to success. '9 His report made an immediate impression. An Education Ordinance 'to make better provision for the establishment of schools in Taranaki' was passed; and the Board of Trustees for Public Reserves, which had up till then paid most of its attention to the administration of public reserves, was reconstituted as Taranaki's first Board of Education.' 0 The ordinance provided that schools should be open to all children from the age of five, but the teacher was given the right to expel or forbid attendance to any child for want of cleanliness, misconduct or incor- rigible disobedience. Its most controversial clause gave local authorities power to strike a household rate of up to $2 a year. Permission was given for religious instruction at the beginning or end of school hours, but no child was compelled to attend these sessions without its parents' permission. Selected portions of Scripture published by the Irish Board of Education could be read, but without comment. Aid was permitted for denominational schools provided their secular attention met the board's approval. ' , At the first meeting of the board 12 discussion was enthusiastic; action slow. Some members, as well as many householders, felt schooling should be compulsory, but the majority of the settlers considered children's time would be spent more valuably on their families' farms. It was decided that 'owing to the present unsettled state of the province it was not desirable to do any more than to continue the existing system,' and after appointing a teacher for the Oakura School, the meeting closed.t ' Public concern grew and by 1873 the plight of education in Taranaki reached a point where the Provincial Council was forced into action. The average salary for New Plymouth teachers was $90 a year, while at Nelson and Canterbury it was in excess of $300. Thus the best teachers sought employment elsewhere, leaving Taranaki children at a disadvantage.