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Article from the "Otago Witness" describing Alexandra Schools' Diamond Jubilee

From the Otago Witness of 16 March 1926, the article describes the several days of events held to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the Alexandra Schools. Includes mention of William Bringans who was mentioned as Band Master and Chairman of the current School Committee.

March 16, 1926 OTAGO WITNESS 17


A great and important milestone in the history of Alexandra was fittingly marked on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday of last week, when residents and ex-residents from near and far celebrated the diamond jubilee of the District High School, formerly the Alexandra Public School, a celebration with which was associated the opening of the memorial gates to the early pioneers who took part in the Dunstan gold rush.

Since its opening in 1864, when a tiny single-roomed building in the centre of the town held a handful of scholars, until the present day, when over 200 children are taught by a staff of 11 teachers in two up-to-date buildings near the town recreation area, and including a fully-equipped technical department, many children have passed though the school in the heart of a district pregnant with the romantic history of the gold mining days. Yet at the call of the committee formed to organise the celebrations, representative pupils of practically every period came from all parts of New Zealand, and from as far away as Fremantle.

A spirit of happy celebration was in the air. The town was gaily bedecked with flags, and the school was specially decorated with greenery and streamers for the occasion.


1864 to 1926 is the span of years that warranted the holding the jubilee. Although the time had exceeded 60 years, it had been found advisable to postpone the celebrations until 1926, and the opening of the memorial gates was also arranged to take place in conjunction with the celebrations.

During the years of its existence the following principals have been in charge of the school: - 1864, Miss E. Hamilton; 1865-66, Rev. J. Cameron, M.A.; 1867-74, Mr G. Reid; 1875, Mr Walter Rice; 1876, Mr Richard Goulding; 1877, Mr Fred Odell; 1878-1893, Mr F. S. Aldred; 1894-1908, Mr J G. Closs; 1909-1922, Mr A. McLean; 1923 to the present day, Mr W. P. Mechaelis.

Perfect weather prevailed throughout the three days of jubilee celebrations, and a long programme of official functions and social gathering s was carried out with a completeness and enjoyment typical of the town and the occasion.


Hundreds of happy folk, back to the home of their childhood days—back to the old familiar scenes, familiar despite the passing of the years—met on Sunday morning at the schoolhouse.

Including the present-day pupils they were hundreds strong—a memorable assembly of Alexandra folk from far and near. The majority, as may well be imagined, came from nearby parts, and foremost amongst these was Mr P. Weaver, aged 70 years, who joined the school when it opened in Alexandra in 1864, and was the earliest pupil present at the gathering. Yet pupils were represented from all over the Dominion, and from as far away as Fremantle they had come to renew old friendships and do homage to a spot that is evergreen in their memories.

Sunday was the first day of the jubilee celebrations, and all townspeople were invited to join in the ceremony that had been arranged. Most of the visitors arrived on Saturday, and the evening had been spent in meeting friends and schoolmates of 10, 20, 30 years ago—the town had been busy with sightseers, searching out the old familiar landmarks.

There were perhaps 400 who met at the school on the following morning and there followed a procession round the town headed by the chairman of the Jubilee Committee, Mr C. Weaver. The procession halted at the Soldiers’ Memorial, where a simple yet charming ceremony was combined with an official welcome to ex-townsmen, pupils, teachers and committeemen.

The Mayor, Mr W. Black, was the first speaker, and in the course of a short speech he invited all visitors to make themselves thoroughly “at home” in their native town during their all too short stay. It was a red-letter day in the history of Alexandra and the residents wished to make the visit as enjoyable as possible for all. He invited the visitors to make to make full use of the recreation areas, and avail themselves of the opportunities that would be given to visit the various places of interest throughout the town and the surrounding district.


On behalf of the Jubilee Committee, Mr C. Weaver added his welcome.

“There is a golden bond of friendship that binds us all,” he said, “and ex-pupils of the old school from far and near are together on an occasion that is unique in the history of the town. I trust that the time will be a happy one for residents and visitors alike, and that old and dear friends and acquaintances will meet and enjoy the recollections of the past.”

Speaking as an ex-pupil and returned soldier, Mr E. Tohill expressed his pleasure that due prominence had been given in the programme to the returned soldiers of the district. In an effective address he thanked all present for assembling at the monument to do honour to those of the old school who had laid down their lives for the Empire. He also took the opportunity of thanking the council for the care and attention that had been given to the monument.

Two beautiful floral wreaths were then laid on the monument to the memory of the fallen by Mr P. Weaver, as the earliest pupil, and Miss Winnie Arnott who was dux of the Alexandra District High School last year.

