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Lectures and Examinations

20 November 2023

In the first decades of Canterbury College’s existence the major qualification offered was a general B.A., which students both in the sciences and in the humanities completed. By 1876, to pass the three year course, all students were compelled to study mathematics and Latin, as well as their choice of three other subjects. They were then required to sit both internal College examinations, and to be examined by the University of New Zealand. In 1880 the College offered tuition in classics, English literature, history, mathematics, chemistry, physics, geology, biology, and modern languages.

The first generation of students attending the College would have been impressed by the new grand buildings. One graduate looking back during the Jubilee in 1923 wrote “Oh the delirious joy of attending lectures … after years of work as an exempted student! The delight in the beautiful building, after the ugliness of a country school! The uplift of fellowship, though all the eager crowd were at first as strangers!” Sometimes it was not only the students who eagerly attended lectures. 

The Daily Use Work Book used by W.S. Strong to capture lecture notes for his engineering paper on Works Organisation in 1952.

The 1897 College Review in recalling the first decade of the College, notes that one of the most regular early attendants at lectures was Dr Fitchett’s dog, Zeus. They claimed “The monotony of the proceedings was occasionally enlivened by the ‘pit-pat-pitting’ of the dog’s tail on the floor, and it was claimed by his fellow students that Zeus could wag his tail in Latin and bark in Greek."

When the College first opened in 1873 lectures started as early as 7.45am and went late into the evening, as well as on the weekends. The schedule was geared to cater for the majority of students who were working full time and had to fit study around the demands of their professions. As the College progressed, greater numbers of students studied full time, but the lecture timetable continued to allow for those who were working. The schedule for 1947 shows lectures starting at 8am and running to 9pm, while laboratories ran from Monday to Saturday from 9am to 6pm. Some lectures were no doubt more demanding than others. Professor Macmillan Brown was well known for running over time in his classes, sometimes talking for up to three hours or more. Yet he claimed that his students’ were happy with this arrangement, declaring that “It was heroic work, but they seemed to enjoy it.”

This postcard from the Avice Hamilton papers shows how the University of New Zealand advised candidates of their successes, and failures.

At that time students marks were determined solely on examinations, but they still had to attend lectures and complete course work in order to get ‘terms’, which qualified them to sit the examinations. To prove attendance at lectures, students had to sign an attendance register, and in some of the larger lectures this led to students assisting each other by signing on behalf. Some students took the practice further, and began signing the roll on behalf of fictional students, which meant that in one year the students ‘I.V. Lenin’ and ‘D.B.Lager’ qualified to sit the examination for English 1.

A plan of the furniture to be constructed in the Canterbury College Biological Laboratory, showing the lecture table, desks and blackboards.

In the midst of lectures and examinations, for some the initial newness of the buildings was a little too stark. O.T.J. Alpers wrote of his time at College in the 1880s “In brand-new mortar-boards and brand-new gowns we sat in lecture-rooms that still smelt of paint and flattered ourselves we were already creating traditions in a College that was founded yesterday, in a city built the day before.”

Eventually however, time and experience enabled students to develop a fondness and pride in their College too. The College Review of June 1926 discusses the importance of architecture and claims that “Canterbury College possesses a group of buildings surpassing all other University colleges in New Zealand in architectural beauty. One is instantly impressed with the exquisite charm of the arcaded cloisters, the towers and turrets and the deeply recessed balconies giving the whole college an atmosphere of restrained and refined beauty.”

A romantic view through the cloisters by T.W. Rowe. The photo was given as a gift to Dr Hight.
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