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Early days

Christ’s College was modelled on the public schools of England, which many of the men in the Canterbury Association had themselves attended. The emphasis was on a classical education, which included Greek and Latin, modern languages, mathematics, English, history and geography. Boys were also expected to be able to conduct scientific experiments, and to draw and sing.

When the school opened at the beginning of 1851, conditions for both staff and boys were exceedingly primitive. It is unlikely the books and equipment that had arrived on the 20 Canterbury Association ships were even unpacked before the school left its barracks in Lyttelton and, in 1852, moved over the hill to the St Michael’s Parsonage in Oxford Terrace. It was here that College's first headmaster, Henry Jacobs, reopened the school for both boarders and day boys.

House System

Houses provided the boarders with their base within the school, and their names changed as different Masters came and went. The name Jacobs has been retained, while others have been replaced by School, Richards and Flower’s. Initially boarders’ meals were provided by the wives of the staff members in whose Houses they boarded. However, with increased boarding numbers as the school continued to grow, this was no longer considered viable. The large Dining Hall, in which staff and boarders could meet and eat as a community, was planned and completed in 1925.

Day boys had locker space, but it was not until 1909 that the first two day boy Houses were formalised. They were named North Town and South Town, and boys were allocated to them depending on whether their homes were north or south of Gloucester Street. These Houses became Harper and Julius in 1924, and Condell’s, Corfe, Rolleston and Somes have been added over the years.

The many year groups within the Houses have always co-operated to foster House spirit and to compete in sporting and cultural competitions. Cricket and football games were established as soon as there were enough boarders to compete against each other, and gradually music and drama challenges were added. Houses have always provided the basis for the pastoral care of all boys at College. Housemasters, tutors and matrons all work together, in association with the Chaplain and school counsellor.

Masters and Classes

Since College was established, it has had 17 Headmasters and employed many hundreds of teachers, who have used their considerable skills and abilities to teach the thousands of boys in their care. Until the late 1980s, boys were expected to attend academic classes on Saturday morning. Increasingly, however, Saturday sport encroached on this time, and so Saturday Activities were developed. Boys who are not involved in sports teams, use this time productively, for extra tuition or to gain skills in clubs as diverse as cooking, mountain biking and archery.

Boys Only?

In 1851, Susan Alport was on the Attendance List at Christ’s College Grammar School in Lyttelton, and she appears to have been the only girl ever to be formally listed as a pupil of the school. She is not, however, the only girl ever to have been taught by Christ’s College staff. For many years girls have been included in classes where it has been appropriate and necessary because of staffing, and College has long-standing relationships with St Margaret’s College and Rangi Ruru Girls’ School in both music and drama.

Present Site

When Christ’s College moved to its present site in 1856, it had 35 pupils and a staff of three. The advantage of the location adjacent to the Government Domain, was the room to expand. The school gradually began to acquire additional buildings. Initially wooden, they provided homes for teaching staff and their families, and the increasing number of boarders. By 1863, the first of the stone buildings, Big School, had its place on the west side of the Quadrangle, followed in 1867 by the Chapel.

Anglican Foundations

The Chapel has long been at the heart of the campus and is an important focus of the school. But although College was founded by the same people who founded the Anglican diocese of Christchurch, it has never been exclusively Anglican in its outlook and acceptance of boys. The 1854 Deed of Foundation, by which the Church Property Trustees set up the College, included many of the early clergy and laity as members of the Board of Governors, or Fellows of the College. The first Warden of the College was George Augustus Selwyn, the first and only Bishop of New Zealand. When his diocese was divided, the position devolved to the first Bishop Henry John Chitty Harper, and then to all subsequent Bishops of the diocese. Worship in the Chapel is enhanced by the Chapel Choir. Boys have always been expected to contribute to the services of Morning and Evening Prayer and Holy Communion. Gradually a surpliced choir began to lead the music. At the time of Bishop’s Harper’s 50th wedding anniversary, which was celebrated in the College Chapel in 1879, a comment was made that the choir was nearly all made up of his 12 grandsons.


Harper’s sons and grandsons were among the first boys to be awarded scholarships for their education at Christ’s College. The Canterbury Association planned that one third of the sale of the lands in the Canterbury Settlement would be set aside for religious and educational purposes, and others who shared their aims and ideals collected, donated and willed money over many years to create endowments for College.

The one scholarship which has survived with its original name since that early period was founded by Maria Somes, second wife of Joseph Somes, one time director of the New Zealand Company. She was entitled, by the purchase of a land order, to 50 rural acres in Lyttelton and either a quarter acre section in Lyttelton or a half acre in Christchurch. She chose the former and the investments associated with this land continue to provide scholarships and exhibitions.

Dayboys and Boarders

The long-standing tradition of boys coming to Christ’s College from local homes, as well as from all parts of the country began early in Christ’s College history. While some walked down the road to school, others rode their horses and later their bicycles. Many travelled long distances over many days, from as far away as Hawke’s Bay and Invercargill, to take advantage of the education which Christ’s College offered. College at this time taught boys as young as six, and each boy arrived with a different level of education. Consequently there was a wide age range in many classes and, until the number of classrooms increased, they were all taught together. Families whose sons came to Christ’s College at that time are now up to their sixth generation of attendance.


Sport has always been an integral part of College life and a balance for academic endeavour. In 1862, the Games Committee was set up by the boys, which managed the day-to-day running of sporting activities, as well as the library. The committee also arranged the purchase of equipment, organised coaches and set about levelling Upper, so that the tussocks and hollows would not interfere with their games. As the number of sports increased, however, it was no longer possible for boys to take care of the increased logistical work involved, nor for all sport to take place within school grounds. Thus, to this day, some sports, including cricket, are played on the neighbouring Hagley sports fields.


Above the Archivist’s computer are the words, “Our job is to preserve the past and to record the present for the future”. Archives at Christ’s College is much broader than the stereotypical collection of books and papers. It involves bringing what can be found out about and rescued from the past, and adding the present, into a seamless and continuous record.

It is a record which relies upon planned collection and serendipity, on the deliberate gathering of current information and on the generosity of Old Boys and their descendants. Archives cover socks to text books, examination papers to cricket caps, inkwells to ties, because they are all part of the essence of College. Without these visible reminders of the past, there is a distinct lack of context for the future.

These records are used in a variety of ways by staff, boys, Old Boys and outside researchers, but they all have a common theme: “Tell me about ...” And we do our best to do just that. There are times when that is not possible, when the required information has not survived in its entirety, but there are always clues to follow. Some of this research finds its way into displays in the College Library, other research is used within College in history classes, or shared in College publications such as In Black & White or College.

The Archives are always looking for, and ready to accept, new material which has Christ’s College connections. At the moment we are looking for information about Old Boys who served in the RCF and RAF during the First World War, those who went to South Africa in the Boer War, and early photographs of House groups or House magazines.

Research into Christ’s College Old Boys

Research can be undertaken into Christ’s College Old Boys by the College Archivist. The amount of information available varies throughout College’s history and is released in line with College’s archival policies.

Upon receipt of a request the archivist will assess both the time it will take to undertake the research and an indication of the material available. The current cost of this research is $60.00 per hour, divided into 20 minute blocks of time.

If the material researched is for publication, there may be additional reproduction fees in addition to conditions attached to its release.

The archivist can be contacted by email:

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