Following this recognition from the first and the present day pupils, Bandmaster W. Bringans sounded the “Last Post.”


Special services were held in the local churches where large congregations assembled, and the official functions for the day were closed.

Taking as his text “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,” the Rev. J. Robertson of the Presbyterian Church, said in the course of his sermon:-- “Home! Home! What a magic there is in that word. As school-fellows, comrades of recent years as well as comrades of the long ago, you are met this morning. You are back in the township in which you were born, or spent your early years. You are acknowledging bonds of sympathy and friendship, and it is natural surely, that the emotion uppermost in your hearts at such a time should be one of gladness, gratitude, and thanksgiving.

“It is a peculiar feeling that we experience on meeting old comrades and revisiting old scenes, a feeling to be felt rather than described. There is something very fine about it, something even mysterious. Why should the place where you were born and the scenes in which your early life was passed possess a charm above all others? You can hardly tell, but you would feel that some sweet human instinct were wanting in you if it were not so. Why do you grip each other with such mighty handshakes? Why does the tear start in you eye? Why do you sing with tenderness of the days of auld lang syne, and drink many a cup of kindness to the memory of those you knew in the far off years?

“We can hardly explain these things. We do not want to explain them; we just want to enjoy them; we realise that they are very sweetest of human realities.


“I suppose that among every lot of old schoolmates, among every company of men and women reunited after a period of years, there will be some who seem to have scored above their fellows, some who stand out as more successful, more prosperous, more favoured than all their neighbours. At school there were some who forged ahead and stood above others in their studies; and in the bigger world the same phenomenon appears. ‘Hasn’t So-and-so done well?’ we hear it said. Well, we ought to rejoice with those who have succeeded more than ordinarily well.”

In the afternoon parties of visitors were taken by car to various homesteads and beauty spots throughout the district. Amongst the places visited was the residences of Mr C. Weaver, where afternoon tea was served to a large gathering.


Monday was the special day of the celebrations—the day when past generations of pupils from the year 1864 were entertained at the school and the technical department by the pupils of the present day under the leadership of the rector, Mr W. Mechaelis.

Those taking part in the jubilee assembled at the school at 1:30 in the afternoon for that important event, the complete roll call, during which every ex-pupil present at the ceremony answered to his or her name as it was called each day in school in the years that have gone by.

The visitors were first taken into the room of the primary department that is built exactly on the site of the original schoolroom, where they were welcomed to the school by Mr. C. Weaver. He spoke of the changes in the town from the early days to the present, the gold rush, with its influx of people that swelled the school roll and necessitated a new building, and lastly drew a comparison between the old and the new—the first small school and the present-day district high school, with its fully-equipped technical department and wide facilities for education on the most broad and modern lines.

As chairman of the present School Committee, Mr W. Bringans also welcomed the visitors and referred to the advancement of the school from its earliest times up to the present day. He stressed the greatly increased facilities offered by the technical department and the advantages of the dental clinic which was now established.


The various departments were then inspected and admired by the visitors, all of whom were loud in their praises of the arrangements and teaching facilities. Many old photographs of great historical value to the district and including groups of teachers, pupils, and committeemen had been placed on exhibition in the old classroom, and these were examined with special interest by all who were present.

After the inspection had been completed the rector gave an interesting address on the changes that had taken place in the methods of teaching. He showed those present the various classes, including cooking and woodwork, at their studies, and outlined the present programme that was carried out each day at the school.

At the conclusion of the address, pupils old and young assembled round the flagpole, and the president (Mr C. Weaver) introduced the children of the school to the ex-pupils of all years.

As the earliest ex-teacher present, Mr F. S. Aldred gave a short, but happy and spirited address to the children on discipline and obedience. The Union Jack was run to the mast head and saluted by all present, and a verse of the National Anthem was sung.

Photographs were taken, and the gathering adjourned to the old schoolroom for the ceremony of the roll call.


The names of pupils attending the school from its opening until 1894 were read by Mr Aldred, and Mr P. Weaver the first pupil to respond, received an ovation. After he had been “marked present,” the youngest pupil of the present school, a son of Mr R. Coulson, presented him with a buttonhole to mark the occasion.

The remainder of the school roll was called by Mr Michaelis, and Mr Bringans called the roll of the teachers and committeemen, many of whom were present.

In all 167 ex-pupils answered the call of their names.

