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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


MILNER, Frank, C.M.G.


Headmaster of Waitaki Boys' High School.

A new biography of Milner, Frank appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Frank Milner was born on 7 November 1875 at Nile Street, Nelson, the son of William Milner, a draper, and Annie, née Swanston. He was educated at Nelson College and at Canterbury University College where he graduated M.A. in 1896 with first-class honours in languages and literature. He returned to Nelson as an assistant master and, in 1906 at the age of 31, was appointed Rector of Waitaki Boys' High School where he remained for 38 years. On the eve of his retirement on 2 December 1944, while speaking at the unveiling of the entrance gates to Milner Park, which old boys of the school had erected in his honour, Milner collapsed and died. The manner of his passing was characteristic of his life. Fully aware that every schoolmaster lives his life upon a stage, Milner used this gallery of public opinion to give inspirational power to all even remotely connected with his school, as well as to further the spread of his own ideas. He believed that facility in public speaking was essential for democratic citizenship and, in this, he taught by example as well as by precept, for his own eloquence placed him in the foremost rank of New Zealand orators.

To Milner every boy was a future citizen: education, which is the very basis of all human society, was the creative process that shapes human life and keeps the soul alive. His realistic and practical aim was to develop the boy – physically, by the natural agencies of exercise, fresh air, and sunlight – mentally, by stimulating intellectual abilities to their fullest power – and spiritually, by evoking the admiration of beauty in literature, music, art, and nature. Above all, he believed in the inspirational value of living contact with great men whose personalities and service to the nation could serve as models worthy of imitation. Milner's fervent nationalism and patriotism were infectious. He thought of British history as the central act of the slowly developing drama of human emancipation all over the world and was convinced of Britain's civilising mission. Holding such a sincere faith in this, he felt it was his duty to inspire the minds of others, young and old, with a like devotion. Though in private life he was a shy man, in public he loved the large canvas, the lavish gesture. Generous and energetic by nature, he had a strong personality, forcefulness of character, and tenacity of purpose – qualities which he skilfully used to awaken many lives to an acceptance of the finer issues of life. To Waitakians he was known as “the Man”, but the influence of Milner's creative ideas and example was just as significant in the Secondary School Teachers' Association (in which he served for a time as president), in Rotary (of which he was once district governor of the South Island), and in the development of the modern way of life in post-primary schools throughout New Zealand today. In the history of New Zealand education Milner holds a place similar to that held in England by such men as Arnold of Rugby and Sanderson of Oundle. His genius as a teacher and enlightened vision permanently impressed all who knew him. He was a pioneer in modifying the narrow, traditionally academic, high school curriculum so as to provide an all-round schooling capable of meeting the needs of universal secondary education. In recognition of his services Milner was awarded the C.M.G. in 1925.

On 3 January 1907, in Wellington, Milner married Florence Violet, daughter of William Henry Harrison George, of Kelburn, Wellington; they had three sons and one daughter.

by Herbert Alexander Horace Insull, M.A., DIP.SOC.SC., Principal, Marlborough College, Blenheim.

  • A History of Waitaki Boys' High School, 1883–1958, McDonald, K. C. (1958)
  • The Waitakian, Vol. 2 (1944); Vol. 3 (1945);Timaru Herald, 4 Dec 1944 (Obit).


Herbert Alexander Horace Insull, M.A., DIP.SOC.SC., Principal, Marlborough College, Blenheim.