Songs and votes of thanks to all who had taken part in the growth of the school and the function that had been so successfully handled, concluded the formal portion of the afternoon and the ex-pupils were entertained at afternoon tea in the technical department by the children at present attending the school.


There followed a long and happy informal social evening in the Alexandra Hall, when ex-pupils of all ages and generations met to chat eagerly and freshen happy recollections of the days when the[y] were young and obeyed the command of the old school bell.

Mr C. Weaver was in the chair, and the gathering taxed the capacity of the roomy hall.

It was a night of pleasant memories—made doubly enjoyable by the spirit of informal friendship and hospitality for which Alexandra townspeople are famous. Stories of old school days in the different periods of the school’s existence were told and retold, visitors and residents in the evening of life laughed over recollections of childhood pranks and escapades when the eagle eye of the master or mistress was absent, and the lives, whereabouts and fates of townspeople of earlier days were discussed.

Happiness was not unmixed with pathos when there came to be mentioned the names of old pioneer settlers and public men who were leaders in Alexandra during the childhood of those who had come back, but the telegrams of congratulation and the interesting letters from former residents flow in all parts of the world which were read by the secretary, Mr C. Robertson during the evening, showed that natives of Alexandra, wherever they lived, remembered the jubilee and wished it all success.


In opening the evening the Chairman allowed a few minutes to be devoted to a general chat and greetings between old friends, afterwards expressing the pleasure of the committee in being able to organise such a gathering. The honour was a very high one, and at the outset he wished to welcome quite a number of old scholars who had arrived that day. In visiting the scenes of their childhood, the springtime of life would return, and he wished them all an exceedingly pleasant stay. There was a bond of friendship between all Alexandra folk that had grown up through the years, and it would last until the sparks of life were extinguished.

Mr Weaver also told reminiscences of the early days in the old district school—of the big unruly boys who could not be controlled by the lady teacher, and broke out of school, making it necessary for a male teacher to be appointed. He told of the strict, but kindly, rule of Mr F. S. Aldred, one of the most feared, but best-loved teachers that the school ever possessed, of the reasons for the early removal of the first school from the centre of the town to the flat owing to the nearness and influence of a local hotel.


Very beautiful letters from ex-pupils had been received, and these alone compensated the committee for the time and trouble that had been taken in organising the jubilee. Many of those who had been trained in Alexandra had attained high positions in various callings, and in measuring the worth of their achievements it had to be borne in mind that they had started from “scratch,” and did not have the benefit of modern specialised and concentrated education. The school had always progressed under excellent discipline, and its development had been steady and satisfactory. The inspection of the school made that day had been an eye-opener to him and many others.

“If all the pupils of the school could have been with us to-night it would have been a great gathering,” he concluded. “We are exceedingly pleased, however, at the numbers who have arrived from all parts, and I only wish that we could have a reunion more often. We hope you will all go away happy and contented, long to enjoy the golden sunset of life.”

The speakers were many, and amongst them were Miss L. Mackersey, who added a charming tribute to the success of the celebrations; Mr T. Beck, the fortunate possessor of a wonderful memory, who repeated the name of every householder in the town in his school days; Mr W. Hillhouse, of Fremantle, who chatted interestingly of school day happenings; and Mr W. Appleton, of Wellington, who spoke on behalf of pupils of a later date.


Each paid a compliment to the worth of Mr F. S. Aldred, and Mr Appleton warmly supported the system of education that was in vogue during Mr Aldred’s term of office. It produced men more solidly grounded in the necessary branches of education, he said, and in his experience men educated in the old school were the best. In concluding, he paid a tribute to the mothers of the present generation—the sturdy, hardy wives of the pioneer settlers who had done so much for the growth of the town, and had seen to it that their children became good, hardworking citizens of the best type. Speaking personally, he had been a pupil of the old school at the opening of the South African war, and at that time Alexandra had loyally demonstrated its loyalty to New Zealand and the Empire.

Mr Aldred, on behalf of the ex-teachers, expressed his deep appreciation of the welcome that had been accorded to him. If those present who had been his pupils were examples of what strict discipline could do, then strict discipline was the thing in school, for to his mind the ex-pupils of the Alexandra School were amongst the finest men and women ever turned out. During his 40 years of teaching he had been in five schools, but his affection for Alexandra was very great, and he was overwhelmed at the welcome he had received on his return to the district.

The present rector, Mr Mechaelis, also spoke.

An excellent musical programme completed the evening, and after supper had been served proceedings were concluded with a dance.

Linked toHistoric Alexandra - District Schools’ Diamond Jubilee; William Bringans

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